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Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2015 — On Sunday afternoon a dozen activists and representatives of Cuban civil society met with the American congressional delegation visiting Cuba. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy, the group was able hear diverse opinions in response to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries.

A member of the delegation confirmed that the Cuban authorities were aware of the meeting with the activists and had made known to the American side their displeasure with the meeting.

In a relaxed atmosphere, several of those present expressed the conviction that “this opens a new era” and demanded greater transparency in negotiations, according to what they themselves reported after the meeting. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gave lawmakers a list with the names of 24 prisoners who, on humanitarian grounds, should be included in an upcoming release process.

The leader of the movement Somos + (There are more of us), Eliecer Avila, said on leaving that he told the visitors that “Throughout this time there has been talk about the agenda of the US government or the agenda of the Cuban government, but the most important thing to consider is the agenda of the Cuban people.” According to the activist, “Before December 17 people said ‘no one can fix this,’ now the expression most heard in the street is ‘let’s see what happens’ and the great challenge for the civic forces is to get people asking, ‘What can we do to change things?’”

Manuel Cuesta Morua said that he had shared with Leahy and the rest of the group that, “This is a historical event and it is very difficult to have a perspective on something so close.” Nevertheless, he reaffirmed that “A new era is opening for Cuba.”

Several participants in the meeting noted the expectations that the December 17 announcement had awakened in the Cuban people. José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, expressed the appreciation of the activists of his movement who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations between the two governments.

Berta Soler, for her part, reaffirmed the position of the Ladies in White against the negotiations and questioned whether the Cuban people would benefit directly from relations between the two countries. The activist cited the continuation of the repression and police harassment against the women who belong to this human rights movement. Her position was echoed by Antonio Rodiles, director of the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, emphasized that “The Cuban government is not willing to negotiate with its own people and yet has chosen to negotiate with the American government.” Hence, “Given the absence of the people’s voice at the negotiating table, it’s important to pressure the authorities to allow freedom of expression and of the press, as this will be the way we disseminate our demands and programs.”

Others present at the meeting confirmed the positive nature of the new scenario and the need for the Cuban civic movement to exploit the advantages it offers, and to be the people who to determine their own future.


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