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Even tougher times loom ahead for the opposition, warn activists, predicting more violence

DIARIO DE CUBA asked ten Cuban leaders: What can civil society do in the face of the regime's unchecked impunity? Featuring Laritza Diversent, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Kirenia Yalit, Antonio Rodiles, José Daniel Ferrer, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Dagoberto Valdés, Leticia Ramos and Ángel Moya.

La Habana

There are trying times up ahead for the opposition, as the regime continues to act with impunity, reported members of civil society consulted by DIARIO DE CUBA after a week of intense repression and violent surgical strikes against the independent Legal Information Centre (Cubalex).

They are warning people that that this is but a sign of things to come, urging people to be prepared and calling for solidarity.

What is going on? Why now? What can civil society do in the face of the impunity with which the regime acts, and the international community's silence? Several activists respond.

Laritza Diversent, Director of Cubalex:

Our team was analyzing the situation, seeking to identify why the authorities acted the way they did against our center and a team that has been working for more than five straight years without being targeted like this. We are afraid of another escalation of repression of the kind we saw during the Black Spring of 2003. Their aim is to replicate a situation like that, so as to spark a political crisis that hampers the progress being made in talks with both the US and the European Union.

We firmly believe that what happened to our organization, at our headquarters, is just an example of things to come. They obtained information that places us in danger. It is a warning to all independent civil society. We need a lot of support from the international community because I don't think they are going to stop. They are determined to proceed like this.

Lately there have been many statements in official newspapers and on television citing subversive activities intended to destabilize the State, etc., and there still laws in effect in the country containing  very severe penalties for those who exercise their rights to free expression, association, and the defense of human rights. I think that if this situation is not reversed, all of us in Cuba are at risk, vulnerable, without any protection.

All we can do is appeal for international solidarity. I do not see an authoritarian government like Cuba being stopped (...), as it violates its own laws, and no one can prevent it from doing that, as it has demonstrated several times.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, a member of the Democratic Action Unit and #Otro18:

The Government is already overwhelmed by the country's social, cultural and political reality. It can no longer find answers to deal with this situation, so it is employing its last resource, the last resort of power: unconstitutional and illegal violence against civil society.

Here there is not just an attack against civil society, but also against "pseudo-civil" society; i.e. those within the State who believe it is necessary to somehow change the rules and policies shaping how we  live together, and who dare to propose promising ideas.

The Government is now resorting to violence because the narrative of Cuba as a "besieged city" has lost its credibility. The United States is no longer the "enemy," but the Government needs it to remain so. It is the natural reaction of a State that does not want to evolve.

It's not surprising. Years ago, when Raúl Castro took over, many of us came to the conclusion that the only capacity the regime had now was that of repressing civil society, because the legend had been debunked. The rhetoric of the Revolution evaporated because Raúl Castro lacked the oratorical and narrative ability to sustain it like his brother Fidel had.

Thus, we're seeing this regime's natural reaction. It's hard, you have to endure it, pass through this Rubicon, because it’s inevitable, but here we are deciding the future framework that will govern our coexistence.

It would be beneficial if the international community realized this, along with all the players who are interested in Cuba's modernization.

Members of civil society, meanwhile, should stop inciting infighting, strive to respect differences, work on those platforms on which they can cooperate; and, above all, send a message of solidarity despite their differences, mutually supporting each other. This is the spirit of the MUAD and the #Otro 18 citizen platform. Differences strengthen rather than weakening us, and we must unite.

The second is to work where we have legitimacy, because another very promising thing is happening: the Government is, increasingly, losing its legitimacy with the common citizen, and that is precisely the source of our strength. Cuban society is turning a deaf ear to its discourse, its rhetoric. People sense the Government's inability to present a vision for this country.

In this area civil society should work to legitimize citizens' efforts. This is crucial. We must reach out to citizens and show them what we are doing.

This is really a difficult time. We must all be prepared for the plots the Government has in store. The brutality perpetrated against Cubalex and the eminent lawyer Laritza Diversent, I think, are a sign of  what is to come.

The threats against activists like Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, the group “Convivencia,” Marthadela Tamayo, demonstrate what the State is prepared to do, as it sharpens its claws and prepares to destroy civil society.

Kirenia Yalit Núñez Pérez, leader of the Cuban Youth Dialogue Bureau:

Someone who went through the situation during the Black Spring back in 2003 told me that this escalation reminded him of it. I agreed completely.

I think it has a lot to do, first, with the professionalization of Cuba's different organizations. Whey they do is no longer just protest work, and it is also is expanding in terms of the number of people involved and the quality of what is being done, with society and internationally.

These are organizations that are having an impact on international mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Commission, and as special rapporteurs of the UN in Geneva. A case in point is CUBALEX, specifically, but other organizations have also had the opportunity to present their reports to these bodies, and this repression has to do with this development.

One of the important things after Obama's visit is that a light has been shone on the violence perpetrated by the political police, and all its mechanisms, and this has to do, precisely, with people seeing a chance to express themselves more, even if what they can say and condemn is limited, and the possibility of these organizations working with the population.

Organizations no longer work on a basis of ignorance, there is greater professionalism, with collaboration by those international organizations that support members of civil society in their respective fields, with specific courses.

The point is to show society in general, as has so often been done in the past, the impunity with which State mechanisms operate. And to continue to use international reporting mechanisms.

One of the things that is most rattling the Government is that organizations, such as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Freedom of Expression, can make a call and say what is happening to a particular organization or a specific person, and people can see these bodies expressing concern over Cuban society. And, finally, the solidarity of civil society organizations on the Island, something that has been there before, but is now becoming more conspicuous. People and organizations are supporting each other; whether working together or not, they are echoing what is happening to others.

Antonio Rodiles, Coordinator of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms:

Unfortunately, what we had predicted is happening again: as the regime sees itself legitimized by political players in the international community, it is going further to suppress and violate the rights of all Cubans, including dissidents, and people in general.

I think it is a very clear message to all those who argued that the steps taken by the Obama Administration were going to give them more opportunities. There are even dissidents being repressed today who called for that easing, and were convinced that it would force the regime to take a more pliant stance on the issue of human rights violations.

But what we are seeing is just the opposite. Repression and violations have actually increased. To the extent that the regime enjoys more legitimacy, this will only get worse. I think it is time for the international community to take a stance regarding an increasingly critical situation that seems completely inexorable.

Given the impunity with which the regime operates, we must continue working, which is what most people are trying to do, to continue to denounce violations and to secure the solidarity of the international community, so that it pays more attention to the opposition's political players and their participation in relationships or processes that have to do with Cuba, not viewing the regime as the sole interlocutor.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba:

The dictatorship is frightened by the people’s growing discontent. The regime's thermometer on the streets regime is already indicating that Cubans have had enough, that they are protesting daily, and offering more criticisms. This situation, and the increasing activism of both dissident groups and civil society organizations, really scares the regime.

In response to this, they only know how to repress, the oldest and most effective formula that they have, with threats, arrests, beatings, fines, economically suffocating activists to pressure them into giving up, and to send a message to the population: "this is what will happen to you if you end up joining these organizations."

Something that also forms part of the dictatorship's sickening logic is that it feels like it can do whatever it wants. Both the European Union and other parts of the world are sending the regime the wrong message. It is not being criticized, its abusive actions are not being pointed out. They visit, and they reach agreements. The regime, knowing that the EU is a block that cares about the issue of human rights, does not emit the slightest sign of any goodwill in this regard. The same day that in Brussels they are asking for a confirmation of the agreement with Havana they are arresting dozens of activists on the Island, prosecuting others, and the next day they raid CUBALEX headquarters.

In short, the democratic world is sending a weak message to the dictatorship, while the Cuban people are demonstrating that they are more and more upset about the things it is doing.

We see no other effective formula but continuing to spur the people, attract them and encourage them in the midst of all this repression, making it clear that it is true that securing rights and freedoms is very had work, but that they will never be won without a willingness to fight. One can expect a little less, or more, and international solidarity counts, but the key is in the internal fight, what we are capable of doing.

Juan Antonio Madrazo, national coordinator of the Citizens for Racial Integration Committee:

In recent weeks, in the official media, there has been a kind of ideological fortification. The authorities have acted to underscore their strengthening of surveillance activities, and, above all, to resuscitate the specter of American subversion of the Island. All this while the European Union is trying to establish a Common Position, and while the United States is opening windows for civil society.

The Government is trying to sabotage this people-to-people rapprochement, which has been very well received by civil society.

There has also been an intensification of ideological discourse in academia. There has been an increase in official rhetoric and the portrayal of Cuba, once again, as a besieged city. In this ways they work to disrupt the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, and people-to-people exchanges.

Civil society must not remain silent about any acts of repression. What they did to Laritza Diversent last weekend was unexpected. We must spotlight everything that is occurring because the political police have made it clear to all of us who have been cited that there are tough times ahead for the opposition, because they are not going to accept any kind of reform.

Dagoberto Valdés, Director of 'Convivencia':

There has been an increase in repression at the national level against different civil society groups, and not only against those activists who have been demonstrating for more than the last 70 Sundays. There has also been repression against women dedicated to civic education who wished to gather in Havana, in our case.

It is evident from the testimony of those who have been victims of this subjugation that it is getting visibly worse, and there has also been a recent spike in political propaganda. Everything is concocted to sustain the argument that the enemy is lurking.

I do not understand what is going on, because it is not logical. You would think that, given the international situation, so favorable for this system, and the internal situation, marked by a growing economic crisis affecting all citizens, that the best thing would be to move to open things up. But the illogical works.

The first thing that civil society must do is not allow itself to be provoked; that is, to not respond to the escalation in violence and repression with more violence. Civil society must double down on its commitment to peaceful activism, and to continuing to do the work normally done and that has always been for the benefit of society.

Iván Hernández Carrillo, a spokesman for the Independent Trade Union Coalition:

I am convinced that repression has increased in general because the Government is losing ground, while the opposition is gaining. With what is transpiring at the international level, both in Venezuela and in Colombia, the regime fears losing its political power in Cuba, the opposition reaching the Government peacefully, or a negotiating table, and them ending up with the short end of the stick.

This is why the regime wants to undermine the work of all organizations within Cuba. The Government plays the repression card to weaken this opposition and to stifle civil society, which is growing in an orderly and organized manner, and gaining more followers.

There are already many organizations working in the midst of this repression, and we are looking for ways to continue to organize and progress within Cuba, towards a truly pluralistic State that respects the rule of law. This is a very difficult task, but I think that we can pull it off.

Leticia Ramos, representative of the Ladies in White in Matanzas:

Senior State officials have told me that Raúl Castro has issued an order to do away with the Ladies in White, to prevent us from dressing in white, and from going to church. The order is that there are to be no more Ladies in White in the country.

Organizations must speak out and demand their rights. The regime should be ordered to stop this tyranny, to respect the Ladies in White, and all the people.

After Obama's visit to Cuba repression on the island has been ratcheted up, not only on activists but against the populace too. It's a pretty difficult situation, and the world, not only the European Union and the United States, should take a stand against all this that is happening.

Ángel Moya, former political prisoner of the "Group of 75":

We have repeatedly stated that repression against human rights activists is on the rise. State Security has no other ideas, so it is applying these methods. Activism has increased in Cuba, and human rights defenders are more conscious of the struggle. This is why they are resorting to raiding homes, seizures, arbitrary arrests, detentions for several hours in holding cells, cruel treatment and abuse.

Independent civil society must continue with its activism, voice more complaints against this state of affairs, and report harassment, persecution, and imprisonment against activists wherever and whenever it occurs. More militant activism to respond to the regime's violence.

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