Ley Mordaza – Gag Law
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    Cuba: Petitions and Apprehensions

    Cuba: Petitions and Apprehensions

    August 20, 2012

    Dariela Aquique

    HAVANA TIMES — For more than a half a century, we Cubans have suffered

    from apprehension, as we have gone through an adverse social juncture in

    which our civil rights have been constantly vetoed by the government.

    Beyond the prohibitions themselves, the cardinal problem lies in that

    most Cubans do not know (and seemingly don't care) whether they have any

    legal standing. Constitutional rights (and the constitution itself in

    fact) are things that the masses usually don't involve themselves.

    This is because the discourse and government will are imposed. Here the

    government is not a body subject to the population, rather the

    population has been (and will continue to be, if there is no collective

    consciousness) subjected entirely to the government.

    Over the past period, a number of citizen initiatives have been

    circulating online. These are letters concerning a variety of demands

    and specific proposals directed to the government. These made me review

    our history in this regard, since attempts like these have always been

    made on the island.


    The most well-known was the "Proyecto Varela" (Varela Project), which

    was devised by government opponents in 1998. This was led by the late

    Oswaldo Paya, who named the initiative in honor of Father Felix Varela.

    This movement undoubtedly achieved international impact between 2002 and

    2003. It was based on Article 88 of the 1976 Cuban Constitution, which

    permits citizens to propose laws if at least 10,000 registered voters

    sign a petition in favor of a proposal.

    In 2002 the National Assembly rejected the request, although the

    organization reported having obtained 11,200 signatures (more than the

    number required to be considered). In 2004, Paya personally presented

    14,000 additional signatures without the demand being acted upon.

    By contrast, the reaction was swift as the Cuban government responded

    through the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee of the National

    Assembly of Popular Power in Cuba. It proposed an amendment to the Cuban

    Constitution to make the socialist character of Cuban state permanent.

    That referendum was approved by 98.97 percent of the voters, which as

    everyone knows was the result of pressure applied on citizens and most

    people's unfamiliarity with the real reason for the amendment.

    Law No. 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of

    Cuba (better known as the "Gag Law") was passed to justify a series of

    arrests and convictions against government critics, which occurred in

    April 2003 in what came to be known as the "Primavera Negra de Cuba"

    (Cuba's Black Spring).

    The initiative concluded that way — the perfect ending — with the

    government's response to the proposed political reforms. Seventy-five

    prisoners of conscience were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 10 to

    20 years after their having been subjected to summary trials.

    The document, called the Demanda ciudadana por otra Cuba (Citizen's Call

    for Another Cuba), is nothing more than another invention to promote a

    project for advocating political reforms on the island in favor of

    greater individual freedoms. They have also collected a good number of


    But more recently, there appeared another manifesto called the

    Llamamiento urgente por una Cuba mejor y posible (Urgent Appeal for a

    Better and Possible Cuba) organized by Ariel Hidalgo. The letter, in my

    opinion, was ambitious and accurate. In it, according to colleague

    Armando Chaguaceda: (link…) they combined principles and urgencies,

    visions focused on the nation and on the people who live here, a

    denunciation of violence and an uncompromising defense of a future

    without exclusion or injustice (…)

    The two latter documents have some things in common:

    1 – they encouraged cyber-debate.

    2 – they collected signatures from an ideologically wide range of people.

    3 – they used certain terms too much ("we call for" and "we demand that

    the Cuban government to immediately implement…")

    4 – and the majority of signatures they collected were from Cubans in

    the diaspora, with very low representation by residents on the island

    (which was unfortunate).

    I'm ready to sign any of those manifestos, or even all of them. However,

    and though they seem on target to me, an aura of skepticism surrounds me

    with respect to them.

    Apprehensions and other causes

    Could my skepticism come from the methods that we Cubans are using to

    achieve change in Cuba?

    1 – In none of these efforts are there signatures of even a quarter of

    the Cuban population (those people both on and outside the country).

    2 – The Cuban people have been programmed to only understand that any

    display of disaffection with the political system can lead to them being

    questioned, even to the point of experiencing serious problems – such as

    seeing themselves at any time being accused of involvement in a crime

    and subsequently jailed.

    3 – These letters are circulated on the Internet, which is practically

    inaccessible here in the country.

    4 – Although a radical change is imminent in the country's politics,

    people limit themselves to comments on corners and in hallways, but no

    consciousness is being created about how they need to be advancing real

    transformations in all spheres of the nation.

    5 – The Machiavellian strategy of divide and conquer, implemented by the

    government and its security agencies, has proven itself effective and

    continues to sow paranoia and betrayal among the citizenry.

    6 – While each and every one of these initiatives have been designed to

    demand reforms and alternatives peacefully, calling for dialogue and

    understanding with the country's leadership, it's clear that the other

    side does not accept such dialogue. Their responses will be placid (this

    is evidenced by the wave of repression unleashed on the island with all

    opposition groups and the so-called cyber dissident movement).

    What are we to do?

    I don't know. I confess, right now I don't have the answer, not even a

    proposal. I join with all efforts that are proposing change. I am (and I

    want to make this clear) not calling for the use of violent methods.

    But I remember my history classes, when studying the causes of the

    outbreak of the War of Independence and the reasons given by Fidel

    himself for starting the revolution. In both cases there was an

    impossibility of dialogue and understanding with the ruling classes.

    And I repeat, I am not calling for the use of force, but time will have

    the last word – assuming this article doesn't cost me an accident with

    some tree in my path.


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