CONVERSATIONAL transitions with David Moya often begin with the words, "I'll tell you a short story...."Like a grandfather telling grizzled tales of a hard life, the recent Cuban exile answers direct questions with rambling yet powerful descriptions of life as a human- rights activist on Fidel Castro's island: months in prison without seeing sunlight, a family divided by politics, and political beliefs that guaranteed him no peace in a future with Fidel Castro. Mr. Moya is just 25 years old. But he's been in Cuban prison for most of the past 10 years. His "prisoner of conscience" rap sheet reads like this: organizing students and his fellow prisoners, printing a human-rights newsletter, trying to escape to Florida by raft, promoting a plebiscite on Fidel Castro's rule, and organizing a demonstration during the 1989 visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. One of an increasing number of dissidents the Cuban government has chosen to expel, rather than put in jail again and again, Moya is perhaps the youngest Cuban to emerge with such a notable record of political and human- rights activity.
Rights work continued m not an exception. What happened to me is more the rule," Moya says repeatedly, when his stories - like his first run-in with the Castro government when he objected to Marxist-Leninist literature in school at age 13 - seem to amaze listeners. But he continued his human-rights work in spite of repeated arrests, torture, and the toll it took on his family: His mother lost her job as a college professor and is now a farm laborer; his father, a well-known Castroite interior ministry official, disowned him. This commitment was unusual enough in a man of his age to win him the 1990 Reebok Human Rights Award. The $100,000 annual prize given by the Massachusetts-based athletic footwear company is divided among several individuals who, early in their lives and against great odds, have significantly raised awareness of human rights and exercised freedom of expression.
Giving Moya an option While the Cuban government would not permit him to leave the country to receive the award last December, it gave Moya the option of leaving the country for good or serving out the 29 years, 6 months, and 2 days of various past sentences that had been suspended. He arrived in Miami on July 31. Moya and his 17-year-old wife of one year, Irlenne, were recently in Washington on a United States tour to raise support for democratic groups in Cuba. The timing of his exile was ironic, he says, because it fell on the eve of the Soviet coup. With the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Cuba, the coup has had a destabilizing effect on Castro's rule. "I regret not having been in my country at that moment because this might have been the explosive we were looking for to lead us to democracy," Moya says. But even before the coup, he says, discontent among the youths of his generation was swelling against Castro's oppressive politics and troubled economy. "Cuban youth have been most affected by the totalitarian communist regime," he says. "We are the generation that was cheated. We were told that communism was the future of humanity. And we see now how false this statement was as we see what is happening in Eastern Europe and Central American countries such as Nicaragua." Moya brings reports of increasing evidence of public willingness to confront the Castro regime: Painted slogans are appearing and student unrest is brewing, he says. He suggests that this is a relative thing, considering antigovernment public demonstrations simply are not permitted: Moya himself was arrested for being involved in an attempt to organize a peaceful demonstration. Academics and diplomats familiar with Cuba generally feel there is no evidence of any mass anti-Castro movement in Cuba, and youths have long been considered apolitical. But Moya is passionate about what he calls the "democracy generation" and a civil uprising he expects from it. Certainly, Moya would be in the best position to know. As executive secretary of the well-known, but unofficial, Party for Human Rights in Cuba, and the youth coordinator for democratic associations there, he was as close as one could get to the heart of the opposition movement.
Difficult to separate Still, observes Luis E. Aguilar, a Georgetown University history professor familiar with Cuba, it is difficult to separate what may be "naive optimism" on the part of this "heroic person" and political reality. "The disappointment, anger, frustration, and lack of hope is a very deep general and growing attitude. But because there is a lot of fear and terror in Cuba, [Moya] is probably expressing what thousands feel but cannot say," he says. Asked if he believes change is possible with Castro in power, Moya is visibly uncomfortable. His promotion of nonviolent change and dialogue implies a willingness to work through problems with Castro.
Promoting change But the young man who spent time behind bars with fellow activists who promoted democratic change and didn't live to answer such questions, replies with controlled anger: "We believe that it would be difficult to have change with Castro in power. There is no argument that Fidel Castro has refused all possibilities of instilling democracy in Cuba. "Though the Cuban government has rejected all [suggested] solutions, we are in the process of tearing away from the government our rights bit by bit rather than waiting for the government to yield these rights to us." While much is made of the Cuban exile community's wealth and political power and anti-Castro agitation in the US, Moya is convinced that "the center of Cuban political gravity is within the island. "I believe it is they who will take the country to democracy. As exiles, we need to back them."