On the 25th of October, 2010, almost four months after the beginning of the release from prison of political prisoners in Cuba, the Council of the European Union (EU) considered insufficient the steps taken by Havana and decided to maintain the Common Position. In its place the European Commission was granted a mandate to negotiate and explore, inside the framework of the critical dialog, new forms that might stimulate its Cuban counterpart to continue more deeply on the path it set out upon.
The Common Position adopted in 1996 — when the member nations of the EU had bilateral relations with Cuba — was reaffirmed in 2005. In it is stated that the goal of its relations with Cuba “is to encourage a process of transition to a pluralistic democracy and towards the respect of human rights and of fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and the improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people”.
Despite the opposition of the Cuban government to the aforementioned measure, the events on the Island between February and July of 2010 caused a turn that lead to a compromise to liberate all the political prisoners of the Cause of the 75*. A little before this decision, the government itself had recognized the inefficiency of the Cuban economy, classified the production of foodstuffs as a national security problem, and announced a reform baptized as an “update of the model“. The relation between these events lies in the fact that this reform requires foreign sources of financing, access to which must pass through the demands for democratization of those who have the money, among them the EU.
The failure to meet the deadline given to the Government by the Catholic Church for the liberation of those imprisoned in the spring of 2003 demonstrates that the Cuban authorities remain bound to their totalitarian vocation. In this complex context the European Commission has the mission to search out some formula that permits the completion of releases and undertaking new measures. The final decision, be what it may, will have to consider some aspects that remain crucial — from the Common Position or from bilateral relations — to contributing toward the democratization of Cuba:
– Three characteristics of the present moment.
One, the Cuban Government is the same one that debuted in 1959, such that in addition to the interests it is disposed to defend, it is responsible for all the good and all the evil that has occurred in this half century. Two, despite being almost the sole owner of the means of production and of the absence of an autonomous, juridically endorsed civil society, the government ignored the role of time in social changes; thus it lost the opportunity to undertake limited reform in a specific social sphere such as the economy, and to decide the starting point, the speed, the depth and direction of that reform, which would have permitted them to introduce partial changes without opposition from private interests. Three, as a result of the delay, along with the structural character of the crisis and citizen discontent, the changes have to be integrated.
– The absence of a true political will.
The revolutionary government, in its zeal to impose state property in absolute form, to eliminate small and medium property that offered production and services that the State never managed to supply, generated disinterest by the producers; adding to this, the fact that salaries never corresponded to the cost of living meant that the results was economic inefficiency. Nonetheless, through totalitarian control over society, reinforced by the almost total absence of an independent civil society and by the ideological solidarity with the Soviet Union, first, and with Venezuela later, the Government managed to save an exhausted, obsolete, and nonviable system for decades, despite a galloping rate of deterioration, until finally facing a profound structural crisis.
– Limited and contradictory character of the measures in the process of implementation.
Not only can the government keep in prison those who refuse to accept its terms and be exiled, by not effecting changes in current legislation the government can refill the prisons with new prisoners charged with the same offenses as those who now leave them. Adding to this the non-existence of human rights and civil liberties, the two work together to impede the resurgence of an autonomous civil society. In short, the anti-democratic and totalitarian mentality hasn’t changed. Labor reform, the consequence of a mistaken policy of “full employment” imposed against all economic logic, began to be applied after approving “majority employment” and increasing the age necessary for retirement: two means that suppose the need of labor, when it really exceeds 20% of what is used. The expansion of Self-Employment, which with few exceptions is limited to the legalization of activities that formerly occurred on the margins of the law, comes accompanied with high tax rates imposed in a country where no fiscal culture exists. Not to mention the lack of a wholesale market, bank loans, and the basic right of independent association.
Such measures cannot make up for the incapacity of the State to produce, being ignorant of the necessity of small and medium businesses, the formation of a business community, and the payment of salaries that correspond to the cost of living. But the worst of all is that these transformations are being applied to a society disarmed of rights, liberties, and civic institutions for its defense.
The interesting thing about the present scenario is that, as opposed to earlier times, the decision to change emerged from the need of the government itself, which makes it much more difficult to retreat, in a context in which the international community is paying attention to the state of civil liberties in Cuba and citizen discontent accelerates. Nonetheless, by the contradictory characteristics of the sociopolitical situation in Cuba, the change process — although zigzagging — is probably irreversible. In this sense, as much for the external agents as for the internal ones, the road to democracy will depend on critical dialog, which must build itself on a departure point, an essential concept, a governing principle, and permanent strategy.
In order for the projected changes to have a positive effect, besides completing the liberation of political prisoners, they have to ratify the Treaty of Civil and Political Rights and the Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights — in effect since 1976 in other nations and signed by the Cuban Government since February of 2008 — as well ensure that internal laws conform with these documents. Therefore, in the agenda of critical dialog with the Cuban government the urgency of its ratification cannot be absent.
Havana, 7 November 2010
* Translator’s note: The “Cause of the 75” is the release of 75 political prisoners who were arrested, tried on trumped-up charges, and imprisoned in what is known as the Black Spring of 2003.)
Translated by: JT