Rosa Maria Paya: Here’s What Cuba Really Needs, Mr. Obama

Saturday, December 20, 2014
An Open Letter by Cuban democracy leader, Rosa María Payá, to President Obama in The Washington Post:

Sr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

I am writing to you because I assume that goodwill inspired your decision to change U.S. policy toward my country.

I appeal to this goodwill, notwithstanding your decision to review Cuba’s place on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism despite the Cuban government’s attempt, just a year ago, to smuggle tons of weapons in a North Korean ship through the Panama Canal. And despite Cuban state security provoking the 2012 car crash that took the life of my father, Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents who represented the alternative to the regime, and his young associate Harold Cepero. And even though the Cuban government refuses to allow an investigation and has not given even a copy of the autopsy report to my family.

The Cuban regime has decided it needs to change its image, so it will relax its grip in some areas while it remains in power. It has discovered that it can allow more Cubans to enter and leave the country and that some people can create a timbiriche (a very small business), but the Cuban government still decides who can travel and who can open a small business. Mr. President, your laws are not what is preventing the free market and access to information in Cuba; it is the Cuban government’s legislation and its constant censorship.

We agree, Mr. President, that you cannot “keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect different results.”

But there is nothing new in treating as “normal” the illegitimate government in Havana, which has never been elected by its citizens and has been practicing state murder with impunity. That strategy already has been done by all the other governments without positive consequences for democracy in my country.

What would be new would be a real commitment to the Cuban people, with concrete actions supporting citizens’ demands. We don’t need interventionist tactics but rather backing for solutions that we Cubans have created ourselves.

For 55 years, the only free, legal and popular demand from Cubans has been a call for a referendum on self-government, the Varela Project. We want changes in the law that will guarantee freedom of expression and association, the release of political prisoners, the right to own private enterprises, and free and plural elections.

You asked in your historic speech : How can we uphold that commitment, the commitment to freedom?

I take you at your word, Mr. President. The answer to you and to all the world’s democratic governments is: Support the implementation of a plebiscite for free and pluralistic elections in Cuba; and support citizen participation in the democratic process, the only thing that will guarantee the end of totalitarianism in Cuba.

My father used to say, “Dialogues between the elites are not the space of the people.” The totalitarianism of the 21st century — which interferes in the internal affairs of many countries in the region and promotes undemocratic practices in countries such as Venezuela — will sit at the table next to the hemisphere’s democracies. I hope censorship doesn’t come to that table as well and that we Cubans, whom you so far have excluded from this process, can have a place in future negotiations.

We expect your administration, the Vatican and Canada to support our demands with the same intensity and goodwill with which you supported this process of rapprochement with the Cuban government. Human rights are the foundation of democracy, and we expect you to support the right of Cubans to decide their future.

We ask you to support an independent investigation into the attack that caused the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

We do not want symbolic solidarity. We do not want to participate only in the parallel forum to the next Summit of the Americas. The chair that will be occupied by the Cuban government is not the chair of the people, because the Cuban government does not represent Cuba’s citizens . That’s why we need to be present at the main summit, so that the demands of Cuban citizens are heard and empowered by the regional democracies.

Mr. President, dare now, after quoting our José Martí, to put into practice the honesty that a free Cuba deserves, “with all and for the good of all.”

God bless our countries.

Merry Christmas to you and your family,

Rosa María Payá Acevedo