Despite the rain, a crowd of Cuban dissidents showed up to protest a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Cuban Revolution at Queen’s University in Kingston on Saturday.
Around 200 academics, business representatives, and Cuban government officials attended “The Measure of a Revolution: Cuba, 1959-2009,” a three-day conference covering a variety of social and economic topics.
Surprised by the presence of the demonstrators on the last day of the conference, some attendees expressed annoyance even though they agreed that Cuban dissidents had the right to protest.
One lady suggested that the protesters could better get their message across by attending the conference. However, a Cuban protestor who tried to register was denied admission by the organizers.
The dissidents were mainly protesting against the presence of Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of Cuba, who they see as the chief propagandist for the Cuban regime. Alarcón is an expert on North American issues and has served twice as permanent representative for the UN and later as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
While seeing the U.S. as the overpowering bully in the Cuba—U.S. relationship, the conference attendees showed little interest in engaging Cuban dissidents outside the conference hall. Such remarks as “stupid” and “why don’t you go to school” were heard from the attendees when approached by the protesters.
However, hooting from the sidewalk across the street, the protesters were not to be ignored by the scholars and businessmen in attendance. Nelson Taylor Sol of the Cuban Canadian Foundation was critical that dissidents were excluded from the conference.
While the regime is celebrating the legacy of the revolution, he said, the revolution has “made every Cuban a dissident.” Cubans have been fleeing their country since 1959.
The few conference attendees who agreed to comment shied away from the issues of human rights violations and political repression in Cuba. They directed most of their criticisms toward America’s Cuba policies.
They regard U.S. economic sanctions as the main obstacle to Cuba’s economic development rather than the failure of Cuba’s own economic model. While Cuba is free to trade with most other nations in the world, by June 2009 the U.S. will be the only country that does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Cuba.
Mr. Sol, however, said Cuba’s economy has been completely bankrupted and most Cubans are living in poverty, a vast departure from the prosperous nation in the pre-revolutionary period.
Dave Thomas of the Cuban-Canadian Friendship Association, who attended the conference, said 800,000 Canadians visited Cuba last year and he is glad that Canada has had long and friendly relations with the country.
But as Mr. Sol sees it, the money Canadians are pumping into the country prolongs the dictatorship and in turn the suffering of the Cuban people. He said that with many of the corporations that have businesses in Cuba, the workers are only paid a fraction of what the government actually receives from these foreign companies.
In a country where no election has been held since the 1959 revolution, to Cubans the Cuban Communist Party is still a dictatorship with no legitimacy, Mr. Sol said.