The “counterproductive” Varela Project
Yesterday David Brooks wrote about how John Kerry considers the Varela Project counterproductive. For those who don’t know about it,
The Varela Project happens to be one of the most inspiring democracy movements in the world today. It is being led by a Cuban dissident named Oswaldo Payá, who has spent his life trying to topple Castro’s regime. Payá realized early on that the dictatorship would never be overthrown by a direct Bay of Pigs-style military assault, but it could be undermined by a peaceful grass-roots movement of Christian democrats, modeling themselves on Martin Luther King Jr.
As a young man, Payá founded a magazine called People of God, but it was shut down. He criticized the Soviet Union and was thrown into a work camp. He was given a chance to escape Cuba, but refused.
Then in the mid-1990’s, he and other dissidents exploited a loophole in the Cuban Constitution that allows ordinary citizens to propose legislation if they can gather 10,000 signatures on a petition. They began a petition drive to call for a national plebiscite on five basic human rights: free speech, free elections, freedom to worship, freedom to start businesses, and the freeing of political prisoners.
This drive, the Varela Project, quickly amassed the 10,000 signatures, and more. Jimmy Carter lauded the project on Cuban television. The European Union gave Payá its Sakharov Prize for human rights.
Then came Castro’s crackdown. Though it didn’t dare touch Payá, the regime arrested 75 other dissidents and sentenced each of them to up to 28 years in jail. This week Payá issued a desperate call for international attention and solidarity because the hunt for dissidents continues.
John Kerry’s view? As he told Oppenheimer, the Varela Project “has gotten a lot of people in trouble . . . and it brought down the hammer in a way that I think wound up being counterproductive.”
Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Oswaldo Payá, “counterproductive” all.