Imagine you are at a party where a suckling pig is being roasted and all of a sudden, at the height of the festivities, Raúl Castro comes along with a bucket of water and douses out the fire. I cannot conjure a more apt image to illustrate the effect the army general’s speech at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit had on the spirits of Cuba’s dissidents.
What Raul said was a recycling of what the secretary of state was saying. It was the spitting image, cut to size, to summarize the state of affairs. While the inhospitable bucket of water was being filled, he left it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to release the statement by the American government indicating that the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between that country and ours did not include a lifting of the embargo, the closure of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo or permission for American tourists to travel to Cuba.
“So the Americas have not had to hang their heads as low as TV and newspapers have been telling us,” noted one party stalwart while waiting in line at a pharmacy.
With the PCC not being terribly secretive on this issue, one dissident was heard to express the following words of despair:
“Rather than making our work for democracy easier, this could make it more difficult. The United States and the Soviet Union had diplomatic relations and even then it was a cat and mouse game. Given that experience, if up till now they have imprisoned us, in the future they could execute dissidents for being American spies, which is what happened to Russian democracy advocates in Soviet times.”
Other dissidents are less pessimistic. After the initial impact of the unwelcome bucket of water that Raul used to dampen the festivities, some began to look at the glass and realized it was not half empty but rather half full.
Times have changed. No matter how much Raul might like to resurrect the tactics of the USSR, he cannot. According to Marx every organism contains the seeds of its own destruction, as I heard said to a proverbially enthusiastic dissident and learned man. Such is the case with socialism, to which Raul Castro must ever increasingly apply capitalist remedies in order to survive. The now almost five-hundred thousand self-employed workers — an army that just keeps growing — will be the gravediggers of the system.
Clearly, they are not politicians; they are merchants. They are in the business of making money and, not surprisingly, would prefer not to court problems with the government that might stand in the way of their making even more money. The great paradox, however, is that, by choosing to be economically independent, they have become a potent political force.
Behold a people, a sector of workers, with initiative but with no knowledge of their rights, as the dissident scholar of my story keeps saying. For example, the “botero” still does not know that, by paying taxes, he has the right to demand streets without potholes. The same applies case by case, sector by sector, to the restaurant owner, to the mechanic. Before you know it, you have created a public with intentions similar to the multitudes who stormed the Bastille.
Based on what they have told me, other dissidents more optimistic than the one mentioned above are betting on the perhaps exaggerated notion that Raul and his few remaining cohorts from the old days do not have many civilians from which to choose. And with perhaps even more exaggerated optimism, they do not see anyone in the Council of State with the status to command respect in their homes much less, they claim, under circumstances in which a fixty-six-year-old government has shown that socialism is no more than a fantasy dreamt up by Karl Marx.
Havana, the Cuban city from where I am gauging the pulse of the political situation, is experiencing a period of forecasting comparable to that of the Institute of Meteorology during hurricane season. Except that, unlike cyclones, no one knows when or where things will happen.
Meanwhile, the public — the frowning general public — is dying from trying to catch a bus while waiting for remittances from overseas, as if the guy with the bucket is not on their side. Neither the divinations of dissenters nor the enthusiastic forecasts of the governement’s new economic model matters to them. Trying to interpret this feeling, a seasoned retired teacher who sells empanadas in hospitals told me the following:
“Don’t waste your time listening to them. It’s not going to happen here. And they can stop talking about Raul and his opponents. What happens will be what God wants.”
20 February 2015