Ivan Garcia, 24 July 2017 — Cuba’s incipient civil society, independent journalism and political activism on the island is starting to find the cupboard is bare.
According to a US embassy official in Havana, “Seven out of ten dissidents chose to settle in the United States after the Cuban government’s new immigration policy in January 2013.”
The diplomat clarified that, “Some stayed when attending events, workshops or university courses they’d been invited to. Others, with multiple-entry visas to the United States, simply boarded an airplane and when they arrived in the US they took advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act.”
To this slow leakage, we have to add the opposition figures who leave Cuba under the political refugee program.
The cause of the migration of dissidents is varied.
It ranges from the Cuban Special Services repression of dissidents and free journalists, constant detentions, searches and seizures of their tools of the trade, to beatings and threats of prison sentences.
And believe me, the Castro brothers’ autocracy plays rough. A law, known as the Gag Law, has been in force since February 1999, under which public dissent can results in 20 years or more of imprisonment, whether of dissidents, journalists or state officials.
The peaceful opposition, which emerged in the late 1970s and which from its beginnings has been committed to democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of expression and a multi-party system, has been dismantled by the regime’s permanent repression, forcing many dissidents to choose exile as a way out.
It is a reasonable decision. We Cubans have no vocation for martyrdom. But this fleeing of brave people, capable of facing the powerful machinery of a totalitarian state, has been difficult to replace in the short term.
In spite of its repeated economic failures, Castroism maintains strong social control due to the absence of honest intellectuals, academics and journalists committed to the people who, from their official or individual positions, serve as counterpart to authoritarian outrages.
When Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, a considerable percentage of the cream of society, including talented Cubans who had proven themselves capable of creating wealth, and also those who in their early days fought against Fidelism using their own violent methods, opted for the diaspora.
They decided to jump ship, leaving the bearded helmsman behind. Perhaps they thought that the Revolution would be a matter of a few months, that soon it would fail and they would return to save the mother country.
It was precisely this mass emigration that paved the way for the establishment of an almost perfect autocracy, which sealed all legal channels to other political viewpoints and allowed the government to maintain a swollen Praetorian guard. A Praetorian guard that currently holds in check the minority and weak opposition.
The Castros’ Cuba was left without a powerful national bourgeoisie, without successful entrepreneurs and without a seasoned political class, capable of confronting the president in all areas.
At the same time, State Security has been very adept at short-circuiting any bridge between the opposition and the citizenry. That is why on the Island we do not see protest marches with thousands of participants or a general strike.
Of course, the work of dissidents has also failed, particularly those who have emerged in recent years, and unlike their predecessors, are more focused on selling headlines in Florida newspapers than listening to their neighbors, showing an interest in their problems and trying to get them to increase and strengthen the membership of their groups
Right now, in Cuba, all the conditions exist for the emergence of a truly independent trade union movement or an association of private entrepreneurs that demands their rights from the rulers.
The miserable wages, the brakes on self-sufficiency, the daily hardships of families, the abandonment of old and retired people, the increase of drunks and beggars, the failure of the regime in the economy and agriculture, housing construction and the creation of quality services, are powerful reasons to replace the olive green state.
The discontent is in full bloom. Just stand in line for a few minutes, walk the streets of neighborhoods away from the tourist lights, or ride a bus or a shared or private taxi. Today, a large segment of the population openly criticizes the regime, something that did not happen three decades ago.
The vast majority of people want better lives, without so many material shortages, they want fair pensions and salaries and to be able to count on the power of the vote that allows them to dethrone inept politicians.
But there is a lack of dissident leaders capable of bringing together that mass that is now invisible, fearful and faking loyalty.
Many opponents and activists have left their country, almost all of them to the United States. And those who remain on the island do not seem to be up for the work of changing the state of things.
Some prefer to spend much of their time in meetings and conferences abroad. Others, “live on horseback” between Havana and Miami. And Cuba and the Cubans? Fine thanks.