the University in Exile Award
New School University Convocation
September 4, 2003
Dear Mr. President, distinguished Professors, ladies
I'd like to express my thanks to New School University for bestowing this honor on those of us who engage in a peaceful struggle within Cuba for human rights, democracy and reconciliation. Accepting this award is Mr. Juan Suarez-Rivas- a brother in this struggle- who lives exiled from his Cuban homeland. I make this distinction because we Cubans within the island also live exiled in our homeland.
I consider the 2003 University in Exile Award to be a recognition of the struggles of the Cuban people and especially in recognition of our brothers the Prisoner@s of Cuba@s Springtime. They are our heroes because even when faced with humiliation, harassed on a daily basis, fed concentration-camp rations and jailed in solitary confinement, they continue to defend the rights of all Cubans.
I invite you to lift your voices and demand the release of the prisoners of Cuba's Springtime as well as the release of all other political prisoners on the island. It is in this manner that the rights of a people are defended- particularly the right to achieve, through peaceful means, the political changes that are inevitable.
I would like to express my admiration for this university and for the courage with which it defends freedom. For many years the people of Cuba sailed alone on a ship
--which appeared to proclaim justice but which carried slaves in its hold;
--which seemed to proclaim liberty but repressed or silenced any expressions of liberty. Many were fooled by appearances and identified the usurpers at the helm as the sole and legitimate representatives of the Cuban people; many accepted the facade of justice as a true representation of the reality in Cuba. For a long while the people of Cuba were alone. But after many years of struggle, sacrifice, imprisonment and executions, we Cubans have achieved a recognition of the following two facts:
-First, we never selected nor wanted a society without rights, nor a tyranny that negates our right to self government. We are children of God and brothers of all men and women. We are entitled to the rights we desire and we want them now.
-Second, we Cubans, living inside and outside of the island, are one community- working and struggling to reach reconciliation and justice. If the regime currently ruling Cuba has no vision for the future , the people of Cuba do have a vision and they do have a future. It is one of peace and liberty and one that is already being built by the Cuban people.
In light of all this, international cooperation with our country should be focused on supporting the peaceful struggle of Cubans and on advocating their role as leaders of this transition. The citizens are the leaders of the Varela Project.
Friends, never has there been more danger for Cuba. The official government position and its propaganda resembles a ship taken by force who's only destiny is to remain hostage or to be destroyed. But this will not be our fate, for also, there has never been so much hope. We know that the majority of Cubans, no matter their politics or socioeconomic standing, want peaceful change. The majority of Cubans desire a reconciliation. Included in this majority are those that march in the government demonstrations and later risk their lives at sea or seek visas to emigrate. Included in this majority are those that are part of, or are identified with, the government. This majority includes a large number of poor men and women who can expect nothing of this regime. All these people make up the Cuban community. And that community, without hate and without violence, is building that future first envisioned by Jose Marti who said: "With all, and for the benefit of all."
This hope is expressed by the thousands of Cubans, who defying a culture of fear, signed the Varela Project petition, and, by the new signatures we continue to receive despite the current wave of repression and personal attacks and defamations disseminated by the regime's propaganda machine. These are the hardships faced by those on the front line struggling for the peaceful change that is vital to the future of our country.
The inclusive nature of the Varela Project was infused in part by the Christian Liberal Movement. This movement, already in its 15th year of work within Cuba, is Project Varela's principal advocate. The Project's strategy is based on the participation of most Cuban citizens; without them peaceful change will be difficult. Aware of this and holding a firm conviction of the need for a democratic process we have motivated the citizenry to join us as we walk together towards a new era of liberty and justice for our country. The government's entrenchment within its own system, and its unwillingness to consider change, does not dampen our resolve. Cuba is our house, our home, our country.
Project Varela takes its campaign to the citizenry and in doing so both reclaims our fundamental rights and begins a dialogue amongst Cubans determined to design and shape a transition. The government can chose to participate or not in this process. But even if it does not, it cannot impede that we Cubans change the present and prepare our future. The 'ship' will not remain hostage until it crashes and sinks, the 'ship' is our home and we cannot allow it to be lost; we will rescue it from within, without using or surrendering to violence.
This last point we make because some have previously discounted the role of the Cuban people in shaping their destiny and ignoring us as a significant agent for change. Some talk of waiting for the natural death of the regime, including even discussing the names of possible successors. The first consists of waiting for a biological fate and the second suggestion is an insult to the Cuban people as it assumes we are condemned to be governed by dictators. I assure you that neither of these will come to pass. There will not be a succession. The next government will be elected by a free and sovereign citizenry.
We realize how complex the world is and the amount of conflict, injustice and dangers that exist. It is not acceptable to name one problem as more important than another. No people is more or less important. But, we believe it would be a mistake to underestimate how beneficial a successful and peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba would be to peace in the region and the world. There is no peace for humanity if there isn't peace, liberty and justice for all people.
I hope you do not interpret our resolve as arrogance but rather see it as our determination, with the help of God, to seek liberty and reconciliation, at each available opportunity.
Thank you for this honor bestowed on the vocation towards liberty and peace of the Cuban people.