Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 7 March 2018, Havana – Since the transfer of the government from the hands of General Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez last April 19th, much has been speculated in the foreign media about the possible beginning of a political transition in Cuba. For some inexplicable reason certain colleagues – perhaps well-intentioned, though somewhat clueless – identify the new Cuban president as a sort of helmsman who will lead the sinking island of Cuba towards the fortunate port of democracy.
The defenders of this thesis base their arguments as much on objective questions as on more subjective reasons. Among the objective questions is the pressing need to create openings within the Island that serve to oxygenate the agonizing national economy and improve the difficult living conditions of Cubans.
Among the more subjective reasons we can especially find the generational change of the political leadership of the country – which would eventually replace the positions still occupied by the rest of the diminished historical generation, with the additional benefit that the new leaders at the head of the Government, who, although they did not take part in the epics of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the sailing of the yacht Granma from Mexico to Cuba with the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries, and the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra on which the supposed legitimacy of the autocratic power of the Castro regime was based, neither do they carry the weight of the firing squads, the dispossession of property, the forced labor camps and all the atrocities committed by the Cuban dictatorship in the last six decades.
In defense of this purported transitional agenda – to date more desired than possible – to which some seduced foreign media refer, it could be mentioned that there are in today’s Cuba, in effect, socio-political similarities with countries that carried out processes of democratic transition after long dictatorships in the last third of the XX century, among them, Portugal and Spain, the longest-lived dictatorships in Europe, although not as long-lasting as the Cuban one.
In fact, the Castro regime’s almost sexagenarian autocracy is but a failed attempt at a transition that ended up being betrayed: the drift of the pro-democratic revolution came to power in January 1959 under the pretext of overthrowing the previous dictatorship, which was imposed by Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état in March, 1952. This awards Cubans the dishonorable privilege of having lived uninterruptedly under conditions of two consecutive dictatorships for the past 66 years.
However, and except for the reasonable variations of nuances, among similarities of the current Cuban reality and the conditions of the aforementioned countries at the moment when their respective transitions took place, there is the presence of an autocratic power based on a unique and egocentric ideology, the intense and permanent propaganda of governmental thought, coupled with the most inflexible censorship on any alternative political opinion or current alternative politics, the official worship of the leader, which is intended to extend beyond his death in the Cuban case, the exaltation of a heroic historical past that supposedly justifies the ideology and leadership of the dictatorial Power and that, moreover, defines the national standard up to the present and towards the future, social control through the repressive political police and the pro-government organizations (selective repression to sow fear and silence in society), and the State’s economic corporate doctrine, which in Cuba is, all at the same time, Government and Single Party.
However, the differences, though fewer in their quantity, are more profound and decisive in explaining the delay, or rather, the non-existence, of the long-awaited process of democratic transition in Cuba.
In the case of Portugal, the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship was the result of a military uprising that would become known as the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), led by the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), a rebel faction of the army led by a group of officers dissatisfied with the government, fundamentally due to the stalemates in the wars in the Portuguese colonies of Africa and East Timor.
Precisely because of the importance of the military elite in perpetuating ownership of the colonies, the army was an important political pillar for the Portuguese government, hence the possibility of a military conspiracy of great proportions in Portugal not only seemed contradictory or almost impossible for the regime, and thus was able to take by surprise the powerful political police, the most effective guardian of the Salazar regime. The capacity for organization, military discipline and the extension of the MFA, made it possible for the dictatorship to be overthrown in just a matter of hours, and after two years of political turbulence, democracy was established in the country.
The Spanish transition, meanwhile, started in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and was a complex civil process. In addition to the changes ordered by King Juan Carlos I as successor, previously appointed by the old head of the State as its leader, the broad support for the King played an essential role, both among a major sector of capitalists within Spain and among many Western countries, and led to the consensus reached by the political parties of the most dissimilar ideological tendencies – including elements of the old Franco regime – which eventually contributed to the creation of the new constitution, the referendum that approved it, and its enactment as the official precept of the government on December 1978, the rule of law being enshrined.
It is true that pitfalls were not lacking throughout the process, but the success of the Spanish transition also played a fundamental role in the support of sectors and personalities of the old Franco regime, who bet on the peaceful and gradual evolution towards democracy and worked towards its consolidation.
A glance is sufficient to discover that, while the similarities between the current Cuban reality and the scenarios that favored the democratic transitions of Portugal and Spain have been determined by their respective dictatorships, the departure of the autocrats from power and the processes of evolution to democracy in both European countries were made possible by social and political actors that do not exist in Cuba, or at least that have not been revealed to date. Namely: elite sectors of duly organized disgruntled military willing to change the political order, reformist elements within the political power itself that favor an orderly transition, national economic power groups capable of influencing pro-democracy changes, an opposition duly articulated and willing to generate political consensus in the interest of a common democratic destiny and, not least, an international community positively interested in supporting the emergence and consolidation of a true democracy in Cuba.
Faced with the lack of rights and the civic squalor of Cuban society, and given the lack of consensus among the opposition sectors, the Castro regime of late, now represented by a new generation of servants, holds all the trumps for a prolonged stretch in Power. To do this, it is ready to legitimize the new era of the dictatorship through a new constitution that must be submitted to a referendum in the future, and that – as expected – has already begun to notch another schism among the opposition: on the one hand, those who take on the challenge as an opportunity to say “NO” to the regime, to one party and to compulsory socialism; on the other, those who not only deny that possibility, but choose to wear themselves out in the disqualification of the former, accusing them of trying to “legitimize” the dictatorship.
It does not seem reasonable, in the midst of such a regrettable scenario, to speak of a Cuban transition. As far as many Cubans are concerned, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is nothing more than the heir and follower of the dictatorial regime until he demonstrates otherwise. In any case, what is currently offered is a “transition, Cuban style,” a process equivalent to transition from a dictatorship of a life-long government to a government with handovers of power, but a dictatorship nonetheless.
Except that (who knows!) along the way, new actors and circumstances may appear, the miracle of a consensus among the Cuban democrats may take place and, surprisingly, the dreamed about transition to democracy might yet begin in Cuba
But those enthusiastic colleagues of the foreign press, as divorced from the aspirations of Cubans as they are ignorant of our reality, should note that until such a wonderful moment arrives – if it does – it is neither legal nor realistic to talk about a political transition in Cuba.
Translated by Norma Whiting