Cuba: Leave, Protest or Surrender

For those loyal to a repressive regime, leaving or protesting are the only, and mutually, exclusive options. (EFE/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Azel, Miami, 17 March 2021 — Exit, Voice, Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States* is the title of a book published in 1970 by economist and political scientist Albert O. Hirschman. The author was born in Germany in 1915 and lived a full and adventurous life. After receiving degrees from the Sorbonne and Harvard, he volunteered to fight on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.

During WWII Hirschman helped many prominent European intellectuals escape from occupied France across the Pyrenees to Portugal. He served in the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA.

Hirschman held distinguished academic posts at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study. In 2001 he was named one of the 100 Best American Intellectuals. He died in the United States in 2012 at age 97.

Exit, Voice, Loyalty became an influential and must-read book for social scientists. Hirschman’s thesis proposed that an individual in an unfulfilling or failed relationship has three choices: he can walk away, complain or suffer silence. continue reading

The choices are applicable in business, personal and political relationships. Though Hirschman focused mainly on organizations, political parties and consumer choices, his work is essential for understanding how immigrants and exiles choose between escape, opposition or silent resistance.

According to Hirschman, “exit” means walking away, leaving one’s country, moving to another nation state. “Voice” is akin to protest, choosing to articulate discontent. And “loyalty” implies submittal, pledging allegiance to a governmental regime or its ideology. It is worth reflecting here on the alternatives available to the citizens of oppressive regimes such as those of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries where the option to protest has been curtailed.

Bear in mind that, even in repressive regimes, there is always a certain loyalty to the government. All regimes need at least a modicum of acceptance from some sectors of the population to maintain the legitimacy and operational capabilities of their institutions. If there were no loyalty, the political and economic institutions of the regime, such as the armed forces, could not operate or survive. This leaves to “leaving” and “protesting” as the only, and mutually exclusive, options.

In Hirschman’s analysis, protest is an effort by citizens to change the regime’s practices. He defines it as any attempt to change, rather than escape. Protest is a complex concept because, he write, “it can manifest itself from weak complaints to violent protests.” He also points out that if those with the most influence escape, the protest loses its most important voices.

When leaving is not an option, then protest become the only possible choice. In Hirschman’s view, “protest increases in importance the opportunities to leave diminish.” On the other hand, the easier the option to leave is, the less the incentive there is to protest. “Therefore, the possibility of leaving can stunt the development of the art of protesting.” Knowing this, oppressive regimes have sought to remove their political enemies and critics from the national conversation.

Hirschman’s formulation of leaving, protesting, or submitting is powerful and valid. However, it overlooks the possibility of staying and resisting without protesting. For example, working as little as possible in the socialist system. He also did not mention the option of leaving in order to mount a more forceful protest. This was the case with my generation of Cuban exiles who left the country in search of the means and opportunities to return and overthrow the oppressive regime in Cuba. The landing by Brigade 2506 in 1961 and other actions undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s are examples of this approach.

Today our voices are older older and muffled. But we remain loyal to freedom.

*Translator’s note: For this article the book’s title was translated into Spanish as “Marcharse, protestar o someterse” (Leave, Protest or Surrender).


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Russia’s Reflexive Control in Cuba and Venezuela

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro. (Kremlin)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Azel, Miami, March 9, 2021 — Reflexive control is a disinformation strategy developed in Russia, in which “specifically prepared information is transmitted to opponents to encourage them to voluntarily make a decision desired by the initiator of the action.” All of the available original literature on reflexive control is written in Russian, a language I don’t know. For that reason, the following argument relies on publications in English.

Psychological studies show that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to the same piece of information, it begins to perceive it as true and discards contradictory evidence. The pioneer of the concept of reflexive control, in the 1960s, was Vladimir Lefebvre, a Soviet psychologist and mathematician. Reflexive control is based on a special type of influencing action: a sustained campaign that exposes an opponent to information selected so that he ends up “voluntarily” making the decisions that the initiator desires.

Reflexive control is taught in Russian military schools and in training programs, and it is conceived as a national security strategy. A key concept of reflexive control is that an opponent receives specific and predetermined information with the explicit objective of controlling the decision-making process. Unlike Western concepts of perception management, reflexive control seeks to control, not just manage, the perception of an opponent. continue reading

For example, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union convinced the United States that Soviet missile capacities were much greater than they really were. Using a series of disinformation techniques, the Soviets created an illusion of military power that forced the Western governments to devote more time and resources to their armed forces. Recently, in 2014, Russia confounded NATO and Kiev with its lightning success in Crimea. In three weeks and without firing a shot, the Ukrainian army turned over all its military bases in the Crimea.

On a research trip in 2019, I personally witnessed Russian techniques of reflexive control widely disseminated in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where Russia seeks to stoke its ethnic minorities.

Additionally, during the 2016 American presidential election, Russia used techniques of reflexive control with the hope of manipulating our electoral decision-making process. Russia’s objective wasn’t to aid a determined candidate, but rather, fundamentally, to undermine our democratic political system.

The specific mechanisms of reflexive control are complex, but the strategy strives to imitate the reasoning of an opponent to encourage a decision that is unfavorable to the opponent himself. Specifically, it attacks our moral and physical cohesion to stir us to make decisions against our own interests. The Russian military theorist Colonel S. A. Komov has described the following basic elements of reflexive control:

Distraction: Create real or imaginary threats to force opponents to modify their plans.

Overload: Send with frequency a great quantity of contradictory information.

Paralysis: Create the perception of an unexpected threat to a vital interest.

Exhaustion: Force opponents to undertake useless operations.

Deceit: Force opponents to relocate assets in reaction to an imaginary threat.

Division: Persuade opponents to act against common objectives.

Pacification: Convince opponents that military actions carried out are only inoffensive training exercises.

Deterrence: Create a perception of superiority.

Provocation: Force opponents to take measures against their own interests.

Suggestion: Offer information that concerns opponents in a legal way, morally, ideologically, etc.

Pressure: Offer information that discredits opponents in the eyes of the people.

My readers in the south of Florida will recognize these techniques as those used by experts in the Cuban and Venezuelan governments under Russian tutelage. For decades, Cuba and Venezuela have successfully used reflexive control to distract, overload, paralyze, exhaust, deceive, divide, pacify, deter, provoke, suggest, and pressure their respective oppositions.

As a consequence, these citizens rarely unite cohesively to fight for their fundamental political liberties. The reflexive control apparatus has managed to control the decision-making process so that the popular point of view rests more on the economy than on politics. Today, the majority of criticisms and actions against the Cuban and Venezuelan governments emphasize the economic misery that the regimes create, instead of the freedoms they suppress. The people’s choice, incited by reflexive control, has morphed into fleeing, not fighting.

To my consternation and sadness, in these societies the discouraging observation of the Roman historian Sallust is evident: “Few men desire liberty; the majority of them only want a just tyrant.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Ethical Defense Of Migration

Migrants cross the Guatemalan border with Mexico. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 18 July 2017 — In an earlier article I argued that migration is an individual right; an expression of the desire for freedom to improve one’s quality of life. At that time, I wanted to emphasize the libertarian defense of open immigration, taking care to clarify that open immigration is not the equivalent of uncontrolled immigration. It does not imply guaranteeing the right to eligibility for citizenship, social benefits or other governmental services.

I defined open immigration only as the right of people to freedom of movement to enter a country by places established for inspection, where specific reviews are made to protect the nation from diseases, enemies, and crimes. People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something. continue reading

People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something.

Here I want to focus on the ethical aspect of open immigration based on the book by Michael Huemer Intuition Ethics. Let’s start with an experiment of reflection. Imagine that Juan, hungry and poor, goes to the local market to buy food with the little money he has. There, the salesman is happy to do business that allows Juan to meet his needs.

You, knowing Juan’s intentions, forcibly interrupt his movement, to prevent him from reaching the market. Unable to reach it, Juan remains hungry.

Your conduct is morally wrong because now you are responsible for Juan’s hunger. This reflection provides an analogy to the government’s restriction of immigration. Note that potential immigrants would like to travel to a country where there are entrepreneurs eager to hire them for mutual benefit. And governments use armed border guards to prevent by force those people from entering the country to work. But note also that your treatment of Juan would not be morally permissible even if some of the following conditions were present:

  1. If you want to prevent people who are already in the market having to compete with Juan for the products of food stores.
  2. If you are concerned that Juan influences the culture of the market in ways you disapprove.
  3. If you were concerned that, given your program to help the poor, you would have to give Juan free food by taking it away from others who are in your program.

These considerations are analogous to: (1) Immigrants taking jobs from low-skilled native workers. (2) Immigrants changing the local culture. (3) Immigrants using government services. These considerations do not justify their actions to prevent Juan from reaching the market. Their actions are immoral from the point of view of moral realism. However, there are other moral focuses.

Moral realism holds that some values ​​are objectively true. That is, the truth of those values ​​does not depend on one’s attitudes. But not everyone accepts moral realism. Relativists, for example, consider that what is right or wrong must be determined by what society approves or disapproves. For a relativist, the truth depends on the culture of each person. Others, like the subjectivists, consider that what is good, bad, right or wrong, depends on people’s attitudes.

Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people

Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people. In contrast, based on some variant of the “social contract” theory, non-libertarians believe that governments are exempt from the moral restraints that apply to people. Under the theory of the social contract we all have implicitly agreed to grant the government the right to the monopoly use of force in exchange for protection. We have accepted, in an implicit contract, that the Government acts immorally.

But social contract theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation for why the government should be exempt from the moral rules that apply to the rest of us. These rules imply a commitment to the moral equality of individuals, a supreme respect for individual dignity and rights, and reluctance to use force or coercion. In other words, these libertarian values ​​demand that Juan be allowed to come to the market without hindrance.


José Azel is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and author of the book Mañana in Cuba.

Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

In memory of Oswaldo Payá

14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all people aspire to be free, but the idea of ​​individual freedoms is not universally accepted.

Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some preach that a developing nation needs a strong man to effectively promote economic growth without the complications of democracy.

Others feel that an authoritarian government is necessary to ensure law and order. Others prefer monarchies and other hereditary forms of government to protect the traditions and customs of their people. Others believe that their church and government are one and the same, and that their religious beliefs are about selfish desires for freedom. Marxists sacrifice individual freedoms on the altar of collectivism. continue reading

If that is their decision, those believers in the permanent dominion of a single party should be free not to be free, preferably on another planet. But this implies the question of how a society should decide its form of government. The dictatorial response is to remain in power indefinitely, as we can see in totalitarian states such as North Korea and Cuba. The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive, multiparty and frequent elections.

The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive, multi-party and frequent elections

That is why the Cuba Decide plebiscite project, headed by Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, seems to me to be a refreshing proposal after nearly six decades of Castro rule in Cuba. Rosa María is the young and eloquent daughter of the late democratic activist Oswaldo Payá, winner of the prestigious European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought. Rosa María, as president of the Latin American Youth for Democracy Network, continues her father’s work to promote democracy on the tragic island.

The Cuban Decide initiative proposes that voters respond with a simple “Yes” or “No,” to a basic but transcendental question:

Do you agree with free, fair and plural elections, exercising freedom of expression and of the press; and organizing freely in political parties and social organizations with total plurality? Yes or No?

It would be naive to expect the Castro regime to accept such a plebiscite. But, at the very least, promoting the plebiscite provides a strategic tool to stimulate in Cuba and in international forums a solidly focused political debate and public dialogue. The plebiscite focuses attention on the fact that deciding how to be governed is the prerogative of the people, and no one else.

Few would reject the central postulate of the plebiscite that Cubans should be free to decide their future. Even sympathizers of the Castro regime would find it ideologically difficult to refuse to ask such a simple question to the Cuban people.

The only intellectually honest way to oppose a plebiscite that empowers the people in this way would be to argue that the people have nothing to say about their future, and that dictatorships are the preferable forms of government. Not many international leaders would be willing to publicly proclaim that preference.

The idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the leadership of Raúl Castro’s successors an elegant and accepted way of changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing their one-party rule

The Cuba Decide Plebiscite is not a political platform, but rather a tool to begin the change that would be justified if the Cuban people decide, by a “Yes” vote, and that offers the possibility of alternatives. The “No” vote would legitimize the one-party permanent mandate. To some extent the idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the leadership of Raúl Castro’s successors an elegant and accepted way of changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing one-party rule. In post-Castro Cuba, the initiative of the Cuba Decide plebiscite promoted by young people can become a key component of a legitimate transition.

Freedom has consequences, not all of them useful, but it is immoral to deprive the people of their liberties, as dictators do. Our rational approach is our basic way of living. If we cannot act according to our free opinions we can not live fully as human beings. And we need freedom to act according to our reasons.

After decades of living without freedom under a totalitarian government, the Cuba Decide Plebiscite is an initiative promoted by citizens presenting to the Cuban people a question with rational criteria: Do you want to be free? “Yes or No.” Who could oppose such a question? The answer should enlighten us all.


Editor’s Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author of the book Mañana in Cuba.

The Regime’s Unalterable Faith In Its Own Continuity / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

The death of Fidel Castro does not bring freedom for the Cuban people. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 3 January 2017 — Raul Castro, in his one-minute announcement on Cuban television reporting the death of his brother, referred to Fidel Castro as “the founder of the Cuban Revolution.” The label of “founder” shows the unalterable faith of the regime in its continuity.

Fidel Castro, although a background presence, had been effectively out of power for a decade. Raúl has orchestrated an uninterrupted succession with himself as first secretary of the Communist Party, and people selected by him in the new generation of communist leadership.

This is the bittersweet reality for we Cubans who love liberty, and whom often believed in the slogan No Castro, no problem. Fidel Castro may be gone, but the regime remains structurally intact. The death of Fidel Castro does not bring freedom for the Cuban people. His legacy is that of thousands executed by firing squads, brutal repression, concentration camps, and every possible violation of human rights. He turn what was, in 1958, one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America into an impoverished dysfunctional state from which 20% of the population has escaped. continue reading

Fidel Castro may be gone, but the regime remains structurally intact

In addition, according to the report Freedom in the World by the organization Freedom House, Cuba remains the only country in the Americas considered “not free,” with ratings in the worst categories in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Even so, the Castro brothers are not dishonored as architects of this tragedy, but distinguished by the obsequiousness of many world leaders.

Cuba today is a nation with a discredited ideology, a declining senile leadership and a bankrupt economy. So what will be next for this tragic island? Let’s begin by examining what I call a culture of acquiescence.

Meme is a neologism coined by British scientist Richard Dawkins to explain how ideas and social behaviors are transmitted through non-genetic means, in contrast to genetic transmission. For example, a boy who is constantly exposed to domestic violence may come to accept violence as natural. In political science, I explain memes as sociocultural genes that help to understand how, in totalitarian societies, the presumption of power dethrones the presumption of freedom.

Usually, the use of power is not enough to preserve an oppressive regime. At some level there must be a tacit acceptance that the ruling class has some legitimacy to exercise power. In China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, revolutionary mysticism linked to Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung and Fidel Castro served to confer such legitimacy. Over time, the presumption of freedom is replaced with the acceptance of the legitimacy of tyrannical powers.

In China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba coercive power has engendered memes of acquiescence by accepting the widespread presumption that the leaders were born with the right to govern and people are born with an obligation to obey. This is also part of Fidel Castro’s legacy.

The “black swan” could be an unknown Václav Havel or Boris Yeltsin in the armed forces who is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer

Thinking about post-Fidel Cuba it is essential to keep in mind that the history of the island in the last sixty years is the history of the Castro brothers and their ideas. The Raul Castro’s inner circle is not made up of cowering Democrats not waiting for the right moment to put into practice long-suppressed Jeffersonian ideals. His way of governing is inseparable from his ideology.

If we assume that change in Cuba will not come as a result of some intervention from the US or internationally (from the outside in), nor as a result of any upstream events like the Arab Spring, we are left only with change that comes down from above. That is, a change that originates in a leadership alien to democratic culture and imbued with a negative incentive towards democratic reforms.

Of course, the imponderable, the possibility of an improbable black swan, is always present. The black swan could be an unknown Václav Havel or a Boris Yeltsin in the Revolutionary Armed Forces who is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer. However, at the current juncture, one does not see the possibility of moving towards liberal democracy, or even towards change.


Editor ‘s Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami and author of Mañana in Cuba.

Does Economic Development Lead To Democracy? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

The political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset. (Wikicommons)
The political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset. (Wikicommons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 27 October 2016 – For decades the statement that “the more wealthy a nation is, the greater the chances that it supports democracy” has been a conventional view and a centerpiece of United States foreign policy. This quote is from a seminal work from 1959, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy” by the political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset.

Lipset was the first to raise, on empirical grounds, a correlation between development and democracy. His thesis continues to guide US foreign policy and is often cited in discussions of how to promote transitions to democracy. continue reading

In what is known as the Lipset hypothesis, the professor theorized that economic development supports the consolidation of democracy, expanding levels of literacy, information and access to the media, expanding the middle class, activating independent civic organizations, emphasizing legitimacy and other sociopolitical values. Sadly, he is one of the most cited authors read.

Lipset noted that the correlation between politics and democracy is a wide list of factors that change social conditions, enabling the reception of a democratic culture. These elements, among them industrialization, urbanization, wealth and education, are the conditions, not the causes, of democracy. As suggested by the title of the article, the relation between economic development and political democracy is correlative, not causal.

US foreign policy errs when it ignores the contingent nature of history and relegates the complex social and structural conditions that lead to democracy to a simplistic economic variable. The error is multiplied when correlation is confused with causality. As Lipset shows, economic prosperity is often accompanied by personal freedoms, but that does not mean that economic growth causes political reforms.

The fact that the two events are frequently observed together does not meant that one causes the other: that the rooster crows every morning does not mean that the rooster makes the sun rise. In logic, the principle that correlation does not imply causality is known as the cum ergo propter hoc fallacy, which in Latin means “with this, therefore because of this.”

The most important political implications of the Lipset hypothesis have become one of the most researched topics in the social sciences. Recent studies don’t support the affirmation that economic development brings democracy. The most that can be obtained from empirical evidence is that development facilitates the permanence of this form of government, but does not make it more likely.

However, the US foreign policy will continues to depend on the false causality of the “development first, democracy later,” approach.

Atypical cases flow in both directions with wealthy autocracies like Saudi Arabia and poor democracies like Costa Rica. In the case of totalitarian regimes, it is clear that economic development does not lead to political reforms, as is shown in China and Vietnam. In totalitarian societies the elites have a lot to lose and choose oppression.

In the case of authoritarian regimes, the experience is mixed. The divergent cases of South Korea and Singapore illustrate the limitations of the claims that development furthers democracy. South Korea seems to exemplify circumstances where the increase in wealth contributed to the later democratic consolidation. Singapore, for its part, turns the thesis on its head, because the country remains authoritarian and has become more repressive with the increase in prosperity.

Our understanding of the relationship between the type of regime and economic development remains, at best, probabilistic. But we have learned that in previous communist societies it wasn’t the economy that generated the pro-democracy movements. In those countries, the essential struggle between the population and the elites was about human rights and civil liberties.

Therefore, to promote democracy US foreign policy should be updated and better informed, to understand how citizens adopt democratic values and push for democratic reforms.


Editor’s Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami and author of Mañana in Cuba.