As attention focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, where protesters have taken to the streets to demand political change, some wonder whether Cuba will follow suit. A closer look at the island, where freedom fighters wage a nonviolent struggle against a regime desperate to conceal the effectiveness such methods have met during the “Arab Spring,” reveals good news: a big story that cuts through the bleak reality of 52 years of totalitarian rule and the media noise fueled by pro-regime talking points.
The island’s growing pro-freedom Resistance, a movement of brave activists who defend Cubans’ basic liberties and fight for democracy, is making gains that are impossible to ignore. Their civic resistance actions, including increasingly bold demonstrations in highly visible public places, are garnering greater support from the man on the street. The Resistance has the courage to speak what is on the country’s mind.
Testimony from longtime activists and new video footage making its way out of the island confirm that something new is happening: more and more, ordinary Cubans are overcoming the climate of fear created by systematic surveillance and repression, firing squad executions, political imprisonment and torture to support Resistance members who proclaim a pro-freedom message on Cuban streets. This is happening in a situation which finds Cubans at a disadvantage in comparison to conditions in some “Arab Spring” countries: Cuba is a single-party Communist state with centralized control over the economy and people’s livelihoods, the regime denies Internet access to all but a chosen elite, mobile phone penetration is very low, telephony is monitored, and all independent media is illegal.
Case in point: a daring protest in Havana on Tuesday, August 23, 2011, first reported by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of pro-democracy groups in Cuba and abroad, and video of which quickly made its way online thanks to independent Havana-based news agency Hablemos Press.
Four women, members of the island-wide National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, as well as the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights, ascended the granite steps of Havana’s historic Capitol Building. It is a majestic, neoclassical structure that housed the Congress of the Republic of Cuba before the totalitarian takeover in 1959.
These valiant ladies, Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo, Tania Maldonado Santos, Odalys Caridad Sanabria Rodríguez and Mercedes García Alvarez, wore black, a symbol of mourning for their country and those fallen in pursuit of freedom. They paused about one-third of the way up and unfurled a white banner bearing words of hope and courage: “Freedom, justice, and democracy… DOWN WITH THE DICTATORSHIP.”
There, before crowds of Cubans and foreigners making their way through the broad space before the Capitol where tourists often pause for snapshots of bicycle taxis or old American cars, camcorders and mobile phone cameras captured the sight of four Cuban women publicly demonstrating for freedom.
For at least half an hour they made their stand, borne above the crowds by stones that once buttressed Cuban democracy.
“We all are the Resistance! The streets belong to the people! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” they chanted, as onlookers watched.
Their actions brought to mind the words of former Czech President and anti-communist resistance fighter Vaclav Havel, who wrote that when a person breaks the rules of a Communist state and does not obey the regime’s demand in silent conformity, he chooses to “live in truth,” an essential step in opposing the crushing power of that system.
As you can see in the accompanying video, after a time, a single man, assumed to be a plainclothes officer of the feared State Security force, attempted to drive the women from their chosen ground, but they clutched their banner and sat.
Real Cuban voices, belonging to persons who chose to live in truth on that sun-drenched morning, shouted at the regime’s man. “Bully, Abuser! Let them go!” Facing a crowd that had suddenly lost its fear, the regime thug balked, and conferred with three additional plainclothes agents, returning after a time with uniformed male officers who manhandled and dragged the women away amid jeers and whistles of contempt for the oppressors from those witnessing the scene.
The women were detained, beaten, and threatened, but vowed to continue their struggle for freedom. The regime, meanwhile, continues to lash out, using systematic violence to maintain its hold on power. It has of late increased its repression against women, including the well-known Ladies in White who march on Sundays after Mass for the release of all political prisoners.
The protest at the Capitol and the people’s support for the activists, are proof that open support for the Cuban Resistance is growing among the people at large. Their strategy, nonviolent civic resistance, has proven effective against oppressive regimes. Their friends and allies abroad work actively to spread news of their struggle and provide support.
The big story in 2011 Cuba is that freedom is on the march, and it is very good news.
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