Heritage Panel: Havana Talks Exclude the Cuban People


EspañolOn Friday, January 23, the DC-based Heritage Foundation organized a panel discussion on the process of restoring diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. The foundation invited three speakers: Rosa María Payá, a Cuban dissident and daughter of the late activist Oswaldo Payá; Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Frank Calzón, director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Payá argued that it is paramount for Cuban citizens to have a say in the negotiations taking place between governments. On the island, human rights amount to “a permit, a privilege, which the government can grant and revoke,” she said.

All three speakers agreed that the new policies implemented by US President Barack Obama will not secure more freedom for the Cuban people.

Ana Quintana, Heritage Foundation staff, Roger Noriega, Rosa María Paya, and Frank Calzón discuss the ongoing diplomatic talks between Cuba and the United States.
Ana Quintana, Heritage Foundation staff, Roger Noriega, Rosa María Paya, and Frank Calzón discuss the ongoing diplomatic talks between Cuba and the United States. (Heritage Foundation)

Slow Talk

After their second day of negotiations on Thursday, officials from both countries described the meeting as “constructive,” but could not specify a date for the opening of their respective embassies.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said civil liberties and human-rights concerns are on the agenda.

Payá, on the other hand, argues that the Cuban people did not elect the island’s government, and that the United States is ironically “trying to normalize relations with a country that is not normal” and violates human rights on a daily basis.

“My proposal for the US government is that they support our demand for a referendum on free elections, the recognition of political parties, and the right to a free press.”

The Cuban activist compared the island’s situation with Chile’s under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1974-1990). “Chile had a referendum that received widespread international support. We Cubans do not deserve anything less than that.”

For his part, Roger Noriega highlighted the importance of understanding life on the island. During the secret negotiations leading up to the December 17 announcement, the Cuban government arrested some 9,000 dissidents.

For Noriega, the normalization process should “be reserved for a moment when Cuba effectively shifts to a democratic system,” or risk playing into the hands of a regime “that offers its citizens no guarantees.”

“They should wait for the changes,” said Noriega, suggesting Obama should focus on bettering the lives of the Cuban people, and not the Castros.

“Obama fell into the Castro’s trap,” said Frank Calzón, adding that the US president should pay more attention to exiled Cuban Americans.

“He forgets that Cuban Americans are here [in the United States] for over 50 years, pay taxes, serve in the army…. They have earned their right to be part of the conversation, not to be ignored in such important issues that affect them,” argued Calzón.

“We cannot tear down totalitarian regimes with only talk among the [political] elite,” concluded Payá in response to a question from the public.

Continuing Concern for Human Rights

Freedom House, an NGO dedicated to defending democracy and human rights around the world, released a statement regarding talks between the Cuban and US governments. It underlined the need for prioritizing human rights in the negotiation process if the goal is truly democratic reform.

“Freedom House encourages Ms. Jacobson and her delegation to raise concerns over recent crackdowns on universal human rights, including freedom of expression, and engage in meaningful conversation with members of Cuban civil society and dissidents, who will be instrumental in balancing discourse while diplomatic relations are being restored.”

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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