My name is Regis Iglesias Ramírez, I am a spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement. [The Christian Liberation Movement is a non-violent Cuban dissident organization advocating for democratic reforms that was founded in 1988. Until his death in 2012, it was led by Oswaldo Paya.] I am also a political exile and had to leave my country after spending seven and a half years in prison because I was one of the national coordinators requesting a plebiscite for the Varela Project [Named for a Cuban religious leader, the Varela Project was a civil society initiative in Cuba, centered on a petition drive advocating democratic reforms.], which was a bill that dealt with the recognition of certain fundamental rights, which are inalienable for every human and are even included within the Cuban Constitution, which, though oppressive and plagued with contradictions, still recognizes these rights.
We were therefore imprisoned not because we violated an unjust law, but rather because the military junta, the Cuban dictatorship, violated its own laws in order to have us imprisoned. After seven and a half years, we had the choice to either remain imprisoned or go into exile. In an initial phone interview I had with Monsignor Jaime Ortega, the Cardinal of Cuba [and Archbishop of Havana], I stated my refusal to leave.
But when my position became public, it was mostly my daughters who reminded me that they had spent their whole lives, not only the last seven and a half years but twenty-two years altogether, born into and growing up and developing amidst an environment of persecution, oppression, and exclusion due to my work in the Christian Liberation Movement, because of my position towards the government, and because of my militancy in the movement from 1989. So they fervently asked me to accept exile, and upon being asked again by Monsignor Ortega, I accepted. I was taken from the prison to the airport, where I was reunited with some of my family who were going to be exiled along with me. After that, we arrived at Madrid.
Regis Iglesias Ramirez is a Cuban political and civil society activist and a former prisoner of conscience. He was born in Havana in 1969.
He became a member of a dissident group, the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), in 1989. The MCL was founded by the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died under mysterious circumstances in a car accident in 2012. Regis Iglesias Ramirez became the MCL’s spokesman and a member of its Coordination Council in 1996. He was nominated as a candidate to the Cuban Parliament in 1997, but his candidacy, along with those of colleagues from the MCL, was rejected by the regime’s electoral authorities.
He is a member of the National Executive of the Citizens Committee of the Varela Project, a civil society initiative advocating for free elections and improved human rights in Cuba. The Varela Project gathered signatures from Cuban citizens in favor of a plebiscite, as permitted by the Cuban constitution. The communist government refused to call the plebiscite.
In 2003, Regis Iglesias Ramirez was among 75 nonviolent dissidents and activists arrested by the Cuban regime in what became known as the Black Spring. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for crimes against the state. In 2010, he was released in a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church and was sent into exile in Spain, where he remains as a political refugee.
Regis Iglesias Ramirez has published several books of poetry and contributed to various literary anthologies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Spain and elsewhere. Since the mid-1990s, he has been associated with the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba, the New Cuban Press Agency and the Manuel Marquez Sterling Society of Independent Journalists in Cuba.
Burma, a Southeast Asian country with about 57 million people, is ruled by a military regime that seized power in 1962. Although the reformist National League for Democracy (NLD) won overwhelmingly in a 1990 election, the country’s military rulers ignored the results and arrested NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 “for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.” The military government held a referendum on a new constitution in 2008 and a parliamentary election in 2010, neither of which was regarded by international observers as free or fair, and both of which resulted in overwhelming majorities for pro-government positions and candidates. The military regime has committed widespread and systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, and denial of freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.
Throughout its existence, the regime has been at war with a number of Burma’s ethnic minority groups. Ethnic minority voters overwhelmingly supported the NLD in the 1990 election, and after the suppression of the democracy movement several of these groups continued or resumed armed resistance to the de facto government. Although the government signed cease-fire agreements with several of these groups ostensibly granting them autonomy within their respective regions, the Burmese military has used a range of brutal techniques, including the killing of civilians, forced labor, rape, and the destruction of homes, crops, and villages, in cease-fire zones as well as in areas where there is still armed resistance.
In 2007, as on several previous occasions, there were mass demonstrations throughout the country demanding freedom and democracy. The 2007 demonstrations were led by Buddhist monks and eventually became known as the “Saffron Revolution” after the color of the monks’ robes. The armed forces brutally suppressed these demonstrations—estimates of the number of protestors killed range from 31 to several thousand—and intensified popular dissatisfaction with the government by the killing, beating, and public humiliation of monks.
The nominally civilian government resulting from the 2010 election has been widely regarded as a façade for continuing military rule. However, in October 2011, the government released 206 of Burma’s estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience. The next month, the government announced that it would soon release all remaining political prisoners. The NLD, which had declined to participate in the 2010 election, registered to participate in the next election and announced that Aung San Suu Kyi would be among the NLD candidates.
Although the military regime announced in 1989 that it had changed the English name of the country from Burma to “Myanmar,” the United States government and other international supporters of democracy in Burma have generally continued to call the country Burma because this is the name preferred by Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy advocates who won the 1990 election.See all Burma videos