Before the olive-green autocracy designed economic reforms, the peaceful, illegal opposition was demanding opportunities in small businesses and in the agricultural sector as well as repeal of the absurd apartheid in the tourist, information and technology spheres that turned the Cuban into a third class citizen.
General Raul Castro and his entourage of technocrats headed by the czar of economic reform, Marino Murillo, were not the first to demand changes in national life. No.
When Fidel Castro governed the nation as if it were a military camp, the current “reformers” occupied more or less important positions within the army and the status quo.
None raised his voice publicly to demand reforms. No one with the government dared to write an article asking for immediate economic or social transformations.
If within the setting of the State Council those issues were aired, we Cubans did not have access to those debates. The tedious national press never published an editorial report about the course or changes that the nation should have undertaken.
Maybe the Catholic Church, in some pastoral letter, with timidity and in a measured tone, approached certain aspects. The intellectuals who today present themselves to us as representatives of a modern left also remained quiet.
Neither did Cuban followers of Castro-ism in the United States and Europe question the fact that their compatriots on the island had no access to mobile telephones, depended on the State for travel abroad or lost their property if they decided to leave the country.
Who did publicly raise a voice was the internal dissidence. Since the end of the 1970’s, when Ricardo Bofill founded the Committee for Human Rights; in addition to demanding changes in political matters and respect for individual liberties, he demanded economic opportunities and legal changes in property rights.
Independent journalists have also, since their emergence in the mid-90’s and, more recently, the alternative bloggers. If the articles demanding greater economic, political and social autonomy were published, several volumes would be needed.
Something not lacking among the Cuban dissidence is political discourse. And they all solicit greater citizen freedoms, from the first of Bofill, Martha Beatriz’s, Vladimiro Roca’s, Rene Gomez Manzano’s and Felix Bonne ’s Fatherland is for All, Oswaldo Paya’s Varela Project, to Antonio Rodiles’ Demand for Another Cuba or Oscar Elias Biscet’s Emilia Project.
The local opposition can be criticized for its limited scope in adding members and widening its community base. But its indubitable merits in the submission of economic and political demands cannot be overlooked.
The current economic reforms established by Castro II answer several core demands raised by the dissidence. No few opponents suffered harassment, beatings and years in prison for demanding some of the current changes, which the regime tries to register as its political triumphs.
The abrogation of absurd prohibitions on things like the sale of cars and houses, travel abroad or access to the internet has formed part of the dissidents’ proposals.
Now, a sector of the Catholic Church is lobbying the government. A stratum of intellectuals from the moderate left raises reforms of greater scope and respect for political differences.
But when Fidel Castro governed with an iron fist, those voices kept silent. It will always be desirable to remind leaders that Cuba is not a private estate and that each Cuban, wherever he resides, has the right to express his policy proposals.
But, unfortunately, we usually ignore or overlook that barely a decade ago, when fear, conformity and indolence put a zipper on our mouths, a group of fellow countrymen spent time demanding reforms and liberties at risk even to their lives.
Currently, while the debate by the intellectuals close to the regime centers on the economic aspect, the dissidence keeps demanding political openings.
One may or may not agree with the strategies of the opponents. But you cannot fail to recognize that they have been — and continue to be — the ones who have paid with jail, abuse and exile for their just claims.
They could have been grandparents who run errands and care for their grandchildren. Or State officials who speechify about poverty and inequality, eating well twice a day, having chauffeured cars and traveling around the world in the name of the Cuban revolution.
But they decided to bet on democracy. And they are paying for it.
Translated by mlk.
6 February 2014