Thursday, September 01, 2016

UNPACU Reaches 5th Anniversary Amid Achievements And Criticisms

UNPACU Reaches 5th Anniversary Amid Achievements And Criticisms /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 24 August 2016 – Five
years can be a long time in Cuba, when we're talking about an opposition
organization. In the complex kaleidoscope of dissident groups and
parties that make up civil society on the island, many are active for
only a few months or languish amid repression and illegality. The
Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) will reach its fifth anniversary on
Wednesday with several of its initial objectives completed and others
still in progress.

While the Cuban government classifies all opponents as "enemies" of the
nation and "hirelings of the Empire," UNPACU members have preferred to
describe themselves in their own words. They consider themselves "a
citizens' organization and a pro-democracy and progressive social
movement" interested in "freedom, sovereignty and prosperity." Their
epicenter is the city of Santiago de Cuba and other areas in Eastern
Cuba, although they also have a presence in Havana.

Organized around their leader and most visible head, Jose Daniel Ferrer,
UNPACU was born in 2011 after the process of the release of the last
prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring, among whom was Ferrer. Ferrer's
prior experience was in the ranks of the Christian Liberation Movement
(MCL), which was vital for his own political development, according to
what he has said in several interviews.

Over the years, several faces have stood out in UNPACU's ranks, such as
the young Carlos Amel Oliva, who recently led a hunger strike in protest
of the arbitrary arrests and confiscations of personal belongings.
However, UNPACU has also suffered, like the rest of the country, the
constant exodus of its members through the refugee program offered by
the United States Embassy and other paths of emigration.

Among those who have decided to stay on the island, is Lisandra Robert,
who never imagined she would join an opposition organization. Her future
was to be a teacher, standing in front of a classroom and reviewing
mathematical formulas and theories. However, her studies at Frank Pais
Garcia University of Teaching Sciences ended all of a sudden when she
refused to serve as an undercover agent for State Security. The
"mission" they demanded of her was to report on the activities of
several activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, among them two of her
family members.

Today, Robert is a member of UNPACU, and although she started with the
group as an independent journalist, with the passing of time she has
addressed the issue of political prisoners. "At first it was hard,
because the neighbors participated in the acts of repudiation, they
wouldn't look at us or speak to us." Something has changed because "now
they are the ones most supportive of us."

Among the characteristics that distinguish the work of UNPACU is the use
of new technologies. Through copies on CDs, USB memory sticks or
external hard discs, Cubans have seen the acts of repudiation from the
point of view of the opponents who have been victims of them, and they
have even used tools such as Twitter, which they teach in their Santiago

"This is a way to bring more people to all the work we do and they
receive it with love and great appreciation, because we also include
news that doesn't appear in the national media," says Robert.

Zaqueo Báez's face became known during the mass Pope Francis offered in
Havana's Plaza of the Revolution last September. Along with other
colleagues, the current UNPACU coordinator in Havana approached the
Bishop of Rome and demanded the release of the political prisoners. This
Tuesday he told 14ymedio that he felt "very proud" of belonging to the
movement dedicating "great efforts" to "social work undertaken directly
with people to involve those most in need."

Jose Daniel Ferrer, on a visit to Miami, said he was satisfied by what
has been achieved and feels that "in its first year UNPACU was already
the opposition organization with the most activists in Cuba." The figure
of 3,000 members stated publicly has been a center of controversy, such
as that sustained between Ferrer and Edmundo Garcia, a Cuban journalist
living in Florida. On this occasion, Garcia asked sarcastically, "How
many people (from UNPACU) can you introduce me to?"

Garcia also questioned the organization's source of funding and said the
United States government was the main source, through the National
Endowment for Democracy. Ferrer openly acknowledged that part of the
funding comes from the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and
what he describes as "generous contributions from Cuban exiles."

Former political prisoner Felix Navarro belonged to UNPACU, but said he
had left the group "without grievance, without separation." He considers
it "the most representative organization in opposition to Castro within
the Cuban nation." In addition, "it is in the street and has created a
very positive mechanism from the point of view of the information to
immediately find out what is happening every minute."

For José Daniel Ferrer one of the biggest challenges is to achieve "a
capable and committed leadership" because many activists "scattered on
the island don't do better activism because of not having good
leadership." The limitation on resources such as "equipment, disks,
printers and the money it takes to bring more people into the work of
spreading information" also hinders the action of training, he adds.

The dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua considers UNPACU to be "one of the
most active organizations, especially in non-violent protests in the
streets, bringing light and giving relief to the demands of ordinary
people." A result of this activism is that in April of this year the
number of political prisoners belonging to the organization rose to 40

When Jose Daniel Ferrer was asked if UNPACU can remain active without
him in the personal leadership position that has characterized Cuban
political movements, he responds without hesitation: "It has been
demonstrated very clearly in my absence."

Source: UNPACU Reaches 5th Anniversary Amid Achievements And Criticisms
/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
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