Why Isn’t the Dissident Movement Relevant to the Average Cuban

20130128-620x330My neighbors think exactly the same way as many in the opposition. They are as unhappy with the government of the Castro brothers as any dissident. Many a night I have to listen to loud complaints and criticisms leveled against the regime of General Raúl Castro.

The causes for this disgust are numerous. They vary from the cost of putting food on the table, low wages and the absurdity of having two currencies to sky-high prices for basic commodities and corruption at every level.

At least people have not taken to the street to protest as in Brazil. In Cuba the escape valve is the living room of your house, where people never tire of grumbling and bemoaning their bad luck.

When workers are asked why they do not form independent trade unions or housewives are asked why they do not bang their pots and pans in the street to complain about overpricing, they look at you as if to say, “Do you think I am stupid?” Invariably the response is almost always, “I’m not going to play the hero,” or “If others do it, I will too.”

“Why don’t you join an opposition group,” I ask. No one admits to being afraid; they prefer to say they do not want to put their families at risk. Others claim they do not trust dissidents. Or that no one from the opposition has approached them with a proposal.

This is an interesting point. It is odd that in no neighborhood of Havana — I should mention I happen to live in the capital — can anyone find a dissident, especially since most of the opposition suffers from the same shortages as the average citizen. Actually, they suffer even more if you consider they are often harassed by the special services.

In my opinion the opposition has not figured out how to take advantage of this obvious discontent to attract followers. They live in their own world — one of discussions, meetings, debates among themselves and now trips overseas. Their initiatives are unknown inside Cuba. The average Cuban is not even aware of what they do.

Meanwhile, the inefficient public transport system continues to be a popular source of discontent. People complain about the poor quality of bread. Trash cans overflow with garbage yet trucks do not come by to pick it up. And every night broken water pipes turn the city’s streets into rivers.

I do not believe that official journalists — steadfast defenders of the regime — are unaware that their neighbors are irritated by the qualitative decline in public education or by the professional incompetence of many doctors.

Eight out of ten people with whom I speak on the street do not support the Castro regime, but the opposition has not figured out a way to capitalize on this anger. It is more concerned with promoting its agenda overseas.

By harassing them, infiltrating their ranks with secret agents and sowing divisions, State Security has made dissidents’ work difficult. The official media has never given them a platform to make their viewpoints known. Nor will it. This can only be done through hard work.

The business of an opposition party is to recruit members. I believe it would not be too difficult for the opposition to find people willing to listen in parks and on the street, or while waiting in line and at bus stops. Dissidents would have to do community outreach, focusing more on the problems of a neighborhood and its residents, their natural allies.

Certainly, enlisting a skeptical people is not an easy task. Politics are not fashionable and many of those feeling outraged also view the opposition as “a band of moochers and opportunists.”

This is the message the government has been putting out for years. Undoing this image will be difficult and the behavior of certain dissidents hardly helps matters. Some join the opposition in order to gain political refugee status and move to the United States.

This vagabond dissident movement has no shortage of people who battle the regime with their ideas but remain bookish narcissists. The problem is that political initiatives have validity only if they are group endeavors, not individual ones.

Among certain dissidents there is also a disturbing tendency to believe that the initiatives of others do not count. They use the same weapons as the government; you are either with them or against them.

False accusations and condemnations are used frequently. If someone does not share another’s opinions, the first impulse is often to say that “this guy is an agent of state security” without providing any evidence.

It is the fastest way to brand an adversary but no one comes out of it looking good. When dissidents fight among themselves, only the regime benefits.

The opposition simulates a catwalk of vanities. I am sorry to say this but every time I attend an event or have a conversation with some of them, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

If up until now they have not been relevant to the average Cuban, the fault is in part theirs. The future of Cuba should take precedence over egos and garnering the spotlight. Tactics should be changed. The Creole autocracy meanwhile does its thing, mapping out its strategies and trying to colonize the opposition.

My neighbors want a change of government as well as systemic change. They have grown up in an ideological insane asylum which is not capable of providing a glass of milk for the breakfast table or producing a decent pair of shoes. They do not trust the Castro brothers.

Or the dissidents. The Cuban opposition has done very little to win them over.

Iván García

Photo: One of the many lines Cubans form every day. From the blog by Tania Quintero.

23 July 2013