The Moral High Ground vs. The Violent Mob
By John Suarez

San Jose, Costa Rica: November 16, 2004 Non-cooperation with a Stoic twist

"War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." - Karl von Clausewitz


“It is not conclusive proof of a doctrine’s correctness that its adversaries use the police, the hangman, and violent mobs to fight it. But it is a proof of the fact that those taking recourse to violent oppression are in their subconscious convinced of the untenability of their own doctrines.” -Ludwig Von Mises


What is the most important weapon in breaking people's wills? This may surprise you, but I am convinced that holding the moral high ground is more important than firepower.” - VADM James B. Stockdale, USN



The inspiration that led to a violent mob being successfully confronted by a minority who held the moral high ground in San Jose, Costa Rica on November 16, 2004 came from inside of Cuba a little over a month earlier. On Tuesday, October 5, Berta Soler Fernandez delivered a letter addressed to Fidel Castro describing her husband’s plight to the government offices behind the Jose Marti monument in Revolution Square. Later that same day, joined by five other wives of Cuban prisoners of conscience, she went again, this time prepared with food, water, and blankets. Berta then declared to international media:  "I am going to wait here until I see my husband with my own eyes or I get arrested." Later, despite a massive paramilitary operation, her primary demand was met.

            Non-cooperation is the use of force, albeit non-violent to effect profound change. Gene Sharp’s analysis of Gandhian non-cooperation is that “the primary motive of non-co-operation is self-purification by withdrawing co-operation from unrighteous and unrepentant Government. Then, the secondary objective is to rid oneself of the feeling of helplessness thus being independent of all Government control.” In her campaign against the regime, Berta had the high moral ground combined with the courage and discipline not to participate in the injustice being done to her husband. She was willing to take action. This had both important external and internal effects that, but I believe that the internal effect had an even greater impact on the final external impact. Internal effects are effects upon the soul or spirit of the activist while the external effects are the manner in which her action led other activists to respond in solidarity with her, and the regime to react (either negatively or positively to her demands). Self purification is by definition at its essence non-cooperation with evil. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago offers a firsthand experiential account of understanding good and evil:


“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The Gulag Archipelago


The Christian tradition speaks of original sin and the Roman stoics spoke of the inner conflicts between the moral purpose and the will. In all cases the struggle to resist evil and to do good is constant and throughout a lifetime there are victories and defeats regardless of which one chooses to embrace. No one is purely evil or purely good. Nevertheless, refusing to cooperate with evil --engaging in non-co-operation -- is a method of self purification that also raises moral forces in the practitioner giving greater reserves to challenge an unjust adversary.


            This brings us to the series of events that brought us to the confrontation in the Legislative Assembly of San Jose, Costa Rica.  Costa Rican members of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba led by former president Luis Alberto Monge invited other Latin American and European leaders as well as representatives of civil society to hold a “International Forum for Democracy in Cuba” on the eve of the Ibero-American Summit.  The Legislative Assembly is open to the public to reserve rooms, and organize forums and information sessions. The organizers of the forum followed all the appropriate protocols and filled out the appropriate forms, and were given the space. This was all done openly and without any subterfuge.


The Cuban government learned ahead of time on November 9 that the event was being planned and attempted through diplomatic channels to have the event suspended, even before it started, accusing the participants of being: CIA agents, terrorists, and servants of the North American government, and requesting that Costa Rican authorities inform them of the steps taken to cancel the event. When Costa Rica, a bastion of democracy and civil liberties in the Americas refused to suspend the event on November 10 the Costa Rican consul was called to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations and once again the demand to have the event cancelled was reiterated.  A diplomatic note was sent on November 11 followed by a second one on November 12 with the aim of canceling the forum.


Having failed to stop the event the regime sought to organize an act of repudiation inside the Legislative Assembly.  Costa Rica being an open and democratic society with a long history of tolerance and pluralism and the ability to engage in civilized debate all of its governing institutions are open to the public. The Cuban counsel Rafael Dausá Céspedes utilized groups with ideological affinities with the Cuban revolution in Costa Rica to physically storm the event and use physical intimidation and threats of violence to shut it down after it had started. Six activists including the vice-president of the Czech Senate, Jan Ruml began a “sit-in” to protest the actions of the mob. They refused to depart the room under a threat of violence. One of the six held up a picture of the “Ladies in White” throughout the sit in. This led to a two and a half hour stand off six against sixty. Meanwhile in another part of the same building the event went off without a hitch, because the sixty did not want to surrender the room to the six.


How was this possible? What happened? The answers are simple. This is possible because those few who engaged in the sit-in made a specific demand. They refused to leave the room under a threat of violence. They were willing to risk their lives to defend their right not to be threatened or assaulted by a mob. The sit in placed a handful of participants at the mercy of a mob of sixty.   National and international media were present in the room to document the behavior of both sides in the confrontation. Without them this protest most likely would have been ended before it started. The sit-in participants were willing to negotiate to achieve their goal and as the minutes stretched out into hours the mob of sixty not as disciplined began to leave forcing the organizers of the mob to negotiate. After more than two and a half hours Costa Rican officials, still fearful of violence from the mob, carried out the non-violent protesters engaged in the sit-in bringing an end to the stand off. The Costa Rican public and press criticized the government for not removing the violent mob, and viewed the action of the mob with justly harsh criticism. The six engaged in a non-violent sit-in to protest the violation of their right to free assembly, free speech and freedom from intimidation held the moral high ground and won the day. All this was made possible by a house wife who took action to save her husband against incredible odds but with great moral courage.

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