Two Referendums, Different Perspectives

Young Kurds line up to vote in the referendum. (@aminahekmet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 September 2017 — In a country like Cuba, where regional conflicts don’t surpass the resounding insults during a ball game, secessionism sounds like a distant subject. However, the ruling party has not hesitated for more than half a century to support annexation or separatism efforts in other nations based on ideological convenience.

Right now, the national press is addressing two referendums: those of Kurdistan and Catalonia. Both processes, so different and distant, constitute an excellent opportunity to measure the political whims of the Cuban Government and its double standards in this area.

In both cases, the news coverage has been so contradictory that even the most indifferent viewers have noticed that in the local news the Catalans are called independentistas and the Kurds separatistas. Some “have every right to be a nation,” but the others “put at risk the stability of a convulsive zone.”

The same interests that salute the Catalonian government, raise their hands against the proposal of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. In the morning, the radio commentators clamor for Barcelona to disconnect itself from the Kingdom of Spain, but in the afternoon they support the words of the Turkish Government that consider the Kurdish plebiscite “null and void” and lacking a “legal basis.”

Behind this obvious contradiction in public discourse are the political pacts of the day, the complicities between regimes and, at worst, the objective to contribute to damaging the democratic governments of the world.

The enthusiastic official support for the Catalan referendum is not supported because of the connotations that this will have for the lives of millions of people, but by the blow that it means for the Spanish State. The Cuban Government is more concerned that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party suffer a defeat in their own home than it is in the fate of the independentistas.

In addition to visits by senior officials and the anticipated visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI to the island early next year, Raul Castro’s government does not condone the Moncloa Palace’s criticism of human rights violations in Cuba. In addition, Spain belongs to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and strongly criticizes Nicolas Maduro, two of many profound differences.

The press controlled by Cuba’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR) also needs the Catalan conflict to show that democratic countries are shaken by instability, a way of emphasizing that only with the Revolution will the unity of the Cuban nation be maintained and that only socialism will prevent the dismemberment of the national territory.

However, in the case of the Kurdish plebiscite, Havana does not hide its suspicions of the process, which has origins more in political opportunism than in realpolitik.

When the High Electoral Commission of Iraqi Kurdistan announced on Wednesday that more than 92% of voters said ‘yes’ to independence, there were not many smiles on the island’s newscasts. The reason is not only that Iraq is opposed to the victory of the secessionists. So, also, are Iran, Syria and Turkey, all three of which are, to a greater or lesser extent, allies of President Raul Castro.

While the Turkish administration fears that Kurdish independence will infect Kurds living in its territory, Iran accuses Israel of supporting this week’s referendum and Syrian officials say it is the “result of US policies aimed at fragmenting the countries of the region,” despite the fact that the United States has declared itself against a plebiscite that has found international support only in Tel Aviv.

Aligned with its partners, with whom it shares positions and forms blocks in the United Nations to evade responsibilities or to avoid sanctions, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution has preferred to distance itself from the “Yes” victory among the Kurds. These separatistas are not well regarded by Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper.

It matters little to the Cuban government whether or not, in both referendums, people vote for a legitimate demand that has roots in the history of a region. What is most worrisome is deciphering who is affected by secessionism. In its symbolic and simplified way of thinking, the Plaza of the Revolution believes that independence is a prize deserved only by its comrades.