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Cuba’s dissidents and exiles seek a leadership role in the future of Cuba
NORA GÁMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
01/29/2015 10:32 PM 01/29/2015 10:32 PM

The historic Dec. 17 announcement that Washington and Havana agreed to
restore diplomatic relations took members of the exile community and
Cuba’s opposition movement by surprise.

But now that the shock has subsided, there is a new effort underway for
Cubans on and off the island to join forces and take on a greater role
in both the ongoing negotiations between the two governments and in the
future of Cuba. The dialogue between exiles and Cuban dissidents and
activists is happening in organized gatherings in Miami as well as at
homes across the island.

At a Convention for Democracy in Cuba event held Wednesday evening in
Little Havana, some 150 Cubans and Cuban Americans pledged to set aside
differences and sang Cuba’s national anthem together before pitching
ideas for establishing a consensus that would help shape the future
political landscape of Cuba. Among the ideas was establishing a formal
Mesa de Diálogo (Roundtable of Dialogue) between government opponents on
and off the island and creating a citizens network tied to the
Roundtable to enhance the flow of information. The group also discussed
organizing a similar event in Cuba.

While much remains to be seen on how negotiations and civil society’s
role will unfold, the Little Havana gathering illustrated how the new
Cuba policy has enhanced dialogue.

Many in the audience expressed support for dissidents in Cuba.

Elvira Casal, who left Cuba in 1961 as part of the exodus of children
during Operation Pedro Pan, said she attended the Convention for
Democracy in Cuba event at the Cuba Ocho cultural center to hear what
dissidents living on the island had to say and how exiles could help
their cause.

“These are the people we need to listen to because they are the ones
living there,” Casal said. “If we want to be part of whatever happens in
the future — and I’m not necessarily overly optimistic in the short term
— we Cubans here and there need to take advantage of whatever spaces we
can because the United States is not going to solve our problem.”

Ramon Saúl Sanchez, founder of the Democracy Movement, said the new
dialogue between exiles and Cubans breaks traditional patterns.

“It is the first time this happens at this magnitude,” Sanchez said. “We
are eager to see how the Cubans can coordinate an effective instrument
and become protagonists of our own destiny, so that the absence of our
voices does not cause someone else to speak for us.”

Convention participants also said they would like to develop a
comprehensive plan for changing the political landscape in Cuba to
present at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Roberta
Jacobson, the U.S. top diplomat on Cuba, has said that including a broad
range of civil society organizations — including Cuban dissidents — in
discussions at the Summit of the Americas is a priority.

But during his address at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States (CELAC) in Costa Rica on Wednesday, Cuban leader Raúl Castro
suggested that only Cuban NGOs with formal United Nations recognition,
in essence those with links to the Cuban state, should participate in
the Summit in Panama.

Follow Nora Gamez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

Source: Cuba’s dissidents and exiles seek a leadership role in the
future of Cuba | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article8605607.html

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