The events parallel to the VII Summit of the Americas have become a stage for confrontations between those in opposition, independent Cuban activists and the official Cuban delegation. Several Cuban exiles and dissidents were physically attacked in front of the Cuban embassy in Panama, while others were verbally assaulted with chants upon their entrance to the Civic Society and Social Actors Forum.
The Panamanian government extended an invitation to all sectors of Cuba’s civic society to participate in the hopes of an unedited dialogue, in celebration of the resumed relations between the U.S. and Cuba. At least those were the hopes expressed by Panama’s Vice President and chancellor, Isabel Malo de Alvarado, who in an interview with CNN en Espanol classified these incidents as “unfortunate,” and affirmed that her government wasn’t going to allow them. She also called on all the involved parties to “listen to each other within the frame of respect.”
On Wednesday, the Cuban delegation decided to not attend the inauguration of the Civic Society Forum profoundly affirming that it “will not share the same space as mercenaries and terrorists”. This Thursday, the delegation made similar announcements during a press conference, which was held at the same time that activists Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of deceased opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, and Lillian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently incarcerated, were welcomed by screams and insults at the Civic Society Forum.
After witnessing acts of harassment toward two activists on Wednesday, el Nuevo Herald held an exclusive interview with author Abel Prieto, Cuba’s former minister of culture and adviser to Raúl Castro, to learn why the Castro government has turned down the opportunity to debate with critics. Prieto is the president of the official Cuban delegation in the VII Summit of the Americas and was also present during the aforementioned acts.
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Why did Cuba pull out of the Civic Society Forum?
Cuba removed itself from the inauguration due to the respect it has for the Panamanian authorities and toward President Juan Carlos Varela and at the same time Cuba reiterated its cry within the room in saying that there were many difficulties. There were a lot of strange problems which took place in regards to accreditation: 28 of the people in our group, who came here from Cuba, turned in their paperwork with sufficient time, but did not receive accreditation. There was no transparency in the way that the accreditation was done, because of bureaucratic problems, or you never know if there could have been bad intentions behind it. I don’t want to judge, it wasn’t the Panamanian government that designed this forum, it was a non-governmental organization which is called Network for Human Rights or something like that.
Now, we’re going to participate in this forum and we’re going to once again make a complaint. What needs to be understood is that it’s crazy to think that the real representatives of a people who have been suffering for 50 years because of being blocked off, harassed and deprived are going to come near and converse with people who take pictures of themselves next to Luis Posada Carriles.
Many people might ask why? If the Cuban government can sit down and negotiate with the United States, who is its historic enemy, why can’t they sit and negotiate with some members of the opposition?
Well, it’s two different things. Dialogue with the United States, which we consider from the point of view of civic society and I think that our people see as positive, is upheld on the basis of mutual respect, not interference in Cuba’s internal affairs, respect to international rights. If there’s going to be an embassy, the diplomats within it can’t interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs, within the entire world diplomats can’t organize an opposition.
In the CELAC Summit held in Costa Rica, Cuba’s president Raúl Castro expressed that points in which he believed had to be worked on to reach a normalizing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and said the journey ahead is long. And the points are strong: they have to do, first of all, with the embargo; with that absurd, irrational and irresponsible list of countries who sponsor terrorism. Cuba is a victim of State terrorism, financed and promoted from the United States; the base in Guantanamo and other points here and there.
We recently held a roundtable to discuss the topic of human rights and we have our doubts about how the United States handles human rights. We have differences.
So, does this mean that you don’t see a scenario in which Cuba could accept the pacts of the United Nations and other things that the United States is requesting?
It’s not possible to ask Cuba to dialogue with puppets of these special services agencies in the U.S. We can’t legitimize that opposition which is absolutely fabricated; it doesn’t have any weight, it doesn’t have any real connection to our society. It’s just people who are seeking a way of life.
Univision and The Washington Post recently released a poll they did in Cuba; they interviewed 1,200 people. According to the poll, 46 percent of the people surveyed supported the Cuban opposition and Barack Obama had a high level of popularity in Cuba, more than Raul Castro.
But is this a poll or a joke?
It’s a poll and you can read it in The Washington Post.
Well, if those are the results, it’s a joke. To me it sounds like a joke and not a very good one. I love jokes. I think they should do the poll all over again. I wonder how who gave them the list, I can imagine how they did it. Maybe they surveyed that same people. One time they put “one of these people” in charge of conducting the survey. Besides. these are people who are intellectually mediocre or very primitive, morally without any values. Really they could have selected their puppets in a more rigorous manner.
The new electoral law has been giving a lot to talk about. There’s much speculation about whether it’s going to allow multiple parties or even more plurality within the Communist Party. Do you see something like that happening?
No. Cuba is working, seriously, in what we have come to call the actualization of our economic model, which was a document which was debated on by all our citizens. It underwent thousands of modifications and was improved by the people. It’s our democracy and we believe it’s not something that should be exported. We don’t expect for the United States to adopt our electoral system. In the proclamation at the CELAC summit in Latin America, as an effort for peace there’s an area which states the idea of respecting the political system that each country has chosen. The United States has to respect the political system chosen by all Cubans and that’s the essential base for whatever type of dialogue and until now, all the steps that seem possible and positive, have to do with that respect. The United States has to understand that this region changed forever and is no longer America’s backyard.
Cuba was invited to this forum. Do you think the type of acts we just witnessed represent the best way to carry out an agenda? Can we expect similar events in the future, events which remind a lot of people of acts of repudiation?
This has nothing to do with acts of repudiation. I mean, I don’t know, for me it has nothing to do with that, and there’s no fanatics here. There’s people who are intelligent, a lot more intelligent…those mercenaries have to be born again to reach the most minimal level of decency and intelligence that is found within the Cuban delegation. They’re not fanatics, or people who yell often: they yell because they feel offended.
But when people talk they don’t have to necessarily scream…
No, we came prepared for dialogue, but in order to have a dialogue with other social movements, to take recommendations to the presidents but not for them to bring these people here and to enlist them, in fact, with a priority over us, that was a tremendous offense.
Do you see any possibility of Raúl and Obama meeting?
I think those are speculations, I don’t have the slightest clue what’s the program of the Summit. I don’t know. It’s a lengthy process [negotiations with the U.S.] it is complex and on the basis of principles that, as we have reiterated, are non-negotiable. Another topic is, we support Venezuela. The fact that they get close to Cuba and say, “We’re going to have diplomatic relations” doesn’t mean that the voice of Cuba is going to be silenced. We don’t accept interference, we don’t accept imperialistic positions. They want to dismantle our institutions and we’re not going to allow it.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres