The Cuban National Conference, which will take place in Puerto Rico from August 12th until the 15th, is generating expectations and controversies. Since its dates coincide with the reopening ceremony of the American embassy in Havana and the visit to Cuba of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it poses a challenge for leaders of Cuban civil society who are debating whether to be in San Juan during those days, or to witness the historical moment from within the island.
Guillermo Toledo, a lawyer by trade, and one of the event’s coordinators, explains the summit’s objectives and its significance.
Eliécer Ávila: How did the idea of a Cuban National Conference come about?
Guillermo Toledo: Around two years ago I submitted a proposal in writing to the leadership of United Cubans of Puerto Rico so they could analyze it and give me a response. A few months passed, and my proposal was still going nowhere. So I started insisting. I was then designated coordinator of the Cuban National Conference, the name we settled on after several meetings.
Ávila: Who worked to make it happen?
Guillermo Toledo: Together with the members of United Cubans of Puerto Rico, our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers have contributed their talents and hard work to this endeavor. Our Cuban sisters and brothers have also opened their wallets in order to make an event of this magnitude a reality. These are the same people who in a future free and democratic Cuba will help with their investments to further the material development of our people. Our profound gratitude to all of them.
There hasn’t ever been a meeting with the character and nature of the Cuban National Conference
Ávila: Have other gatherings like this taken place before?
Guillermo Toledo: Cuban Exiles have held some great events, but as far as I know there hasn’t ever been a meeting with the character and nature of the Cuban National Conference. I don’t know of any other event that brought together so many organizations and pro-democracy activists from inside and outside of Cuba, regardless of their beliefs.
Ávila: Who will be participating?
Guillermo Toledo: Our leadership has decided not to name names until we get closer to the event. The central figures of the democratic opposition from inside and outside Cuba will be there, although there are a lot of people we couldn’t invite for lack of funds. I don’t like political labels, but I can say that we’ve invited the democratic center, the democratic right, and the democratic left.
Ávila: Regardless of their position regarding the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States?
Guillermo Toledo: It doesn’t matter if they’re in favor or against the policies towards Cuba of the President of the United States, Barack Obama. This can’t and shouldn’t be for us a new source of division. If we’re going to be a democratic people, we should respect everyone’s opinions. That’s our meeting’s golden rule.
Ávila: What are the event’s objectives?
Guillermo Toledo: Reaching a consensus on unity of action in diversity, through the appropriate mechanism to lead us to a free, prosperous, fair, and democratic Cuba. We’ll also be conducting workshops focused on identifying strategies, tactics, and peaceful methods that will help us reach our shared objective. We want to send a message of unity to the Cuban people and the international community.
The objective is to reach a consensus on unity of action in diversity, through the appropriate mechanism to lead us to a free, prosperous, fair, and democratic Cuba
Ávila: Why choose Puerto Rico as the location for this meeting?
Guillermo Toledo: Both peoples share a common historical bond. The Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by José Martí had a division dedicated to helping Puerto Rico gain its independence from Spain. It’s also about being in a neutral place, where the understandable passions of exiles residing in Miami aren’t vented so strongly. We also don’t want State Security, or “Castro’s Gestapo,” operating in Puerto Rico as it does in Miami, working as hard here to sow internal divisions as it does there.
Ávila: Will Cuban émigrés play a major role in Cuba’s shift towards democracy?
Guillermo Toledo: Cuba’s independence could never have come about without the support of émigrés and exiles. The War of 1895 [Cuba’s second and final war of independence] had its roots in the key role José Martí played outside of Cuba, although all the actual battles took place on the island. Both shores played a decisive role when Spanish despotic colonialism came to an end. Nowadays we’re trying to do away with a totalitarian dictatorship. Cuba’s problems can’t be solved without its exiles.
Ávila: Once it was known that the date for your gathering in Puerto Rico would coincide with the reopening of the United States embassy in Cuba, and given the historical importance of the latter, have you thought about moving the date?
Guillermo Toledo: United Cubans of Puerto Rico chose August 13th, 14th, and 15th of the current year, long before December 17, 2014, when the new United States policy towards Cuba was made public. Maybe we should ask the Americans if it’s just coincidence that they chose August 14th to hold the events at their embassy.
Our gathering can’t be cancelled or postponed because the international community is already aware of it, and the financial losses would be enormous. We also don’t believe there’s a valid reason to postpone it since our meeting is a thoroughly Cuban event where we’ll be discussing and reaching agreements regarding Cuba. The embassy is an American matter, as it should be.
Ávila: Do you have a dream that still hasn’t come true?
Guillermo Toledo: To return to Cuba in a dignified manner, and help create a new country where its people can enjoy freedom, and material and spiritual development.
Translated by José Badué