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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Xavier Utset FCF Chairman 1997-1998 looks back over his tenure

Xavier Utset meeting with Russian human rights defender in Moscow
 As I look back to my Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) years (almost twenty years ago!) I think those were some of the most exciting times I have lived. Some of the memories from those days are indelible and I will keep forever.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of FCF the first thing we must do is pay homage and recognize the person who has made it possible: John Suarez. John has been the heart and soul of the organization and a true inspiration through the years. FCF would have long disappeared without John’s unremitting efforts and optimism. He has been a mentor, a friend, and a courageous partner in our efforts to see a better future for Cuba.

It was actually through John that I first learned of FCF. His passion recruiting members on campus was inspiring and I decided that I wanted to be part of it.

My most vivid memory of the FCF experience is the Armando Alonso campaign. Armando was a prisoner of conscience, a member of Ricardo Bofill’s Cuban Committee for Human Rights who had been imprisoned for "enemy propaganda." We decided to conduct a campaign for his liberation that lasted over a year. I happened to go on a semester abroad to Russia that year, so we expanded the campaign to include the support of democratic figures there. We also conducted campaigning in Italy that winter and made great efforts through the media as well as e-mail and the Internet, which were budding resources at the time. Armando was freed months later during Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba in early 1998. I recall our first meeting with Armando in Miami, after his release. It was a priceless moment of humble but deep satisfaction.

October 3, 1997 with Ricardo Bofill of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights

That same year I finished my degree in international relations and entered the professional realm. I blame FCF for the exciting professional experiences I encountered since then. After FIU I spent the best part of the following fifteen years working in Cuba democracy programs with organizations in Miami and in Washington, DC. I have been blessed by being able to work on what I care deeply about. I have had the opportunity to meet, in Cuba, extraordinary individuals such as Oswaldo Paya, Laura Pollan, and Dagoberto Valdes, and so many other courageous activists who are such inspirational figures for all of us.

But the work for the likes of FCF is, unfortunately, far from over. It is sometimes heartbreaking to realize that after all our collective efforts, after so many years, Cuba has yet to accomplish its destiny as a free country. However we cannot afford to fall into despair; we cannot forget and disengage, passively, as if the future of Cuba was not our concern. It remains so, more than ever. As long as there are courageous Cubans on the island willing to risk their lives for a future of freedom and democracy, we must endure. And FCF will be there to contribute its part.

Xavier Utset
FCF Chairman 1997-1998
August 2, 2013

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