14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 September 2018 — The civil society project Cuba Posible (Possible Cuba) will continue its work despite the attempts of the Cuban government to strangle it, the misunderstandings with the Catholic Church, and the suspicions of the most radical sectors of the opposition, according to comments its two principle managers made to this newspaper.
Roberto Veiga and Lenier González, director and deputy director of Cuba Posible respectively, started this initiative under the aegis of the Catholic Church in 2005, when both assumed responsibility for the Espacio Laical (Lay Space) magazine, which, more than a religious publication in print and digital form, functioned for a decade as a “zone of tolerance for political debate.”
This was possible, as Veiga explains, because it occurred “in the middle of the process of dialogue between the Church and the Government, which was not only sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference, but also by the Vatican.”
In a retrospective look at its origins, the director of Cuba Posible recalls that “at that time the process of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States was also taking place (although it was not yet public) and the European Union was already in discussions to withdraw its “Common Position“, which had been in effect since 1996.
One reason that Veiga suggests for the government’s tolerance of this project is that “perhaps it was one of those gestures that are usually made in this type of process, where it is important to build trust between the interlocutors.”
Among these shifting borders, Cuba Posible proposed from the beginning to open its doors to the greatest plurality possible to promote internal political trust and to open the debate about building bridges.
This debate took place on very important issues, including the constitutional reform, the education system, relations with the Cuban diaspora, the role of the Army and other issues that crossed the borders of the digital magazine, or on paper, until they managed to organize events with the presence of a very diverse public, on some occasions, or only with invited guests, on others.
But it was not, as is believed, a bed of roses. “Even in that initial moment the project suffered from the most orthodox sector of the Government ‘disqualifying’ it — that is refusing to recognize it — and, although it hurt us, there were also many misunderstandings within the Church, which took shape in June 2014, when we confirmed our request to resign from the management of Espacio Laical. We offered our resignations as a response to the indications that we should reduce what was identified as our excessive political profile,” Veiga acknowledges.
In the current situation, that dialogue between the Government and the Church, where they talked not only about political prisoners but also about the economy and international relations, is a thing of the past. The little progress made in improving relations between Cuba and the United States has been reversed, but not only because of Trump’s arrival at the White House. The reversal started with the end of Obama’s visit to the island.
Lenier González adds: “There was a decade of relative tolerance that coincides with the ten years of Espacio Laical and the first two of Cuba Posible where the aforementioned circumstances occur, plus the presence of Raúl Castro at the head of the Government.”
González thinks that for Raúl Castro this type of project was perhaps something small, of little importance. “That is why the transfer of power accelerated the conflict towards Cuba Posible,” he says.
The first public attacks on the project occurred even before Obama’s visit. Since then, the arguments with which the government usually attacks appeared, not only against its most bitter opponents, but even against those who depart slightly from the official line. All are accused of: belonging to the CIA, subversion, foreign financing, intentions to destabilize the country and all the charges that contribute to the execution of a reputation.
Lenier González recalls that in these dramatic moments several events happened, including a meeting of the rector of the University of Havana with all the deans and the faculty. He used his authority to report that this was a CIA project. We know that one of those present told him that such a serious accusation required proof and the rector’s response was: “You have to trust in the Revolution,” he says.
Roberto Veiga is not the kind of person who wants to forge a reputation as a hero. “What made it possible for Cuba Posible to continue working was the number and quality of collaborators we had at that time, both inside and outside the country, which allowed us to continue independently with our programs, each one of which had several concentric circles of collaborators and where the closest ones had a higher level of commitment,” he says.
He is referring to the programs for Fraternity (socio-cultural issues), Zero Poverty (socio-economic), Decent Work (socio-labor), Agora (socio-political) and Orb (international) programs.
With the expression of negative opinions, the work of Cuba Posible was criminalized. “In a vast operation of intimidation they visited all the universities, research centers, communication institutions in the country, to explain why no one could collaborate with us. As a result, some of those collaborators that we had were in the situation of having to abandon us, although others refused to comply with those orders,” says Roberto Veiga.
In the last nine months, all those who resisted have been expelled from their workplaces and few remain in the country. “Even though they do not blame us for their situation, we feel we have an enormous responsibility,” says Veiga. “Even worse has been the case of those who work in provincial centers, where everything has been more oppressive.”
“They were people who, for the most part, never intended to break with the system, some of them militants of the Young Communists Union who have been removed from the organization, even against the opinion of their Base Committee. This creates a difficult situation with their family and in their neighborhood, so because they are professionals with good contacts abroad they opted to leave.”
“The first and second circle of collaborators remain intact, they are people who, despite receiving tempting offers abroad, have decided to stay in the country collaborating with Cuba Posible, although now they have to work under new conditions, especially because they are subject to a process of destabilization, of disarticulation, of strangulation.”
The attacks were perceived by the members of the project as isolated actions of the government’s most dogmatic sector, but in February of last year Miguel Díaz-Canel, still a vice president, acknowledged that he had given the order to cut off all avenues of financing to Cuba Posible. “We confirmed then,” says Veiga, “that it was an official position, which, paradoxically, had more immediate impact on institutions abroad than among our collaborators on the island.”
Lenier González points out that in the summer of 2017 the strategy was coordinated and a strong public offensive was made, focused on the debate on “centrism” where “they launched their battleships to give the impression that this would be the end of Cuba Posible.“
The decision of González and Veiga to continue working “irritated them a lot” and, also, created a dilemma for those responsible for Cuba Posible.
“All this led us to believe that the most responsible thing we could do was to decree the closure of Cuba Posible because we were harming our collaborators where a majority wanted to maintain a positive position within the system, because they longed for the evolution of the system without reaching a rupture. Some with more moderation and others with less. Their continuing to work on Cuba Posible led to a break with those who did not want to break, people who enjoyed what they did in the institutions where they worked and we had a responsibility to those people.”
“We have a responsibility to the country, to our collaborators and to our families, which is why Cuba Posible is not going to close down, we will not even stop and then restart. Without stopping work we will create the conditions to continue existing in the midst of this lack of clarity.”
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