We Cubans must decide
By MIRIAM LEIVA
HAVANA -- The Comandante can celebrate his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 without any concerns. He has all the ammunition he needs for the meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Summit of Nonaligned Countries in September.
The timing couldn't be better for him to talk about the report from the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, delivered to President Bush on July 10.
After the frustration caused by the U.S. government's permission for the Cuban baseball team to play in the World Baseball Classic in Puerto Rico in March; after the many provocations hurled from Ha vana, such as the siege of the U.S. Interests Section that included the cutoff of electricity and water; and after the anxiety caused by the postponement of the report's release, Cuba's Maximum Authority can let loose the ballyhoo he had prepared. It won't be just a propaganda flourish; it probably will be accompanied by a noisy wave of repression.
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Once again the pretext of the external enemy, of the aggression by ''Yankee imperialism,'' will serve his efforts to justify the systematic violation of human rights, bad management, misery suffered by the people and imprisonment of the ''mercenaries'' -- we, who have not received and won't receive the millions of U.S. dollars that don't reach the opposition. The whole world, mainly the Cuban government, knows this.
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, particularly during an election year in the United States. We Cubans are grateful for the solidarity that is reaching us from abroad, including the United States.
The present cannot be postponed, not now when we hoe the road of change, transition and democracy. Certainly, we must prepare for the moment whose groundwork we lay today. To that end, it would be extraordinarily helpful to lift the restrictive U.S. measures adopted in 2004, which haven't produced positive results.
What better way to help our current endeavor than to enable contact between the peoples? Millions of U.S. tourists could bring their ideas, and both our peoples would better know each other. American students, professionals and scientists would help divulge advances that are unknown here and describe the fair wages received for one's labor elsewhere. Cuban Americans would have an opportunity to exchange experiences and financially help relatives and friends who lack the most basic necessities.
The borders would open before the Cuban people so that we may find out that this is not ''the best of all possible worlds'' and that the land beyond the Straits of Florida is not ``the worst of all possible worlds.''
I have never understood how a country that has accumulated so much wisdom and has been so flexible with former enemies has applied such counterproductive policies to Cuba for 47 years. Unquestionably, the sagacity of the Cuban Patriarch has steered an ''enemy'' that he has studied and knows well. His provocative barbs and the agents he has sent to infiltrate the U.S. government (remember the Pentagon employee) and Florida's Cuban-American community elicit the response he expects.
Now, the second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, as well-intentioned as it may be toward the Cuban people, has many problematic aspects. One is the presumption of what a transition government must be before the United States will recognize it and help the Cuban people.
Only we Cubans, of our own volition and according to the moment's conditions, can decide issues of such singular importance. Cubans on the island have sufficient intellectual ability to tackle a difficult, peaceful transition and reconcile with other Cubans here and abroad. I do not remember anyone telling the Spaniards, South Africans or Chileans in advance how they should proceed toward democracy, particularly without consulting them before making recommendations. There was great international solidarity, yes, and that can help Cubans a great deal.
A crucial aspect of the report is the Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future, which allocates $80 million in two years to ''empower the Cuban people and the democratic opposition.'' Of that amount, $31 million is allotted to ''support independent civil society on the island.'' That reference is already being utilized by the regime's hierarchy to threaten the internal opposition with possibility of an imminent and merciless roundup under the traditional accusation of ``mercenaries.''
It so happens that U.S. legislation, particularly the Helms-Burton Act, forbids delivering money to Cubans who live in Cuba. In other words, not a single dollar has been sent to the dissidents. The Cuban government knows this perfectly well, but takes the words that suit its purposes at face value.
In reality, what we Cubans want, peacefully, is for human rights to be respected in our country, democracy to be allowed in and all to live in harmony. The ideas we dare to express are our weapons. While we're reluctant to be sent into horrible imprisonment, we won't be intimidated by threatening words. For many years now we have felt the surveillance and the repression, and we know that at any moment -- thanks to prefabricated witnesses and evidence -- we can land in a prison cell.
While the report stresses that the United States respects the decisions of the Cuban people and is ready to help us deal with the calamitous economic and social situation that exists, it could provoke short-range outcomes with dire consequences that may contribute to aborting the transition and empowering the heirs to the succession.
Miriam Leiva is an independent journalist in Cuba and a founding member of the dissident group Ladies in White.