"Our actions can make people lose their fears"
REINALDO ESCOBAR, La Habana | Enero 29, 2015
Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country
and leader of Cuba's most numerous opposition organization, is also a
compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing
with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast
in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts
about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern
Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him
behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance andthe years
he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered
some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation
of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.
Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the
negotiations between Washington and Havana?
Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks,
will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our
people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the
announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that
it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is
consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent
civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies.
Escobar: And the embargo?
Ferrer: Our people and the international community have in great part
been critical with regards to the embargo, which by now has lasted for
more than 50 years. In all this time, and especially following the
collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has placed the blame
for our economic woes on the embargo, and has even used it to justify
repression within the country. Obama's policies delegitimize these
justifications. Additionally, they are in tune with the sentiments of
Cubans and of the international community.
Escobar: During your encounter with various American members of
congress, you expressed the gratitude of your organization's activists
who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations. Can
you give us more details about them?
Ferrer: Of the 38 political prisoners that were freed between the days
of January 7 and 8, 28 of them were members of the Patriotic Union of
Cuba, in other words more than 70%. Of the 10 who were not members of
UNPACU, 4 have already reached out to us and vocalized their desire join
our organization. However, 14 of our activists are still imprisoned, 10
of them affiliated with our branches in eastern provinces and the other
4 belonging to organizations that are associated to our own.
Escobar: What type of activism does UNPACU carry out?
Ferrer: Our organization is not just a group of audacious and courageous
activists that protest peacefully on the streets. That mode of
operation, that type of battle, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our
strategy includes a great variety of means of peaceful combat, including
seminars, courses, disseminating leaflets when the wind is favorable,
putting up posters in public spaces… even better if it's at the
headquarters of the People's Power ( Poder Popular) or the offices of
the Communist Party.
In a society that has been paralyzed by terror for many years, our
actions can make people lose their fear.
Escobar: Do you see a disjunction between street activism and other
forms of dissidence?
Ferrer: Discrete activism also greatly annoys the regime. They, through
their intelligence apparatuses, know where we meet and with whom despite
our greatest efforts. As soon as they find out about someone who has
chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with
removing them from their jobs or even worse things. This is especially
true when it's someone who, because of his or her training or talent,
could be a strong protagonist. But, if that person chooses to defend
their rights, then the threats can be greater. That's the proof that
they fear these forms of activism more than the others.
Escobar: It has transpired that the organization you lead has lost
alliances with other groups. Is that true? And if so why is that?
Ferrer: Many factors come to play here. In the first place, when other
organizations merged with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the oppressive
bodies of the government also multiplied their efforts to divide us.
Another issue is that some leaders believed at certain points that the
best way to accelerate the process of non-violent combat was by uniting
with UNPACU and later they changed their minds. Be it because attacks
multiplied or because there were also instances of disagreement, some
chose to return to their prior situations.
In fact, the relations between these groups and us remain good. Our
disposition to cooperate remains. If we had to choose what was more
important, for everyone to come under the same name and things not run
as smoothly as they should, or that each keep their organization's name
and that things work better, we would choose the latter. We have
separated but we did not become enemies.
Escobar: And has Obama's announcement of December 17th deepened those
Ferrer: With regards to the recent changes in policy announced by the
Cuban and United States governments, there are some who believe it is a
mistake. Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing
relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling
the embargo. However, we have to find what unites us. They want the same
as we do: the democratization of the country and that Cuba respect human
rights. They want us to be a just and prosperous nation "with all and
for the good of all*." The difference is in the means, not the
objective, which we hold in common.
Escobar: So, you propose finding consensus points?
Ferrer: Yes, we would work together to reach that common end, including
those who disagree with us today on topics like the reestablishment of
relations between Cuba and the United States. We hope that they too
understand that they can cooperate with us.
*Translator's note: A quote from José Martí who is honored by both the
Castro regime and its opponents.
Translated by Fernando Fornaris
Source: "Our actions can make people lose their fears" -