Cuban dissidents are often seen as a marginalized minority, isolated from the rest of Cuban citizens, who prefer to keep their distance from them; either because they despise their anti-regime attitude or because they simply don’t want to face the same repercussions as them. Thus, to speak of the Cuban opposition is to speak of loneliness and fear. The struggle of dissidents sometimes resembles an isolated, private endeavour, which has little to do with the Cuban reality.
However, quite a few have already abandoned the dream of the Revolution and it seems that common people and the opposition are not as far apart these days as they used to be. It may even have been quite a while since they stopped being divided.
The Varela Project, conceived by Oswaldo Paya in 1998, is seen as the crucial moment in the process of identification of Cubans with the opposition. Appealing to Article 88 of the Cuban Constitution, which allows citizens to propose laws if they gather 10,000 signatures of registered voters in favour of a particular proposal, Paya and his fellows managed to collect 11,020 signatures in support of a constitutional reform and presented them to the Cuban National Assembly in 2002. Two years later, in 2004 they were able to submit 14,000 new signatures. Although the National Assembly rejected their petition (and by doing so, violated the Constitution), there’s an important fact to be emphasized: the great number of Cubans who dared to sign the Project. Most of them, as one of the authors in this newsletter points out, were state employees.
What exactly did the Varela Project call for? Basically, it claimed freedom of expression and association, amnesty for political prisoners, free enterprise, respect for workers’ rights and political pluralism. It’s hard to believe that there were many Cubans who didn’t agree with it.
The articles in this newsletter explore the relationship between the opposition and the rest of the Cuban nation; they search for things that separate them and, above all, that unite them. In their articles, the authors give examples of solidarity with dissidents shown by a society tired of bearing hardships and, even more importantly, disappointed by broken promises and deepening social inequalities.
These days, it is more necessary than ever to nourish the spirit of the Varela Project, which, a little over a month ago, celebrated the 12 anniversary of its being submitted by Oswaldo Paya to the National Assembly. We also see that the European Union is getting closer to Cuba and the issue of Human Rights has once again become one of the most important topics after economic interests. As far as the Cuban government is concerned, it has been trying to fix the situation in Cuba by implementing some isolated capitalist measures (“capitalist patches”, as one of the authors in this newsletter puts it), which, however, far from benefiting the people and changing the situation regarding their rights at least a little bit, have only increased their wants and needs.
Oswaldo Paya believed that Cuba doesn’t have to choose between totalitarian populism of the Havana government and savage neoliberalism consisting in the policy of appeasement towards the United States. Cubans have to find their own way. The photos by Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes which appear in this newsletter show dissidents and common people in Cuba, who are increasingly closer together every day.