Guillermo Fariñas, a winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, has just completed a tour visiting various European institutions, accompanied by a delegation that included members of the Cuban Human Rights Observatory (OCDH), the Ladies in White, and the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba.
During his visit to the European Parliament Fariñas and the delegation were received by Ana Gomes, an MEP representing the Portuguese Socialist Group and a member of the Security and Defence Committee of Foreign Affairs and Human Rights. They were also received by the ALDE Group, coordinated by Javier Nart, an MEP for Ciudadanos and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Security and Defence Subcommittee.
The delegation met with the Subcommittee on Human Rights in Cuba and with the Group of Friends for Cuban Freedom, presided over by Gabriel Mato, a Popular Party MEP. He also met with Antonio López Isturiz, Secretary General of the European People's Party. Both expressed their support and commitment to the defense of human rights in Cuba.
At the meeting held with Goge Reimer, President of the Monitoring Group for Cuba and Central America, special stress was placed on the final use put to budgeted funds and the labor conditions to which Cubans are subjected.
The opposition members also held private meetings with Hans-Olaf Henkel and Christian Dan Preda, members of the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights.
What conclusions do you draw from this trip?
The purpose of my trip was to discuss the Bilateral Agreement between the EU and Cuba. We believe that the EU must be present in a transition in Cuba, but through an agreement that includes guidelines governing when its political prisoners will be released, when crimes of opinion will be removed from the Penal Code, when there will be an Electoral Law, when there will be free elections, and when parties and independent associations will be legalized. And there is none of that. The agreement respects the Cuban legal framework, and there is not even an evaluation clause on Human Rights of the type that there was in the deal signed with Colombia in 2004. This is the result of a media campaign by the Cuban government, with the complicity of other forces, to make the world believe that things have changed in Cuba. Fortunately, many MEPs have realized the actual state of affairs after our visit, and have even denounced the lack of transparency characterizing the whole process yielding the agreement.
According to the information transmitted to us, in order for the Agreement to enter into force it will have to be endorsed by the parliaments of the member countries, and at least three of them have told me that under no circumstances will they do so.
Which three parliaments assured you that they will not support the deal?
They asked me not to disclose that, but, as you can imagine: parliaments of countries that suffered under Communism first-hand.
What was your impression of the meetings at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg?
On our visit to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg we were greeted by Pedro Agramunt, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Jordi Xuclà, President of the Liberal Group; and Jan Fisher, President of the Popular Party; along with representatives of the Socialist Group and Ciudadanos.
The Council agreed to process a motion signed by 25 deputies from eight member countries, calling for a rapporteur to prepare a report on the democratic deficit in Cuba that can be sent to the High Commissioner. As we all know, the Council has a very important guidance and advisory function vis-a-vis the Commission and the Parliament.
Thus, the battle has begun, but there is still a lot of fighting, many skirmishes, ahead of us. If we act with patience, certainty, intelligence, courage and determination I think we will, definitely, prevent the EU from serving as an accomplice of the Cuban regime.
How knowledgeable are the MEPS with regards to the human rights situation in Cuba, in your view?
I believe that all the parties know what is going on in Cuba. But, unfortunately, as occurs with terrorism, there are countries that do not want to take drastic measures until their own houses are on fire, as it were. I believe that they, until they see blood flowing in Cuba in a civil war (which hopefully will not occur) will refuse to take action on the matter.
European and American companies seeking profits have created a lobbying group uninterested in the principles of freedom and democracy that democratic countries and their institutions must defend. For example, in the agreement they are not even asking the regime to observe ILO regulations with regards to hiring. Cuban workers now receive only a percentage of what is given to the Communist State. I think the foreign factories in Central America are nothing compared to what is going on in Cuba. In Cuba, we are talking about slavery in the 21st century. It has become fashionable to play dumb and look the other way in the face of what is going on. We came to Europe to appeal to Europeans' sense of morality and their consciences, and to keep our hope alive that they will not abandon us to the Castro Government, which rides roughshod over human rights.
What else is known about the lobbyists working in the EU in favor of the regime's interests?
The groups are composed of businessmen and lawyers of companies that hope to obtain profits, and do not care about the human rights issues involved. I think we should raise international awareness so that people pressure their elected public officials not to look the other away with regards to human rights, and to listen. Disregarding human rights will only lead to a confrontation that, ultimately, could have devastating consequences for everyone.
Before you were speaking about the peace process in Colombia. Do you think that this model should be applied in the Cuban case?
Yes. As was done in Colombia, all those involved and concerned must be present in the negotiations with the Cuban government. But Havana does not want this. I have personally asked for an appointment with Mr. Portocarrero in Havana, four times, and he has never received the winners of the Sakharov Prize. It is a blatant lie to say that the Department of Foreign Affairs, represented by Ms. Mogherini, has discussed the terms of the agreement with the opposition. If the Ladies in White and myself have won the Sakharov Prize, and they have not spoken with us, then with whom have they spoken?
When do you think a final decision will be made on the deal?
In principle, there has been talk of submitting it for ratification by the European Parliament before Christmas, and Mrs. Mogherini wanted to invite Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez to the signing of the Agreement. After the progress made during this visit, however, I think that the outlook will be different. The momentum of those who wanted to portray the agreement as a fait accomplit has been slowed.
Do you think that in this process the Cuban government will give in at some point?
For now it will continue with its strong opposition. It is not going to budge. They still hope that they can maintain power in Venezuela, and they also have part of the historical leadership on which the "Revolution" is based. But it is a matter of principle, of offering help if the regime moves towards democracy. If Fidel or Raúl Castro do not take steps, and neither does their successor, the country is going to become ungovernable. Whoever is next will have to come and negotiate with Europe. This is why it is time to stand firm on values, because if there is no progress on human rights there should be no assistance, no loans or financing. One cannot negotiate with State terrorists and, as I said at the European Parliament, this is a government made up of bandits and villains. When negotiating with them the rules must be clear and the commitments specified.
The Cuban government is exhibiting what any child psychologist would recognize as behavior indicative of a spoiled child to whom everything must given, or it throws a tantrum and storms off. Spoiled children must be given a punishment (not beaten). But they cannot be given exactly what they want. To extrapolate from psychology, in the Cuban situation this means that they have to be given rules. Otherwise, they will do nothing. You don´t have to be on the Right or Left. You just have to stand for democracy.
Should the EU agree to sign an agreement while the one-party system remains in place?
I think that power has to be placed in the hands of the people. If they want a one-party system there must a referendum, with international observers and participation by Cubans abroad. I think that this is the way. I could be right, or I could be wrong, but what is certain is that it must done via referendum, not by Fidel or Raúl, or the PCC. A referendum in which people feel safe to express what they think. If the Government has nothing to hide, if it really has the support of all the people, or most of the people, as it contends, it has nothing to fear from a referendum. This is not a question of imposition. The ultimate wielder of power should be the people, the citizens of Cuba. This is what the Cuban government does not want to accept. An agreement has been reached without making its final implementation contingent upon approval by the people, as was done in Colombia. The Cuban Government must be called to account and told that is has to give and take, to cede in order to receive.
Right now, do you think that the regime has lost something?
I don't think it has lost anything. It is returning to its roots. The government sees a lot of interest by civilized governments around the world in bolstering the segment of small entrepreneurs in Cuba. Thus, there has been a massive offensive against small entrepreneurs. Having independent entrepreneurs is not in their best interest, as they are apt to become politically independent, in which case they cannot be controlled. Foreign profits and loans are going to go to those businesspeople. That is not in their interest. It is time for the civilized and democratic world to stand up and say that if they want loans they must allow small entrepreneurs to operate. It is a question of standing firm. It is our hope that the EU will do so. This time I am hopeful as I bid Europe farewell that the Europeans will not abandon us. That is why we are here. This is a battle between power and law, dictatorship and freedom, backwardness and progress. An agreement, yes, but not this one.