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For more than five decades, the Cuban government has controlled all aspects of the civic, economic and political life of the country’s 11 million citizens. Critics of the government’s domination regularly face severe reprisals. In 2016, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation -- an island-based monitoring organization—reported nearly 10,000 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of Cuban journalists and democracy and human rights activists -- a 15 percent increase over the prior year. Efforts to legally form independent civil society organizations, such as labor unions or legal advisory groups, are denied by government officials.
Despite this ongoing repression, many Cubans persist in advocating for a genuine voice in shaping their country’s future. NDI has worked in solidarity with Cuban democracy activists since 1991, sharing information about democratic institutions and practices and helping to increase international awareness of the efforts of courageous Cubans on the island advocating for peaceful democratic change. Drawing on examples from Latin America and elsewhere, NDI programming focuses on long-term capacity building of independent Cuban civil society actors, exposing them to core skills and democratic practices for supporting an open and inclusive political system.
In 2002, NDI awarded the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award to Oswaldo Payá, for his work on the Varela Project, which gathered the signatures of tens of thousands of Cubans seeking a constitutionally guaranteed referendum on peaceful democratic change. Despite his death in a suspicious car crash in 2012 in which government involvement is alleged, Mr. Payá’s legacy continues to inspire activists inside Cuba seeking to bring about meaningful political and economic reforms.
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NDI's work upholds the idea that democracy is a human right – a principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it's a human right that many around the world still struggle to attain. You can be part of the solution. Join the movement for democracy.