This 16th of July the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy celebrated their 20 year anniversary. This organization was founded by Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, who is currently exiled in Spain. The Havana-based pro human rights activist, Eriberto Liranza Romero, was elected president of CYMD during the last months of 2010. Liranza, in addition to being president of this organization, is the activities coordinator for the National Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front in the Western region of the island.
The young activist took the time to speak to us and share some words about the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, its 20th anniversary, and about the Cuban youth.
Tell us a bit about the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy. What are its goals as an opposition organization?
The Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy (CYMD) was born on July 16th 1991 at a stadium in Baracoa during a Cuban sports event called “The Panamerican Games”. In that stadium, the human rights activist Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina founded the Movement while he passed out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the majority of the spectators, which were somewhere between 8 to 10 thousand. Because of this, Nestor was savagely beaten. The following day, the CYMD was official founded. Throughout the group’s history, it has represented a pledge and various projects such as “University Students Without Frontiers”, “Project Rescue: St. Thomas Villanueva Catholic Church”, and other projects directed at the youth such as the news bulletins “The New Pines”, “University Torch”, and, in sum, other publications which have reached out to the Cuban youth.
The main objective of CYMD is to teach the Cuban youth that they have rights, and that they can be part of the change towards a free and democratic society. Unfortunately, we have not been able to fully achieve this goal because the Castro dictatorship continues attacking the free movement of the youth, squashing all the attempts of the youth to emancipate themselves, because the Cuban youth is an enslaved youth without a future. It is also a youth which is greatly submerged in alcoholism and, for example, many young girls have become involved in prostitution. In fact, many young female university students have had to sell themselves to foreigners in order to survive through their university career. We have to accept that many cases such as these exist and that these girls are suffering.
What methods does CYMD implement in order to reach out to the youth of the island?
We must reach out to the Cuban youth through social, sport, and cultural projects. And the most significant thing being done now by the Movement is the Cuban Youth Forum. The Forum was founded in 2009 in Majagua by the CYMD together with the Eastern Democratic Alliance. Each chapter of this Forum was practically taken throughout all the provinces of the country. Those who can see our blog (The Cuban Youth Forum) can check out all our chapters, along with many images, although because of issues of limited resources and internet access, we have not been able to upload them all. The Forum has been to Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, the central provinces, the eastern provinces, etc., with lessons for others about democracy and economics. Our goal has been to educate the youth on how they, according to their resources and conditions, could contribute to constructing a more just society which would be like Jose Marti always said, “by all and for the good of all”.
We have also been incorporating the 20th Anniversary Campaign which consists of re-establishing the actions of the Youth Forum, and like I said and the most important part, bringing the Cuban youth closer to the opposition through social, cultural, and sport projects. There are many ways of getting to the youth. It does not matter to us if these young Cubans have had difficult experiences with the law or the police. In order to survive in Cuba, everyone has problems with the law. We are not interested on how the dictatorship classifies the youth, what is important is how we see the youth. The youth is the future of Cuba, and we are working with that future. Elder people can give us suggestions and share experiences they have gone through during their years of struggle with us, but we are the ones with the strength to confront an enemy like the Castro dictatorship. I think we are going down the right path, and the Cuban youth is proving this.
Within CYMD we have achieved success because we function as a family. Each one of us gets along with one another as if we were brothers. And that is something that really brings the Cuban youth together, considering that they practically do not have family values because from a very young age the indoctrination of the Castro government has deeply lacerated the sense of family and unity. That family love and union has been, for the most part, lost. But we are rescuing such concepts through our various courses on values.
When did you assume presidency of CYMD?
The changes started occurring on November 2010. All the members made the decision together. We could not celebrate the ceremony to pass the presidency onto me in Baracoa right away because I was not able to travel for quite some time. I often did not have the necessary resources to travel, other times various arrests impeded me from traveling, and other times I was also participating in events for the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front. When Nestor Lobaina was imprisoned in December, all the papers were already signed and all the decisions were already agreed upon. At that moment I became president of CYMD. We will continue attempting to be dignified representatives of so many years of struggle. The CYMD is not Eriberto Liranza, nor any other executive or figure. CYMD belongs to each and every one of the young Cubans who are committed and exposed daily to the dangers of protesting in order to defend and promote ethical and civil values. Each activist puts their grain of sand. The CYMD aims to represent the Cuban youth.
It is a grand honor to be able to celebrate this 20 years of CYMD in Cuba. We will never forget all the work done by Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, and that he continues doing, in favor of his country. We greatly appreciate and honor him.
What are the plans for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of CYMD?
This 16th of July the Havana delegation of CYMD will meet at my house. Of course, we have already received the “visits” from the political police with their threatening tone, warning us that we will be censored and that they will be watching. They are the ones who will bring the repression, but nevertheless we are going to celebrate our day because it is very important to us. We are celebrating the history and anniversary of CYMD against the dictatorship. In Guantanamo, in Baracoa, a pre-event was carried out by activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance. Rolando Lobaina and other activists from Guantanamo organized an activity which was marked by repression against young Cubans who were attempting to arrive to the event. Now, we will celebrate the anniversary in Havana, where the current headquarters of CYMD are. Previously, it was located in Guantanamo (for 19 years) but it has now passed on to Havana.
Note from “Pedazos de la Isla”: At the moment of this interview the 20th anniversary reunion of CYMD had yet to take place. After confirming with Eriberto Liranza, the celebration was carried out without physical repression, although political police officers were on constant watch of the activists. According to the young dissident, more than 30 activists participated. The former political prisoner of conscience, Hector Maseda, was also present, sharing a few inspiring words about the Cuban youth.
CYMD, like you mentioned, has a blog- “The Cuban Youth Forum“. What are some of the difficulties you confront in managing a blog from the island? Taking into account the censorship and other informational obstacles on behalf of the government…
The blog is kept active thanks to friends in the exile who administer it, because they live in a free country with free access to the internet. We organize and put together the news, we write the articles, and they call us. We then read our work to them and they transcribe. These same friends then publish all the posts onto our blog. In my personal case, I can only access the internet for an hour and a half once a week thanks to the solidarity of an interests section which lets us dissidents, and everyday Cubans, go on the web for a while. During that hour, we try to send out all the information and photos as possible.
Another significant difficulty we face are means of communication. For example, the use and ownership of cell phones is very limited. Here, in the city of Havana, you can count with just one hand how many CYMD members have cell phones. There are also very little computers, which results in a difficult situation when trying to edit, put together, or send out information. While this is a problem, even worse is the impossibility and prohibition of Cuban youths from being able to access the internet without censorship. We Cubans who find some sort of way to go online must pay our entire month salary for just one hour access. These measures are abusive and draconian. It cannot be described as anything else but a grand robbery on behalf of the Cuban regime.
The few youths who have phones have incorporated something else that has been very important- Twitter. Thanks to those Twitter messages we can let the international community know instantly what is occurring within the island. That is, of course, if the person Tweeting has enough money to do so, considering that each Tweet costs us a Cuban peso.
How would you describe the relationship between the youth and the opposition? Compared to, say, the 80’s or 90’s, would you say that the youth is now more involved than before?
Not only the youth, but all of Cuban society is starting to protest. All Cubans are losing the fear. In regards to the youth, they rebel through the fashion, the trends, the music, and within their own social and cultural spaces. We see that, everyday, there are young Cubans occupying spaces they once could not and this is all due to the decadence of the dictatorship, the very helpful support from the international community, and also because of technology. The government continues oppressing, but it is now very difficult to hide such acts of repression, thanks to technology. For example, many Cubans are using USBs to to pass on information. Just like the proverb says: information is power. And the truth liberates people. The fact that young Cubans see that their are others like them fighting and protesting gives them strength and lets them know that they are not alone. Thanks to a photo camera, a DVD, a CD, a flash drive, they can see that there are many other youths throughout the entire country that are challenging the dictatorship. The economic crisis which the country traverses through is also another factor which really upsets the young people. Those who have not emigrated continue protesting against this vile dictatorship.
Today’s youth is not the same as the one from the 80’s. During that time period, a dissident was jailed and no one found out about it. Now, for example, an opposition members is imprisoned, and instantly, the world is informed about the situation. The world is feeling our pain, as has the exile.
There are also many young Cubans who leave the country. Recently, we all were informed about how a young Cuban man was sadly squashed and killed in the cargo area of an Iberia plane, as he tried to reach freedom. He did not achieve it, and it is a very grave pain for us, but in this young Cuban we see the reflection of so many other Cubans who seek a new hope, a new life. However, if the international community supports us, if they keep placing their eyes on the Cuban youth, if they help us with resources, with materials on how to achieve our studies and projects, then we would be able to more efficiently reach out to the youth on the island.
Years ago, when a young person left the country even their families would condemn them. The same thing would happen to anyone who would somehow find a way to travel. They were considered worms, mercenaries, traitors, etc. But this has changed completely within Cuban society. Now, each family longs for an escape, or to live in freedom outside of the island. We are working to show the people how it is to live in freedom inside of Cuba, which is the most important thing.