The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Cuban Society

If the majority of Cubans remain inert while a few are persecuted and tortured for defying the regime, the result will be none other than the perpetuation of moral poverty. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Karel J. Leyva, Montreal, 6 May 2023 — The Cuban people are facing a difficult dilemma: to continue to be subjected to an oppressive regime that limits their rights and freedoms, or to risk being punished mercilessly for fighting for a democratic future. The theory of the prisoner’s dilemma, developed by mathematicians and social scientists, allows us to understand this dynamic, which reflects the tension between immediate personal interests and the mutual benefits that could be obtained by Cuban society. What is the cost of silence in an authoritarian regime?

The basic hypothesis of the prisoner’s dilemma is that two people are arrested for a crime and are interrogated separately. Each one has two options: admit the crime and betray the other, or remain in solidarity, refusing to betray. If they do not admit the crime, both will be released with a light penalty. If both admit the crime, they will be sentenced to a more serious penalty. However, if one person admits and the other does not, the first will be released while the one who did not give in to pressure from the police will be sentenced to a very serious penalty.

The ideal, clearly, is that both refuse to admit or betray, in which case the optimal solution is reached, and the police are left empty-handed while they escape punishment. However, the dilemma is precisely that both individuals have a strong motivation to betray, since, if one remains supportive and the other betrays, the second will be acquitted. The prisoner’s dilemma shows how, in certain situations, the individual search for benefits can lead to negative results, while cooperation, solidarity and trust can lead to much more favorable results for all parties involved.

This is precisely the dilemma faced by Cuban society, which is finds itself with the choice of cooperating to overthrow a dictatorship that represses, manipulates and subjugates, or to betray, thereby renouncing a desire to live in a prosperous, just and democratic society. Although in a metaphorical sense, I use the word “betrayal” with all intention, because the lack of citizen action, solidarity and cooperation can be interpreted as a form of betrayal of their own interests, those of their children and fellow citizens, those of the nation.

When a dissident is allowed to suffer the injustices to which he is subjected by tyranny, a compatriot is somehow betrayed. When it is accepted that the system condemns a child to experience hunger and material need, in some way the moral commitment that one has to him is deceived. When one remains inert before the tyranny that oppresses and mistreats, the dignity that constitutes us is betrayed, and with it the very essence of the human is ceded, which is the search for freedom and wellbeing.

It is true that political abstinence does not imply direct action against the interests of society. Nor is it comparable to the desolate and shameful betrayal of those who violently impose misery and those who support them, whether applauding hypocritically, betraying their compatriots or repressing in one way or another those who have the courage to face the muscular totalitarianism that governs in Cuba.

There is an abyss between the metaphorical betrayal of a people who suffer in silence and the literal betrayal of the sinister accomplices of oppression, who crawl bogged down in a dark dynamic of betrayal and submission. It is not comparable to betraying one’s own interests, for fear of being thrown into prison after a summary trial, to the vile betrayal committed by those abject lackeys who diligently serve dictatorial designs, surrendering their compatriots to the jaws of the oppressive regime.

Despicable executioners of the people, they are the personification of betrayal, cowardice and disloyalty. What I suggest is that the cost of the apathy of the people is the indefinite perpetuation of the dictatorship and the misery that comes with it. Such inaction has devastating consequences for the quality of life of today and tomorrow and contributes to keeping the nation in a state of subjugation and poverty.

There is no doubt that the risk of reprisals is substantial. No one is unaware that repressors are capable of everything. This is precisely the nature of the dilemma. Because there is also no doubt that if the majority of Cubans remain inert while a few are persecuted and tortured for defying the regime, the result will be none other than the perpetuation of the moral and economic poverty that suffocates Cuba.

The prisoner’s dilemma does not suggest that there are only two alternatives in reality or that the latter is dichotomous and simple. Between fighting and not fighting, there are a range of possibilities, from leaving the country to being loyal to tyranny and defending it, even if everything collapses and the soul is lost along with it.

Nor does it establish a moral judgment on individual decisions. It is morally legitimate to flee from communism, protect physical integrity and seek a life that gives us everything that tyranny has forcibly denied us. Similarly, it is understandable to avoid exposing yourself to the danger of facing a repressive apparatus that knows no ethical limits.

What this model shows is, simply, that the best options for a nation depend on a complex network of individual decisions. The Cuban people can remain powerless, abandoning to their fate those who prefer not to betray the ideals of freedom, democracy and prosperity. It can also rediscover the cohesion and citizen confidence that the regime has undermined for decades, and choose to think as a nation to exorcise misery, helplessness and ruin once and for all.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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