How are Christians treated in Cuba

Cuba's dissidents

Every working day, Oswaldo Payá leaves his little house in Havana early in the morning, where he lives with his family. He gets on his bike and goes to a clinic, an infirmary, a laboratory or wherever a medical device is defective. He works for the state because he is a sought-after specialist in the repair of such technology.

But it is not for this reason that the government is so conspicuously concerned about Oswaldo Payá that it sends motorized companions along with him on his journeys and has his house constantly watched: Payá is one of the most famous dissidents in Cuba. Twenty years ago he founded the "Christian Liberation Movement" and around six years ago caused an international sensation with the "Project Varela". For for the first time in the history of this revolution, an opposition organization had collected more than 25,000 signatures for a referendum calling on the government to enter into a national dialogue. But this responded at the time with the usual repression.

"At first she tried to prevent the collection of the signatures by all means," "said Carlos Payá, the organizer's brother living in exile in Madrid." "Then she struck with the wave of arrests in the so-called Black Spring 2003. 75 dissidents were arrested , 42 of them had worked for the project, 13 were members of our movement. "

Many of them are still in custody. After Fidel Castro's retreat, the dissidents' hope turned to the new president, his brother Raúl. But its much-heralded reforms soon turned out to be hesitant attempts at superficial change. That is why Oswaldo Payá has taken up the Varela project again.

"We demand freedom of expression, amnesty for political prisoners, a new electoral law", "said Payá in Havana." "And also the free exercise of all professions so that we can improve our livelihood without this being viewed as a crime. The project Varela also wants to show a way out of poverty and is directed neither against solidarity nor against social achievements. "

Oswaldo Payá and his colleagues rely on a constitutional paragraph, according to which at least 10,000 'voters' can call for a referendum with their signature. So it's a completely legal process. However, since it is not carried out by the government but by a dissident organization, it questions the official monopoly of power and is treated as subversive. What motivates a Cuban to put himself on a list for the Varela project?

"If someone registers with their full name, ID number and address, they'll overcome their fear. That's how every liberation began," says Carlos Payá. "The motto of our movement is in the event that the State Security Service becomes a member threatens: 'I don't hate you, and I'm not afraid of you either.' "

Many Cubans today are ready to take the risks of simply signing an opposition project. Of course, the authorities are not going to arrest thousands of people. They are selective and some have lost their jobs in the process. It is even more dangerous for those responsible like Oswaldo Payá. The winner of the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament has so far been spared prison. But since he founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1998, he has lived under constant surveillance.

"They are also trying to put pressure on those around him," his brother reports. "" The most important employees are in prison, some have been sentenced to 15 and even 28 years in prison. That is scandalous. His house is not just getting round Everywhere they put up signs and painted slogans on the walls: traitors, CIA agents and the like. Someone regularly throws stones at the house. And recently a part of a bicycle even flew on the door. "

The Payá brothers come from a family of devout Catholics in which no one had any sympathy for the revolution. Carlos was expelled from the university, where he studied architecture, because he did not want to participate in denunciations. Soon after, he chose exile. While doing military service, Oswaldo refused to transport political prisoners and was sent to a labor camp for three years. After all, he was later able to train as a telecommunications engineer.

"He's still doing his job, that means he is exercising his right to work," "said his brother Carlos." "We feel free and exercise all of our rights, including the right to work. It will Controlled by the government, not by the private companies based here. So Oswaldo can only work for the government and repair medical equipment. He's been doing that all his life. "

In contrast to many other dissident organizations, the "Christian Liberation Movement" rejects any funding from US institutions or the Miami faction of Cuban exile. She also wants to be financially free. That is why Carlos Payá tries to raise funds for his brother and his movement in Europe. For some time now, however, the EU has been noticeably reluctant to support the Cuban opposition.

"The European delegation in Cuba is almost allergic to dissidents. Oswaldo was invited to the celebrations of the 15th award of the Sacharov Prize in Strasbourg. But not only the Cuban government did everything to prevent his departure. The EU representative too in Havana, who was supposed to send the invitation, did not do his job. The attitude of the Representation of the European Union in Cuba fluctuates between complicity and cowardice. "

Strong words from Carlos Payá. But many Cuban dissidents criticize the fact that the Europeans and especially their spokesmen, the Spaniards, show too much consideration for the reaction of the Castro government. After the wave of arrests in the "Black Spring 2003", the EU frozen its relations with Cuba and Castro, for his part, reduced diplomatic contacts to a minimum.

Many economic contracts were on hold, because for the "Máximo Líder" as for his successor, the insistence on an ideological position is still more important than a trade agreement that could alleviate the plight of the population. Both sides have since resumed negotiations. But even in the case of Cuba, the EU often seems to consider economic interests to be more important than human rights. However, the Cuban dissidents will not be deterred by this. Oswaldo Payá said these days:

"All Cubans should remember with gratitude the political prisoners, these defenders of human rights and the terrible circumstances in which they have to live. Our desire for change is at the same time a right to change that must come from us Cubans from within. Ours The balance sheet on January 1st reads: 50 years, half a century without freedom for different generations of Cubans. "