Iván García, 7 January 2019 — Although Magela and her boyfriend Damián were dressed in black to a salsa dance with Haila and Isaac Delgado, on January 1 at Red Square in La Víbora, south of Havana, they were unaware of the campaign that Cuban dissident activists are carrying out in social networks with the label of “Ni1 +” (Not One More*).
“No, I did not know that there is a movement of denunciation against the government and that it suggested that Cubans dress in black on January 1 and 2. It was pure coincidence. Most people who attend the dances in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Revolution, we do not do it to support the government, but for no simpler reason: young people are bored and the dances distract us and we have fun,” explains Magela.
Damián, the boyfriend, shrugs and clarifies: “You know, pal, the situation here is dumb, but politics does not interest me. I dress in black because I like it, not out of mourning nor to denounce anything.”
Yoandra, 20, in a park with Wi-Fi connection on San Rafael Boulevard in Centro Habana, says that an aunt who lives in another country stuck the Ni1 + tag on her comments on Instagram. “I ’Liked’ it, but I didn’t know what it was all about. The government needs to change a lot of things, the system and the institutions work badly, but people should have more information when it comes to joining a political campaign. Everyone knows that in Cuba to question the government is to get into trouble.”
According to a note published on the website of Martí Radio y Televisión on December 30, the Ni1 + campaign is sponsored by “Cuban activists,” though they didn’t say their names. Nor did they mention if it was launched by an opposition group on the island or a Cuban exile organization in Miami or Madrid.
In a video uploaded to You Tube on December 27, four men of different generations and who claim to live in Cuba speak. A statement from the Ni1 + campaign affirms that “it seeks to add and sensitize the entire international community, Cubans inside and outside [the island] and all people of good will about the tragedy of the 60 years of the Castro regime.” And it reiterates that “it is a call to unity, to generate a force of change and hope, that does not allow another year of tyranny, for the good of Cuba and our hemisphere.”
Among the opposition groups that have joined the campaign in Cuba is the UNPACU. Dissenters consulted show suspicion. “I do not like to support political strategies whose leaders don’t know each other. In case it is something spontaneous, done in Cuba on your own initiative, I think it is praiseworthy to organize this type of campaign. But I prefer to wait, to see who is behind this,” declares a member of the anti-Castro “November 30 Movement.”
The veteran independent Cuban journalist Tania Quintero, now living in Lucerne, Switzerland, says “that from the political point of view, that anonymity reduces credibility and in my opinion makes it an opaque campaign, without transparency.”
In a nation where public protests have scarcely occurred in six decades — except for the one known as the Maleconazo on August 5, 1994, when thousands of Havana residents shouted slogans against the regime, although their main demand was to emigrate — in recent times, in a gradual way, groups of organized citizens have emerged that, for different reasons, challenge government institutions.
Some have even resorted to work stoppages and sit-down strikes. Four years ago there weren’t more than half a hundred pedicabs in the capital. The protests of the drivers and cigar factory workers in Holguin were fewer than a hundred. However, the current protests by the taxi drivers in Havana have been joined by more than a thousand. And several private entrepreneurs created a parallel union to defend their rights.
Through email, Luis David Fuentes — an environmental engineer who has lived in Frankfort, Kentucky for 19 years, owner and publisher of El Kentubano, a publication addressed to the Cuban and Hispanic community of that city and recently appointed by the Governor of the State as Commissioner for the Kentucky Human Rights Commission — gave us his opinion:
“From Kentucky, a message in the name of a community that lives far away, but that carries Cuba in its soul. For decades, Cubans have only known of sacrifices, rationing and limitations. Our parents gave their lives to a failed project and the new generations only dream of emigrating, depriving our country of its best children. The most entrepreneurial workers, artists, athletes and professionals are giving the best of themselves to other nations right now, ironically our homeland needs them the most.
“The current system does not work and the stubbornness of a ruling elite has led our nation to a deep economic crisis, which has not only left the country in ruins, but has also divided families and undermined all the values of the society, magnifying corruption, vices and bad tastes and, at the same time, it has exterminated formal education, honesty, love of work and hope. Time is running out on us. For the sake of our children and our families, for the good of Cuba, an urgent change is required!”
We shouldn’t ignore the power of the small. The dictatorship itself was a minority phenomenon. The guerrilla war commanded by Fidel Castro began with 82 men. After the battle of Alegría de Pío, when the majority dispersed or died, Castro reorganized with 15 ragged soldiers. At its best, the members of the Rebel Army never exceeded three thousand fighters.
Carlos, a sociologist, carefully studies any outbreak of protest however small it may seem. “The Arab Spring started when a street vendor set himself on fire. The Cuban opposition is small, disorganized and does not have an apparatus capable of mobilizing thousands of citizens. But after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, on 23 February 2010, multiple protests by the Ladies in White, which were fiercely repressed by State Security and caused an immediate international outcry, were triggered. The regime was forced to make an agreement with them and offer them concessions,” he says, adding:
“Now, with social networks, despite the high cost, you can design strategies to connect citizens to certain campaigns. Any well-structured appeal could attract thousands of people in Cuba. That is why State Security tries to abort the initiatives at their inception. The causes that generate citizen discontent are present: depressed economy, low wages, high prices, shortage of staple foods, an uncertain future and the aspiration of people to have a better quality of life. What dissident documents such as La Patria es de Todos (The Nation Belongs to Everyone), or the Varela Project couldn’t achieve, a good campaign on social networks might. In the case of Ni1 +, it is difficult for thousands of Cubans to join if they do not know its protagonists,” the sociologist emphasizes.
In these moments, within the dissidence and the incipient Cuban civil society there are conflicting positions on the strategy to be followed to face the next referendum on ratification of the future Constitution, on February 24. The group headed by Antonio Rodiles is running a campaign so that citizens will not vote. From Miami, Rosa María Payá, is leading the Cuba Decides campaign, to support a NO vote on the Constitutional referendum.
The main argument of those who ask for people to abstain from voting, is that voting is implicitly recognizing a dictatorship that does not guarantee transparency or international monitoring of the votes against implementing the Constitution. For its part, Cuba Decides believes that with dissidents present during the counting of votes, the option of voting NO could be a forceful citizen response to the implementation by decree of a Neocastroism dressed in white guayaberas.
Ni1 + is a right cut to the chin. The problem is not the Constitution. They do not want more dictatorship. But nothing is known of its managers. The bad news is that the indifference among ordinary Cubans on political issues is alarming.
The positive message is the possibility of taking advantage of the rise of social networks on the island and creating a favorable state of opinion that builds the foundations of the deep economic, social and political changes that the country needs.
Those in Cuba who are committed to democracy and freedom of the press and expression, know that the new information technologies are a formidable weapon. And with them they have started firing.
*Translator’s note: Ni1+ (“Not One More) is composed of the word “ni” (not), 1 and the plus sign which is used for the Spnish word “mas” which means “more.”