Frank Calzon. Photo: Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte (IGFM)
Frank Calzon provided these statements in response to my questions about U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba:
• Both the Cuban regime, its supporters and folks who should know better pretend that the program to promote democracy in Cuba is simply an American effort to force regime change. But promoting democracy is nothing new, and the Cuban program is based on an intellectual framework which has been tried elsewhere and is part of a established human rights advocacy tradition. The idea which was used at the founding of Amnesty International is that victims of repression anywhere are often told by their captors that no one cares about their fate. And that by giving them the echo of our voices we empower them and weaken the regimes.
• Nathan Sharansky (The Case for Democracy) and Vaclav Havel have made significant contributions to the theory behind programs to promote democracy around the world. Sharansky, who knows something about Soviet repression, says that in order for a people to be free three things have to be: 1) a people inside the country willing to pay the price in suffering, imprisonment, etc. of working to promote democratic change 2) people outside the country who believe the folks inside deserve to be free and are willing to help them, and 3) a linkage between internal reform and the foreign policy of democracies around the world.
• Havel says (The Power of the Powerless) that when as repressed people realizes the power they have, and are willing to start saying no to the regime, in something as simple as refusing to put a sign expected by the authorities to be placed on a window, the monopoly of absolute power of the regime, which is the basis of its staying power begins to diminish.
• Obviously I would argue that all of the above is now present in Cuba.
• I would argue that the US Cuba program follows on the footsteps of US efforts to break the monopoly on news and information of peoples under Communist regimes (Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty), and the many efforts by the US government and the American people, for example the worldwide campaign of the AFL-CIO in support of Polish solidarity, and programs (in those cases mostly covert to help dissidents in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.
• A great irony to me, is that while I expressed my solidarity throughout the years with victims of all kind of repression, some in the so called human rights community in Washington while denouncing Pinochet. Somoza, etc defended tyranny in Havana . I served as vice president of “Democracy International” a group led by former Philippines foreign minister Raul Manglapus and Yugoslav philosopher Mihalov Mihalo in the 1970’s, and have picketed the White House not only on Cuba, but against US ties with Ferdinand Marcos, the visit of a Chinese Communist dictator, and have joined the Tibetans in their protests in Washington, Geneva, and elsewhere. I had the privileged of leading the Freedom House delegations to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and in that capacity denounced quite a list of despicable regimes: China , Syria , Ecuatorial Guinea , Saudi Arabia , North Korea , Zimbabwe, Burma and Cuba, among others.
• The notion that domestic reform, human rights and the rule of law need to be linked to the policies of democratic governments toward dictatorial regimes is one reason Cuba is not a member of the Cotonou Agreement, The Agreement provides French, Spanish, British … special tariffs to development countries. Havana wants to be excepted from fulfilling basic requirements which have been applied to everyone else.
• With the collapse of European Communism Central European democracies have supported the democratic opposition in Cuba , and some Western countries followed their example. The Europeans opposition to dictatorship in Cuba has little to do with the US trade embargo or US Cuba policy. Havana has been extremely critic, many times pejoratively when dealing with some of them.
• The Group People in Peril in Bratislava has an annual collection for families of Cuban political prisoners. The Czech group People in Need also helps them. In Prague there have been demonstrations in which prominent Czechs sit inside cells built on Wenceslao Square to dramatize their support for Cuban political prisoners. The Czechs have lead denounciations of Havana ’s regime in Geneva , and continue to oppose Spain ’s efforts to change the Europeans Common position in Cuba . NGO’s in Spain , France , Holland , Germany , Sweden , also speak out about Cuba and Parliamentarians from many of those countries have visited dissidents in Cuba and continue to ask for the release of Cuban political prisoners. Members of Parliaments from Spain , Holland , the Czech Republic and other countries have been expelled by the regime. Year ago, the current minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic was expelled from Havana for supporting human rights issues on the island.
• Human Rights are universal, regimes, and according to you, some inside Cuba say they oppose foreign governments speaking out about human rights violations because that “is tantamount to interference in internal affairs.” But concern about violations of human rights in Cuba is no different that similar concerns for the situation in Egypt , or Burma , to mention two. What is really absurd is when people tell me human rights in Saudi Arabia is worse. Does that mean that Cubans will not be able to demand change until all other countries in the world are free?
• And all of the above has to be placed in the context of the “internationalist” policies of the Castro brothers which supported terrorist groups ( Cuba is still in the list issue by the Department of State) , and Marxist revolutions wanting to enslave their peoples in many countries around the world
• Havana makes a big deal of the money spent on pro-democracy programs in Cuba , but the specific amounts Havana has been able to attribute to any individual on the island are laughable. A lot of US funds go for travel to the island, efforts to sensitize international public opinion, and during the time the Center had a grant from USAID we used a significant amount for short wave radios (Havana said the radios were a violation of the Cubans human rights, and that the receivers only could receive Radio Marti, VOA and other American stations, which is a lie). We also managed to laptops, printers, copiers, typewriters, carbon paper, pencils, paper, and thousands of books of all types. That such materials are reason to send Cubans to prison says a lot about the regime’s weaknesses.
• I hope that one day Cuban diplomats representing a free Cuba will join other democracies in support of freedom advocates everywhere.
• There are things wrong with US Cuba policy, but solidarity with the Cuban people and the human rights community on the island is not one of them.