U.S. Secretary of State Meets with Cuban Dissidents

As mentioned in prior posts, on August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the main remarks at the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and thereafter held closed-door meetings with the Cuban Foreign Minister and other diplomats. That afternoon he attended a meeting with Cuban dissidents at the official Havana residence of the head of that Embassy, charge d’ affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis. [1] Who was there? What happened?

The gathering was attended by diplomats, Cuban-Americans, advocates of warming relations with Cuba and Cuban dissidents, including Jose Daniel Ferrer, Miriam Leiva and Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog Generation Y[2]

According to the Associated Press, Kerry told the group that Cuban leaders should not expect to see progress on the embargo without improvements in civil liberties in Cuba, which does not allow independent media, political parties other than the ruling communist party or direct election of anything but low-level municipal posts. “There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making progress on issues of conscience,” he said.

On August 19, Yoani Sanchez wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled “The Meaning of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.” She said, “The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening. . . . it is the end of one stage. . . . Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far.”

Moreover, she says, Cuban government officials no longer legitimately may assert that the U.S. is an enemy after the officials are seen by all Cubans “shaking hands with their opponent and explaining the change as a new era.” Now the Cuban government must “understand that we are living in new times—moments of reaching out to the people, and helping them to see that there is a country after the dictatorship and that they can be the voice of millions who suffer every day economic hardship, lack of freedom, police harassment, and lack of expectations. The authoritarianism expressed in warlordism, not wanting to speak with those who are different, or snubbing the other for not thinking like they do, are just other ways of reproducing the Castro regime.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, A Festive Flag-Raising, Then Tough Talk on US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2015); Gordon, Kerry Strikes Delicate Balance in Havana Trip for Embassy Flag-Raising, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Klapper & Weissenstein, Kerry calls for democracy as US flag is raised in Cuba, Wash. Post (Aug. 14, 2015).

[2] The dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony to avoid tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by the country’s small political opposition. This was criticized in editorials in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

 

 

Cuban Blogger Obtains Cuban Passport and Plans Trip to Latin America, North America and Europe

YoaniSanchez

From her home in Havana, Cuba, Yoani Sanchez has been courageously blogging her critical comments on many aspects of life in her country as noted in a prior post.

In January 2013, under Cuban’s new law granting Cubans increased ability to obtain passports, she received her Cuban passport. She was overjoyed by this development after she had been denied a passport 20 times over the last five years.

Upon receiving the great news that she would obtain a passport, she bravely said in her blog:

  • She intends to “continue ‘pushing the limits’ of reform, to experience first hand how far the willingness to change really goes. To transcend national frontiers I will make no concessions. If the Yoani Sánchez that I am cannot travel, I am not going to metamorphose myself into someone else to do it. Nor, once abroad, will I disguise my opinions so they will let me ‘leave again’ or to please certain ears, nor will I take refuge in silence about that for which they can refuse to let me return. I will say what I think of my country and of the absence of freedoms we Cubans suffer. No passport will function as a gag for me, no trip as bait.”
  • “These particulars clarified, I am preparing the itinerary for my stay outside of Cuba. I hope to be able to participate in numerous events that will help me grow professionally and civically, to answer questions, to clarify details of the smear campaigns that have been launched against me… and in my absence. I will visit those places that once invited me, when the will of a few wouldn’t let me come; I will navigate the Internet like one obsessed, and once again climb mountains I haven’t seen for nearly ten years. But what I am most passionate about is that I am going to meet many of you, my readers. I have the first symptoms of this anxiety; the butterflies in my stomach provoked by the proximity of the unknown, and the waking up in the middle of the night asking myself, what will you look like, sound like? And me? Will I be as you imagine me?”

On February 17th she plans a worldwide tour visiting Latin American (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico), North America (U.S. and Canada) and Europe (Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland and Germany).

I pray that there will not be any last minute move by the Cuban government to block her leaving the island. I look forward to her comments on Cuba during her visits to these countries.

Yoani, congratulations and God Speed on your journey!