By Alexis Jardines
Our rallying point: the Invisible Church.
And our fundamental currency: freedom of thought.
(Letter from Hegel to Schelling)
In 1998, When John Paul II had not yet boarded the plane back the Holy See, I witnessed the following: coming out of a building on Linea between 4th and 6th I was perplexed to see an army truck and several soldiers who were tearing down the posters of his Holiness hung on each of the light standards in the central boulevard of the avenue. One or another passerby and/or neighbor approached to timidly reprove them with a “Why are you doing that?”; others asked them to please give them the posters, but the soldiers had already destroyed those they’d torn down. The pieces were all over the bed of the truck. And what was worse, those soldiers — visibly angry — accompanied their violent gestures of dismantlement with insults directed against the figure of the Pope.
I don’t know why I thought at that moment that they were expressing the mood of Raul Castro. I wondered how it was possible that his brother had renounced the olive-green uniform to receive the Pontiff in a suit, and as happy as child, while the soldiers of the People’s Revolutionary Army carried out the offensive orders of their minister, which Fidel could not be unaware of. The visit of John Paul II was no more than a farce, as will be that of Benedictus VXI.
The only thing the upcoming Papal visit could serve, other than the personal objectives of both Raul Castro and Jaime Ortega, is for the people experience a catharsis shouting Freedom! at the top of their lungs in the Plaza of the Revolution, but this won’t happen. Nor will there be space for dialog between his Holiness and the dissidents. The former Civic Plaza will be filled to the brim with the volunteer mob, Communist Youth League and Communist Party militants, those pressured by political and mass organizations who haven’t found a plausible excuse not to go, and, of course, true Catholics.
A good part of the crowd will be brought in from other provinces in those yellow school buses donated by “the empire.” There will be no space for dialog with the opposition (“little groups of counterrevolutionaries directed by the anti-Cuban mafia from abroad,” according to the interpretation the Pope will get used to during his visit).
The other side of the coin is that save for the fanatics, those who take advantage of the system, and those convinced thanks to a neural deficit, the rest who will gather there (in uniform or out of it) don’t support the government. Instead, they will remain silent because they see no other option. What is the real reason for the neglect of the Cubans on the Island that no Pope could remedy?
The question I asked myself that day in 1998 on Linea Street I continue to ask: how can I stop this outrage? To throw myself against a truck filled with soldiers would be ridiculous, but after 14 years at least I have a part of the answer. First, what has failed: the connection between the people in the opposition and external support for the promotion of democracy.
The Cuban government seems to have been more aware of it than the exile and its own internal opposition. Regarding the first, they focused on isolating and demonizing the opponents, which was effective, primarily due to State control of all communication media (including cellphones and the Internet). With respect to the second, the government victory was even easier, brought about by the exile itself.
In the first place, if an opponent receives 50 dollars a month from the exterior, with that he can feed and clothe himself badly; in the second place, the money received should not be destined for these needs, and in addition such payments leave the beneficiary unable to respond to the accusation of being a mercenary. In the third place, if the 20 million dollars released every year by USAID to promote democracy in Cuba remain primarily in Miami — without producing the hoped for results over all these years and without the Agency itself seeming to be aware of it — there doesn’t seem to be much interest, either in the anti-Castro capital or in Washington, in the fall of the Cuban regime. As we can see, things are not going well at all.
Within the Island, direct confrontation is necessary but not sufficient. To achieve the connection of the people with the opposition a foundation of civility must be forged in which the “People” — a nationalist category that reaches its highest expression in totalitarian contexts — can dismantle themselves into associations of individuals, while the dissidence structures itself in the form of independent projects, focusing everything, from the most diverse perspectives, on institutional debilitation.
That is, the dissidence should have as its objective not the government, but the institutions of the State. They must feed on them, in a way that intellectuals and professionals in general migrate to independent projects, casting — together with the associations mentioned above — the foundations of the civil society that will shelter the political opposition.
The way in which financing is allocated must be legitimate and transparent. That the 20 million in USAID doesn’t come to this Island is undoubtedly bad. But if it did come, there would be no ethical and legal basis within which to put such aid to use. Now, if it greatly encouraged cultural, academic, environmental, gender, and a long list of similar independent projects, then we would be talking about something quite transparent that happens every day in all countries. Obviously, it would be an exchange, not a source of subsistence (which the Cuban government has become accustomed to since the Soviet era and, it seems, does not want to renounce); the funding should be reciprocated with results.
That peculiar phenomenon of what, in Cuba, are governmental NGOs and quasi-official projects, obviously, would be excluded from the truly independent projects which, from the most diverse expressions, have as their line of work the promotion of freedom and democracy.
We take up the second point that never ceases to be interesting, as it always involves the issue of the embargo. The Cuban government — among its other limited options — plans to sustain itself in the post-Chavez era from travel and remittances, while the more radical part of the exile calls for a ban on both (for 5 years) for recent arrivals who, naturally, reject that idea.
Well, if the bulk of funding goes to civic-based independent projects, rather than fills the government’s coffers, the result would be a strengthening of civil society. I believe that the defenders of the embargo would understand this as a price worth paying. In such a case it would maintain the exchange, and the underdog would be the Cuban government. Other variants have already been tried and there hasn’t been one in which the losers aren’t the citizens and the opposition.
In sum, the transparent exchange — of the foreign institutions and the emigration itself — with professional independent projects, that focus their work on promoting freedom and democracy, is not just a way to resolve the tricky issue of income to the Island (travel and remittances included), but of depriving the government of the possibility of leveling the charge of mercenaries against opponents and dissidents, who could achieve on this basis the connection with the citizenry, and get a certain legitimacy and protection (this latter, the understanding that the police themselves will demand a bribe).
But most important is that such an exchange is going to be structuring Cuban civil society. For me, it is clear that the destiny of the Castro regime is in the hands of the Internet, of the independent projects combined with the opposition, and of the socialist corruption (which widely transcends the limits of the bureaucracy). With this amalgam everything is possible; without it there will be more of the same, that is, a re-adaptation, a perestroika (reconstruction).
The way in which the government is confronted in this peaceful struggle for democracy must change (diversify), but the points of weakness must also be known, so as not to be plowing the sea. What moves everything on the Island — including militants, police, generals, doctors, ministers, teachers, students, retirees and even “the grass our plants trample*” — is money. And if there is something else that could be destabilizing, it is the elimination of the exit permit.
So, forget the Pope (who neither can nor wants to be the solution) and focus on the real problem, because if the political-military dictatorship is still standing, it is due not only to the passive United States policy of letting the fruit ripen, but to the ineffectiveness of emigration and of the exile itself. We are still immersed in the dilemma of choosing Maceo’s machete or Marti’s pen, when what we need is just a little bit of pragmatism.
*Translator’s note: From a poem by Jose Marti.