14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 January 2017 – Is a ship that has had all its parts replaced still the same ship? The question is known as Theseus’s Paradox and illustrates the European Union’s dilemma with Cuba: Does a dictatorship that moderated its diplomatic language, tried to make peace with its enemy and lost its personality cult leader continue to be a dictatorship?
The promoters of rapprochement between the European Community and the Plaza of the Revolution intuit that the planks added to the ship of Castroism have ended up changing its nature. This confidence in the renovation experienced by any political process over time, the arrival of new actors, and adaption to the international context are what bring Federica Mogherini to the Island on Wednesday.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy begins a two-day official visit to advance the bilateral relationship after the signing of the first agreement between the EU and Cuba. However, the rush to strengthen relations and the intention to cede first and demand later could play a dirty trick on the most visible face of European diplomacy.
Behind the text of the agreement between Brussels and Havana that came into force on November 1, in the spirit of rapprochement, is the opinion that only with an approach to Raul Castro’s government, with solid diplomatic ties and a fluid communication channel, can the EU influence the course of the lives of the eleven million people who inhabit this nation.
With the signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, the EU’s 28 member states want to resume the exchange programs and the influence that was lost in Cuba with the application of the EU’s “common position” in 1996, which conditioned relations on an improvement in the human rights situation on the Island.
However, the approach can also be read as a gesture of legitimization, an act of support and solidarity with the Cuban government. At least that is how it has been presented by government propaganda within the island, losing no opportunity to reiterate that Raul Castro’s government disagrees with the conditions regarding human rights and will not accept “interference of any kind.”
From that time until now, the national “ship” has undergone several transformations. Among them is the transfer of power between El Comandante — Fidel Castro — and his successor, by blood: El General — Fidel Castro’s brother Raul Castro. With the latter in command, there has been the promotion of “work on one’s own account,” an official euphemism with which to designate the private sector, but only on the small scale of a pizza maker, a shoe repairer, or, in the most sophisticated cases, a restaurant.
The Cuban raft has also been subject to some patches regarding immigration policy, especially when the disgraceful requirement for an exit permit to leave the country was eliminated in January 2013, a flexibilization that has not ended selective travel restrictions against activists nor has it yet returned full rights to exiles to visit their native country.
Today Cubans can contract for a mobile phone line, stay at hotels, establish cooperatives, connect to the Internet from the Wi-Fi zones installed throughout the country and request a piece of land under a leasing arrangement known as usufruct.
The death of the Great Helmsman has put an end to the delirious decisions of a man sick with power who was an obstacle on the path of normalization of relations with the EU.
However, like Theseus’s boat, it is not only the planks and navigation accessories that make up the “personality” of a ship. For the most part, the name painted on the side, the flag that flies on the mast, the destination traced by the captain and the performance of its sailors define it better than a keel, new sails or a gleaming anchor.
This country, to which Federica Mogherini arrives today, continues to be ruled as a dictatorship. The proof of this is the absence of political pluralism, the criminalization of opinion, the arbitrary arrests of opponents and prison sentences with a visible political bias, a partisan monopoly over the press, the impunity with which State Security works and the permanent vigilance over every aspect of reality.
All these tools of control become more visible when they are exercised against activists, but they also run through every detail of society and touch all individuals. Fear, the mask of simulation, opportunism and self-censorship are some of the many effects provoked by this permanent Orwellian supervision over the life of every Cuban.
This Wednesday, the ruling party will deploy its arts so that Mogherini will be unable to verify how much of the old totalitarian structure of Castroism still stands. They will do everything possible so that she does not look overboard, does not look at the horizon, does not discover that under the new paint and the cosmetic adjustments, the compass that governs this country does not yet point towards freedom.
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.