I have had the good fortune over the past few years of meeting and hearing speak many Cuban opposition activists and dissidents. They come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and hold sometimes differing viewpoints on the challenges today facing Cuba and Cubans, especially those who challenge the Castro regime's grip on power and the life of their country.
But what each do share is this: A passion for their nation and a faith that justice and freedom will prevail. In a country where freedom is scarce, they are the freest of men and women. If we are to thank the Castro regime for anything, it would be the "reform" that has allowed men and women like Jorge Luis Perez Garcia, "Antunez" and Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo to leave Cuba so they can tell their stories.
Tonight, I heard another one of the leading voices of Cuban dissidence, the journalist/blogger/photographer/writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo share his perspectives and opinions. (You can read some of his work, in English, here and here, and view some of his photographs, here.)
All the points he made during a panel discussion at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., were salient but if there was one overarching theme, it was this: The future of Cuba must be allowed to be determined by the Cuban people. Whether or not there is an American "embargo" will not decide Cuba's fate; and neither will a regime that for more than half a century has refused to consult with the Cuban people about what it does, supposedly in their name.
It's an insight more must consider to understand the challenges facing Cuba.
Driving home afterwards, I was awe-struck by Pardo and the other activists and dissidents I have met, by their intelligence and by their eloquence. And most of all by their courage. They are aware of the risks they take by speaking, writing and/or acting out against the regime, even from overseas, and yet they persist.
In doing so, they demonstrate examples more Cuban need to follow.
Because they already know what it's like to be free.
You can watch a recording of tonight's forum, here.