Do Obama’s measures promote democratic change on the Island? / Antonio Rodiles

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Antonio G. Rodiles, Havana, 28 January 2015 — The recent visits to Havana by American legislators and by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, have reawakened controversy over the transparency in the process of political dialogue between the Obama administration and the Castro regime. So far, the aim of furthering a previously determined plan has been evident, as well as raising the profile of those political actors who support and conform to this policy.

Indispensable voices from the opposition movement have been conspicuously absent from the meetings held. Equally apparent was the reluctance to have a balance of opinions in these contacts.

On multiple occasions, in support of the new policy, the Obama administration has posited the premise that the Cuban people should be the ones who guide the process of change on the Island. This pronouncement implicitly seeks approval for the new measures and opens the door to strong criticisms of those of us who reject the unconditionality — and the notable lack of transparency and consensus — that have characterized the start of this process.

This premise, presented simplistically and with an added dose of false nationalism, tries to label those of us who demand firm commitments to the advancement of democracy and human rights,as individuals who are incapable of assuming our political responsibilities — stuck in the past or wanting foreign governments to come in and make the needed changes. The administration’s theory is curiously parallel to the old idea of “national sovereignty” employed by the regime for so many years and echoed as a part of the arguments of the self-declared “loyal” opposition.

Do Obama’s measures promote the Cuban people’s empowerment, insofar as their civil and political rights are concerned? Can the opposition generate a broad social compact, given the degrees of control, repression and impunity with which the regime operates? Are there guarantees that the new measures will generate a Cuban entrepreneurial class in the medium term? Can Cuban society move toward a Rule of Law, given the atomization, evasion and corruption in which the vast majority of Cubans live?

If we are realists, the answers are obvious. The current Cuba only functions through corruption and patronage. We lack the legal framework that permits the empowerment of the people in any aspect. There cannot exist any broad and extensive leadership by Cuban democrats and entrepreneurs as long as the regime can maintain these high levels of repression and social control without paying a large political price. And a peaceful transition to full democracy requires such leadership.

Peaceful and sufficiently ordered transitions of despotic regimes to democracies have occurred under intense international pressure coupled with an effective internal push. Political results have emerged when these regimes sense that their permanence in power is impossible and they start to fear that a total social collapse will put them in disadvantageous or dangerous situations.

The continued presence of the political heirs as a part of the new system is one of the flashpoints in any transition. Experience also shows that, in the majority of cases, this continued presence brings with it an inheritance of corruption and a web of influences, and that it ultimately hijacks the genuine interests in building full democracies. To allow a transfer of power to the heirs correlates to perpetuating the poverty of the Cuban people, and sacrificing the future of our nation in the medium and long terms.

The dialogue conducted by the current American administration has not achieved even the release of all political prisoners and the annulment of their sentences. Many of the freed prisoners were released conditionally and not to full liberty. Such is the case of the 12 prisoners from the wave of repression of 2003, released in 2010, who decided to remain in Cuba and who now find themselves on parole and prohibited from traveling outside the country. This dialogue also has not managed to prevent further imprisonments and waves of arrests, such as the ones that occurred at the end of 2014 and start of the new year.

To insist on the idea that Cubans don’t understand fundamental rights and that only basic necessities are their priority demonstrates ignorance of our reality and gives a biased view of our genuine democratic aspirations. Freedoms don’t need to be explained; even when they have not been experienced, the human being can recognize them. We Cubans are not the exception.

A probable failure of this political process would be very harmful for all concerned, but most of all for the Cuban people. The Obama administration should combine effective pressure on the regime with the consensual work of a large group of democratic actors from within the Island and in exile. If the desired ultimate result is truly the democratization of our nation, a change of direction is needed.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison