Iván García, 20 April 2015 — Hildebrando Chaviano could pass for Obama if the US president’s secret service wanted to use him as a double. At his 65 years, Chaviano shines with the ability to lead. He likes to intone with the voice of a radio announcer, and doesn’t hide his affection for politics.
Like father, like son. His father was a member of the People’s Socialist Party, the Marxist party of Republican Cuba, with a vast labor union and influence on the intellectual and cultural environment.
He came to dissent from the bosom of the Revolution. He was a member of the Young Communists and for five years worked in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT).
“With my rebellious and liberal attitude I was always a controversial person. I wasn’t guy the government had confidence in. When they threw me out directly, they showed me the door to get out. I always questioned the role of the party, the government and the union,” he says, sitting in the living room of his apartment in the Focsa Building, one of the jewels of Cuban architecture and engineering.
The living room is living and lacks furnishing. Books are piled up on cheap wooden bookcase. From the window there is a panoramic view of the city and if feels like you can reach out and touch the intense blue of the Atlantic Ocean, visible on the horizon.
“From up here, you can’t see the misery and abandonment of the city. When I ran for delegate of the People’s Power, I didn’t present myself as a political opponent. My proposal is social. I think about the growing number of elderly who are forced to beg or rummage through garbage cans. The poverty, the chaotic infrastructure and the bad public transport service that affects everyone, whether or not they support the government. I firmly believe that the dissidence should start to work within the community. We are prepared for this change.”
After Hildebrando asking MININT, he entered the University of Havana and in 1978 graduated in Law. For 15 years he worked in the State-owned Select Fruits company. But in the summer of 1994, for being the kind of guy who is uncomfortable for the regime, he was left unemployed.
“As an option they offered me a place as a stevedore in a warehouse. I declined. I no longer believed in the system. I joined the dissidence in 2006. Leonardo Hernandez, a friend from childhood, introduced me to Jose Idelfonso Velez, who I consider my political manager. I joined an opposition association that worked for racial integration along with Juan Antonio Madrazo, Leonardo Calvo and Manuel Cuesta Morúa.”
The father of three and grandfather of four, Hildebrando feels comfortable in his role as a political activist. On a rainy afternoon in 2014 he joined the proposed Candidates for Change, led by the political scientist and freelance journalist Julio Aleaga Pesant.
“The strategy was to present some possible candidates. We had six, but through legal chicaneries of the regime, or because they gave up, we ended up with only two, Yuniel Lopez and me. Yuniel ran in a hard neighborhood in Arroyo Naranjo, the poorest and bloodiest in Havana,” said Chaviano.
The opposition strategy to infiltrate the few legal loopholes left unprotected by the olive-green regime is longstanding. In the 80s a regime opponent of the Ricardo Bofill group ran in a neighborhood assembly. In 2010, in Punta Brava, a Havana municipality of La Lisa, a platform was created to insert dissident candidates into the institution of the People’s Power. The only opponent who ran got very few votes.
“The elections to choose neighborhood delegates is probably the only democratic opening that exists on the island. It is undeniable that it is very difficult to pass through the sieve created by the political police and state institutions. But with a single narrative for the outside we will never be strong enough to send our message of democratic change to ordinary Cubans,” explains Chaviano.
The Achilles heel of the opposition is its scant power and its lack of a popular base. Its message is directed more to the other side of the Florida Straits than to its next door neighbors.
Hildebrando regrets the lukewarm support of the dissidence for his run. “Some have told me that it was a betrayal. And have suggested to me that in the future I might use it as a springboard to State institutions. Solidarity has been minimal. Iván Hernández Carrillo, a former political prisoner of the Group of 75, is among the few who have supported me. Others have underestimated me and Yuniel.”
On election night he received 21 votes from his neighbors in the area where he lives in El Vededo. “Unlike the dissidence, neighbors and workers have shown me their support, openly or discreetly. I’ll take that,” said the dissident candidate.
Some hours after the neighborhood elections, Hildebrando is confident. “Several observers will supervise the vote and the counting, which is public. If I don’t win, I’ll propose to the candidate election that I will work with him to solve the innumerable social cases that are beyond politics.”
Chaviano considers that the dissent must engage the community to play a leading role in the future of Cuba. On a distant night in 2004 on an old Russian radio, he heard a speech at a Democratic convention in the United States by a guy with an unpronounceable name.
His name was Barack Obama, and after reading the books written by the former Senator from Illinois, Hildebrando Chaviano is convinced that to achieve popular support you need to wear out your shoes in your community and listen to the people.
“It is true that in a totalitarian society it is more complex. You run the risk of going to jail and suffer harassment from the political police. But it’s worth a try. ”
Text and photo: Ivan Garcia
Note: Neither of the opposition candidates won the elections.