Myths and Truths of a Virtual “Rebellion” / Miriam Celaya

Demonstrations in Egypt. Photo from the Internet

Sometimes it is hard to calculate how far the media can achieve fictional expectations. The process for popular uprisings that has been taking place in some North African countries against their dictatorial governments, particularly the prolonged protests that continue to occur in Egypt, have inevitably brought to the foreground the case of Cuba, which sadly holds the record of having the longest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, the hopes of an undetermined number of Cubans abroad have been stirred into believing that the moment has come (it’s now or never!) to convene a peaceful people’s uprising within the Island.

The strongest proposal seems to come from two Cubans residing in Europe, who have launched a call for the uprising, which would presumably start between February 19th and 26th, advertised by them through social networking sites (Facebook or Twitter). The commotion the proposal has caused in the media interested in the Cuban situation, primarily in Florida, but also in some areas in Europe, forces us to reflect on the issue. The time is right to establish certain considerations that, without a doubt, will not be shared by the most avid “pro-uprising” groups.

Let’s discreetly review how questionable it is to call for civil demonstrations in Cuba from abroad, given that the masterminds (or “cyber-messiahs,” as befits the information age) have not given us their confirmation that they will land in Cuba to place themselves at the head of the imaginary uprising; ergo, we would contribute the bulk of the massacred bodywork here. Readers who have placed their faith in this new “now’s the time!” that has arrived from afar, forgive me, but if the matter were not this serious, it would even be laughable. Just look a few small details, like the fact that there is virtually no Internet access in Cuba or that not too many Cubans have access to social networks. This makes it almost impossible for the democratic liberation to start via the virtual channels, through the use of computers — or perhaps simply through cell phones — by today’s experienced cyber-leaders of ours.

Let’s also make obvious a trivial circumstance (I am referring to our orphan internet), let’s politely suppose that uprising orders came, even if — in a fit of mambí* nostalgia — it was rolled into a cigar, and let’s analyze its impact objectively, not from the standpoint of our wishes and hopes, but from the Cuban context. It is true that practically all conditions exist in Cuba to produce a social explosion: persistence of a dictatorship in power for over 50 years, permanent economic crisis as a result of the failure of the imposed system, high majority of the population surviving in that precarious balance between poverty and misery, loss of faith in government, uncertainty about a potentially devastating future, and all the rest which almost every one of us knows. Paradoxically, in our country, the absence of demonstrations is not due to the conditions that exist, but to those that DO NOT EXIST and are critical:

– We do not have independent civil society organizations capable of coordinating an uprising of this kind in Cuba.

– The Cuban people, ignorant even of their squalid rights and generally apathetic, are helpless against the repressive machinery of a system trained in resistance to retain power, possessor of an efficient repressive apparatus, of the mass media experienced in misrepresentation. Thus, there isn’t an effective vehicle for weaving, in the short term, a citizen network able to paralyze the country and force the government not even to abdicate, but to just negotiate in search of a pact. This is so true that there are still almost a dozen political prisoners remaining in Cuba who should have been released since this past November under the government’s commitment.

– Contrary to what happens in Egypt, to name the most conspicuous example, in Cuba there is no known opposition program able to present effective resistance against the government (this resistance transformed into positive action). In the case of an uprising, opposition parties in our country cannot offer the people a modicum of social order guarantees nor agreement proposals that address the broader interests to push for change towards democracy.

– The Cuban people, the vast majority of whom does not know the opposition parties, their members, or their platforms (in those cases when they have them), nor has the work of independent journalists and bloggers been sufficiently disseminated through the Island to influence the opinion of “the masses.” No wonder the government keeps a tight monopoly on the media.

– There isn’t even a set of popular claims, properly structured or at least rooted in the social spectrum, capable of bringing together a critical mass of different social sectors willing to face the consequences of a supposedly peaceful rebellion.

Looking at other considerations, it is more likely that, in our case, the ranks of the “rebels” will be nourished by some of the opponents and dissidents in general, who represent the limited sector truly determined to confront the authorities, which would give government a golden opportunity to lock them up on a charge of “attempting to subvert” or some other similar charge, and thus weaken the resistance cells inside the country. It would be a devastating blow to the nascent independent civil society in a time when disgruntled sectors of the population are increasing, when spontaneous popular consensus on the need for change is beginning to emerge, and the breeding ground needed to guide these feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction towards democratic gains for the Cubans begins to form.

We could cite many other circumstances that threaten the success of this controversial “peaceful” uprising, such as the long accumulated resentment in society, the result of policy differentiation, mutual surveillance, betrayal, and mistrust among Cubans, which this regime has systematically planted for over a half a century. A popular revolt in Cuba, without known civic forces or a mass media that would control by calling to order (as the Polish, and even the Rumanian process fortunately had) surely would lead to violence, settling of scores, looting and destruction similar to what took place during the Haitian Revolution 200 years ago, with the subsequent final destruction and possibly the end of a Nation. Because it would end in that: a rebellion of runaway, blinded slaves without direction; the condition to which the dictatorship has reduced us by virtue of the proverbial indifference of generations of Cubans. There currently isn’t any reason to feel superior to Haitians of that era; and we don’t have the solid national civic tradition of the Polish or the self-esteem and awareness of the Egyptians, able to protect, in the midst of protests and violence stemming from clashes between rival groups, the treasures of their rich historical and cultural heritage.

This does not mean that social upheaval is not possible in Cuba. Unfortunately, reality indicates that the country is heading towards a dangerous point of impact. It is no coincidence that some pockets of rebellion in specific regions have already been brewing. These are the first practical signs of general nonconformity that will worsen as the government’s layoff plan, the elimination of “subsidies” and other problems that can already be perceived over the medium-short term scenario. It is no accident that the government is intensely preparing anti-riot forces equipped with new weapons and newly acquired techniques.

In spite of all this, I am one of those who insist on seeking peaceful and negotiated solutions to conflicts. I believe we must keep the pressure on the system flaws, build bridges with sectors that favor organized changes, take advantage of the weaknesses of the system and seek to expand civic spaces as much as possible, because, without people, no democratic change in Cuba will be possible or permanent. In this, Cubans living abroad in democracy and those of us who have found freedom inside ourselves will play an important role. Someone once said, brilliantly, that there are only losers in war. I would add that there are only winners in dialogues and negotiations.

Translator’s note: Mambí is probably derived from an indigenous word meaning the rebellion against the chiefs living in hiding in the forests. Spanish soldiers, noticing similar tactics of the revolutionaries in the use of machetes, started to refer to them as “men of Mambí”, later shortened to mambís. (, Spanish edition)

Translated by Norma Whiting

February 11, 2011