JIMMY CARTER’S RECENT TRIP to Cuba has brought attention to a courageous undertaking called the Varela Project.
Named after the anti-slavery Cuban priest Felix Varela (1788-1853), the Varela Project is a petition that calls for Cuba’s emancipation from totalitarianism. Its specific objective is a referendum on freedom of speech and assembly, the release of political prisoners, free elections, and the establishment of free enterprise.
One dissident organization comments on what the Varela Project has faced from Fidel Castro’s regime: "Like a wild beast, the entire specialized police apparatus has attacked the Varela Project in a repressive process that includes detentions, searches, coercion, ill-treatment and humiliation, both against the dozens of activists collecting signatures and hundreds of people who have signed, many not linked to the political opposition."
Despite this systematic persecution and sabotage, the Varela Project has gathered over 11,000 signatures—no minor accomplishment in a totalitarian country of 11,100,000.
The organizers of the Varela Project have submitted the signatures to Cuba’s National Assembly. According to Cuba’s Soviet-style "constitution," a petition that receives 10,000 signatures shall be considered for presentation as a referendum to the country.
Let’s make a quintet of highly optimistic assumptions:
- Castro permits a referendum on the Varela Project.
- Castro allocates equal space in Cuba’s media for the Varela Project organizers to campaign for the referendum.
- The vote on the Varela Project proceeds without intimidation by the regime.
- The Varela Project passes.
5) Castro accepts the consequence of the Varela Project’s passage, i.e., the abolition of Castroism.
How should supporters of freedom respond to this process?
A classic description of freedom’s roots occurs in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Rights therefore inhere in the individual, transcendent of a populace’s desires. If 51% or 61% or 81% of a country votes to blind green-eyed women, this consensus is morally meaningless (indeed, morally repugnant).
Whether perpetrated by an oligarchy or a majority, tyranny is tyranny. Democracy, that holy noun of our age, does not legitimize trespasses on individual freedom. In fact, democratically perpetrated tyranny is worse than oligarchic tyranny since it indicates general depravity.
CNN describes the Varela Project as "a referendum on human rights," which highlights the bittersweet nature of this admirable campaign. Human rights aren’t supposed to be contingent upon a referendum. After all, they are rights.
Consider the implications if the Varela Project were defeated (no doubt with the help of Castro’s thugs). Would that mean Cubans aren’t entitled to freedom of speech and assembly, that a one-party regime with hundreds of political prisoners is acceptable?
The organizers of the Varela Project aren’t to blame for this circumstance. They and their countrymen are disarmed, barred from critical discourse, saturated with Pravda-esque falsehoods on a daily basis. The Varela Project’s appeal to the communist constitution reflects a dearth of options.
It should be noted that a number of dissidents do not support the Varela Project. Their orientation can be summarized in the words of Cuban patriot Antonio Maceo: "Liberty is not begged for; it is conquered."
Cubans have petitioned the regime that enslaves them to let them vote on whether to continue being enslaved. Fidel Castro and his henchmen are culpable for this obscenity, and they must face the consequences of tyrannizing a country for 43 years.