A Cuban dissident able to travel for the first time praises new U.S. ties and warns of hazards
Fast-talking and often harassed, Cuban political dissident Jose Daniel
Ferrer could hold himself up as Exhibit A in the improving relations
between Washington and Havana.
Ferrer, 45, has been allowed to travel abroad for the first time. And,
he said Wednesday, he will be allowed to return – instead of being
blocked and banned by Cuban authorities, as often happens with dissidents.
He credits the Obama administration for securing assurances for his safe
passage from President Raul Castro’s government.
It is one of the positive outcomes from what Ferrer described as a slow
rapprochement that has moved in fits and starts since Obama and Castro
restored diplomatic ties and renewed numerous political and economic
connections after half a century of hostilities.
Still, Ferrer’s two-way ticket was a one-time offer, he said, a sign of
the distance yet to go in his fight for basic civil rights under an
“We make advances, then the regime represses us and we have to take
steps back,” Ferrer said in a meeting with reporters at a Washington
public-policy advocacy firm.
“But the best thing we see is the change in the mentality of the
people,” he added.
The Castros never negotiate for a win-win. They have a sick need to win
and for the rest to lose.
— Jose Daniel Ferrer, dissident
Ordinary Cubans are more willing to participate, to speak out and –
however hesitantly – make demands, Ferrer said.
Ferrer heads one of the main, if small, political opposition
organizations in Communist-led Cuba, the Patriotic Union of Cuba. It
advocates for nonviolent change to bring about democracy and better
human rights protections.
Havana regards such groups as stooges of Washington.
Ferrer spent eight years in prison for his political work after he was
arrested in a 2003 crackdown called the Black Spring that rounded up 75
dissidents, journalists and others. Most were freed under an agreement
with the Roman Catholic Church that the prisoners would go into exile in
Spain or the United States.
Ferrer refused the deal.
He was declared an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, was
released from prison in 2011, and in March was among a group of
anti-Castro activists who sat down with President Obama during his
historic visit to Havana.
Unlike some of his associates, Ferrer supports Obama’s policy of opening
up to Cuba.
It has robbed the Castros (Raul, the president, and his elder brother,
the revolutionary leader Fidel) of their ability to blame all of Cuba’s
problems on the U.S. government, he said, and will create positive
momentum for the beleaguered opposition.
“We want this process to help us get the freedoms we don’t have,” Ferrer
said. But, he added, arrests of dissidents, including members of his own
organization, continue unhindered.
Since departing Havana a couple of weeks ago, Ferrer has wasted no time,
traveling from Miami to Washington and, soon, to New York, California
and Madrid. He is taking his sharp criticism of Cuba’s repressive
government and seeking broader support for his group’s activities.
He will visit Silicon Valley next week to talk about ways to make the
Internet accessible and affordable to more Cubans, something the Havana
government has resisted.
His advice to American businesses that might be looking to invest:
proceed with caution in making deals on the island.
“The Castros never negotiate for a win-win,” Ferrer said. “They have a
sick need to win and for the rest to lose.”
Scores of American companies in the agricultural sector, along with
tourism and other industries, have been lining up for a bite at the
Havana market, where consumers goods are depleted and the government
spends billions of dollars a year to import food.
Missouri last week shipped 20 tons of long-grain rice to Cuba’s Mariel
Port as a symbol of the possibilities of trade.
Despite the difficulties, Ferrer said he was optimistic.
“Yes, there will be periods of more repression,” he said. “It would not
surprise me if, the more people we get in the streets, the more likely
some sort of crackdown like in Poland” by that country’s communist
regime against the Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
“But it doesn’t scare us.”
The U.S. State Department said it routinely advocates for freedom of
movement and would not comment on an individual case.
Ferrer spoke excitedly, in the clipped Spanish typical of Cubans. He
only slowed down when he recalled seeing his mother in Miami, for the
first time since she visited him in Havana five years ago.
His voice cracked slightly and he paused, before continuing.
“We are reaching out to all sectors, to doctors, small business owners,
musicians, artists,” Ferrer said in describing the gains the opposition
movement hopes to make. “We are making change, growing space.”
Creating, he said, momentum.
Source: A Cuban dissident able to travel for the first time praises new
U.S. ties and warns of hazards – LA Times –