Cuban Dissident Campaign is a Fraud
Posted: Monday, June 10, 2002
The truth about the Varela Project
By Calvin Tucker
On Friday 10th May, the dissident Varela Project petition signed by 11,020 Cuban voters was delivered to the country's National Assembly in Havana. The fanfare of publicity that surrounded the petition almost eclipsed Jimmy Carter's call to end the US blockade of the island, and coincided with the claim by the Bush administration that Cuba was developing biological weapons and sharing them with Iran.
The Varela Project demands "a new electoral law" and the "right of Cubans to create enterprises". If adopted, commented Ed Vulliamy in an Observer article supporting the petition, these proposals would mean "in effect, the end of communism in Cuba."
On the day the petition was submitted, BBC News reported with barely concealed glee: "Cuba's Constitution says the National Assembly must schedule a national referendum on the proposals if it receives the verified signatures of 10,000 legal voters." Exactly the same claim was also broadcast by the American news channel Fox News, and printed in The Observer, The New York Times, USA Today and syndicated to the rest of the world's media on the Associated Press wire.
The implication was clear and damning. Should the Cuban Government fail to hold a referendum about returning the island to capitalism, it would lose all constitutional legitimacy and be exposed as a dictatorial regime.
But this claim by the BBC and the big business owned press was a complete fabrication.
The Cuban constitution is unambiguous. Only the National Assembly is empowered to decide if and when there shall be a public referendum (Article 75.u). Petitioners have a quite separate and unrelated right. They can propose legislation for debate in the National Assembly to be taken up by its relevant commissions which would debate the proposal, suggest amendments, vote on it and determine whether and when it should be introduced to the full legislative body (Article 88.g).
Inside Cuba, the proponents of the petition did not make the claim that the constitution guaranteed them a referendum on their proposal - in fact the petition is phrased as a request for a referendum. Given that the Cuban constitution was adopted by referendum in 1976 with a majority of over 90%, and is freely available, such a falsehood would be unsustainable within the country. But unsurprisingly, Varela Project leader Oswald Paya, despite being extensively interviewed by the world's media, has neglected to correct the fabrication.
The fact that this misinformation appeared simultaneously in the world's most influential media networks suggests that it was planted by forces that have considerably more experience of manipulating public opinion than the leaders of the Varela Project.
The Varela Project has been presented as a significant departure from previous anti-communist campaigns against the Cuban government. And indeed, the Project has, on the face of it, little in common with the more fanatical US sponsored émigré groups, who by their involvement in terrorist activities and promotion of the blockade, are completely discredited inside Cuba and have little credibility abroad.
Vicki Huddleston, head of the US Interests Section in Havana, has stated that the United States has provided nothing more than "moral support" for what she called a completely "home-grown effort." Oswald Paya has also made much of his project's supposedly independent status. He told the BBC on 10th May, "We have not accepted a single penny from the US Government."
The Cuban Government has stated that Varela Project organisers are not independent, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque recently charged that they are "on the U.S. government payroll." The Cuban Government has yet to release its evidence. However, Straight Left has discovered the following:
The Varela Project is organised by the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM), which is also headed by Oswald Paya. The CLM in turn is part of a Miami based organisation called the Social Democratic Co-ordinator, which is modelled on the former 'citizens initiative' groups in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, and claims to support "democratic socialism". This 'Third Way' approach is an attempt to create a credible anti-government movement amongst intellectuals inside Cuba, and to undermine international sympathy for Cuba's actual socialist system.
Last year the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a federal government agency, gave $5,000,000 to Cuban groups which supported their goal of "democracy, human rights, and free market economics" and are engaged in "building on the Eastern European transition model." Amongst the many current and former recipients of this American largesse was the Cuban Dissidence Task Force, which received a $250,000 grant in the late 1990s.
The USAID website states that one of the "specific accomplishments" of the task force was the setting up of the Felix Varela Law Centre "which supports Cuban lawyers in their research of Cuban legal institutions and laws that must be eliminated or modified to permit a peaceful transition from totalitarianism to democracy." American funding for the Felix Varela Law Centre was completed in September 1999. According to the Boston Globe (22 March 2002), the Varela Project petition drive was launched shortly afterwards.
Calvin Tucker writes on British and international issues for the British magazine "Straight Left" and is a frequent contributor to Internet discussion forums on Jamaica and Cuba.