Although the Cuban political stage may have partially changed after the death of Fidel Castro, the political scenario remains intact.
The opposition groups on the island, which have been struggling to restore democracy taken away from the Cuban people by the so-called “revolutionaries”, are soon going to face enormous challenges. In this article, we are bringing you opinions gathered from various leaders fighting on diverse independent fronts (politicians, trade unionists, journalists, librarians and community project directors), from workers of different age groups and work areas, as well as from students of various specializations. Crucial importance has been placed on the diversity of opinions.
One of the influential voices of the current political opposition is the political scientist Manuel Cuesta Morúa, promoter of multiple projects recently awarded by the Wilson Centre policy forum. Cuesta Morúa warns against the return of the rhetoric of the Cold War and points out that the majority of Cubans and Americans are in favour of a permanent dialogue on human rights and political freedoms between the civil society and the United States without actually realizing the true meaning of such reconciliation efforts.
“The Cuban government doesn’t show any consideration for the State, only for the power,” reasons Cuesta. Cuban diplomacy is very good at breaking agreements, selling the product of the Revolution and speaking ill of its enemies; yet, it is not as good at building strategic scenarios and enacting them.
Another iconic figure of the opposition movement in Cuba is Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, leader of the United Antitotalitarian Front. Although he was allowed by the Communist Party to pursue a military career and earn a degree in psychology, he later turned against the government and was sentenced to several years in prison. He went on several hunger strikes, some of which even attracted international attention. In his book entitled Radiography of the Fears in Cuba (published in the United States in 2010), Fariñas comes up with a classification of the fears preventing the Cubans from rebelling against the existing regime. In the book’s prologue, Fariñas gives a convincing description of the terror imposed by the totalitarian government and explains who keeps it in power.
“The culture of fear in Cuba is associated with apathy, indifference, conformity, submissiveness, passivity, obedience, resignation and promotion of personal interests.”
Fariñas disapproves of the “defeatist” attitude assumed by the Obama administration and strongly disagrees with the concessions granted to Cuba by the U.S. ex-president without taking into account the human rights demands of the people. He insists that “the enforcement of the Constitution is the first and most important challenge faced by the opposition movement.”
Julio Antonio Aleaga Peasant, promoter of the Candidates for Change project, is committed to restoration of democracy on the constitutional basis of the current electoral law. He believes that Fidel Castro’s demise in November of the last year might pave the way toward the formation of a new political landscape.
“Two currents have recently emerged in the Communist government, dividing it into two wings, the conservative and the reformist one. The conservatives have lost their respectability in the dictatorship after causing visible imbalance by increasing repressions. In 2017, the internal opposition will be facing a major challenge of consolidating itself and presenting suitable and attractive representatives in the election process. In this context, we should bear in mind that the internal democratic opposition in Cuba is currently also divided into two groups: the traditional one, which disapproves of the system and the government, and that which is trying to change the rules of the game and gain ground by employing the existing constitutional and electoral mechanisms. The biggest challenge will be to win over the citizens – yet, not by pompous speeches full of promises, but by pointing out the importance of honesty, correctness and enforceability. It must be remembered that it’s not easy to come out from a trench to a new space, to enter a dialogue, which won’t be held with the government this time, but with the society.”
Aleaga Peasant believes that it’s useful to put Cuba in the global context, while taking into account the fact that it is currently going through a period of historical importance, showing obvious mutations and facing strong social and political crises.
“On the international scene, there are currently two highly important variables: on one hand there’s the schism occurring in Latin America characterized by the Left-wing populism; on the other hand, various parts of the world have seen a rise to power of politicians trying to reorganize the political system by using aggressive and divisive speeches.”
Ricardo Guzmán is a young student of the Polytechnic School of Industrial Chemistry. We may think of him as a representative of the new generation. He told us that “students get no information whatsoever about the opposition groups and the human rights in Cuba. At school, students are subjected to full-time indoctrination, which is in line with what they read, hear and see in the media, whose entire content promotes and supports the project of the Revolution. Despite that, the young people know that many things are wrong; however, they wouldn’t realize that without their own reasoning, without making their own conclusions, without the information they are getting from foreign visitors and the experience their parents have shared with them. Official information is devoid of critical thinking, which is harmful for many reasons.” Guzmán says that he has “no idea what is going to happen in future, but it’s terrible that all those who feel the necessity for a change find no other solution than to emigrate to the United States.”
In the last presidential elections in the United States, Yunia Figueredo, coordinator of the Juan Francisco Manzano Community Library in Jaimanitas, was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s victory took her by surprise, as it probably did many others in Cuba and around the world. Figueredo claims that the support for dissidents on the island has considerably decreased since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.
“Community libraries in Cuba have almost disappeared. The opposition movement is facing an enormous challenge of rescuing them, as reading represents the wealth of human wisdom, it encompasses the history of the peoples and the diverse forms of their struggle. It’s not a chance that one of the projects subjected to most attacks by the Political Police was the movement of independent librarians. The Police have been fairly successful in achieving their goal of thwarting our efforts to a large degree,” said Figueredo.
Rafael Fortuna, a retired former member of the Bar Association, is not involved in the opposition movement. He believes that Cuba has economic problems rather than political.
“If there is no production, there can be no consumer goods. Workers stealing products from the State cause immense bleeding to the economy that does not stop for a single minute. As if it wasn’t enough, the self-employed have now taken advantage of the situation and started to compete with the State in production and services. Applying the logic of supply and demand and taking into account the general shortage of almost anything on the island, the self-employed have excessively elevated the prices, which have significantly increased the cost of living. That’s the Cuba we have built. There is no longer any volunteer work, there is no genuine solidarity within the community. There’s no socialism in Cuba, and there never has been.”
We have also had the privilege of talking to the poet and independent journalist Tania Díaz Castro, one of the founders of the Cuban Human Rights Movement, which emerged thanks to Ricardo Bofill on January 28, 1976, when the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (CCPDH) was founded. Díaz Castro told us: “Thanks to the establishment of the Committee, a new stage of the fight against the Castro regime was entered: one that consisted in a peaceful struggle. Before that, the regime had repressed the all internal ‘subversive’ efforts, but the open support for the Human Rights shown by the civil society lead to the opening of the curtain of silence and anonymity in which the opposition had been plunged after the victory of the Revolution. The Castro government was suddenly forced to face something entirely unprecedented: both the type of discourse and actions taken by the opposition differed from those that the regime had been struggling with until then. Yet, the issue of human rights doesn’t have to be complex if it is seen as the full exercise of fundamental freedoms. Why has the regime never wanted to enter into polite relations with its peaceful opponents? Why doesn’t it respect and acknowledge our differences? For me, the struggle started by Ricardo Bofill forty years ago, is a battle won – a battle that had come to stay and to succeed with its reasoning. Without Fidel Castro and with Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party, there will be a higher chance that Raúl Castro would listen (perhaps for the first time in more than half a century) to the opposition which has thousands of members across the island.”
Vladimiro Roca, one of the most prominent leaders, who founded the Cuban Social Democratic Party in 1996 and was one of the authors of the document La Patria es Todos (The Homeland Belongs to All, 1997), spent five years behind bars as a political prisoner. He currently works as an advisor to the Independent Federation of the Self-Employed. He believes and insists that peaceful opposition is currently not on the right track and explains why.
“First of all, it’s necessary to go out into the streets, as people in many Latin American countries are currently doing. However, it cannot be done unless there’s a force mobilizing the people. Without that, nothing will happen. In my opinion, the opposition abroad is more active than in Cuba; we shouldn’t continue like that, I don’t think it’s helping us in any way. I think that the biggest challenge we are facing is to mobilize the masses. After all, the majority of people in Cuba rejects communism and Raúl Castro is aware of this. Cuba has twelve million inhabitants, of which about three million possibly still support the dictatorship – we call them ‘the thankful’ ones. Thus, there are about nine million people wishing for a change who have no idea how it could be made.”