A Superfluous List / Miriam Celaya

In late November, a kind reader wrote to me suggesting I prepare a list of all dissident groups and political parties on the Island. Since the proposal has appeared publicly in the comments on more than one occasion, I propose –in turn- to answer publicly and take the opportunity to share some impressions, given that other Cuban friends inside and outside the country have shown interest in the subject.

I, for one, decline the privilege and the overwhelming responsibility of that task for many reasons. The first and strongest one is that I am part of this varied set that is grouped under the generic name of dissidents, truly diverse in interests, proposals, projections, performances, stories, successes, failures, etc., not to mention the human components and personal nuances that dot all these aspects. It is against all ethics to be judge and party to any process. It also happens that, in order to compile a list of this nature, basic concepts would have to be defined, such as “political party”, “opposition group” or “independent civil society” (in all its manifested forms today in Cuba). This omission also involves risks that could hurt feelings, or carry value judgments that may be subjective.

I have personally heard criteria that overestimate the strength and organization of Cuban dissidents, and others that undervalue it. In fact, after two decades of what we conventionally call here “the surge of the opposition” — characterized by the emergence of some peaceful organizations under the influx of transformative ideas that swept the former socialist camp, and amid the general crisis known as “The Special Period” — the different groups have yet to achieve enough visibility or roots in Cuban society, despite the efforts they have made and the repression suffered by many of their leaders. The causes and ratings for this phenomenon will be properly analyzed in a conceivable immediate future by political scientists and historians better able to do it than this blogger, so I will limit myself for now to say that –- beyond their successes and failures — movements and opposition groups that have existed and still exist in Cuba have set an important precedent in the struggle for the rights and freedoms of the Cuban people through peaceful struggle, and have also demonstrated the existence of a large segment of the population of the Island that does not share in the ideology imposed by the dictatorship and is demanding changes. Breaking the idyllic image of a false unity and the highly publicized “the people united with its government” was a titanic chore that these opponents had to fight against in the last 20 years, at a high personal cost. At some point, its true value will need to be recognized.

Another factor that undermines the development of a reliable list is the instability of some groups. Many of them have had or have a short life, i.e., they surge around a leader’s nucleus but quickly disappear, either by the loss, incarceration, or departure of the leader, or the lack of strength, civic, or political culture of their members. Sometimes they group under one name and then change it when they merge into other groups, or groups split and give rise to lesser groups in continual multiplication. At times, there seem to be lots of opposition groups or political parties, and there are people abroad who cannot imagine how, if this is so, the groups have not been able to overthrow, or at least weaken the dictatorship. In fact, not even peaceful means can be effective unless parties are consolidated and venues for moderation are found, both among social actors who promote change and society as a whole, as well as between them and the government. The old vices of Cuban culture that push us over and over again toward immediacy, improvisation, the search for the limelight, and leaders who are more or less charismatic are key difficulties that have fragmented basic problems and have weakened opposition movements for many years, hence they have not managed to become alternatives to power or even observers of political processes of interest in half a century, as happened with the recent (and as yet without complete results) talks between the government of R. Castro and senior Catholic hierarchy of the Island. This is so true that the very Cuban government, in the midst of the most serious structural crisis of the system that he introduced, allows itself the arrogance to launch insufficient and ridiculous economic reforms that guarantee him more time in power, at least time enough to finish divvying up the piñata and parcel out the spoils of this poor flattened out hacienda. I believe, therefore, that a “list of opponents” at present, far from contributing, could become another element of discord among some jealous and restless spirits. I really don’t think it appropriate or a priority.

But opponents are not only grouped in political parties. There are also civic organizations, for example, The Ladies in White, the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, headed by Elizardo Sánchez; the website Desdecuba.com, where multiple blogs share space, including Yoani, and several portfolios that can be considered the cradle of the Cuban alternative blogosphere, the blogger platform Voces Cubanas, with a large group of people of all ages and diverse views and interests, as well as the digital magazine Convivencia, which Dagoberto Valdés manages from Pinar del Río, among other civic groups. The importance of these stems from gradually creating venues for free, open and spontaneous debate, without belonging to any political party or answering to any ideology. Political parties and citizens of the future might someday emerge from these groups, without excluding any current groups. Life is always richer than any human forecast, but some of us Cubans are convinced that developing citizens to democratize Cuba is an inescapable and foremost task. The end of a dictatorship would be of little worth if the danger of an escalating one is sustained. We mustn’t forget that it was we Cubans who placed ourselves in the critical point where we are today.

In conclusion, I believe that Cuba is set to create different venues that will encourage the growth of the alternative civil society, which will, in turn, give way to the emergence of institutions capable of upholding the rights and freedoms of citizens. It’s important to create citizens rather than political parties; to create civic culture, accentuating within it the ethical and juridical culture; to convert complaints into requests, into claims, into positive actions. The Ladies in White, Orlando Zapata and Guillermo Fariñas are the most visible evidence of this. It truly is a very long and arduous road that we will have to travel simultaneously toward the eventual extinction of the dictatorial regime. This imposes the dual action of pushing and forcing the government as much as possible, and, at the same time, of creating civic conscience in millions of slaves. However, it has been plainly shown that when it comes to a common destiny, improvisations are useless. Over one century of being a Republic without citizens has been lesson enough.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 22, 2010