Posted on Wed, Jun. 05, 2002 Editorialsstory:PUB_DESC
Project Varela leads Cuba to freedom

Project Varela has gained wide support internationally and within Cuba over the past few months. The project is a petition for free elections so that Cubans on the island can decide whether they want the current regime to continue.

It's a simple exercise in democracy. Former President Jimmy Carter and President Bush both have spoken high- ly of it. Petitions, after all, are in the best tradition of American democracy.

Yet among some in the exile community, the project continues to be controversial. Hour after endless hour, it is disparaged on several radio programs. Sometimes it seems that this piece of paper -- which thousands of people in Cuba have signed, thus endangering their freedom -- is more dangerous than the Taliban. Why? Because it's based on an article in the 1976 constitution of communist Cuba.

Oswaldo PayŠ, the originator of Project Varela, is attacked as being at best a poor, naive fool and at worst a tool of the Castro regime. By contrast, in his May 20 speech, Bush asked for a free election for the National Assembly in 2003, based on Article 71 of the same 1976 constitution, and he is roundly praised in the exile community for it. Could this mean that the U.S. president can petition the Castro regime for freedom but that a Cuban inside the island who suffers the horrors of the communist regime cannot?

Some will use events from another era while forgetting the facts of those events. Events do not take place in a vacuum; they are forged in the context of a very specific period of time and are controlled by the conditions surrounding that particular situation.

A comparison can be made with the events leading to the Declaration of Independence. U.S. independence was not simply declared on July 4, 1776. This groundbreaking declaration was really the culmination of a long process over many years that came about after having tried to work things out with the English crown.

After listing all the injuries that King George III had caused on the American colonies, the Declaration of Independence states: ''In every stage of these Oppressions We have petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.'' It must be disappointing for some to find out that the Founding Fathers had actually petitioned the tyrant -- not once but many times -- for freedom.

Sadly, many of my compatriots here continue to look at the trees and miss the forest. Fidel Castro is well aware that even one ray of light penetrating the forest could result in his demise. That is why he will talk only to those whom he believes will serve his purposes. Sometimes he makes mistakes -- and to the degree he does, we must take advantage of those opportunities.

The reality is that all of them -- the Founding Fathers, Bush, PayŠ and the signers of the Varela Project -- were then and are now right in petitioning, speaking and fighting for freedom in any way they see fit.

For too many years, many of us kept quiet when the motives of our fellow citizens were questioned. To those who suffered because of it, I ask forgiveness for not speaking out more forcefully. From now on, I'll refuse to play that game and will not diminish another person who fights for freedom, especially one who is suffering under the regime that we all want to remove.

We all owe a special thanks to the authors and signers of Project Varela -- and also to Carter and Bush for speaking out on their behalf. May God bless them all.

Domingo Moreira is a director of the Cuban American National Founda- tion's executive committee.