Cuban Dissidents Must Say 'No Thanks' to U.S. Aid


HAVANA - The news recently arrived here of the Helms-Lieberman Cuban Solidarity Act of 2001, which would allocate $100 million in U.S. aid - financial assistance, medical supplies, office and communications equipment - to Cuban independent and nongovernmental organizations and victims of political repression. While we do not doubt that the intention of the legislators is to "provide increased, decisive support to the democratic opposition in Cuba," we feel that Cuban dissidents on the island have to say: "No, thank you. Not in this way."
Those of us in Cuba who work independently of the state are often falsely accused by the government of being on the payroll of the United States. To accept would simply fuel these accusations.
The Cuban government represses those who lead independent activities, whether in human rights advocacy, journalism or independent libraries. Receiving aid often gets the recipient into trouble, even though it comes from sources other than the United States. One of us, the general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, recently spent over three months in prison because $5,000 destined for a congress of independent trade unions was found at his apartment. The money, from the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands, was confiscated by state security.
Furthermore, 1999 legislation changed the Cuban Penal Code so that anyone "receiving, distributing or participating in the distribution of financial, material or other means coming from the U.S. government," can be punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Activists like us are under constant scrutiny by state security and by the local committees for the defense of the revolution. The difficulties of bringing us aid were illustrated by the detention in Havana earlier this year of two Czechs - supporters of independent Cuban civil society - who were here with material and moral support. One Cuban activist, a blind man, was physically abused by state security agents because he was on the list of people whom the two Czechs were planning to visit.
American legislators point out that assistance provided by the United States government once helped dissidents in Poland. But that aid effort was revealed only after democratic changes had happened there. Besides, Poland is a country with land borders, which make all sorts of communication from outside easier than it is on an island.
If some Cuban dissidents were to accept American aid while others did not, the aid would divide those who favor democratic change into haves and have-nots and would give the official propaganda machinery reason to accuse us all of being mercenaries or parasites.
The approval of such an aid package also might paralyze the growth of Cuban civil society in a less obvious way. The announcement itself led some to say, "Why spend energy on launching this or that project, when the manna will soon fall from the sky?"
Perhaps some of these reasons can help explain why Fidel Castro, when asked about the Helms-Lieberman act during a visit to Portugal, said, "It's an excellent idea," adding that the act showed some of his opponents in Washington "don't use their heads much."
Of course, we cannot pretend to speak for the entire independent sector of Cuba. But we know that other prominent representatives of our community have expressed similar reservations about the proposal. Perhaps our voices will be heard and taken into account in Washington.
Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos is general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers. Héctor Palacios Ruíz is director of the Center of Independent Social Studies. They contributed this comment to The New York Times.
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/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articlesearch.tmpl&dt=articleLocation&location=HAVANA - The news recently arrived here of the Helms-Lieberman Cuban Solidarity Act of 2001, which would allocate $100 million in U.S. aid - financial assistance, medical supplies, office and communications equipment - to Cuban independent and nongovernmental organizations and victims of political repression. While we do not doubt that the intention of the legislators is to "provide increased, decisive support to the democratic opposition in Cuba," we feel that Cuban dissidents on the island have to say: "No, thank you. Not in this way."
Those of us in Cuba who work independently of the state are often falsely accused by the government of being on the payroll of the United States. To accept would simply fuel these accusations.
The Cuban government represses those who lead independent activities, whether in human rights advocacy, journalism or independent libraries. Receiving aid often gets the recipient into trouble, even though it comes from sources other than the United States. One of us, the general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, recently spent over three months in prison because $5,000 destined for a congress of independent trade unions was found at his apartment. The money, from the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands, was confiscated by state security.
Furthermore, 1999 legislation changed the Cuban Penal Code so that anyone "receiving, distributing or participating in the distribution of financial, material or other means coming from the U.S. government," can be punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Activists like us are under constant scrutiny by state security and by the local committees for the defense of the revolution. The difficulties of bringing us aid were illustrated by the detention in Havana earlier this year of two Czechs - supporters of independent Cuban civil society - who were here with material and moral support. One Cuban activist, a blind man, was physically abused by state security agents because he was on the list of people whom the two Czechs were planning to visit.
American legislators point out that assistance provided by the United States government once helped dissidents in Poland. But that aid effort was revealed only after democratic changes had happened there. Besides, Poland is a country with land borders, which make all sorts of communication from outside easier than it is on an island.
If some Cuban dissidents were to accept American aid while others did not, the aid would divide those who favor democratic change into haves and have-nots and would give the official propaganda machinery reason to accuse us all of being mercenaries or parasites.
The approval of such an aid package also might paralyze the growth of Cuban civil society in a less obvious way. The announcement itself led some to say, "Why spend energy on launching this or that project, when the manna will soon fall from the sky?"
Perhaps some of these reasons can help explain why Fidel Castro, when asked about the Helms-Lieberman act during a visit to Portugal, said, "It's an excellent idea," adding that the act showed some of his opponents in Washington "don't use their heads much."
Of course, we cannot pretend to speak for the entire independent sector of Cuba. But we know that other prominent representatives of our community have expressed similar reservations about the proposal. Perhaps our voices will be heard and taken into account in Washington.
Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos is general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers. Héctor Palacios Ruíz is director of the Center of Independent Social Studies. They contributed this comment to The New York Times.
/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articlesearch.tmpl&dt=articleLocation&location=HAVANA - The news recently arrived here of the Helms-Lieberman Cuban Solidarity Act of 2001, which would allocate $100 million in U.S. aid - financial assistance, medical supplies, office and communications equipment - to Cuban independent and nongovernmental organizations and victims of political repression. While we do not doubt that the intention of the legislators is to "provide increased, decisive support to the democratic opposition in Cuba," we feel that Cuban dissidents on the island have to say: "No, thank you. Not in this way."
Those of us in Cuba who work independently of the state are often falsely accused by the government of being on the payroll of the United States. To accept would simply fuel these accusations.
The Cuban government represses those who lead independent activities, whether in human rights advocacy, journalism or independent libraries. Receiving aid often gets the recipient into trouble, even though it comes from sources other than the United States. One of us, the general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, recently spent over three months in prison because $5,000 destined for a congress of independent trade unions was found at his apartment. The money, from the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands, was confiscated by state security.
Furthermore, 1999 legislation changed the Cuban Penal Code so that anyone "receiving, distributing or participating in the distribution of financial, material or other means coming from the U.S. government," can be punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Activists like us are under constant scrutiny by state security and by the local committees for the defense of the revolution. The difficulties of bringing us aid were illustrated by the detention in Havana earlier this year of two Czechs - supporters of independent Cuban civil society - who were here with material and moral support. One Cuban activist, a blind man, was physically abused by state security agents because he was on the list of people whom the two Czechs were planning to visit.
American legislators point out that assistance provided by the United States government once helped dissidents in Poland. But that aid effort was revealed only after democratic changes had happened there. Besides, Poland is a country with land borders, which make all sorts of communication from outside easier than it is on an island.
If some Cuban dissidents were to accept American aid while others did not, the aid would divide those who favor democratic change into haves and have-nots and would give the official propaganda machinery reason to accuse us all of being mercenaries or parasites.
The approval of such an aid package also might paralyze the growth of Cuban civil society in a less obvious way. The announcement itself led some to say, "Why spend energy on launching this or that project, when the manna will soon fall from the sky?"
Perhaps some of these reasons can help explain why Fidel Castro, when asked about the Helms-Lieberman act during a visit to Portugal, said, "It's an excellent idea," adding that the act showed some of his opponents in Washington "don't use their heads much."
Of course, we cannot pretend to speak for the entire independent sector of Cuba. But we know that other prominent representatives of our community have expressed similar reservations about the proposal. Perhaps our voices will be heard and taken into account in Washington.
Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos is general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers. Héctor Palacios Ruíz is director of the Center of Independent Social Studies. They contributed this comment to The New York Times.
/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articlesearch.tmpl&dt=articleLocation&location=HAVANA - The news recently arrived here of the Helms-Lieberman Cuban Solidarity Act of 2001, which would allocate $100 million in U.S. aid - financial assistance, medical supplies, office and communications equipment - to Cuban independent and nongovernmental organizations and victims of political repression. While we do not doubt that the intention of the legislators is to "provide increased, decisive support to the democratic opposition in Cuba," we feel that Cuban dissidents on the island have to say: "No, thank you. Not in this way."
Those of us in Cuba who work independently of the state are often falsely accused by the government of being on the payroll of the United States. To accept would simply fuel these accusations.
The Cuban government represses those who lead independent activities, whether in human rights advocacy, journalism or independent libraries. Receiving aid often gets the recipient into trouble, even though it comes from sources other than the United States. One of us, the general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, recently spent over three months in prison because $5,000 destined for a congress of independent trade unions was found at his apartment. The money, from the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands, was confiscated by state security.
Furthermore, 1999 legislation changed the Cuban Penal Code so that anyone "receiving, distributing or participating in the distribution of financial, material or other means coming from the U.S. government," can be punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Activists like us are under constant scrutiny by state security and by the local committees for the defense of the revolution. The difficulties of bringing us aid were illustrated by the detention in Havana earlier this year of two Czechs - supporters of independent Cuban civil society - who were here with material and moral support. One Cuban activist, a blind man, was physically abused by state security agents because he was on the list of people whom the two Czechs were planning to visit.
American legislators point out that assistance provided by the United States government once helped dissidents in Poland. But that aid effort was revealed only after democratic changes had happened there. Besides, Poland is a country with land borders, which make all sorts of communication from outside easier than it is on an island.
If some Cuban dissidents were to accept American aid while others did not, the aid would divide those who favor democratic change into haves and have-nots and would give the official propaganda machinery reason to accuse us all of being mercenaries or parasites.
The approval of such an aid package also might paralyze the growth of Cuban civil society in a less obvious way. The announcement itself led some to say, "Why spend energy on launching this or that project, when the manna will soon fall from the sky?"
Perhaps some of these reasons can help explain why Fidel Castro, when asked about the Helms-Lieberman act during a visit to Portugal, said, "It's an excellent idea," adding that the act showed some of his opponents in Washington "don't use their heads much."
Of course, we cannot pretend to speak for the entire independent sector of Cuba. But we know that other prominent representatives of our community have expressed similar reservations about the proposal. Perhaps our voices will be heard and taken into account in Washington.
Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos is general secretary of the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers. Héctor Palacios Ruíz is director of the Center of Independent Social Studies. They contributed this comment to The New York Times.