Dissidents say they are returning to Cuba reenergized
Posted on Sunday, 06.16.13
Dissidents say they are returning to Cuba reenergized
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
When Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White, returned
to the island last month after her first-ever trip abroad, she felt
ready to resume the grinding struggle against the communist government.
Soler had received a hero’s welcome in the United States and Europe.
Large audiences had applauded her denunciations of the Castro system.
And her group had secured new supporters, contacts and more than $65,000
in prizes and donations.
Guillermo Fariñas, also on his first trip abroad as a dissident, said he
has gained “spiritual, material and ideological oxygen,” as well as a
new and better understanding of Cuban exiles and even a good book on
transitions to democracy.
After Cuba eased its travel regulations in January, more and more
dissidents have been not only traveling abroad but returning to the
island well-rested, with more energy and ambitions, more supporters and
contacts abroad and access to more cash.
Before the changes, most dissidents could not leave the island except on
one-way tickets. The government stamped “Final Exit” on their migration
documents and did not allow them to return except for rare humanitarian
Regis Iglesias, one of 116 political prisoners freed and virtually
forced into exile in Spain in 2010 and 2011, said he applied to return
one year ago to resume his work for the opposition Christian Liberation
Movement. Havana has not answered his request.
Compare Iglesias to Soler, who returned to Havana on May 27 after a
78-day international trip and immediately announced bold plans to expand
the activities and membership of the Ladies in White, which now stands
at about 230.
“I feel stronger. I am stronger,” Soler said, because during the trip,
she could “talk to other people, I could denounce the government. We
went out looking for moral, spiritual and material support and we go it
… This gives me tremendous strength.”
Cuban exiles promised to arrange scholarships for children of dissidents
who are often denied the schools of their choice, added the 50-year old
lab technician. And several non-governmental organizations around the
world offered their support in various ways.
Soler said that during her trip, the Ladies in White also gained access
to their roughly $22,000 share of the Sakharov prize won in 2005, their
$20,000 Vaclav Havel Prize won this year and $24,000 collected by Cubans
in Miami, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Cuba did not allow the women to
leave the island in 2005 to collect the Sakharov prize.
She declined further comment on the money, but clearly it will be a
tremendous help to the dissidents, who are often fired from their
government jobs, in a country where the average state employee
officially earns about $17 a month.
Soler noted also that she and fellow Ladies in White Belkis Cantillo and
Laura Labrada felt “rejuvenated and re-energized” when they received
standing ovations during their appearances before several exile
audiences in Miami last month.
Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez, meanwhile, Tweeted earlier this month that
her ambitions for Cuba’s future expanded so much during her own
three-month trip abroad that her return home had been “like trying to
return to a place where I once fit, and now feels tight.”
“I am back. With an energy that the daily hassles will try to diminish,
but which will still be enough to launch new projects,” Sánchez, who has
said she wants to launch a newspaper, wrote separately on her Generación
She has not said whether her trip helped to gather financial or other
support for what would be the only newspaper not state-controlled. But
her Twitter account gained more than 100,000 followers during the trip,
bringing her total to more than 500,000.
For his part, Fariñas said he has felt “much more enthusiasm and
ambition” during his current trip abroad and expects to be in Brussels
soon to pick up the Sakharov Prize and roughly $67,000 in prize money
that the European Parliament awarded him in 2010.
He was in Poland last week, attending a seminar on nonviolent resistance
along with a half-dozen other Cubans in Gdansk, birthplace of the
Solidarity labor movement that pushed the Communist government out of
power in 1989. Farinas said he will also be taking back to Cuba a
Spanish-language copy of a book on the kinds of changes that dissidents
are seeking in Cuba, titled From Dictatorship to Democracy and published
in 2002 by dissidents in Burma.
Cuba’s new migration system not only allows most dissidents to leave and
return but permits all Cubans to stay abroad up to 24 months without
losing their residency. To return after that period, they must obtain
prior permission from Havana.
Relatives of the late dissident Oswaldo Payá, who arrived in Miami last
week to escape government harassments, may make return visits to Cuba if
needed to handle the affairs of Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement,
supporters have said.
“Now someone can be dissident and opposition activist on this side of
the Florida Straits, transferring the office from Havana to Miami and
establishing a command post in any suburb,” columnist Alejandro Armengol
wrote on the website Cubaencuentro.
Dissident journalist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, now in the United States
on his first-ever trip outside of Cuba, joked that he might even return
to Havana for a weekend and added, “This is the time to fill the gaps in
the so-called migration reforms.”
About 20 dissidents have traveled abroad so far, a half-dozen have
returned and more are getting ready to travel. A few were denied
permission to travel because they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms
but were paroled for health reasons.
Soler, Sánchez, Fariñas and Pardo also agreed that their trips abroad
brought them closer to Cuban exiles, long portrayed by Castro’s
propaganda as “worms,” rabid capitalists and even bloodthirsty
“But you come here and you find, and have a respectful conversation
with, [anyone] from a member of the brigade that landed in the Bay of
Pigs to someone who wants to make capital investments in Cuba right
now,” said Pardo.
The dissidents also said their international exposure should give them
added protection from government repression. But that, they
acknowledged, is only a hope.
Havana eased the travel restrictions for its own interests, the
dissidents argue, and not to give the opposition a break.
The changes might brighten Cuba’s image abroad, they say. More Cubans
abroad would mean more remittances sent to relatives on the
cash-strapped island. And perhaps some of the dissidents will chose to
stay abroad and stop challenging the government.
But if the dissidents’ travels become too troublesome for the
government, Pardo added, Havana can always change the rules again to
keep the dissidents in or block their return, or even turn up the
“We have been seeing a little ray of hope in our hearts, that we’re
ready for something good to happen,” Pardo said. “But the government
cannot allow itself to be tolerant. The physical repression could grow
Soler said the Ladies in White will continue their protests marches
after Sunday Mass in Havana — the only public political protest allowed
by the government — and will push to expand the marches to other parts
of the island.
When she returned to Havana, she said, she brought back several pairs of
women’s shoes. They were in many different sizes but always in white,
beige or other light colors, so the women can keep marching.
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