14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo, Quito, 10 December 2016 — On the 58th anniversary of the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, the seizure of power by Fidel Castro and the disappearance of the national hope of a return to the constitutional values of 1940, the people of Cuba, their emigration and the “historic exile” continue to ask the same rhetorical question: When will we be free?
Before the Obama administration’s rapprochement, the island’s regime raised the alarms of the possible perpetuation of the current state of affairs. Opposition groups have concentrated their intellectual efforts on delegitimizing the actions of the United States government and few have concerned themselves with analyzing the new opportunities for action that it presents. They demand that Washington return to the politics of confrontation of the last 50 years, a return to a Cold War based on ideological footholds or real threats to the stability of the United States that no longer exist. Times have changed, the world is not the same, this is a fact.
Although US President Barack Obama broke the taboo by stepping foot in Havana and shaking General Raul Castro’s hand, and despite the ongoing conversations, the situation in Cuban continues more or less the same. The defenders of the regime point to the deep popular roots of the “Revolution”; the defenders of Obama’s policies blame the opposition’s inability to articulate a plan to destabilize the regime or to win popular support; the detractors of the US administration, coincidentally the traditional opposition the Cuban regime, both on the same side but for opposite reasons, argue that rapprochement is useless. For officialdom it is a maneuver to hide mixed objectives, for the regime’s opponents it is a maneuver to strengthen the regime and betray democratic aspirations, etc.
But what are the real reasons that social unrest does not happen in Cuba?
In the current Cuban conflict four elements are involved. We must assume that there are four important figures, three national and one external. The national figures are the government and its repressive structures (“mass organization” in the official jargon), opposition groups inside and outside the country and, most importantly, the ordinary people (workers, students, housewives, technicians, doctors etc.), mostly discontented but with high levels of political apathy. The external element is the US government and its policies toward the island.
Where is the project?
The traditional, dispersed and divided opposition base their positions on the flagrant violations of human rights. The main flag of dozens of opposition groups is the establishment of democracy and free elections, a cause undoubtedly just but one that does not offer a intelligible plan to the Cuban masses who want a change in their pocketbooks and in their kitchens. The objectives of the struggle seem futile to a needy majority that depends on the ration book and the tiny wages, the lowest salaries in the Western hemisphere. The opposition discourse forgets to speak out about the pressing needs of the population. What does the ordinary Cuban want to hear? Do they want to hear about democracy? Are the interests of the opposition the same as those of the common people?
The opposition leadership is a burning issue. Some avoid talking about it so that they are not accused of “pandering to the regime” and end up being called “G2 agents,” that is in the pocket of State Security. New times need ethical leadership, a leadership immune to the caudillos, one that can articulate the ideas and diverse projects in the current collage of opposition factions.
We have a common rosary of ex-prisoners turned into patriotic opponents, people who love to get checks and their phones recharged, opposition caricatures who don’t act if the interests of their fiefdom or their personal opinions are not affected. A leadership that doesn’t skimp on launching insults to devalue their adversaries, in the seeking of remittances from abroad. A kind of political flip-floppers that end up smearing the work of ethically firm and committed opponents. One wonders which they benefit more, the democratic cause, or the regime’s discourse. They should aspire to a prepared leadership, trained in theory and practice. Leaders, not supervisors, are what the cause needs.
The Gene Sharp Academy has become famous among opponents. It is common to hear the term as if it were a hidden card, a weapon per se. Civil disobedience is a process that starts from a common idea, a shared desire by the majority who attempt to act together from the first moment in the simple refusal to be a part of what they don’t agree with
The mistake is to call the masses to participate in marches and strikes when they have not first been called to abandon the repressive structures of the regime. It is joining together in civil disobedience when fear is lost and this is discovered when realizing there are many who are willing to be punished.
A simple act of civil disobedience is putting a ribbon on the door or a sticker in the window. It is not about a march like that of September 1st in Venezuela if people haven’t already identified with the opposition project.
“The suspicion syndrome”
The fear of being marked by the regime is one of the reasons for political apathy. The vast majority of Cubans talk quietly at home, criticizing the barbarity and arbitrariness of the government. People avoid talking about it more at work saying: “You don’t know who’s who.” The fear of being put on the blacklist makes people prefer to remain outside any political debate and simply repeat the regime’s propaganda or join its repressive organizations (mass organizations) “so as not to stand out.” Opportunism and amorality have become an instinct for self-preservation.
End of the charismatic government
Fidel Castro met his end. The charismatic leader, bearer of all truth, was a decrepit old man. Although some, glued to the criticism of his image and legacy, still blame him for everything as if he still ruled, the reality is that nature, the only effective opponent of the regime, has removed Fidel Castro.
Fidel’s hypnotic personality was the cornerstone of the Cuban government. The interfamily transfer of power left a vacuum that we ignore. Raul Castro, the elderly general, is a person with little facility with words, jovial among his people but lacking charisma, incoherent, a faint shadow of what was the sex-symbol image of the Commander in Chief in his younger days.
Obama’s visit unveiled a Raul Castro without arguments, disoriented, his voice shrill and disagreeable, reflecting what was left of the “historic leadership of the Revolution.” The dictatorship has lost its charisma and its essence becomes more evident.
Possibility of dialog
The Cuban opposition currently does not have the power or the popular support to force a dialog with the government. Some passionate but hardly pragmatic leaders refuse, as an exercise in bravado, to accept a possible future dialog with the regime. Dialog is desirable, it can be a way to negotiate agreements and to obtain a share of power when the conditions for it are created. But, being realists, the opposition in Cuba had done very little to obtain the elements of pressure.
Obama policy and “normalization”
“Normalization” took the opposition by surprise. Something cooking behind the scenes until we all got a whiff of it. President Obama, ending his term in office, launched an adventure toward an uncertain future. Like it or not there are now fluid diplomatic relations between both countries. The screws have been loosened on the restrictions of the embargo-blockade, a policy that has been voted against for two decades by the majority of the countries that make up the United Nations General Assembly. Keeping it was illogical and trying this new path is the only reasonable option.
The disappearance of tensions and the eventual end of the embargo will put an end to the concept of the imperialist enemy and mark the end of political ideological work. The regime is left without the excuse of considering itself the hero of the “plaza under siege.” The blame cannot eternally fall on the United States: there are no reasons for the scarcities, the corruption, the persecution of entrepreneurs, the imposed lack of connection to the internet, the lack of freedom of expression and the violations of human rights. Will the opposition adapt to the new rules of the game and abandon its tantrums?
A social explosion will not occur in Cuba as long as a separation of immediate interests between the population and the opposition persists. People must lose their fear and become aware that most Cubans want an immediate change in relations with the state. An ethical renewal of the opposition is essential, as is the meeting at an intermediate point that permits unifying the idea of change for Cuba on the basis of a viable project to undermine the foundations of a regime that has lost its charismatic leader. Articulating a project for a future Republic that does not start from antiquated rhetoric about obsolete economic projects and licenses to kill.
A social explosion will come only when the majority of the population identifies the single culprit responsible for their ills, for which the distractions and excuses must disappear. We must put an end to the idea of the “imperialist enemy.” It requires a committed opposition that takes advantage of the new conditions and doesn’t lend itself to the improbable activities of those who have settled into a way of life guaranteed by dissent.
The freedom of Cuba does not depend on the United States, it depends on our own efforts. As long as we don’t understand our own responsibility, we will not achieve the changes we aspire to.