While General Raul Castro, a president handpicked by his brother Fidel, squeezed the hand of the United States’ leader Barack Obama at the State funeral of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, the special services and combined forces of the police mounted a strong operation around the home of dissident Antonio Rodiles, director of the Estado de Sats, a project where diverse political and civic strands that coexist in the illegal world of Cuban opposition come together.
Also on December 10, while the headlines of the dailies of the world media highlighted on their front pages the leaders’ unprecedented handshake, the hard guys of the State Security were repressing activists in the eastern region of Cuba and detaining some twenty Ladies in White in Havana and dozens of opponents in the rest of the country.
All this happens under the indifferent gaze of ordinary Cubans, whose central objective is to try to get two plates of food to the table each day. Neither for the corner grocer, the individual taxi driver or people waiting for the bus at a busy stop was the greeting newsworthy.
The regime knows that an elevated percentage of the population remains in the bleachers, observing the national political panorama. What is of the people is to subsist, emigrate or see the way to set up a small shop that permits one to earn some pesos.
Meanwhile, the olive green autocrats clamor to negotiate. But with the United States. It does not matter to them, for now, to sit down to dialogue with an opposition that has unquestionable merit: the value of publicly dissenting within a totalitarian regime.
It has paid its price. Years in jail, exile, and repression. But neither the right which it should enjoy — of being considered a political force — nor the acts of repudiation and beatings, have cemented a state of favorable opinion within a majority of citizens disgusted with the lousy governmental management by the Castros for 55 years.
Here is the key. By being focused on the exterior, the dissidence does not count on popular support, on men and women who before the regime’s gross injustices throw themselves into the street to protest. That weakness is what permits the authorities to not take it into account.
I do not believe one owes a handshake to a ruler who represses those who think differently. This December 10 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Cuba is a signatory, turns 65.
No high flying political strategy has paid off after a series of steps that democratic countries have taken trying to push Cuba.
Neither the Ibero-American Summits or leading CELAC pro tempore have impeded the Havana Government in continuing to repress the dissidents with laws and physical violence.
Fidel and Raul Castro have dismissively mocked everyone and everything. They initialed the Economic, Cultural, Political and Civil Rights Pacts in February 2008, and later did not ratify them.
Cuba is the only country in the western hemisphere where the opposition is considered illegal. And the only nation that does not hold free elections to elect its presidents.
Cuba is not a democracy. Obama well knows it.
If behind that handshake, the second in a half century by a president of the United States (the first was that of Bill Clinton with Fidel Castro at the Millennial Summit in New York, September 6, 2000), there exists a discrete message about future negotiations to repeal the embargo or improve relations between the countries, ordinary people and a sector of the dissidence would not see it as a bad thing.
Maybe the greeting does not come to be something more than ceremonial and isolated. Or maybe a change of policy by the White House. The gringos have always been very pragmatic.
In a serious negotiation, both sides must give. The bad news is that the regime feigns change, but continues repressing the opposition. Diplomacy on one hand, clubs on the other.
Photo: One of the Ladies in White detained Tuesday, December 10, during a peaceful demonstration for the Day of Human Rights on the downtown corner of 23 and L, Vedado, Havana. Taken by ABC.
Translated by mlk.
17 December 2013