17 December: First Anniversary of a Sterile Marriage / Miriam Celaya

On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)
On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)

Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 December 2015 – At the end of the first year of the restoration of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, the expectations that the historical event awakened in Cuba remain unfulfilled. With much pain and no glory, Cubans have continued their struggle with a precarious and hopeless existence, that, far from improving, has witnessed the permanent economic crisis deteriorate further, with increases in the cost of living and consolidation of chronic shortages.

At the same time, the general deterioration of the healthcare and education systems continues – the last stronghold of the official rhetoric – and a new and unstoppable process of emigration has been spawned and become a stampede, amid fears that negotiations between the two governments will eventually lead to the demise of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

With the diplomatic bases settled, the respective embassies in Washington and Havana reopened, and the agendas of a negotiating process that continues running in secret established, the Cuban authorities have set a policy to thwart, to the point of invalidation, the effects of the measures dictated by the US president in favor of opening up Cuba to the benefit of private, not governmental initiatives. The increase of visitors from the neighboring nation and the broad flexibility that renders ineffectual many of the limitations imposed by the embargo have not significantly benefited the Cuban people, although they contribute to foreign exchange earnings for the Cuban government and foreign businesses established in Cuba, especially those related to tourism.

Despite all this, revenues are insufficient even for the ruling clique, burdened by huge foreign debt, lack of access to credit from the International Monetary Fund, the agonizing dependence on external support – an issue which, paradoxically, is used as an element for discrediting and delegitimizing internal dissent – the lack of reaction by foreign capital to the “attractive” new Investment Law, and the urgent need to buy time to ensure their perpetuation of power.

Finally, in the shadow of Uncle Sam, the revolution cycle has closed with an end which, though long-awaited, is no less dramatic. Behold, the agonizing “Marxist-anti-imperialist” gang is working the miracle of recycling itself, metamorphosing from communist to bourgeois precisely thanks to the imperial capital.

Judging from the evidence, and in the absence of authoritative and verifiable information, the almost dizzying avalanche of unilateral proposals from the White House that took place during the course of the year have not gotten any proportional response from the Palace of the Revolution. The Cuban President-General has not only turned out to be incapable of matching in intensity and magnitude Washington’s positive steps towards an approach that would not be for the sole advantage of the ruling elite, but for the direct benefit of Cuban society, but has, instead, taken on the same pace (“no rush”) of the so-called “normalization,” the same rhythm as the untimely Guidelines of the last Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) that were never fulfilled.

From 17 December 2014, though not as a result of that event, the Cuban crisis has grown more acute. With the economy in a tailspin, a large part of the workforce in flight or with aspirations to escape, the aging population, the depressed birth rate, the rampant corruption, the rising inflation and countless other evils to solve, any other government would have taken this moment of relaxation and approach as an opportunity to open a path to prosperity and welfare for its people. Not so the Castro dictatorship.

In response, ordinary Cubans are more politically disbelievers, more indifferent and more pro-American than ever before.

Opponents and dissidents: a growing sector

Contrary to the most widespread criterion, and despite being divided and fragmented into multiple projects, the independent civil society, in particular opposition groups and dissidents, has been gaining in organization and growth. Unquestionable evidence of this is the increased repression against them.

The increasing intensity of the repressive forces does not indicate – as some might suggest, using simplistic logic – a “strengthening of the dictatorship” from the of the process of talks with the US government, but, on the contrary, a sign of weakness that indicates both fear of the impact of US influence in Cuban society and the inability to contain the growth of civic forces, which compels them to apply violence to possibly avoid, or at least slow down, its spread and social contagion. A counterproductive strategy that has achieved just the opposite effect: increasing the dissidence faction and popular discontent.

After the breakthrough generated by the different positions assumed before the process started on 17 December, a period of intense opposition activism has ensued in which all tendencies have gained visibility and spaces. Partnerships have begun to take shape between organizations of the most varied viewpoints, from a common consensus: the urgency to strengthen civic struggle to achieve democracy in Cuba. In this vein, the general agreement is that all forms of peaceful struggle are valid, since they put pressure on the cracks in the system and contribute to its weakening.

In all fairness, we must recognize that the efforts of all opposition groups – whatever their orientation and proposals – not only face the challenge of repressive and violent action of the regime in power, but the almost total indifference of the international community and, what is worse, of insufficient solidarity and recognition by many democratic governments of the world.

Apparently, Western political and business leaders expect from the Cuban opposition the cyclopean task of building a strong coalition or becoming a political alternative to the absolute power of the Castro regime, almost unaided, before recognizing the legitimate right of representation, notwithstanding the colossal difference in resources and opportunities among the dissidents. Compared to capitalist interests, the democratic dreams of Cubans mean nothing.

2016, a pivotal year

Thus, 17 December is the paper wedding anniversary of the marriage of convenience between the governments of the United States and Cuba, but the union has, so far, been fruitless, at least for the Cubans, who we were never invited to the wedding.  The conspiratorial style of the olive-green caste ruled the celebration. However, it would be unfair to attribute Cuba’s current ills to an alleged White House political error. In any case, with this approach to the regime, Barack Obama is doing what is expected of a ruler: looking after the interests of his country and its constituents. Good for Obama, bad for Castro.

Truthfully, the Cuban general crisis existed long before the current US president took office, so the frustrations that the more deluded are experiencing are more a response to excessive and unjustified expectations and an overestimation of the importance of Cuba, barely an insignificant island with delusions of grandeur, governed by an outdated and inefficient system, and lost in the huge regional geopolitical map.

It has been an intense year, but, in retrospect, ordinary Cubans and the opposition at least should have assimilated a valuable experience: no one will come to save us from the wreck.

A year ago, the unthinkable happened just when the most bitter enemies of this hemisphere decided to sit at the negotiating table to settle their differences. This incredible saga teaches us something important: 2016 could be a pivotal year if those who us who aspire to turn Cuba into a country of law can demonstrate that we are capable of doing what now seems an impossible task: creating a civic coalition in the face of a dictatorship that assumes itself to be eternal. It doesn’t seem that we have any other options left.

Translated by Norma Whiting