Thursday

18th Oct 2018

Nobel nominee dispels ‘Island of Freedom’ myth

Nobel Prize nominee and last year’s winner of the Sakharov prize, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, explains in an interview with the EUobserver why he is not able to travel to Europe to discuss the political situation in his native country, Cuba.

"My government has its own mechanisms to stop me from going - even though I have a passport and a visa to get to the EU", he said.

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  • OSWALDO PAYÁ -believes in the power of international solidarity with the people fighting for fundamental human rights in Cuba (Photo: Vladimir Bartovic)

Mr Payá Sardiñas was supposed to go to a session of the European Parliament at the beginning of September to present the situation of political prisoners arrested in Cuba about half a year ago, but was prevented from doing so.

The Cuban was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights in December 2002. Mr Payá Sardiñas believes that it is this international recognition - strengthened by high expectations concerning his Nobel Prize nomination - that prevented the regime from arresting him, along with 78 dissidents and human rights activists in March this year.

The majority of them had been participating in the Project Varela - a petition organised by Mr Payá Sardiñas' Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, which calls for a referendum on free elections in Cuba. The members of the movement keep collecting the signatures, even under the threat of arrest.

The prisoners - sentenced for up to 25 years - face humiliating conditions.

"They're often treated worse than criminals - kept in tiny cells, in most cases far away from home, so when their relatives want to visit them, they have to travel for a few days. Many of them do not get the medical care they need or even the mail from their families", says Mr Payá Sardiñas.

EU reactions

The European Union has, on a number of occasions, called on the Cuban authorities to release the prisoners, and consequently also limited its diplomatic contacts with the island.

However, even though the Communist leader Fidel Castro rejected the EU's offer of humanitarian aid, MEPs in their latest resolution asked the Union to keep to it to help the Cuban people.

"We think that the Cuban problem has its Cuban solution and it must be made by the Cubans", said Mr Payá Sardiñas.

"But the rights of Cubans are the rights of human beings, and I think that Europe is sending a message to both Cuba and the world that these rights cannot be violated forever, while at the same time pretending that Europe accepts it and can maintain its relations with the government as if nothing has happened".

False myths about Cuban communism

Mr Payá Sardiñas thinks that those people who are trying to bring about a peaceful regime change in Cuba have been ignored for too long.

"They would even call us 'the island of freedom', and view our history as something mythical, a nostalgic icon for the left-wing political groups. But nothing like political right and left exists in Cuba, just a regime based on the power of one man or a group around him".

Apart from some support from the EU, they have also been supported by non-governmental organisations in Spain, Holland, Sweden, and, as Mr Payá Sardiñas points out, "also from countries like the Czech Republic or Slovakia which have experienced the hardship of communism".

Castro attacks European leaders and rejects EU aid

Cuban President Fidel Castro has marked the 50th anniversary of the guerrilla battle that launched the Cuban revolution by delivering a withering attack on the EU and individual leaders in Europe. Eastern Europe came under special attack as former Communist states.

EU set to normalise relations with Cuba

EU foreign ministers are set to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba but the decision – expected on Monday - is being disputed within the EU. The biggest group in the European Parliament has criticised the approach to Havana.

Castro rails at EU for granting prize to Cuban women

Cuban president Fidel Castro has rebuffed the European Parliament's decision to grant its top human rights prize to female relatives of Cuban political prisoners, with measures taken to prevent EU embassies from inviting the laureates to official receptions.

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The ALDE group recently hosted a conference to discuss the EU-Cuba agreement and Cuba's path towards human rights and democracy. Civil society representatives from Cuba said the agreement failed to consult the people.

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