Cuba: Time for actionfrom:
Vaclav Havel, Former President of the Czech Republic,
Arpad Göncz, Former President of Hungary,
Lech Walesa, Former President of Poland
Former President of the Czech Republic
Former President of Hungary
Former President of Poland
Earlier this year, Fidel Castro's regime imprisoned 75 representatives of the Cuban opposition. More than 40 co-ordinators of the Varela project - which draws on the current Cuban constitution and calls for the holding of a referendum on the freedom of speech and assembly, the release of political prisoners, free enterprise and free elections - and more than 20 journalists, together with other representatives of various pro-democracy movements, were sentenced in mock trials to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years, merely for daring to express an opinion other than the official one.
Yet the voice of free-thinking Cubans is growing louder, and that is precisely what Castro and his government are justifiably worried about. Despite the omnipresent secret police and government propaganda, thousands of Cubans have already demonstrated their courage by signing project Varela. The regime's response to project Varela, and similar initiatives, is at best disregard and at worst persecution.
The latest wave of confrontations, accompanied by anti-European diatribes from the Cuban political leadership, is an expression of weakness and desperation. The regime is running short of breath, just as the party rulers in the Iron Curtain countries did at the end of the 1980s.
Internal opposition is growing in strength; even the police raids in March failed to bring it to its knees. The times are changing, the revolution is ageing with its leaders, the regime is nervous. Castro knows only too well that there will come a day when his revolution will perish with himself.
No one knows exactly what will happen then, but it is clear in Brussels, Washington, Mexico, among the exiles as well as Cuban residents themselves, that freedom, democracy and prosperity in Cuba depend on support for Cuban dissidents, and that such support will increase the chances of Cuba's peaceful transition to democracy.
Today, it is the responsibility of the democratic world to support representatives of the Cuban opposition, irrespective of how long the Cuban Stalinists manage to cling to power. The Cuban opposition must enjoy the same international support as political dissidents did in divided Europe.
It cannot be claimed that the American embargo of Cuba has brought about the desired result. Neither can this be said of the European policy, which has so far been considerably more forthcoming towards the Cuban regime.
It is time to put aside transatlantic disputes about the embargo of Cuba and to concentrate on direct support for Cuban dissidents, prisoners of conscience and their families.
Europe ought to make it unambiguously clear that Castro is a dictator, and that for democratic countries a dictatorship cannot become a partner until it commences a process of political liberalisation.
At the same time, European countries should establish a "Cuban Democracy Fund" to support the emergence of a civil society in Cuba. Such a fund would be ready for instant use in the case of political changes on the island.
Europe's peaceful transitions from dictatorship to democracy, first in Spain and later in the East, have been an inspiration for the Cuban opposition, so Europe should not hesitate now. Its own history obliges it to act.