Human Rights and
International Democratic Solidarity



Diplomacy and Human Rights in Cuba. From the Black Spring to the liberation of the political prisoners

In the words of George Orwell, “one does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship”. That sentence, from his novel 1984 , published in 1949, was to prove true on a remote Caribbean island – Cuba – a decade later. At that moment, the first day of the year 1959, the world looked kindly on the feat of those bearded, idealistic boys, who had defeated the loathsome regime of Fulgencio Batista. (From the Prologue by Jorge Elías)
Editor: Gabriel C. Salvia
Prologue: Jorge Elías
Publisher: CADAL – Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Mexico)
Publication date: 2011
Language: English




Jorge Elías


Gabriel C. Salvia

Experiences in the Swedish Embassy in Havana

Ingemar Cederberg

Impressions from a Latin American diplomat


Cuban exceptionalism

Manual for Diplomats of the Democratic Community

Interview with Jorge Edwards, author of “Persona non grata”

Gabriel C. Salvia

The history of committed diplomacy

Pablo Brum and Mariana Dambolena


Claim of acknowledgment of the civic movement in Cuba , January 19, 2004 .

Declaration “The exercise of rights is no crime”, March 18, 2010 .

Recommendation to the Organization of American States (OAS) and accessions received from Cuba , April 13, 2011.


By Jorge Elías

In the words of George Orwell, “one does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship”. That sentence, from his novel 1984 , published in 1949, was to prove true on a remote Caribbean island – Cuba – a decade later. At that moment, the first day of the year 1959, the world looked kindly on the feat of those bearded, idealistic boys, who had defeated the loathsome regime of Fulgencio Batista. The political left at that time, especially in Latin America , glimpsed a light capable of illuminating more strongly than that of Moscow and of encouraging a greater emphasis on African decolonization movements.

In a region plagued by dictatorships, nobody thought the Cuban revolution would turn into that which it had fought and destroyed: a dictatorship. Batista fled to the Dominican Republic , where he found shelter in the hospitality of his intimate friend Leónidas Trujillo, another dictator. In Miami , the Cuban diaspora celebrated this turn of events. It was a new dawn, until, at midday , unexpected clouds swiftly covered the sky. New generations of Cubans, now victims of abuses, expropriations, nationalizations, agrarian reforms, and prison, began to leave their footprints on Florida 's beaches.

Always, according to Zygmunt Buaman, “we suspect that the truth of the matter is opposite to the one we have been told”. In this case, Orwell had been prophetic: one dictatorship replaced another. For more than half a century, the power incarnate in Fidel and Raúl Castro has, in order to perpetuate itself, taken advantage of an error committed in 1962 by US president John F. Kennedy: the imposition of a trade embargo against the island, condemned since 1992 by the United Nations. Playing the victim, the only communist regime of Latin America , and one of the few on the planet, has appealed to the principle of non-intervention in order to resist those who dare question its contempt for human rights and freedoms.

On an island closed until further notice, who, if not foreign diplomats, would lend a hand to those who still feel victimized by this Big Brother called State or Revolution. They were anonymous heroes until, thanks to the efforts and perseverance of Gabriel Salvia , the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (Cadal, for its initials in Spanish) instituted the Prize for Committed Diplomacy in Cuba , granted according to the votes of Cuban democrats.

The achievements of those diplomats, narrated in this, an important volume rich in experiences and courageous acts, reflect the capacity of human beings to step into another's shoes in order to help them, though they may speak another language, profess another religion, or be of another color. That capacity goes beyond the job they fill: it springs from the will and the sensitivity of each of them, as well as the strength of their democratic convictions. Those who could simply have enjoyed a pleasant stay in paradise have worked according to their principles. Most of them did so alone and without network. What better reason to award the silent labor of a body reserved in its expression and discreet in its approach?

This book, neatly compiled as a brief of what happened and a warning of what may happen, is a tribute to those who honor life above their profession and their career. Where one or a thousand voices demand freedom, oppressed by a tyranny of whatever stripe, those who enjoy that prerogative in their own countries shouldn't hesitate in raising up to accompany them. On the sunburnt skin of the Cubans, the entelechy of the New Man, embraced by intellectuals of an alleged progressive bent, has nourished itself on executions, confinements, censorship and other cruelties. The judgment of Orwell was proven true, even though it was not directed at any particular location outside of Europe .

In 2003 the Cuban regime, lauded in the region by a regressive left that justifies human rights violations and a lack of freedom while living comfortably outside the island, jailed more than 75 dissidents (among them 27 journalists) and shot three discontents that tried to flee in a raft. These tragic events coincided with another, no less unfortunate, which Fidel Castro would use as a screen: the start of the Iraqi War. Many rose up against this excess, hiding behind the presumed connection between those who had fallen in disgrace and the vile “Yankee imperialism”. Had it been true, not one of the imprisoned would have been freed in subsequent years.

In that era, sadly remembered as the Black Spring of Cuba, the German Ambassador in Havana , Hans-Ulrich Lunscken, organized a reception for the diplomatic corps and other authorities of the island and another, later, for civil society, the occasion being his country's national day. Not a single governmental official dared to set foot in the gardens of the ambassador's residence. In that manner Ambassador Lunscken, who passed away in 2008, instituted “diplomacy of canapés”, joined by other European governments. It involved inviting all Cubans, whatever their political flag, to celebrate the national days of their countries.

In the eyes of Rabbi Nilton Bonder, author of Our Immoral Soul, “a law is legitimate if it does not contain an interest in its own maintenance, in its intact body; but to openly express a preference for disobedience ( if that happens to mean respect) to the detriment of obedience (if that is needed of respect) ”. Rarely has diplomacy had a chance to engage in a just cause, as it has in Cuba , be it at the expense of not following the law, of being disobedient.

In the beginning, the Greek city-states sent their best orators to foreign countries. They were emissaries more than ambassadors. The Byzantine emperors began to send instructions not only to represent the Empire's interests in the courts of barbarian despots, but also to prepare reports on the domestic situation in those countries. Diplomats, recognized as such in the Congress of Vienna of 1815, didn't have a good reputation: they bribed courtiers, fomented rebellions, supported the political opposition and intervened in the internal matters of their host countries. They were “honorable spies”.

If the steam engine, telegraph, airplane and telephone contributed to a change in routine, the Internet has now made its own contribution. The airing, by WikiLeaks, of a quarter of a million confidential communications has sped this change. The United States pays the price of a lack of caution, painted as “theft”, whose consequences precipitate the reinvention of diplomacy as an appendix to defense and development.

There are few dictatorships left. None are good, be they of the left or the right wing. Facing this fact, one should exercise one's memory a little and realize that anyone, in the situation of a people with no opportunity of exit beyond a shark-infested sea, from a land that sees no other but the moon, would ask for help.

In The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien says: “ Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” The Castros should have read it long before the Black Spring of Cuba and other brutalities carried out in the name of the Revolution.

Read now of the achievements of foreign diplomats whom, drawing on the simple fact of a shared human condition, have had the courage to put on the shoes of others with the same intention as Cadal encourages in awarding them: to not leave the Cubans alone, or barefoot.

Gabriel C. Salvia
Gabriel C. Salvia
General Director of CADAL
International human rights activist. Since 1992 he has served as director of Civil Society Organizations and is a founding member of CADAL. As a journalist he worked in graphics, radio and TV. Compiled several books, among them "Diplomacy and Human Rights in Cuba" (2011), "Human rights in international relations and foreign policy" (2021) and "75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Views from Cuba" (2023), and he is the author of "Dancing for a mirage: notes on politics, economics and diplomacy in the governments of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner" (2017). He is also the author of several reports, including " The chairs of the Council: authoritarianism and democracies in the evolution of the integration of the UN Human Rights body" and "Memory closed: The complicity of the Cuban revolution with the Argentine military dictatorship".

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