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"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation
“If, what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, it is best we not do it”- Monsignor Agustin Roman
April 13, 2012Posted by on
May 5, 1928 – April 11, 2012
Though the following text is a lengthy read, it is worth it and important. It is a translation of a speech made by Monsignor Agustin Roman in 2006 in Miami about the importance of the internal Cuban opposition, dissidence, or Resistance. As he explains in this heartfelt piece, no matter what you call those brave Cubans inside the island, they all fight for justice. And justice is what Roman also represented in his 84 years of life. Although he is now physically gone, he will always spiritually guide not just Cuban exiles, but all Cubans, into freedom. His example was one worth emulating- a true man of God, a true Catholic, and a true Cuban. He was not afraid to tell the world that his brothers and sisters were in need of freedom, he was not afraid to say that he was an exile, and he was not afraid to explain why he was exiled (he was sent out of the country at gunpoint by the Cuban regime). Agustin Roman did not live off of hate or bitterness, and yet, he was clear in explaining that fighting peacefully was not a sign of weakness, but instead a sign of great strength and courage.
I was fortunate enough to meet him once, and all I can say is that no one had to “coach him” about what was happening inside Cuba. He already knew. He used names of dissidents and gave specific examples. At the time, activists inside the island carried out a peaceful march dubbed the “Boitel-Zapata National March for Freedom”, and he knew about this and praised the efforts.
In this text, Monsignor Agustin Roman recaps the history of Cuba, highlights the bravery of countless Cubans in their struggle to achieve freedom, and explains the role of the current Resistance, and displays his support for it. Please read:
The Importance of the Current Internal Dissidence in Cuba
by Mons. Agustin Roman
Just barely a week ago, we celebrated the date of December 10th, the anniversary of the United Nation’s proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which has been growing in importance with the passing of the years. In it, a firm acknowledgement of the dignity of the human being was achieved, without limitations of race, nationality, or belief. Without limitations of time and place either, considering that it is relevant to all eras and all countries.
It is clear that, as the head of a secular organism, there is no religious reference in the declaration. However, for men of faith, and even for those who, although not religious, have followed the development of the human race from its first days until the present, it is not difficult to find the origin of the principles sustained by human beings about their own dignity and their inherent rights, in their relationship with God, a god which in nearly all large religions is provident, attentive to the needs of his creatures, and possesses a clear sense of justice.
Meanwhile, the participation which the Republic of Cuba had in the League of Nations in 1948 in the drafting and passing of the Universal Letter is a historic fact. Particularly involved were Dr. Ernesto Dihigo, Dr. Guillermo Belt, and Dr. Guy Perez Cisneros.
For the most part, for me, as a Catholic and as a Cuban, it constitutes much pride that our beloved and respected Father Felix Varela Foundation has invited me to share some reflections about the current internal dissidence in Cuba at this moment with its members and friends. This subject could not be appropriately discussed without relating it directly to the Declaration of Human Rights. It’s good, then, to do it now, during the celebrations of the 58th anniversary of the proclamation, and it is urgent that we do so, also because of the special circumstances which our Cuban nation faces in these moments.
My gratitudes to the Father Felix Varela Foundation for giving me this opportunity of reflection which we should take advantage of to conscientiously look back on the past and on the present of our country, with the purpose of learning and understanding the essentials so that each and every one of us can be facilitators of a future in which that undesirable document will become a guide for coexistence amongst Cubans. If we achieve this, we will be implementing factors from the civil camp, which the Lord previously summarized in his new commandments as a compendium of his doctrine: “Let us love one another, as I have loved you all”.
The dissidence movement in Cuba is something new, in terms of its methods, but it is framed within a tradition as old as the history of the island at the moment of discovery: it is the search for justice, something which is equivalent to what we today define as the respect for human rights. As soon as colonization began under the command of Diego de Velasquez, he found the determined resistance of indigenous groups which, if we take into consideration the peaceful nature of them and the lack of coordination between different tribes in isolated areas, we have to classify it as remarkable. Although condemned to failure from the beginning because of the numerical and armed superiority of the colonizers. Those Taino indians were guided by the natural light which is made by man which allows one to differentiate between bad and good.
Since then, and even before the idea of being Cuban as opposed to Spanish began to flourish, a strong concept of justice began to empower the inhabitants of the “always loyal island of Cuba” which were subjected to the arbitrariness of the representatives of the Crown, to the point that all the studies on the subject are in agreement in that it was precisely what ended up forming what is creole as an entity different to being peninsular.
The early rebellions of the miners from the eastern El Cobre town and of the vega stewards from Jesus del Monte during the first half of the the VIII century, the sermon of the illustrated men identified today as forgers of our nationality, such as Father Varela, Luz and Caballero, Saco, etc, as well as the first separatist plots and attempts, nearly always fueled by creoles of high economic status teach us that, among other things, the aspiration of justice was shared by men and women of all races and social statuses in the country. All of this crystallized in the 10 Years War. During the beginning of this war, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, after appealing to “the God of our conscience with the hand over the heart” declared: “we believe that all men are equal, we love tolerance, order, and justice…” and was consolidated later during the Wars of Independence when Jose Marti summed up the purpose by saying that “the first law of the Republic must be to respect each Cuban due to their human dignity”.
Later on, after 56 years from the installment of the Republic up to January 1st of 1959, we can see that the aspiration for justice was what impulsed social progress in Cuba. Due to its influence, there surged popular laws, powerful union movements, political groups, educational institutions, and social work. Early on, the acknowledgment of the rights of woman to suffrage, the 8 hour work day, the concept of equal pay, etc, were set in motion. Other persistent evils such as public corruption, racial discrimination and significant economic gaps between the rural area and the city were unpopular by the citizens. The Constitution of 1940 and its complementary laws, not always attacked, were going down the path of achieving justice. The philosophical-political debate between liberals, conservatives, marxists, social democrats, etc, is a debate headed to demonstrate which proposition is closer to justice. The Cuban Catholic Action is, since the mid-50’s, an emerging force which attempts to uphold the Social Doctrine of the Church as a suitable instrument for those aspirations.
Those aspirations, centered on demands such as the reinstitution of constitutional order, the smartening of public gestures, etc, are what moved the majority of Cubans to support the revolution which arrived to power on the first day of 1959. Those same aspirations for justice are the ones which allowed that euphoria to quickly dissipate like a bubble on a soap upon witnessing the marxist twist of the revolution.
As early as November 1959, the Civic Plaza of Havana was filled with Catholics who, at the feet of the image of the Holy Mary, Patron of Cuba who was beautifully dubbed the Charity of El Cobre, asked at the top of their lungs for “Social Justice, Yes; Communism, No!”. There then began another new and cruel stage of struggle for Cubans, this time against an unknown enemy in terms of its cruelty and which was underestimated in its audacity. But, the ideal of justice once again moved Cubans to heroically confront it, but at the same time in a painful extreme, as always occurs during civil wars. Without calculating the risks, nor measuring the possibilities of triumph, those who were “hungry for justice” confronted totalitarian despotism which did not hesitate to order thousands of compatriots to execution walls or to fill up the prisons. The screams of “Long Live Christ the King!” were the best testimonies of the just motivation of that struggle which had unforgettable episodes in Playa Giron, in the mountains and plains of the entire national territory, and in the urban centers where, according to the mentality and tradition of the time, and what seemed to be logical, considered armed struggle as being the only way of one day achieving the Republic which, along with Marti, we dreamt to be cordial “with all and for the good of all”.
During the mid-60’s, the magnitude of the repression, the support from the Soviet block to the repressors, the abandonment of those who we thought were allies of the democratic fighters, and the complacency of a world in which many of its leaders and thinkers, believing that they would be destined to communism, managed to squash the active resistance in Cuba. The exodus through Camarioca in 1965 and the subsequent “Freedom Flights” would provide the moral wound on the brave and sacrificed clandestine Cuban movement.
Yes, the quiet individual resistance of the worker which broke their machinery, the desperate person who painted a sign, or the elderly woman who, despite the consequences, went to Church did continue.
It continued like that until January 28th of 1976. If we must put a date on the beginning of the active dissidence inside Cuba, it would have to be that one, the day in which the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Committee, founded by Ricardo Bofill and a smaller group of collaborators, was more or less formed.
That’s not to say that before this date there were no dissidents. There were many, and many known ones, such as president Manual Urrutia, the first minister Miro Cardona and commanders Huber Matos and Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, just to name a few among the many who, in their moment, denounced the marxist essence of the Castro system. But they ended up in prison or in exile, while many others, such as the unforgettable Porfirio Ramirez, died in an uneven battle in the mountains of Cuba. We Cubans had not yet discovered the viability of the peaceful struggle as an instrument of liberation.
Highlighting its reliance on the historic struggle of the Cuban people for justice, the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Committee was brought to light on the anniversary of Marti’s birth and cited Father Varela as one of its inspirations in its foundational document. It is the same struggle, but it is daringly different: it seeks justice, but through peaceful methods. The concept of Non-Violent Civic Resistance is introduced in the history of Cuba. Truth becomes the main weapon, putting in practice what the Scriptures propose in the spiritual camp- “truth will make you free”. From that moment on, its importance and transcendence becomes clear for the future of Cuba.
We must point out that during this time, before and after the birth of the active internal dissidence, the exile was, and continues being today, the “other lung” of the Cuban people’s struggle for the demand of their rights, the “other trench” where there has been resistance since the first day, with possibilities that, without them, their successes and errors, but with praiseful fidelity, the attempts of totalitarianism becoming permanent in Cuba. The near totality of the leaders of the internal dissidence acknowledge that without the support of exiles, they would not have had the possibility of carrying out their work, nor of surviving.
THE MUSTARD SEED
What began with that emaciated Cuban Pro-Human Rights Committee, which many classified as quixotic, is currently a notable force due to its bravery, its determination, and its moral authority. It is not a massive movement, but it is the largest of those which have existed in any of the countries which were subjected to communist totalitarianism around the world.
Also, it is very diverse, for it includes in its ranks Cubans of all social spheres in the country: doctors likes Oscar Elias Biscet, engineers like Oswaldo Paya, lawyers like Rene Gomez Manzano, economists like Marta Beatriz Roque, poets like Regis Iglesias, educators like Roberto de Miranda, philosophers like Jaime Legonier, former soldiers like Vladimiro Roca, farmers like Antonio Alonso, unionists like Carmelo Diaz, housewives like Berta Antunez, humble people like the Sigler Amaya brothers, and many more.
Among them their are whites, blacks, and mulattos; Catholics, Protestants, and Santeros; liberals, conservatives, christian-democrats, and socialists of all non-communist political denominations. And they are present from the Western extreme of the island, like the Pro-Human Rights Party in Guane, to the extreme Eastern region, like the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy in Baracoa.
In its shadows and on its impulse, the civil society of the nation has been reborn: journalists, librarians, members of cooperatives, professional associations, farmers, workers, artists, intellectuals, and independent handicapped citizens, among others.
They have achieved international acknowledgments of very high levels, as important prizes which promote human rights given to different activists by the European Union, NGOs, and other institutions from different countries have proved. What is most important is that each day they gain more respect among their fellow citizens.
It is also notable that in Cuba, as in any other part of the world, semantic differences which were important in the past have been erased. Today, in the Cuban context, opposition and dissidence are synonymous, for under the classification of “dissidents” and “dissidence” or “the human rights people”, as the general population refers to them, we include people like Oswaldo Paya, for example, who never belonged to the ranks of the regime, and others who believed in the illusion of the revolution for a long or short time.
We can say then that the current internal dissidence is living proof of what the complete Cuban nation is, and that it is currently the most important agent of change inside the island. In it, we see the parabola of the mustard seed, seeing as from one tiny seed there has risen a corpulent tree. It would not be prudent to exaggerate the importance in regards to the forces with the dictatorship, but it would also be not be prudent to ignore its potential as the probable channel of the desires for justice, now generalized at a popular level, which drew its origins from when those desires were only expressed by a few.
The dissidence may not have power in the entire Cuban territory, but I believe that it is not an exaggeration to say that it demonstrates the capacity to, when the moment comes and with adequate help, be able to, along with other independent organisms- religious and fraternal- offer decisive answers for uncertainties, the instability, and the initial disorder which inevitably accompanies all significant changes in a previously totalitarian society.
In sum, since the subject has surged, if they ask me what is the real importance of the current internal dissidence, I would say that it revealed to us Cubans the possibility of banishing violence from the political struggles, and it showed us the efficiency of the non-violent methods in the search for justice.
Cuba inherited old concepts which indicated that the only honorable way to solve conflicts was through bloodshed, despite how evident it has been made today that succeeding by force means that one is stronger or is better equipped than the other, but not that one is necessarily in possession of reason or rights. Physical or armed confrontation became, erroneously, the only acceptable proof of honor and bravery.
That mentality which ferociously pushed Spaniards and their Cuban sons to confront each other when the latter justly demanded their independence, continued to mark the Republic, and like that we saw how patriots who won indisputable merits out in the fields confronted each other after afterward with the same violence because of political disparities or ambitions of power, providing our nation’s history with very sad pages like the death of Quntin Banderas during the time of Estrada Palma, the racial and veterans confrontations during the government of Jose Miguel Gomez and the excesses of the government and the position during the era of Machado.
It is not a matter of wanting to judge people who acted according to the culture of their time as what they had learnt to be good and honorable according to modern parameters and by the light of experiences which they did not have, as on other hand, others did lots of good. It’s a matter of impartially understanding an ill-fated and counterproductive tradition of violence which made rivalries and insults pass on from generation to generation without any possibilities of drawing up solutions. There was always some doubt left to settle, and it was settled with blood, the blood of brothers.
Along with this, we must clarify that none of what has been mentioned implies that a country can be condemned if, at a specific moment, it finds itself forced to resort to violence in an extreme case, as one resorts to amputations in certain cases in order to avoid death, mainly when the perseverance of the oppressors shuts the doors at any attempt of a solution. Countries, like people, have the right to defend themselves from aggression. That recurrence to a non-desired violence has, however, to be imposed temporally in according to the circumstances and not be the preferred option, and much less a practice or method of justifiable struggle.
The syndrome of violence which marked our Republic and which I was referring to previously has had its cruelest expression in the current regime. We will never forget all the executed, the tortured, the ones fallen in combat, those assassinated as they tried to escape the island. We will not forget, nor should we forget, the experience of fear, the heroic Calvary of political imprisonment, nor the horror of the acts of mob repudiation. It is precisely because of respect and gratitude to those who have fallen and to all that we have suffered that we have to fight so that their grandchildren and all the current grandchildren of all Cubans can live in a different Cuba than the one which we had to live in. A Cuba where problems are solved “among Cubans” in harmony and civility, not by impositions of some over others. A Cuba, at last, “where the main law of the Republic is the respect of dignity of each Cuban”.
The conduct and the methods which sunk Cuba and keep it submerged at this very moment are not the ones which will save. To assume the ungrateful task of trying to finish with the difficult legacy of violence is the main merit of the dissidence because, upon achieving it, it will be an inestimable good for Cuba, not only for today and for us, but also for the future, for those who are still to come.
Specifically, I’d say that the major importance of the current internal dissidence in Cuba lies in that it has proved that political action can be coherent with what conscience knows, and it is that the force of reason is, and should be, stronger than the reason of force.
As everyone knows, there is no worse blind man than the one who wishes to not see. I believe that only those will try to refuse the importance of the current internal dissidence of Cuba, but, if a convincing testimony is necessary, I think that there is no other better one than that of the dictatorship: if those dissidents do not represent a real challenge to the regime, why then oppress them with such virulence? Why jail them? Why try to discredit them constantly?
For the skeptics, we must remind them that if the final result which the Cuban people seeks has not yet been obtained by dissidents nor by anyone else, they have demonstrated that the Non-Violeny Civic Resistance is capable of challenging totalitarianism, as happened in 1996 with ‘Concilio Cubano’, in 2001 with the Varela Project, and in 2003 with the fermenting dissidence which led to the “Black Spring” of that year, all of which indicates that there exists, in all those methods, the potential of unleashing definite change.
And upon arriving at this point, it is clear that what is logical would be that all Cubans, both those on the island and those in exile, ask ourselves: What could we do to help the dissidence? We, the exile, should ask ourselves what to do to offer them all the possible efficiency to the legitimate struggle for the liberation of the nation, among them and us.
I cannot offer political formulas nor strategies of action because I am not a politician or a strategist. I am a Cuban priest, a simple pastor of souls, and as such, I can only refer myself to what I have learned under the light of the Gospel, to remember what some our greatest thinkers have indicated and recommended that we not forget, the wisdom of our peasants, that which they today refer to as common sense.
In the beginning of this, I mentioned the important of reflecting about these subjects as we have done today, due to the special circumstances which the Cuban nation is living through in these very moments. We should always keep that sense of urgency close to us for the steps which we should take. It is not I who can say what steps we should take, but, whoever it is that does, they will allow us to advance and not backtrack only if we take steps of virtue. “There is no country without virtue”, the first person who taught us to think told us, and I think that I can suggest some of the necessary virtues so that our steps take us to the goals of the common good, what we desire for Cuba:
1- Firmness of principles and clarity of objectives. We should be conscious of what we want for Cuba: real sovereignty, the respect of laws, and respect of human rights. This concept embodies all other just demands such as, for example, the liberation of all political prisoners, democracy, free elections, fair processes, etc. We should place before us, in addition, our non-acceptance of formulas which intend to impede or hamper the right of Cubans to freely chose its destiny or of conducing the continuity of the present system or of something similar, under the appearance of democratization, openness, or reforms.
2- Equilibrium. The human being is very susceptible to the passion which makes them lose clarity in their vision of things. We Cubans are not the exception to this rule. All the contrary, we should remember the wise words of the suitably dubbed Prophet of the Exile, our unforgettable Bishop Eduardo Boza Masvidal. In regards to this, he said: “Equilibrium does not mean to dance obliviously, but instead to assume a clear and defined attitude which does not ask to borrow anything from anyone, instead which is born of a good doctrinal formulation and of a selfless study and objective of reality”.
3- Unity. Unity in diversity, which is how it has to be, but a firm unity, because if we have always needed it, today it is unpredictable. We do not have to explain to any Cuban how much damage disunion has caused us. It is time to separate the wheat from the darnel. We cannot forget what our Lord Jesus himself tells us in Chapter 12, Saint Matthew: “Divided Kingdoms will become desolate and all cities or homes will that are divided will cease to exist”.
4- Prudence and energy. A servant of God and an architect of Cuban-ness, Father Varela recommended Cubans of his time in his “Moral and Social Principals” not to confuse weakness with prudence, clarifying that this “indicates to man what he should chose, practice, and omit in each circumstance”. I would outline this Varela principle, recalling that the first thing which prudence indicates is to think before acting. Varela also signaled, in “The Habanero”, something which seems as if it was written for our days. He said, “It is not time to be distracted with particular accusations, nor with useless lamentations. It is only time to operate with energy to be free”.
5- Justice, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation. I said in the beginning that the cause of the internal dissidence, and the cause of all of us in the end, is the continuous search for justice for the Cuban people. Cuba asks for justice from the heavens, justice is essential. The truth complements justice and should be the first condition of our chores and the firm base of society. Each Cuban should recognize the truth of their responsibilities and their errors if we wish to enter with cleanliness into the new Cuba which we desire. At the same time, the homeland also needs forgiveness and reconciliation in order to have possibilities for the future. A society which maintains its wounds permanently open condemns itself to the continuation of its conflicts and eliminates possibilities of living in peace. Justice, truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not exclusive terms, nor are they contradictory. Our beloved Pope John Paul II said, in respect to this, in his message for the Conference of World Peace on January 1st of 1997, that “forgiveness, far from excluding the search for freedom, demands it. Mistakes should be acknowledged and, within the possibilities, fixed…Another essential assumption of forgiveness and of reconciliation is justice, which has its sole fundaments in the law of God…Therefore- added His Holiness- forgiveness does not eliminate, nor diminish, the demand of reparations which is necessary for justice. Instead, it attempts to reintegrate people and groups in society”.
6- Faith, hope, and charity. I’ve left the most important part for the end, because it is what envelops and makes possible everything else. Faith in God, because without Him all attempts are futile: “If the Lord does not edify the house, the work of the bricklayer is in vain”, the Scriptures affirm. Hope in God, because it is of Him which all good derives: “Fortunate is the man who has deposited his trust in the Lord”, proclaims Saint Matthew in his Gospel. Charity, which is love of God and of our brothers, because we have already seen enough products of hate in our country. Charity, because it is what God himself wanted for us upon sending the image of the Mother of his Son in the sea to us: the Mother of Charity, the Mother of Love, Mother of the Homeland. If, what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, it is best we not do it.
If we all desire the wellbeing of the nation, if those from the important internal dissidence and from the persevering exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be efficient. If we assume the compromise of not letting selfishness or passions dilute us, we will win. If we maintain these principles and spread them within our people, we would assure a happy future for Cuba.
I want to conclude with an expression of loyalty, affection, and acknowledgment for the paternal labor of the Catholic Church in Cuba during this very difficult stage in our history. On February 3rd, 1959 the first conjunctive pastoral of Cuban bishops saw the light. In it, and centered in the theme of education, those pastors launched demands and questions applicable to the entire deceptive revolutionary process which at the time was beginning. Before that, just two days after the triumph of the revolution, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Mons. Enrique Perez Serantes, reminded the new government and the people why we were fighting, saying: “We want and hope for a Republic that is fully democratic, in which all citizens can fully enjoy the richness of human rights”.
As of that moment, the facts, which have been well documented, tell us of that suffering church, harassed sometimes more up front than others, but always harassed alongside the Cuban people. This had, perhaps, its most eloquent point with the pastoral “Love can outlast anything”, from 1993, but there is also an extensive and rich history which will one day be known in all its details, from the generous, brave, and reserved labor of the Church in favor of the legitimate and necessary interests and necessities of the Cuban people in these times. It is not in vain that the loudest chants of “Freedom” heard in Cuba during recent times had occurred in public plazas during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998.
I equally reiterate my personal appreciation and respect for the internal dissidence of Cuba and I do it from the heart of a Cuban who is naturally proud of being an exile, of belonging to diaspora that is committed to its nation’s destiny, full of men and women of faith and of action, whose merits and virtues are not always justly recognized. When a positive outcome occurred for the prison brigades of Atlanta and Oakdale in 1987, I remember that the emotion made me exclaim on that day that, if I was not Cuban, I would pay to be Cuban. Without the slightest bit of arrogance, with great respect for all the countries of the world, I repeat it today: I would pay to be a dissident, I would pay to be an exile, because one and the other are the same thing: Cubans, good Cubans, trying to be better.
I should ask forgiveness for having forgotten about the time limit, but it seemed to me that the important alternatives which we Cubans have before us in these moments asked for these considerations which I have wanted to share with you all, taking advantage of the invitation of the Father Felix Varela Foundation which ones again I would like to thank. Perhaps I forgot to add among the necessary virtues which we need, that of saying more in less time. But you all, who are so generous, will comprehend, because you are Cuban like me.
Thank you very much.
Monsignor Agustín A. Román
Miami, December 16th 2006
Read more about the life of Agustin Roman here.