'The Forum is a body for all young Cubans'
The fact that Cuban civil society is now struggling to throw off shackles of totalitarianism is something that Kirenia Yalit Núñez Pérez boasts the credentials to attest to. This Psychology graduate from the University of Havana, who has done extensive work in collaboration with human rights activists, is the general coordinator of an organization that seeks to bring together young people to empower them and walk the difficult path towards democracy.
Núñez Pérez is the director of the Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana (MDJC), or Cuban Youth Dialogue Forum, a recently-undertaken project representing a clear sign that times are changing on the Island. She sat down to speak with DIARIO DE CUBA.
How did the MDJC come about? What is its main purpose?
The Forum was founded on February 22, 2014 in response to demand for a body specifically for young people. Its forerunner was the Red Latinoamericana de Jóvenes por la Democracia en Cuba (Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy in Cuba), founded by seven young people from different Latin American countries, an organization that supports activities in Cuban civil society, especially youth-based projects. We were the founders of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy (JuventudLac), established in December 2014, particularly to address the situation Venezuela.
The first coordinator of the MDJC was Litivio Fernández, who served as general coordinator until the summer of that year, when he decided to leave the country, and I took office in September of that year. Basically, we have two main objectives: to encourage Cuban youth to take on leadership roles, and to promote human rights, with a stress on the rights of young people. This entails upholding youth as holders of rights and advancing proposals for youth policy, with a focus on human rights, before national bodies, for their implementation.
Where do the members of the MDJC come from?
We have young people of all kinds, as we are very inclusive. It doesn´t matter where you come from, or your political affiliation or creed. As long as the young person wishes to work in a respectful and inclusive manner, the Forum is a space for him or her.
We are not a political party but an NGO that is mainly concerned with the development of public policy and demanding that the Cuban government respect the rights of the country's youth. Hence the importance we assign to the dissemination and the Cuban State’s ratification of the Ibero-american Convention on the Rights of Youth, formulated in 2005.
What have been the biggest obstacles to the organization’s development?
At first there were 22 of us young people, and today we number 72. We would have grown even more had it not been for the meddling of the repressive State Security forces, who have prevented us from working more directly with young people. People have been prevented from reaching places where we hold activities.
Last year, in August, we were going to hold a National Forum, with over 100 invitees, but the political police prevented it. We had to cancel the activity one day before. A number of our members have been beaten and detained on several occasions, and harassed and intimidated, and they excluded from participating in international youth events as a result of pressure applied by the Cuban government. I was able to report these violations at a hearing address these issues before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In June, when four members of the Forum were returning from the Dominican Republic, where they participated in the 46th OAS Assembly, Customs seized from them a total of 570 pens, 254 planners, 49 signs, 2 bundles of bracelets and 82 can openers. Everything featured the logo of the Forum and the "Poder Joven" (Young Power) campaign. In the seizure document the Customs authorities indicated that these items violated the "morals and principles of society;" note that they didn´t even claim that they were "against the Revolution."
In addition, there are provinces in the country that we have not reached, like Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spíritus and Cienfuegos. Our presence is greatest in Havana and Pinar del Rio.
What are the MDJC's immediate goals?
The first one is to institutionalize the organization so that it can generate more public visibility. I think that this would help us attract not only those young people convinced of the need for change in Cuban society, but even those who are not.
We are also involved in training young people about elections, through the campaign we are carrying out right now, "Young Power," which basically seeks to reform the current electoral law. We are carrying out this effort in coordination with the Cubalex Legal Information Centre. We want young people across the country, through these training programs, to become replicators of the campaign, where we spotlight the need to reform the electoral law in order for Cubans to enjoy free and transparent elections.
We also plan to officially inaugurate the "Young Power" campaign on the same day that the United Nations launched its Creativity and Youth effort. In addition, we hope to prepare and political candidates and to place them in the public eye, while they also become trainers, in turn, of other young people. We want to empower young people; hence our slogan: "Choosing is our right."
We are also seeking alliances with other civil society organizations so that our members can participate in the debates and forums of other organizations. I believe that if we fail to establish alliances, overcoming our differences, it will be very difficult to achieve democracy and a pluralistic Cuba. This is why the MDJC forms part of the Executive Board of # Otro18 and is part of the Mesa de la Unidad de Acción Democrática (MUAD).
Another of our goals is to have representatives in all the provinces. We also want to continue to participate in international youth forums, which offer us the chance to dialogue with other young people, and for them to share with us their disparate experiences.
Any final message you would like to transmit?
I would like to take advantage of this interview to encourage all young people to join our organization, regardless of the political party or the bodies to which they belong – and even if they don´t belong to anything. The Cuban Youth Dialogue Forum provides them with an organization in which to act as young people. Here the focus is on them and, by pooling and drawing upon everyone's different ideas, we are endeavoring to improve our future. This forum is all yours.