A special thank you to Manuel Robles Villamarin, a young member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for offering this interview, where he talks about his involvement in the pro-freedom movement in Cuba, the projects for change carried out by the MCL, the Cuban youth, and more.
Pieces of the Island blog (PDLI): Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to incorporate yourself in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba?
Manuel Robles: I was born and raised in Havana, “the capital of all Cubans”. I studied towards a technical degree in information, and later entered the Jose Antonio Echevarria Institute for Superior Studies, working towards a degree in electronic telecommunication engineering.
When I was about to enter my fourth year I was expelled from the university for being a member of the Christian Liberation Movement. I’ve officially been part of the MCL for 2 years now, and it has been a decision, an option, which I made to find a purpose in my life and find out which way I’d like to gear myself.
I remember that while I was in the World Youth Campaign 2011 in Madrid, representing the Cuban delegation before the Pope, I felt that God told me, “Manuel, help free your people”. That is why I returned and why I am here fighting for freedom and rights for all Cubans, and doing so in a peaceful manner.
PDLI: What are some of the problems young Cubans face on the island?
Manuel Robles: The Cuban youth suffers an ill called hopelessness, because many people decide not to tell people that it is worth it to fight for what they want.
They also suffer from the fact that privileges are only for a few.
Oswaldo Paya always said that these transformations that we have been seeing are not changes. He called it fraudulent-change. Changes have to be total. In other words, half of a reform does not constitute change, it’s really just playing along with the government. Young people suffer under this. If you are not with “them” (the regime), if you do not say what they want you to say, if you don’t project yourself as they wish, then you will not be able to study in a university, you can’t have your own business, you don’t have enough money to enjoy with your family or your friends, you suffer from having many relatives far away and not being able to embrace them or welcome them in their homeland, because many of our relatives are not allowed back in the island. They suffer constant dejection by not having even the most minimal of necessities to be able to obtain food, clothing, or just simply enjoying their lives.
These are some of the problems of the Cuban youth, among others.
PDLI: You mention ‘fraudulent-change’. The MCL has presented alternatives to confront these tricks. Tell us a bit about these projects.
Manuel Robles: The Varela Project, which we are now asking for its plebiscite, is something very important for the Cuban democratic movement and also to achieve the changes which all Cubans want and need. It is a project which, in 2002, was turned in with more than 10,000 signatures, which is what the constitution establishes in order to reach a referendum and to inform the people about the situation, so that the people can decide whether it is approved or not.
The regime just showed, once again, its totalitarian roots, based on fear. But the people put their signatures out there. They wrote down their addresses, saying ‘I am here and as a citizen, demanding that this be taken into consideration because the people want it’. That is what the Varela Project asks for: freedom, peace, justice. It also demands the right to freedom of expression and press, that plurality be respected as well as the diversity of ideas found within society. It also demands amnesty for those who are jailed for political motives, and in that manner we can open up the path to national reconciliation.
The Varela Project also proposes to use the law to guarantee Cubans free and responsible participation in the country’s economy so that they could run their own businesses and contract freely, something that is a privilege for a handful right now.
It proposes a new electoral law, something very important to reach the constitutional right of all Cubans to elect and be elected, and that there be more than one candidate for each position in the National Assembly of Popular Power and that they be elected directly by the citizens. It also calls for elections in a period of no longer than a year after this referendum is approved.
PDLI: What has happened with the delivery of these signatures?
Manuel Robles: The National Assembly has this project locked away in a drawer. And it was even handed in again a few years ago, and many Cuban citizens – even more than the ones needed as per the law- are demanding that this project be made public and that there be a referendum and a plebiscite.
That’s what we’re asking for, which is something that is already achieved, something we already have in our hands for change. Something we need.
PDLI: According to news you have made public, you have received threats because of your activism…
Manuel Robles: Yes, such threats form a very important foundation within the operations of the government. They work with a very strong war – I would say it’s the strongest kind – and I’m talking about psychological war. They use this medium which has already been introduced and is intravenous, injected in the veins of the Cuban people.
There are two kinds of people: those who subdue themselves to fears and those who put fear as a marker to surpass.
In my case, State Security has called me and told me “this is the phone of the dead guy” and then they hang up. Then, I have called back to the same number which called me and I say, “I’ve received a call from this number, who is it?” and they just tell me “oh, this is the number of the dead guy” and they just recite my cell phone number and hang up. I am not a paranoid person but their is no doubt in my mind that this is a threat, and one of the worst kinds – a death threat.
PDLI: Do everyday Cubans really support the communist regime?
Manuel Robles: It’s something very interesting. For some years now, the Cuban people are not the same as before. People have been waking up, as if they were washing their faces with water upon rising from bed. They start to get filled with energies because they are already totally anguished. No more calamity, no more suffering. People are tired of the divisions. They are over-saturated of so many lies. What the system has been doing to us is sickening. The government is playing Cubans for fools. But Cubans are intelligent.
The Cuban people are tired and that’s why each time there are less citizens who participate in the fraudulent election system in Cuba. Each time, there are less people who pay the mandatory work quota in unions, and less people who participate in organizations which promote arms. There are less Cubans who want to affiliate themselves with the Communist Youth Union, the Cuban Communist Party, etc.
PDLI: In regards to this same subject – citizen discontent – you recently published a note on your Twitter account in regards to some residents of Havana who have been expressing their complaints in regards to a very bad housing situation…
Manuel Robles: Yes, there is a place in the Vedado neighborhood, on E Street, between 15 and 17 where there is a building which has been declared “irreparable” and “inhabitable” for some years now. The residents of that building have done many things. They have gone to the State Council, they have taken all the steps of what supposedly needs to be done to obtain a response. They have felt abandoned to the point that they have had no other option and have continued demanding. In 2012, a building on Infanta Street caved in, and the citizens of the other building went to the housing department and said “look what just happened, we don’t want the same to happen to our children or any other citizens”. The functionaries only responded by saying “you are not the only one”, as if saying that if the building falls apart, their lives do not matter, something which really hurt and bothered them.
Recently, after so many complaints and after the people have said that if their is no solution they would turn to the opposition and make public denouncements, Mariela Castro, who is the deputy for the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality, showed up to an accountability meeting. These meetings are organized by blocks, under the orders of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. In reality, they are just more absurdities of the government.
And so Mariela showed up and took note of the situation. She took photographs and told them to wait for a response. So these people are just waiting. If there is no response soon, they will make declarations in front of the independent media.
PDLI: What message would you like to send out to the Cuban youth?
Manuel Robles: I’ve always said that there is only one Cuba, and that we Cubans are just one people, wherever it is that we are. Cubans have the right to be Cuban, and not only do we have that right, but we are Cuban, wherever it is we may be, whatever our forms of thinking may be.
To the Cuban people, whether you are in Madrid, Miami, Florida, Baltimore, Havana, Camaguey, wherever, I say: have strength and never lose faith. Never stop fighting and never stop looking towards what is truly essential. And what is essential at this very moment is that we unify ourselves despite normal and healthy differences we all have as human beings.
We must look at a Cuba with a future, a Cuba that is possible to reconstruct. We must open our hearts and give everything in our reach in terms of love, solidarity, respect, and in healing so many things, to reconcile with so many things, and take steps that are very important. It is crucial to forget our personal interests, our personal pains, because these things are what impede the bases and mediums to achieve what we all want which is freedom and rights for our people.
I’d like to tell everyone that this is the moment for change, the time for the plebiscite, for the Varela Project, and we are already walking down The Path of the People.
PDLI: Thank you very much for this interview…
Manuel Robles: I’d like to conclude with a phrase from someone who is very important to me – Oswaldo Paya.
He used to say: “it has been faith what has given me strength amid failures. When people suggest and force you to abandon the struggle, you persist through the faith of Christ“.
Follow Manuel Robles on Twitter! @manue_rv