Hunger strike in Cuba
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    It is up to Cubans decide their future

    “It is up to Cubans decide their future”
    YOANI SÁNCHEZ, Havana | Enero 24, 2015

    In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a
    Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of
    women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in
    the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a
    few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State
    for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio,
    in Havana.

    Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our
    previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze
    has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she
    has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United
    States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of
    relations between both countries.

    Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met
    with Jacobson on the 14 th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where
    our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a
    conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

    Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the
    politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of
    human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background?

    Jacobson: The goals of our policy are exactly the same as before. It
    focuses on achieving a free country, where Cubans have the right to
    decide their future. The most important thing is how to get to that
    point, and we are aware that we have not been successful with the
    previous strategy. So we’re trying to use a new policy of having
    diplomatic relations because we – and especially President Obama and
    Secretary Kerry – feel that it is important to have direct contact with
    the government.

    The most important thing is how we can empower the Cuban people in a
    more effective way and offer you more telecommunications opportunities
    to modernize your computer systems, to have access to information and to
    be part of the connected “global village.” It is a complex process, that
    is going to take time, but we are not going to set aside the issue of
    human rights and of democracy because they are in the center of this new
    policy as well.

    Reinaldo Escobar: The Cuban government has so far only put on the
    negotiating scale the release of 53 people – and I emphasis “release”
    because they are not liberations, because the majority have only been
    placed on parole. Can we expect new releases derived from these

    Jacobson: That was part of the conversation where we showed an interest
    in several people in Cuba. What was agreed in this process was the
    exchange between intelligence agents, one who has traveled to the United
    States and three who have returned to Cuba. The rest have been policies
    of each side, gestures, of self interest. We are going to continue
    implementing policies according to these interests, which we believe
    support the Cuban people.

    Reinaldo Escobar: We have learned that in Cuban prisons some of the
    prisoners who are on the list of political prisoners but who haven’t yet
    been released are promoting a hunger strike. Should they have any hope?

    Jacobson: I want to say something more: In the discussions of recent
    days, we have agreed to hold dialogs of many kinds. About cooperation,
    about the environment, anti-narcotics, etcetera, including the issue of
    human rights which was proposed by Cuba last year and which has now been
    accepted by us.

    We have different conceptions of this dialog and participating for us
    will be the experts on those issues, but we have said several times that
    we have never thought that after more than fifty years of this problem,
    it would be resolved overnight. We know that there are more people in
    the prisons and there are more elsewhere fighting for their rights.

    Eliécer Ávila: Some media have shown that in these conversations the
    formula is human rights versus economics. However, I understand politics
    as the mechanism for people to live more freely and to live well, so I
    see no conflict between one subject and another. Do you share that view?

    Jacobson: We totally agree that they are, not only complementary, but
    are essentially linked. We have talked, and we have heard the president,
    Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden talk, about reaching a
    democratic, free, secure and prosperous hemisphere.

    Those are things that are all linked. How can we talk of a hemisphere
    that is prosperous, but does not have freedom? Or that has freedom but
    has nothing to eat? Or where there is plenty to eat and freedom but you
    can’t walk the streets because of insecurity and other dangers? These
    are things that are linked, but some are the responsibility of the
    governments to protect their citizens and to guarantee their fundamental
    rights, and others have to be met by the citizens themselves, but in a
    civilized society we have to talk about all these things.

    Eliécer Ávila: Hence also the importance of access to telecommunications
    and information…

    Jacobson: Yes, citizens must have access to information not only on
    issues of freedom and rights, they need access to information for their
    economic life. It is very important and this is one way in which they
    can have greater prosperity. So we are in total agreement that the
    economy and human rights are closely linked. There is no contradiction
    between them, none at all.

    Dagoberto Valdés: From January 21-25, 1998 we had the historic visit of
    Pope John Paul II to Cuba. For Cubans it was a visit of expectations and
    yours now is also. What do you think is the role of the Catholic Church
    as a mediator in the dialogue not only between the governments of Cuba
    and the United States, but the important dialogue that must take place
    between civil society and government of Cuba?

    Jacobson: First I want to say that the role of Pope Francis and the
    Vatican was instrumental in our process with the Cuban Government. We
    know that the Vatican is always important in a process like this, but I
    would add that this pope is special to this region… “We are all
    Argentines at this moment…” So we appreciate the role of the Church.

    In the future, I think the role of the Church in Rome as well as the
    Church in Cuba will be very important. I had a conversation with the
    Cardinal and there are several initiatives by the Cuban Church in
    several areas, aimed at changes in economic, educational and other
    areas. In the Church, as in the field and the media, it is for Cubans to
    decide, not Americans.

    Yoani Sánchez: Thank you for your visit to our editorial offices. We
    deliver a printed version of 14ymedio with a weekly selection, which we
    do to circumvent censorship. We hope that one day our newspaper will be
    on newsstands nationwide.

    Roberta Jacobson: Thank you, I have felt very comfortable here, like
    with family.

    Source: “It is up to Cubans decide their future” –

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