13 agosto 2006

Oswaldo Payá

When I was studying in London, I was the co-president of the Spanish Club at the London Business School. It was a really cool experience and I did my best to organise good activities, the most successful of those was a Sangria I personally did, and that made tens of people get severely drunk, what in the UK is a very merciful act…

One Sunday night I thought about bringing a Cuban dissident called Oswaldo Payá, so I wrote an email to his brother, whom I had known in Madrid a year earlier. On Monday morning he called me saying that his brother was awarded the Sajarov Human Rights prize (awarded by the European Union) and that Fidel Castro was forced to let him get out of Cuba to get the prize in Brussels. He was ready to come to London.

So in 7 days my Mexican friend Ana Claudia and I organised a conference of Oswaldo for the London Business School and London School of Economics students, a lunch with several Human Rights NGO such as Amnesty International, etc, a visit to the British Human Rights Minister, etc. etc. Also we had to get his visa, the flights, the residence, the media...

It was simply an amazing experience. It was very human. Oswaldo had never got out of Cuba, excepting a brief trip to Miami to see a relative dying. Oswaldo was very surprised when he saw the double-decker red London buses, he was permanently asking me about the Spanish transition with Adolfo Suárez and the King of Spain, and also he asked a very funny question that summarises what he (and I) lived those days; when watching an Asian woman in Piccadilly Circus he asked me "Are all chinese communist here in London?".

I do not share part of Oswaldo's thought, especially regarding his "Christian" way of seeing politics. Indeed I understand it a little bit... His movement is called "Christian Liberation Movement" and at the same time is defined as "non-religious" (!) because in Cuba Catholic religion can -to some extent- protect dissidents from government’s repression. It is very similar to Lech Walesa's movement in Poland. I attended Lech Walesa´s conference in Madrid few months ago and I felt that the "Catholic label" was just a tool for succeeding in his movement. Both in Cuba and in Poland pope John Paul II played an important role in supporting those "fake-catholic" groups in order to achieve freedom. I think it was one of the best merits of JP II.

I think Oswaldo is an incredible human and political example. He has struggled all his life against Fidel Castro's dictatorship, refusing to go to the USA or Spain in exile, where most of his family is. Fidel Castro once offered him to escape, but Oswaldo preferred to stay in Cuba with his people. Also, Oswaldo is very genuine; he is not supported by any powerful group (such as Mas Canosa is) and he just relies in peaceful fight. His personality is well reflected in his main achievement so far: the "Varela project".

Basically what Oswaldo was able to do is finding a loophole in Cuban laws and pushing Castro's regime. Oswaldo was able to collect tens of thousands of signatures and therefore the "Cuban parliament" was forced to discuss his "Varela Project” that talks about setting a democracy in Cuba.

The Varela project failed (of course, the parliament rejected it), but Oswaldo's movement succeeded because all Cuban knew about it. For his courage the EU awarded him a prize, and he was also candidate to the Prince of Asturias Human Rights prize, and the peace Nobel prize.

Few months after the Varela project was turned down by the Cuban establishment, there were raids and most of Oswaldo’s fellowmates were put in jail with sentences averaging 15-20 years. Fortunately enough Oswaldo was not arrested because by that time he was very popular both among Cuban population, and among the international human right’s community.

Now Fidel Castro is apparently very ill. I hope Cuba finds its way to achieve democracy in a peaceful way. In 1999 I was in Cuba and I got three conclusions:

1. Fidel Castro’s revolution was positive. After learning the situation in Cuba in 1958 I think a quick change was needed, and Fidel Castro represented a very interesting project by that time, far from American or Spanish colonialism (either direct or indirectly).
2. Fidel Castro’s regime should have given way to democracy in his first years. There was no reason to hold that regime for more than 3-5 years, not to mention almost 50!
3. Cubans are probably the smartest people I have met in my live. Should democracy touch that island, I am sure they will thrive immediately. They deserve it!

Good luck Oswaldo and other dissidents!

Good luck Cuba!




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