Project Varela: 21 years later, a movement for freedom and democracy in Cuba continues

This past May 10th marked the 21st anniversary of the Project Varela, a movement to bring freedom and democracy to communist Cuba that continues today.

Via Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Project Varela at Twenty One

Twenty one years ago today on May 10, 2002, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, the Christian Liberation Movement’s Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias Ramirez delivered them to the Cuban National Assembly.

Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, in his 1999 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting observed that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Memory provides context to unfolding events today, and helps to render informed judgements.

This blog entry is an exercise in recovering memory.

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela, sought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign. They specifically asked for the following in the petition.

  • Guarantee the right to free expression and free association that guarantee pluralism, opening Cuban society to political debate and facilitating a more participatory democracy.
  • Amnesty for all those imprisoned for political reasons.
  • Right of Cubans to form companies, both individually owned and in cooperatives.
  • Proposal for a new electoral law that truly guarantees the right to elect and be elected to all Cubans and the holding of free elections

The Christian Liberation Movement was founded by Catholic lay people in Havana in September 1988, and is part of a non-violent dissident movement that traces its origins and influences to the Cuban Committee for Human Rights that was founded in 1976.

Former President James Carter visited Cuba in May 2002 and on May 15th gave a speech at the University of Havana, where he advocated for the lifting of economic sanctions on Cuba and “called for the Varela Project petition to be published in the official newspaper so that people could learn about it.”

Yet the dictatorship’s response to the nonviolent citizen’s initiative, and to President Carter’s request, was to coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature.

Continue reading HERE.