Obama’s new policy toward Cuba could mark the end of the olive-green autocracy / Ivan Garcia


I understand the discontent of an important sector of Cubans in exile and within the internal dissidence.

On 17 November, just one month before the momentous diplomatic turn of events between Cuba and the United States, I was charring in Brickell, Miami, with a gentleman who explained to me his reasons for hating the Castro brothers. That day, a fine rain fell over Miami. The bitter cold wasn’t the welcome one expects to receive in that thriving city of the sun.

The man had lost a lot. In 1959, his father was shot after a summary trial in the La Cabaña Fortress by order of Ernesto Che Guevara. His “crime,” had been being a police officer under Batista.

“He hadn’t committed any crime. He did not torture any member of the 26th of July Movement. He was shot only for political revenge and the hatred of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government. Later they shot my uncle who was raised in the Escambray. And many friends and relatives were imprisoned, in subhuman conditions, just for thinking differently,” he recalled with tears in his eyes.

In one of the pavilions at Miami’s International Book Fair, Hector Carrillo, Radio Marti producer, told me about his father, a notable architect, who lost all his properties and one autumn night died far from the country that saw his birth.

His “sin” had been to create riches and design architectural spaces that once made Havana a cosmopolitan city. Carrillo was born in the United States, but he felt Cuban. He eats black beans and drinks Cuban-style coffee.

The film critic Alejandro Rios, a more recent immigrant, who probably didn’t lose any family member at the execution wall or in a Castro-regime dungeon, also has his demons in tow. He grew up and became a man in a Havana neighborhood, breakfasting on coffee without milk and with a mother who darned his father’s old socks so his brothers could go to school.

Unlike the previous compatriots, Juan Juan Almeida grew up as an olive-green bob vivant. Shops and entertainment at his fingertips. When, in the ’90s, people were suffering malnutrition and daily 12-hour black outs, the families of the nomenklatura, among whom was Almeida’s father, continued drinking Scotch, sleeping with high-class prostitutes, and fishing from yachts. That did not prevent Juan Juan from suffering the despotism of Raul Castro.

Four generations that have come to dissent against the Castro’s by different paths. And with different narratives, bet on a democratic future for Cuba.

The most important thing is not what viewpoint should prevail. In these 56 years, in one way or another, we have lost something. From our condition as free men to irrelevant citizens.

The government never asked us permission when the time came to trace their grotesques policies. We always should accept, without question, their strategies. Boarding schools in the countryside. African wars, verbal lynchings towards people who left Cuba, and systematic campaigns against the “enemies of the people”: nothing more and nothing less than ten White House administrations.

Ask any Cuban if they didn’t applaud the promises and illusions of a deceit.

President Obama’s new policies will not change the rabidly totalitarian mentality of a litter of old men who rule our destinies. But there are several Trojan Horses.

The United States needed to throw overboard that weighty and counterproductive foreign policy ballast. In the world, they ask others to support their crusade for democracy.

The United States has been, and is, a paradigm of freedoms. The mambises generals of the War of Independence asked the United States for help to free themselves from Spanish colonialism.

The United States thinks and acts according to its geopolitical interests. I will continue to bet on democracy and human rights on the planet, but behind it is the stage of the gunboats or installing satraps at the convenience of Washington.

The new rules of the game open up a formidable framework of options for the Island’s dissidence. That can take advantage. Now the regime has no pretext as a country under siege.

The time for the Cuban opposition to pass on the offensive is past. And trace a coherent political strategy which it can shout out to a wide segment of the population.

It’s time to demand a place in the political establishment. It has every right in the world to govern. Especially when 56 years of Castro regime socialism has been a disaster.

There are many issues that affect the citizenry, the dissidence could wave them as a political flag. How can the government now justify excessive taxation on private work. Or the prohibitions on 3D cinemas and private stores.

There is almost unanimous agreement among Cubans, that the prices in the convertible peso stores are absurd and exaggerated for a working population that, on average, collects a monthly salary of $20.

Yes, there is a United States embargo. But why not debate the internal blockade against creativity, freedom of expression, politics and economy in our society.

Will they lower the science-fiction level prices of cars for sale? Will the lower the five-dollar-an-hour cost of navigating the internet? Will they eliminate the irrational customs taxes and fees.

Will the repeal the dark gag law, that calls for 30 years in prison for dissidents and free journalists?

Now the dissidence can, joining the clamor of the majority, be a sounding board and force the State to raise the miserable wages, authorize independent unions, the right to strike, and allow free contracting for labor and direct payment of wages by foreign businesses.*

If they are in tune with the feelings of ordinary Cubans, the dissidents will add followers and gain spaces. It’s quite probably that the government, still intoxicated by their diplomatic triumph, will not cede. And it will maintain control of the media and harass the opposition.

According to Raul Castro’s latest discourse at the closing of the monotone national parliament, nothing will change.

The regime is not going to give anything. It never did. Certain rights will have to be grabbed.

*Translator’s note: Under current law, foreign-owned businesses must contract with the government for labor and workers are paid only a small portion of what the businesses pay the government.

4 January 2015