With calls to take advantage of the “hour for Cubans” and build a consensus to work on the democratization of Cuba, several dissidents and activists from the island said Tuesday they will join forces with exiles in Miami to take part in a Convention for Democracy in Cuba to be held Wednesday.
The call for action comes on the heels of historic talks in Havana last week between Cuban and U.S. diplomats to restore relations between the two nations after more than 50 years.
“Cubans inside and outside the island can and need to walk together to build democracy, no matter what our differences may be,” said Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of a group called Arco Progresista (Progressive Arc). “Differences make nations stronger, not weaker. Whatever ideologies we hold can be set aside. The fundamental thing right now is our nation.”
Morúa was joined at the press conference at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies by other prominent activists, including Dagoberto Valdés, Eliécer Ávila of the group Somos Más (We are More), attorneys Laritza Diversent and Wilfredo Vallín, as well as Fernando Palacio of the opposition group Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano (Cuban Solidarity Liberal Party).
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The gathering at the Cuba Ocho center in Little Havana — taking place on the birth date of Cuba’s national hero José Martí — will serve as center of dialogue among Cubans of varying backgrounds. The topics of discussion will focus on four points of most interest to Cuba’s civil society: the release of all political prisoners and an end to political repression; respect by the Cuban government of the United Nations human rights covenants and other international agreements; the recognition of Cuba’s independent civil society as a "valid interlocutor"; and the implementation of constitutional and legal reforms.
Morúa said that a similar discussion about the future of Cuba will take place simultaneously at the homes of more than 400 activists across the island.
“It's a good time to forge a discourse about the nation and for that, there can’t be too many voices,” he said, adding that what now matters most is not the dialogue between the governments of the United States and Cuba, but rather how Cubans will advance “toward democracy."
“It's time for Cuba; it's time for all Cubans,” said Valdés, founder of the Catholic magazine Vitral, which became a popular critical voice in Cuba’s Pinar del Río province. “No more unanimity; the new nation must be built on diversity.
“Cuba is not Cuba without exiles and the diaspora,” added Valdés, who now heads another publication called Convivencia (Coexistence). “No historical memory can be left out of this moment.”
Cuban opposition leader Guillermo Fariñas, who joined the press conference via telephone from the island, said he disapproved of “the secret manner in which the negotiations” occurred between the U.S. and Cuban governments that led to the Dec. 17 announcement to restore diplomatic relations.
But he said the opposition must now focus on how to take part in discussions already under way. When Fariñas and other dissidents met with Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in Havana, he asked: “When will the non-violent, internal opposition be called to join the negotiations?”
Jacobson responded that the U.S. has no intention of abandoning dissidents, a sentiment she repeated during a stopover in Miami en route back to Washington.
Fariñas and others said an agreement that does not address the concerns of civil society would be unacceptable.
“The population is seeking viable alternatives for a peaceful and prosperous future,” said Valdés. “We don’t want a democracy of leaders again; we want a democracy of programs and those exist within civil society.”
“Some of us are not well known, but the current government’s agenda is completely exhausted,” he said. “They are well known but outdated.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on @ngameztorres
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Democracy in Cuba
WHERE: Cuba Ocho, 1465 SW Eigth Street
WHEN: 6 p.m.