Cuban Fable about “The Four Cats*”

Cuban San Isidro Movement in Miami, archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2020 — There is no doubt that Cubans are experiencing unusually intense days. The last days of November, and especially the repressive onslaught against the barracks of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) that caused the November 27th sit-in before the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), marked an important milestone in the tense relations between Cuba’s 60-year-old dictatorial power and the independent civil society: for the first time a group of freethinking citizens forced the authorities to listen to them, face to face.

The openly threatening, even confrontational and belligerent response that the dictatorship maintains through its press monopoly against this sector of artists, independent journalists and activists, not only is in sharp contrast with the peaceful – though firm – mood of the latter, but also contradicts the official thesis of “the four cats*” [i.e. a handful of people], with which they try to minimize the just claims of the plaintiffs.

The attack against the MSI and the November 27th demonstrators has been fiercely sustained and particularly mendacious, following the old matrix of disqualification and slander that has been applied to dissidents and opponents of any political hue. This time, however, the dictatorship has raised the tone to unthinkable heights by claiming the supposedly legitimate right – guaranteed in the new Constitution approved a little over a year ago, when the elite of the Palace of the Revolution already knew what was coming to them – to confront with weapons those who dare to challenge its power.

The threat itself is a reflection of the concern of the leadership and its vassals in the face of growing social discontent and the surprising solidarity that these new generations of young people, determined to change the state of affairs in Cuba, have managed to arouse. At the same time, it shows the true depth of the economic and structural crisis of a failed system.

The failure of the Castro regime’s “revolutionary project” is obvious. Beyond its slogans of unity and “continuity” it becomes more palpable, to the extent that the process of criminalization of society by the State is established, ever bloodier as the population shortages increase and uncertainty becomes more generalized.

Despite the national misery, no one seems to be safe from the irrational fury of the authorities and their repressive bodies that attack entrepreneurs, farmers, merchants, “illegal residents” of the capital, fences, paid holders of places in lines and any real or imaginary transgressor of the absurd official regulations with equal fury, all seasoned by a pandemic that continues to strike in the midst of the greatest medicine shortage in Cuban memory and the dire state of hospitals and the entire health system.

All of this leads to counterproductive effects: increase in popular discontent, violence and social insecurity, a perfect breeding ground for greater and more dangerous crises, where those who turn against the authorities would no longer be “the four cats”, a peaceful, organized and dialoguing handful of people demanding civil spaces. Popular revolts caused by despair are usually anonymous, but they are never peaceful, and generally produce a snowball effect: they become uncontrollable, far exceeding the category of “the handful of people” that start them.

Suffice it to add all those who have something to demand in today’s Cuba, some claim to make, some pressure due to their needs or their chronic poverty. Let’s make a list of those Cubans who have lost their homes and their scarce assets in a building collapse, who lack the resources to find another place to live and replace what they lost; workers whose wages do not meet their needs and those of their families; the retired elderly whose pensions are a bad joke or a colossal disrespect for their working years; those who have lost their income because their employers have been forced to close their restaurants, coffee shops or hostels; entrepreneurs who, despite the pandemic are no longer receiving income nor getting any help from the government, but  are now in debt to the national to social security account and are forced to make payments without having any money.

The list is incomplete, but it helps to imagine what would become of the authorities if all those mentioned decided to stand before their corresponding ministries, or better yet, perhaps make loud demands at the Plaza Cívica, before the headquarters of the Central Committee (as the “guiding force of the society ” that it is), to solve their pressing problems. Would the media say that they are “a handful of people,” mercenaries paid by Washington or, in the best of cases, that they are “confused”? Would they launch an army to fire weapons at them?

Obviously, such a long-lived dictatorship is showing clear signs of decrepitude and advanced senile insanity when it tries to downplay the dissidents and non-conformists by appealing to their small numbers. It seems to conveniently forget that the number of the Moncada assailants**, the Granma expeditionaries and those who managed to penetrate the Sierra Maestra were all much lower than the artists and activists who are grouped in the MSI, out of the hundreds that stood in front of MINCULT, of those who tried to reach and were blocked by the repressive bodies that surrounded the area and of the thousands of Cubans who, from social networks and from all shores, have spoken out against the repression in support of the demands and for the recognition of rights that we have been denied over six decades.

Meanwhile, of that handful of people of the pompous self-nominated “historical generation” who, once enthroned in power betrayed their own program of struggle and failed to fulfill the democratic promises with which they mobilized the most diverse social strata, hardly a dozen survive today. The majority is physically or mentally incapacitated, but not sufficiently disabled to block any possibility of a national dialogue that allows all Cubans to think and act on the nation’s course. Those few souls and their servants, a tiny privileged and marginalized minority of society, keep the snare and the brake over Cuba and over Cubans.

But if it were really only about numbers, it would be necessary to decide how it’s possible that a single and scandalously minority party, whose membership is less than 1% of the country’s population, constitutes the absolute master of the destinies of all; how is it that 600 officials at the service of power – the so-called “deputies” – are the only ones who vote for the President (previously elected by the dictatorial leadership) to exercise an unquestionable mandate over more than 11 million Cubans, while mocking the right to choose from 8 million people registered in the national electoral roll.

In their infinite arrogance, the powers that be fail to understand that the dialogue civil society is proposing to them today is not a plea from those who make demands, but an opportunity for power. Because the time for changes has already arrived, and change will take place one way or another. Discussing what Cubans claim and in what way they want a democratic transition to take place towards a State with rights and freedoms is the option generously offered by the people, the sovereign. It would be better for those at the top to abandon the bravado and the war cries and to reflect on this, because it is them, the true “four cats” of this fable, who have the most to lose.

Translator’s notes
*The four cats (los cuatro gatos): Cuban slang phrase meaning a handful of people.
**Moncada Barracks assailants = 160. Granma expeditionaries = 82. Surviving expeditionaries in the Sierra Maestra = 22. 

Translated by Norma Whiting