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Cuban dissident leader takes his message to the United States – ‘We’re not afraid’

Cuban dissident leader takes his message to the United States: ‘We’re
not afraid’
By Karen DeYoung May 31 at 6:01 PM

For most of his career as a Cuban dissident leader, through his 2003
arrest and seven years as a political prisoner, José Daniel Ferrer was
repeatedly pressed by the Cuban government to leave the country and not
come back. He repeatedly refused.

It was only this spring — when Cuban officials offered a one-time chance
to travel abroad and return to Cuba — that he took them up on it. As
with many actions of the island’s communist leadership, there was no
explanation.

Ferrer, 45, does not believe it signals a change of heart or loosening
of government restrictions on basic civil rights. If anything, he said,
“the dismal situation continues.” Arrests of members of his
organization, the Cuban Patriotic Union, and others have increased this
year.

In meetings and speeches in the United States and in Europe over the
next several weeks, Ferrer said in an interview Tuesday, he will urge
the outside world to “maintain and increase solidarity with those of us
struggling for a free Cuba through peaceful means,” even as business
deals are made and tourism flourishes.

“As more Americans and tourists continue to visit Cuba and show
solidarity with the opposition, of course they’re welcomed by us,” he
said. “But if they only go to speak with the regime and negotiate with
the regime, it doesn’t help us achieve freedom and democracy.”

Ferrer chose his words carefully when asked if he shares the view of
some here and in Cuba that the Obama administration should have demanded
more of the government of President Raúl Castro before normalizing
relations between the two countries.

“Finding the right formula is very complex,” he said. “That is true as
much for the U.S. government as for the rest of the free world.” Efforts
to positively influence events in Cuba “always run the risk that the
regime is the one that wins.”

The United States, Ferrer said, is “the greatest ally of Cuban democracy
. . . for the simple reason that it’s closest and has the greatest
economic power.”

Ferrer was among a group of about a dozen dissidents who met with
President Obama during his visit to Havana this spring. In recent
months, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, has twice
invited Ferrer to “talk about the Cuban reality and in particular how
things are going in the east,” where UNPACU, as Ferrer’s group is known
by its Spanish acronym, is based in the city of Santiago.

[Obama’s goal for Cuba trip: Become a source of support]

A tall, charismatic man with a deep voice, Ferrer is a new breed of
Cuban dissident — using activism to show the population that they can
overcome their fear of repression, and using a wide array of technology,
including DVDs, an active website and social media, to spread
information. UNPACU is the largest and arguably most effective such
group on the island, with thousands of members.

“We recruit and train a vanguard . . . to peacefully confront the
regime” and to send a message to both the government and the population
that “we’re not afraid,” he said. Their marches and demonstrations
frequently result in arrests and beatings by security forces, and Ferrer
has been arrested countless times.

But “if we only concentrate on that kind of action,” he said, UNPACU
would never number more than several hundred activists. Instead, it
combines protest with social activism — feeding the poor, providing
medicine to the sick, running activities for children and “serving as a
bridge for victims of injustice” by broadcasting their treatment to the
world.

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“Our goal is to continue growing the number of people in the streets and
to continue to grow,” he said.

One of 75 prominent dissidents arrested in 2003 during what is known as
Cuba’s “Black Spring,” Ferrer was sentenced to 25 years for his work in
gathering signatures for the Varela Project, a petition for a nationwide
referendum on opening Cuba to greater political and civil freedoms.

One of the last to be released as part of a deal negotiated by the
government of Spain and the Cuban Catholic church, he remains on
probation and liable to be forced to complete his sentence at any time.

Despite the increase in short-term political arrests this year, Ferrer
said he believes that “the struggle is going to get easier” once Raúl
Castro follows through on his pledge to step down in 2018.

The aging Castros — Raúl and his brother Fidel, who ruled the island
from the 1959 revolution until he stepped down in 2006 — “like Stalin in
the Soviet Union and Hitler in Germany, have created a mentality that
they are invincible,” Ferrer said. “The next person won’t be able to do
that.”

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security
correspondent for the Washington Post. Follow @karendeyoung1

Source: Cuban dissident leader takes his message to the United States:
‘We’re not afraid’ – The Washington Post –
www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cuban-dissident-leader-takes-his-message-to-the-united-states-were-not-afraid/2016/05/31/d6250978-2764-11e6-ae4a-3cdd5fe74204_story.html

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