The Cuban resistance — on the island itself — has celebrated its first open—air conference in Havana on May 20th and 21st. More than two hundred delegates from more than 350 opposition groups traveled from several Cuban provinces to Havana, despite the regime's attempts to stop them or intimidate them.
The Cuban government has not refrained from creating distractions. It expelled several European parliamentarians and imprisoned — although for a few hours — various foreign journalists.
The latter have told about the unbearable conditions they suffered.
"When we asked for water, they refused and said that we should have paid for it. They even denied us the right to speak on phone with our relatives." This is the Cuban prison experience as told by an Italian reporter, Francesco Battistini, who was in Havana to cover the historical event. "If this is what happens to a foreign journalist, then one can only imagine how hard is the daily life for a Cuban dissident," he affirmed.
The General Meeting of the Assembly to Promote the emerging Civil Society in Cuba — organized by former political prisoners Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello,Felix Bonne Carcasses and Rene Manzano Gomez — has been successful and took place without any particular incident nor disturbance by the regime itself.
Castro had ordered the arrest of several delegates of the Assembly in the days before it started. But it refrained from intervening during the meeting.
"We congratulate [the Cuban regime] for allowing the opposition meeting", said a representative of — guess who? — the Spanish government.
Is the Cuban government becoming more humane and willing to allow pro—democracy events like this? No.
The truth is that the regime has shown its weakness in front of the Cuban dissidents' resistance and defiance of the warnings by the police not to attend the event. Previously, Castro's police had threatened the delegates with harm to their relatives and even their children, if they attended the conference.
But Castro felt the heat and preferred not to draw the world's ire by repressing the participants to the meeting in sort of "small Tiananmen." If he had done so — he must have thought — the whole free world would have turned against him, including his newly—found ally Spain.
So, it's not that he is softer on dissent. He is just afraid. It may be that he'll arrest several delegates in the coming days or weeks. But even then, the world will not be silent.
The European Union has threatened to impose new sanctions on the regime for its treatment of the foreign journalists and parliamentarians. One wonders if it will really do so or if it will cave in to the Spanish appeasers.
Unlike the European governments, the US administration showed its solidarity with the Cuban dissidents many days before the Assembly was held. Europe was silent and one wonders if it would ever have said a word if the foreign observers had been allowed to cover the event.
President Bush delivered his message of support to the hundreds of Cubans attending the meeting. The video message was translated in Spanish and the delegates applauded the speech while shouting slogans such as "Long Live Bush!" and "Down with Fidel!".
The President has congratulated the resistance and the whole Cuban people in the occasion of the nation's Independence Day and wished them success in their fight against the 46—year long communist tyranny.
The Assembly's final resolution — approved by an absolute majority of the delegates — consisted of a tough condemnation of the regime and outlined the tasks the opposition proposes to continue the fight for democracy and involve as many ordinary Cubans as possible.
As Martha Beatriz Roque said, the Assembly will organize many more meetings aimed to focus on the progresses made.
Many more Cubans are coming in touch with the opposition members, as the latter try to hear their daily problems and make the world aware of the real situation in the island.
Despite the recent disproportionate criticisms and accuses by a "moderate" and soft "dissident," Osvaldo Pay� (who believes that the regime can be engaged and dialogue with it is possible), the Assembly includes the majority of the Cuban opposition groups, both inside and outside the island, and is the only viable way to liberate Cuba.
And unlike Pay�, the Assembly and the supporting opposition groups, from the Social—Democrats to the Liberal—Democratic parties, are strongly convinced that the ideological nature of the regime makes it unfit for reform and that no dialogue nor compromise can be proposed. All Cuba needs is regime change.
Cuba may not be liberated tomorrow, but the efforts of these brave Cuban dissidents will speed up the unavoidable end of the regime, by opening the door to the liberation.
Stefania Lapenna is an Italian activist and author of the weblog Free Thoughts