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Monday, August 26, 2013

Free Cuba Foundation at 20

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.” - Mohandas Gandhi

Twenty years ago tonight on August 26, 1993  two Cuban-American students from Florida International University organized a five-hour candlelight vigil that began at 6 p.m. in front of the Mexican Consulate that mobilized hundreds to protest Mexico's deportation to Cuba of eight Cuban refugees who survived when their boat sank off the Mexican coast the previous week. As we look back twenty years ago and look around today at Cuban refugees being mistreated in the Bahamas and being deported back to the dictatorship that is still in power in Cuba it is a reasonable question to ask: What have we accomplished? Aren't we in the same position that we were two decades ago?

The answer is found in Gandhi's epigram at the top of this blog entry and in the words of the great English poet T.S. Eliott: "If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors' victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph."

The Free Cuba Foundation has been a steadfast and independent voice in favor nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny. We have consistently spoken up for victims of the dictatorship demanding justice while at the same time advocating both freedom and national reconciliation. We have remained true to our mission statement.

What the future may hold is uncertain because we are free to decide and nothing is written in stone.

However, the past 20 years have demonstrated that young Cubans, Cuban-Americans,Cuban-Spaniards, Peruvians, and other people of good will have not acquired the "amnesia of Coca Cola" as some on the island describe the forgetfulness of some who leave for freedom and forget their friends and family back home.

The student leaders moved on after graduating and were replaced by new ones.

Augusto Monge, FCF Chairman 1993 -1994

John Suarez, FCF Chairman 1995

Jose Raul Carro, FCF Chairman 1996

 Xavier Utset, FCF Chairman 1997-1998

Susana Mendiola, FCF Chairwoman 1998-1999

Helen Castro, FCF Chairwoman 1999-2000

Neri Ann Martinez, FCF Chairwoman 2001-2004

Michel Betancourt, FCF Chairman 2004 -2005

Pedro Ross, FCF Chairman 2006-2008

Susana Navajas, FCF Chairwoman 2008- 2009

Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr., FCF Co-Chair 2009-2010
Julio Menache, FCF Co-Chair 2009 - 2010

Kristan Patton, FCF Chairman 2011 - 2013

Their testimony is evidence that the struggle continues because new generations have sought to carry the torch for the cause of freedom in Cuba over the past half century and continue to do so today.

We will continue to denounce the crimes being committed by the dictatorship in Cuba while at the same time letting the world know of brave activists who have sacrificed everything in the cause of Cuba's freedom.We will make use of this milestone to reflect on what has been done well. What needs to be improved and what needs to be done in the future to achieve the goal of a free Cuba where human rights and dignity are both recognized and respected.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rosa Maria Payá se dirige a los Democratas Cristianos de las Americas

Discurso Rosa Maria Payá, delegada del MCL en Congreso de Organización Demócrata Cristiana de América (ODCA)
Señor presidente de ODCA, señores candidatos presidenciales, hermanos cubanos, queridos amigos todos.
Gracias a ODCA por la invitación y por el apoyo valiente que ha significado a la causa de la verdad y los derechos para Cuba. Gracias por el reconocimiento reciente a toda la delegación #cubana, son muchos los que en mi país han entregado sus vidas a la causa de la libertad que como el Sr. Ocejo nos recordaba es la causa de la felicidad.
“Estos son momentos de peligros y esperanzas para Cuba. La falta de libertad y derechos mantiene sumergido al pueblo en grandes desventajas. El Gobierno complica la situación porque se niega a la apertura democrática y mientras los cubanos quieren cambios verdaderos y transparencia, se les impone el fraude” alertó mi padre mientras recordaba que:
“Ahí permanecen los mecanismos represivos y de vigilancia de los ciudadanos, la dependencia total y obediencia de los tribunales al grupo de poder y a sus ordenanzas, la crueldad en las cárceles, los sistemas de control, las concepciones y prácticas de exclusión y señalamiento o fichaje, el cerco que las leyes antiderecho y antidemocráticas mantienen sobre el ciudadano, el despotismo, la falta de instrumento democráticos para que los ciudadanos decidan y finalmente el propio grupo de poder aún se sitúa por encima de sus propias leyes y con todos los privilegios más que señoriales.
Por otra parte la pobreza crece y se profundizan las diferencias, bajo el simulacro de apertura económica. También el culto a la personalidad y la concreción de sucesión dinástica se afirman con la negación de los derechos civiles y políticos a los cubanos. Estos factores son componentes del régimen totalitario que ha causado y sigue causando un severo daño a las personas, un daño antropológico. Permanece la contradicción antagónica entre el régimen y la libertad y los derechos de los ciudadanos. ¿Qué cambió entonces? ¿O que está cambiando en Cuba?: la gente”
Esa gente no quiere pasar del comunismo salvaje al capitalismo salvaje, ni quiere cambios a lo ruso o a lo chino, la gente de Cuba queremos participar en la construcción de nuestro futuro y ser felices.
Hace dos meses, después de 54 años, ante el fracaso evidente, el gobierno ha acusado al pueblo de no tener “honestidad, […] decencia, […] vergüenza, […] decoro, […] honradez y […] sensibilidad” y ha amenazado con tomar medidas coercitivas. Mas no se han referido a las torturas ni a la repatriación forzosa de emigrantes cubanos en un campo de concentración en las Bahamas. Ni se han expresado sobre los brotes epidémicos de dengue y cólera, como antes de polineuritis, ni a estadísticas serias sobre la expansión del VIH en Cuba, ni de la tasa de suicidio y crímenes domésticos, ni de los casos de negligencia médica, ni del aborto como método anticonceptivo, ni de las muchas otras expresiones de la “cultura de la muerte” en la Isla. Como tampoco han anunciado aun el contrabando de barcos mercantiles con municiones y armas en plena operatividad, transgrediendo la seguridad nacional de un país hermano como Panamá, violando varias resoluciones de Naciones Unidas sobre la dictadura de Corea del Norte, y poniendo en riesgo vidas humanas inocentes.
El gobierno cubano no es legítimo, como no lo es el gobierno venezolano y no lo serán porque los presidentes del mundo les den la mano a los impostores en el poder, y mucho menos lo serán porque encabecen organizaciones regionales como la CELAC, como es el caso del dictador cubano, para vergüenza de América Latina. La legitimidad la entrega el pueblo en las urnas, en elecciones libres, en un ambiente de respeto y seguridad. Todos sabemos que eso no fue lo que ocurrió en abril en Venezuela y todos sabemos que eso no ocurre en Cuba desde hace más de 60 años.
Por eso creo que nuestro desafío como familia demócrata cristiana reside en mirar a los pueblos antes que al poder, al ser humano que vive y que sufre del poder cuando este no está al servicio de la sociedad. Sino que fragmenta y enferma a la sociedad para perpetuarse. Lo estamos viendo en algunos de los países de nuestra américa que a la vuelta de una década se encuentran divididos en torno a populismos, cuya mayor coincidencia es la obstinación con que se aferran al poder. También coinciden en su abrazo con los dictadores de Cuba.
Los valores humanistas de defensa de la vida, la verdad, la libertad económica sostenible y solidaria, la equidad, el medio ambiente y la fraternidad, nos reúnen hoy. Los presupuestos que defendemos no responden a un fundamentalismo ideológico, mas sí son una propuesta radical que necesita de partidarios firmes. Requiere de espíritus fuertes y libres que no se acomplejen ante el poder o ante la moda o ante la tendencia o ante las aparentes mayorías. Otras fuerzas y lenguajes poco coherentes con la democracia han demostrado no tener reparos en mostrarse aliados. Entiendo que nuestra opción implica tomar parte por los pobres de la Tierra, que en nuestra región, son muchos y son también esos que ni tan siquiera pueden decir que son pobres, porque un gobierno ha secuestrado todos sus derechos.
Yo también creo en el proyecto humanista cristiano como una alternativa real y efectiva a la llamada crisis de desorientación que parecen sufrir nuestras sociedades. El mundo se confunde con epítetos que otros nos han puesto, esos que llenan de matices negativos el término conservador, o nos contraponen a las llamadas fuerzas progresistas. No me parece que tengamos que definirnos a partir de códigos que otros intereses han impuesto, el mensaje encarnado de la opción humanista cristiana es lo nuevo y renovador en un mundo que ha desplazado al ser humano del centro de sus prioridades. En palabras de mi padre: “ni el estado ni el mercado, pueden estar por encima de los derechos, la voluntad y las libertades de las personas”.
Por favor no abandonen, no abandonemos a quienes en América y fuera de ella, desde posiciones de peligro luchan por los mismos conceptos que hoy nos reúnen. No sin sufrimientos, soy testigo de lo que un tirano puede hacer cuando siente que han abandonado a quien se le opone, cuando siente que su oponente está solo. Mi padre, como Caldera, como Adenauer, pensaba que: “Los derechos no tienen color político, ni de raza, ni de cultura. Tampoco las dictaduras tienen color político. No son de derecha ni de izquierda, son sólo dictaduras” y también recordó que: “los cubanos no hemos escogido el camino pacífico como una táctica, sino porque es inseparable de la meta de nuestro pueblo. La experiencia nos dice que la violencia genera más violencia y, cuando los cambios políticos se realizan por esa vía, se llega a nuevas formas de opresión e injusticia”. Como dolorosamente ilustran los cientos de muertos de esta semana en Siria y Egipto.
La mayor parte de la oposición pacífica cubana coincide en defender la hoja de ruta del Camino del Pueblo, esperamos su solidaridad con las demandas de esta propuesta. En ese marco miles de ciudadanos cubanos solicitamos su apoyo en nuestro reclamo de plebiscito de la iniciativa legal del Proyecto Varela. No buscamos otro caudillo que sustituya a un dictador, tenemos una solución propositiva e inclusiva que espera su solidaridad. Necesitamos de su ayuda para detener la represión violenta de la seguridad del estado del gobierno cubano contra los miembros del movimiento democrático cubano, para poder seguir luchando por los cambios reales. El reconocimiento de toda la verdad es esencial para el proceso de reconciliación de la transición a la democracia que buscamos. Necesitamos de su ratificación de la exigencia de una investigación independiente que aclare las circunstancias del atentado contra mi padre y Harold Cepero, para ayudar a eliminar la sensación de impunidad que el gobierno cubano posee y con la que continúa reprimiendo cada vez con mayor violencia.
La transformación esencial es la que se está produciendo en las mentes y los corazones de los cubanos. Es hora de comenzar el proceso de reconciliación que todos anhelamos, porque lo que queremos es vivir en armonía y en libertad. Hace mucho tiempo que el pueblo dejó de confiar en el régimen y a pesar de la represión y la apatía cada vez menos cubanos se dejan dominar por el miedo.
El 5 de Diciembre de 2011 mi padre les recordaba en un mensaje a esta organización que: “ya han habido muchas conjeturas, postulados y ejercicios intelectuales. Ya se hicieron muchos. Ahora para ustedes debe ser el tiempo de la solidaridad con Cuba, con nuestras demandas:
¡Queremos todos los derechos. Esos son los cambios que queremos!
¡Ahora los cubanos vamos a exigir el cambio verdadero, ahora vamos a luchar por las elecciones libres”, a través del plebiscito!
Creo que los fenómenos autoritarios que se han generado en nuestra región demuestran que lo que ustedes hagan por la libertad del pueblo cubano será una apuesta por el bien de la América toda.

Dios nos ayude a todos

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Neri Ann Martinez, FCF Chairwoman 2001-2004 looks back over her tenure


My time as President of the Free Cuba Foundation from 2001 – 2004 was deeply transformative and held great influence over the course I took in my life post-FCF. During my college years, I had become interested in the topic of human rights due to some mission travel in other countries but was not particularly aware of the grave situation in Cuba. Even though I was a first generation Cuban by birth, my family had been exiled in the 1960’s and had never looked back. I was recruited to join the Free Cuba Foundation in 2000 in the halls of the Florida International University Graham Center and was the only extracurricular activity I pursued during my time.

Growing up in Miami, we had a lot of exposure to Cuban culture in our surroundings. We ate Cuban food, smoked cigars, drank rum, danced salsa, and spoke Spanglish frequently. Nostalgia over the “times that where” permeated nearly ever aspect of family gatherings and conversations among friends. Yet, very little was known or discussed on the topic of what the island looked like now, how the people lived, or what their culture was like at present day. What was most impactful to me during my tenure was becoming aware of the vastly different and often saddening conditions of the Cuba that was, the Cuba that is now and the Cuba that it is falsely portrayed to be.


The truth can sometimes be a burdensome thing. I believe that apathy in the human condition is prevalent because, the more we know, the more responsible we become with the information we’ve obtained. Within the island and outside of it, the realities of the plight of the Cuban people can become too much to bear, impossible to believe, and enormously in contrast with the propaganda fed to us. It is however, imperative, that within our own capacity to do so, we bring to light these aspects of darkness and expose the ugliness that controls such a beautiful place. My own perspective from outside the island humbly reminds me that while Cuba is not my home, and no longer my identity, this is not the case for 11 million Cubans.

During my tenure, we hosted, as we always have in the history of the organization, various regular awareness activities centered on the anniversaries of atrocious events. Every February, 24th it was remembering the Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown, every July 13 it was the sinking of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat and every December 10th we commemorated international human rights day. Press was always an essential component of the events and participants, both students and members of the community, often came from diverse backgrounds.


One of the most memorable events was on December 10th, 2003. It was the very first time we co-hosted with and the Cuban Committee for Human Rights led by Dr. Ricardo Bofill the visit of Chinese dissident, Harry Wu and Daisy Tong of the Vietnamese American Federation. Wu is widely known to be one the most prominent political prisoners of Communist China, who was imprisoned for 19 years, having made headlines with his courageous act of filming the conditions of Chinese prisons after his release, earning him another 15 year prison sentence in the gulags, but thanks to international pressure was deported to the United States. He is also the founder of the Laogai museum in Washington DC, the first museum of its kind, highlighting the history of Chinese human rights atrocities. This was the first time that Harry Wu came to Miami, to address members of the Cuban exile community and it was not without controversy.

Unbeknownst to us, the university was in the midst of talks with the Chinese government on the construction of a new hospitality suite in mainland China. We later published an expose on this transaction in the 10th anniversary of the Free Cuba Foundation’s founding in its publication iYARA!
Needless to say, this was not one of Beijing’s happiest days in Miami.

Regardless of the clear enemies the Cuban dissident movement has, they also have many friends here and abroad. FCF members had the opportunity to meet and connect with Matt Laar, the former Prime Minister of Estonia, Philip Dimitrov, the former prime minister of Bulgaria, the Taiwanese consulate, a couple Senators from Argentina, Miami-Dade county’s long-standing congressional leaders, and President George W. Bush. During the 100th anniversary of the freedom of Cuba from Spain, President Bush addressed a full stadium of exiles and Miami residents, prominently highlighting Cuban political exile leaders, members of the dissident movement, and the children of current prisoners, called Los Ismaelillos, with FCF leadership among this honorary crowd. It was a moment that made us all very proud.

Being American is a privilege that was given to me by my parents as a result of their exile and move to the United States. This is my country and I am very loyal to its founding principles. We must also recognize that it should be the privilege of everyone to have just as much faith in universal freedoms in their own country. In 1948, Cuba signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, but since 1959, the totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers has consistently violated these basic rights to their own people. The leaders of the non-violent civic dissident movements like Oswaldo Paya, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Laura Pollan, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez” and many others have been simple seeking the right to live freely in their own country. For this, Oswaldo Paya and Laura Pollan ultimately paid with their life.

I remember meeting Oswaldo Paya, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in 2003, when he came to visit Miami. He was a soft-spoken, humble, and intelligent man. He had arrived in Miami to discuss his now famous Varela Project, and attempt to use the government’s own constitution to enact reforms through the presentation of a petition requiring 10,000 signatures, of which he and other members of his organization initially diligently collected 11,020 of them. For this initiative, he received numerous human rights awards and recognitions, including Europe’s famed Sakharov award and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Last year on July 22, 2012, after many threats from Cuban State Security, he was brutally murdered in a car crash, along with Harold Cepero. According to the accounts of one of the two survivors of the car crash, Angel Carromero, both Paya and Cepero survived the crash caused by another vehicle with government plates and was murdered some time later by State Security in order to silence him. His daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, continues to fight for justice for her father’s death.

While I never had the privilege of meeting Laura Pollan, I have met and even marched with members of the Ladies in White movement. This group of peaceful and resilient women is comprised of the wives, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers of Cuba’s political prisoners. Every Sunday, they dress all in white and carry lilies through the streets of Havana, protesting the unjust incarceration of their loved ones. They have rightly gained international attention for their actions. While I was living in France, their demonstration was covered in Le Monde newspapers and when I moved to Washington, DC, I attended a bipartisan congressional memoriam in Laura Pollan’s honor. She was one of the founders of this movement and fell ill in October of 2011 after being mysteriously poked with a needle during a riot. She died a week later. This was another brutal and tragic murder by the oppressive Castro regime to silence the cries of their citizens.

Although it has been eight years since I led the Free Cuba Foundation and at least 3 since I have lived in Miami, where the organization is based, the issues of Cuba continue to haunt my consciousness.

What is most striking to me now is how often the topic of travel to Cuba is brought up in conversation. As a direct result of Cuba’s aggressive marketing campaigns and desperate propaganda, many foreigners dream of visiting this island prison and often to discover it “before it changes.” As appalling as that may seem to those who have met Cubans who fight daily for this inevitable change, the ignorance of well-meaning foreigners on the oppressive activities of the state is not the most shocking revelation. It is the fact that most Cubans do not even know about the political dissidents that sacrifice their lives for their freedom.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet is arguably one of the most famous and well-regarded leaders of the civic resistance movement. A medic, activist, and founder of the Lawton Foundation, he received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 and is a designated Amnesty International “Prisoner of Conscience”. He has been compared to Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. When 3 Cubans, who infamously escaped to Miami in a rigged up Chevy, arrived in my father’s church on a Sunday morning, I wore a t-shirt with Dr. Biscet’s face and quotes emblazoned on the front in solidarity with their escape. My own ignorance was revealed when, to my surprise, the Cuban exiles had absolutely no idea who this man was or the existence of active civic resistance movements through the island.

In one of my favorite quotes by philosopher, poet, and Cuban freedom fighter, Jose Marti, he states, “It is a sin not to do what one is capable of doing.” Cuba’s political prisoners, civic resistance movements, dissident leaders, independent journalists, intellectuals, artists, and musicians who risk everything to speak the truth about their country and their countrymen firmly embody the spirit of Marti and others who seek freedom. We should all, in our own capacities, follow the lead of Marti and support the efforts of the brave men and women who simply desire to live without oppression, have their basic human rights respected and be represented by a free and democratic society. Their struggle should become ours until it is no longer.

Neri Ann Martinez
FCF Chairwoman 2001-2005
August 22, 2013








Monday, August 19, 2013

Opposition leader addresses exiles at FIU Law School and Youth in Coral Gables


 Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" addressed the Assembly of the Resistance at a forum held at Florida International University Law School on August 10, 2013. In his address Antúnez described how the opposition movement is progressing towards a national stoppage and appealing for justice for the many fallen martyrs.



Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" addressed the first U.S. - Cuba Democracy PAC Young Leaders Group Happy Hour on August 14, 2013. Below is a video excerpt of his remarks.



 "Antúnez" is part of the future of a free Cuba and is asking for our solidarity.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Helen Castro, FCF Chairwoman 1999-2000 looks back over her tenure


Helen Castro wearing black t-shirt "We will never forget"

It is a great privilege to have been president of the Free Cuba Foundation during 1999 through 2000.   The many successes during my time are owed to the collaborative effort of hardworking, self-sacrificing students who boldly stood up for what they believed in combating against impossible odds. 

It was a fierce year politically at the pinnacle was the highly publicized Elian Gonzalez case. 

Sadly, many mainstream media outlets distorted truths.  However, we worked diligently to rectify this misinformation that seemed insurmountable.  Critical events were portrayed incorrectly more so in the English broadcasting and rarely in the Spanish broadcasting.  This was never uncommon since it preceded us and is still goes o today, it is an arduous battle we must endure in ensuring the truth is known. 


In the year we conducted many massive marches and we organized one with over a thousand participants on South Beach on April 25, 2000.  We traveled to the capital, Washington D.C. to lobby, march, and denounce human rights violations.  We disseminated information about many inhumane activities conducted by the despotic Cuban government.  We worked on many rewarding charitable activities to help the suffering oppressed groups within Cuba who heroically strive for basic human rights that sometimes many take for granted in our free country.  


We also cooperated to help those who had fled the island to live here or overseas.  We published our first issue of İYARA! magazine. We contributed to the arts, a vital expressionistic vehicle to protest and release all bottled up frustrations and suffering due to the tyrannical oppression endured by the Cuban people.  Looking back no one expected and could not plan for the rate that we were growing.

Our growth was exponential with members enlisting many were not part of the university: In order to address this, we established a non-profit organization for non-University students under the state of Florida with the same goal.  There was so much nation-wide attention from politicians, international groups, artists, journalist, etc ; it was a revival of hope for freedom and change in Cuba.  It is not new that within our Free Cuba Foundation organization any member at any level will have the privilege to meet some great and powerful people.  However, the intensity that year was beyond what I could have expected. 



Nothing could have prepared me for that even with my previous experience as a prior Free Cuba Foundation member.  We put in so much hard work, sleepless nights, tears, sweat, and still Cuba is not free and there are so many vicious attacks on the native born Cuban that many individuals are still unaware of. 

There is nothing more heart breaking than to hear a person say that, “I’ve been to Cuba and I don’t see any oppression just poverty.”  This is just an indication that the truth has not reached them.  It is true there is poverty in Cuba but there is governmental terrorism woven into the daily Cuban native’s life that is rarely understood unless experienced. 

Consider the fact that in the USA so many crimes go unreported because victims are often afraid to report crimes and never talk even to close loved ones.  Some talk 20 or 30 years after the event and some never do.  Now imagine this is the behavior in this free country, how much more rare would it be that any Cuban native would openly report or denounce any oppression when the crimes committed against them are done by their own government? And those who are open, what do you think the Cuban government will do to them? 

The concept of free elections is a fraud, anyone who says Fidel Castro or Raul Castro or anyone associated to them is or has been president is ignorant.  There are no free elections in a country where for approximately 50 years it has been the same "president" and then the "newly elected president" is the previous one’s brother. 

It does not take much to recognize that many who speak about Cuba and their lack of human rights are truthful when all TV, internet and communications is state run and owned and carefully used as an added tool in their brainwashing techniques.

I applaud the courageous efforts of Cuban natives with undaunted courage.  They stand up and speak out; knowing that they and their loved ones will always become a target of the Cuban government anywhere in the world they travel. 

The Cuban government has been known to manipulate statistics, to coerce powerful personalities, to bribe, to incriminate innocent people, to circumvent laws, to stage public disorder, manipulate the press and deceive the public view by conducting their horrific activities under disguise.  Sadly, many activists have suffered extrajudicial killings, so called "accidents", "natural deaths, brainwashing (beyond the norm), suicides, insanity, sickness, etc. many of which were discovered to be acts committed by the Cuban regime. 

To ignore the problem in Cuba is unfortunate because dictatorships, like school yard bullies, are contagious. When there is one bully then a few others tend join in, where there is one dictatorship there are too many.  Look at our human history, take a global map, examine areas where dictatorships exist and notice how nearby countries sprung up dictatorships too. 

While dictators exist it is a threat to our own freedoms in our own free country.


 

Helen Castro
FCF Chairwoman 1999-2000  
August 18, 2013




Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pedro Ross FCF Chairman 2006-2008 looks back over his tenure

Pedro Ross center with two other FCF members in 2006
It's only been a few short years ago when I was the chairman of the Free Cuba Foundation (FCF), but it was one of the high points of my time at Florida International University (FIU), and my life as well. I essentially moved away from that position so I could focus on Grad school and also to allow some younger people to take up responsibility within the group. At this point, I'm working in Palm Beach county with my company and the real estate investments that I have made.

I originally became a casual audience member of the group. I would show up at various events, and I met various activists of the diaspora community that were deeply involved in spreading awareness. Some of the other people I met were former members of FCF that were still involved in its activities.


The next statement that I'm about to make is one you might be expecting me to make. When I met these former members, and various current members, I was impressed by their compassion and their conviction they had for FCF and the plight of Cuban humanity and Cuban dignity. Very frequently, among a whole range of various writings, you see the same format repeated again and again. But, sometimes what else can you do except finding yourself describing certain experiences in a similar voice that other people have used. So let me say this, when I met the various people that were involved with FCF and the various others that were involved in the extended networks, all of this created a lasting strong impression on me due to the compassion and the conviction of these people.

Event in remembrance of "13 de Marzo" tugboat victims
 This compassion was one of the major forces that drove me forward when I became an active member and later the Chairman. There were times when my patience was tested, I know that it is not the nicest thing to state. But, we are all adults, and I think that is something we can be comfortable in saying. Many times, I had to aggressively think in ways on how I could balance out being a college student and being an officer in FCF. There was often a conflict in responsibilities. Many times these responsibilities occurred when academic deadlines were constantly at hand. But, that is okay, I can say these things with a smile and these experiences are all part of who I am today.

It is important for me to say that the essential goal of the Free Cuba Foundation is to spread awareness of the human crisis in Cuba. Part of the goal is not just to remind the Cuban community of Miami, it is remind the larger world community of what is going on. Sometimes, I felt that the orientation of FCF should change. If you take a larger perspective on the issue then one can see that the crisis of humanity in Cuba is a symptom of the larger problem. The larger problem is that society is not working. The Castristas have been trying to force a governmental and economic model to work that can't work and has no chance of succeeding. The dictatorship is what the Castristas have used to maintain this agenda and the Cuban people are the victims of all of this. However, if you try to deal with the issue by dealing more with the governmental and economic system then you become more of a think tank and less of a humanitarian awareness group.

June 4, 2009 vigil for Chinese Democracy Activists
 Humanity is the key of the Free Cuba Foundation, its goal is to identify the human element. The goal dictates the methods. The methods of the FCF are to the point. Lots of surface level preconditions that you see with other groups are washed away and the cause is what is packaged and delivered when you deal with FCF. The objective of FCF's operating model is to state the problem, present the problem, reflect on the problem, and what we want is for you to come away from the event with a clear notion of the issue we are putting in front of you. That kind of style of bluntly getting to the point is what partially attracted me to all of this.

So many of FCF methods reminded me of the methods that garage rock bands had in the late 1980s to the mid 90s. Crude simple xerox copy flyers, made by hook or by crook, with blunt imaginary, and to the point messages posted at every random spot that people could put things. Almost any random venue that could be found or fandangled was used to make an event. The important thing was for us to get in there and let the message carry the whole event. It was real activist kind of stuff, working by the seat of paints in terms of your budget and by what FIU allowed you to use. Actually, one of my many hopes I had was to hopefully attract some more young people that knew how to create different methods. Hopefully, these new young people had a inside tract into the minds, and into the ways that other young people perceived or understood the world that way we could have presented ourselves in way that could identify with this younger crowd. Maybe, we did get that accomplished at some levels.

However, we did what we could do. Working with the Free Cuba Foundation was a great experience, it opened new knowledge and experiences to me. My times with the group created the opportunities that led to many interesting arguments and conversations with people and contributed to a lot of the character I have today.

Cuba Libre my friends!!!!!! We will succeed!!!!!!


Pedro Ross
FCF Chairman 2006 - 2008
August 11, 2013

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