Laritza Diversent is a Cuban lawyer, now living in the United States, because she was forced to flee her country. She has a beautiful name, doesn’t she? The last name is of French-Haitian origin.
I met her at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She told me her story, in brief outline, and I will relate it to you.
Her father “worked in the fields,” as she puts it. He had fought in the Sierra Maestra with Fidel Castro. He was always loyal to the regime — right to the end. (He passed away some years ago.) Laritza’s mother is still living, and is in Cuba. She has a handicap (unspecified, and I don’t feel like pressing).
Was Laritza political, when she was a girl? No. She was indifferent to politics. She never wanted to be involved in the Communist Youth League or anything like that. Her parents told her to study as much as she could, to maximize her opportunities in the future. That’s what she did.
Like a great many dissidents, Laritza Diversent is Afro-Cuban. Did she ever suffer racial discrimination? Of course, she says — from schooldays onward. Black women, in particular, have a hard time of it, she says. Cuban men say that black women smell like monkeys and sweat too much and so on.
Furthermore, black women are very hard on themselves, and on one another, says Laritza. Often, they don’t even call themselves “black.” They use euphemisms like “mulatto” and “brown.” They often say they should marry a white man, so as to make the race better, i.e., lighter.
Laritza dreamed of being a lawyer. To this end, she went to the University of Havana Law School. “Same as Fidel!” I remark. Yes, says Laritza, “but he was not a good student. He did not learn anything.”
After earning her degree, Laritza was in a bind. She could not be the kind of lawyer she had dreamed of being: an honest and helpful one. You had to work for the government, in a way. You had to be complicit in the system. You had to be corrupt.
Laritza had a son, and this was important to her — important in her career decisions. She did not want her son to have a mother who was corrupt. Who was a tool of a nasty, oppressive regime.
One day, she met an independent journalist, who asked her some legal questions. She answered them. She started blogging about such questions, too. Laritza explored an area of the law she had never studied: human-rights law. And that’s what she became: a human-rights lawyer.
She founded Cubalex, a non-profit organization. Its purpose was to help people with the law — poor people, who had nowhere else to go, and no one else to turn to. She and her colleagues helped more than 3,000 people.
How did they earn a living, in that they were working for free? They had outside help — particularly from the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, D.C. That was a big risk.
Laritza Diversent and her colleagues were often in trouble, of course: harassed, detained, etc. Laritza was frequently followed by state security agents. They would also linger outside her home — which doubled as Cubalex headquarters.
In September 2016, her home was raided. They took everything: all the equipment, all the documents. Laritza and her colleagues were in grave danger. It is a crime to receive funding from the United States (according to Law No. 88, enacted in 1999).
It was very difficult for Laritza to leave Cuba. She had her mother to think about. But she also had her son to think about. What kind of life would he have? “One of the methods that the regime employs to harm dissidents,” Laritza says, “is to go after their family. I was afraid for my son.”
Now she and her son are on American soil — from which Laritza continues her Cubalex work.
I ask her, “When do you think the Castro regime will fall?” She answers, “I don’t think it’s going to happen in the short or medium term. I think it can happen only when we have a strong civil society — and the government works day and night to weaken or prevent civil society.”
The regime is very unpopular, says Laritza. “But people don’t talk about it. They’re afraid. The fear is real” (and, of course, understandable). Natan Sharansky has a term for a place such as Cuba: a “fear society.”
At the end of our conversation, Laritza tells me, “Thank you for wanting to talk about Cuba.” I tell her I hope to celebrate the downfall of the regime with her one day. She says, “I’m doing my best. Even though I don’t look optimistic” — I hadn’t noticed! — “I really am. I really am.”