In Cuba, when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul, the destiny of the island became full of questions and speculations. The new dictator, who during all of these decades has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, is considered by many to be a pragmatist that could take steps towards transformations.
Today, Cuba is a county in ruins, impoverished, with a discontented population whose ill will is quieted through the use of fear and consequences, which can vary from losing the job that gives them a small miserable salary or going to rot in prison condemned for decades for their ideas. Poverty has been a constant for all of these years – even when the Soviet Union was still giving large subsidies – the country’s inhabitants have not enjoyed true prosperity or have lived at a level just above subsistence. It is well known that a good amount of the resources that the Soviets gave to the State and Fidel Castro during those years was used to promote subversion throughout Latin America, and in military campaigns far removed from Cuba’s borders and Cubans daily interests, as was the case in the interventions in Angola, Ethiopia and other countries.
In reality, after more than two years in which Raul Castro has been in charge of things nothing substantial has changed. The called for measures taken by the newly designated government in no way signified real changes. On the contrary, it is proves how much contempt the regime has for the people and only serves to distract the anxious public’s opinion by making is seem that something is moving. Making changes like the ones that gave citizens the right to buy microwaves, cell phones, computers that cannot connect to the internet, and to stay at hotels in their own country, shows how closed off Cuban society is and how far from modern life and without rights that the citizens have been living under.
In all honesty nothing in these measures has improved the lives of the people. The oppressed majority’s purchasing power is still far too little to permit them from acquiring any of those products, when one considers that the average salary is below $25 a month. On the other hand, the so-called ‘achievements’ of the Revolution are only well designed propaganda intended to give the totalitarian state a better image. Public education in Cuba is no more than the right for young people to attend run down schools with poorly paid teachers that have little interest in their work and where the students have to perform agricultural work as part of “the educational process.”
Public health is fraudulent in the same manner. It is true that Cubans can go to see a doctor without having to pay for it, but medicines are scarce, hospitals have abysmal conditions, and for the majority of people medical specialists are less accessible due to the governmental policy of exporting doctors in exchange for economic aid, as is the case with thousands of doctors that have been sent to Venezuela.
Systematic human rights violations have been present throughout each of the last 50 years of communism. Not even the smallest democratic space exists in Cuban society, since our own constitution establishes that the Communist Party is the superior force of the society and the state. Whatever other type of political and social activism exists on the margins or opposes what the party believes is penalized. Thousands of Cubans have passed through the prisons for political reasons, thousands of others have died against the thick walls by execution, and there are still nearly 300 men and women who remain incarcerated as prisoners of conscience.
Nevertheless, in spite of the intense repression, a democratic movement still exists and it is getting stronger. Today in Cuba one can talk about the existence of Christian Democratic, Social Democratic, and Liberal political parties, as well as civic, youth and other types of organizations, like the Independent Libraries project, that challenge the repression of the Castro regime’s political police. These brave Cubans are confronted by the repression in various ways. They have to kiss goodbye their careers and workplaces, are expelled and prohibited from studying at universities, and angry mobs are sent to their homes to threaten and insult them, and with regularity, they are put in jail after cunning trials and with having received procedural guarantees.
This democratic opposition has succeeded in getting close to the population by getting around and overcoming all the limitations placed on them. Two examples are the [petition for democratic reforms] of the Varela Project with its 24,000 signatures from supporters and [FLAMUR’s] proposal “With the Same Currency” that calls for all Cubans to be paid in a currency that will allow them to meet their needs. Likewise, there are growing movements of students, intellectuals and artists.
We cannot forget the “Ladies in White,” those brave family women of Cuban political prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003, when 75 dissident and journalists were imprisoned and given long prison sentences. These Cuban women have managed to march regularly through the streets of the capital demanding the liberty of their beloved family members, which has earned them international respect and recognition and of those Cubans that know more and more about their demands and bravery.
A good amount of the sympathy that the Castro regime has had is due to the fact that it has known how to exploit the disagreement with the United States, a conflict that in reality has nothing to do with the defense of Cuba’s legitimate interests, but has been promoted to a great extent by our own dictatorship to justify its anti-democratic and repressive policies. Objectively, the main conflict that is beating down the Cubans is that they live in a communist state that systematically violates human rights and refuses to carry out the social, economic and political reforms that the country needs because it fears losing power. At the same time, the main blockade is the one that the dictatorship has imposed over its own people.
The regime’s international relations have been guided by its greater priority, which is it unlimited power that it has flaunted for almost half a century. In the wake of the repressive wave of March 2003, for example, the world reacted to a large extent in the form of criticism in response to the crackdown. The European Union imposed a series of sanctions at that time against the regime that were a means to apply political pressure so that the regime would stop practices such as these and so that the political prisoners would be freed. Prior to that, the European Union has approved its “Common Position”, which has as its goal to bring about democratic changes to the larges of the Antilles.
Nevertheless, it should be said that the common block’s policy towards the island has been plagued with ambiguities and inconsistencies, which in practice have left aside the objectives that they themselves promulgated. Today, we can see that the Spanish government’s politics have brought about a new rapprochement with the dictatorship without including anything in the way of improvement in the matter of human rights. It can be said that the majority of the democratic opposition in Cuba disagrees with the way in which the imposed 2003 measures were lifted without it producing signs of opening on the island and without the repression against the democratic forces ceasing. There exist exceptions, such as the Czech Republic and Sweden, who cited that they would take a firmer stance, but the great majority has left aside a principal to which they had earlier endorsed. The reality is very clear: the human rights situation in Cuba is worse while at the same time relations between the European Union and the dictatorship are improving with Spain taking the lead. That is the frustrating reality that the Cuban fighters for democracy are seeing with disbelief.
On the other hand, the leadership of the island is openly tightening relations with other dictatorships, like Venezuela and China, and more recently Russia – whose democratic credentials are getting more and more doubtful since it has returned anew to its imperialist pretensions from the past. In all of this already there is not, of course, elements of ideological affinity that support this closeness. All is pure self-interest. Communist China is only looking for a new place where their businessmen can invest and make money, exploiting along the same lines as they are doing with their own citizens. Russia, for their part, is looking for the possibility of having a political ally strategically located near to their rival while their former satellites become closer politically and militarily to Washington. Thus, Cuba continues to be a dictatorship that can be rented.
All the speculations about the possible changes that Fidel Castro’s separation from power could initiate have dispelled themselves. The dictatorship is not giving any indication of reforming its ways. Everything that is being done is pure demagoguery; they do not want to nor are they are willing to lose power.
Under what circumstances will it be possible to prevent the inevitable from happening? The discontent is greater each time that the democratic movement is strengthened, in spite of the repression, and the economic situation gets worse. The only possibility for improving the lives of the people is in undertaking democratic reforms in political, social and economic areas. Under the current order of things, it is only possible to hope that at some moment their will be a social uprising. The movement in favor of change inside and outside of the country are advocating for transformations that don’t involve greater suffering for the people and that follow the path of the proposals and modes of resistance of these democratic forces.
The democratic movement needs international support and solidarity that expresses itself in every possible form. With that support, the movement will be able to contribute to the changes that are getting closer, and besides these contributions, it would become more difficult for the Castro regime to repress and to ignore these men and women, who have been internationally recognized and who demands have received such widespread support. In the spirit of this solidarity, not only organizations and political parties should be involved, but also the democratic governments that really want to support the democratization of Cuba.
Such solidarity is vital. All of the men and women that are fighting for human rights should be supported, and in Cuba there are thousands of men and women that are fighting for such rights and that are persecuted for this reason. The future freedom of Cuba, requires the help of every possible organization, government, and those that feel committed to the values of liberty and freedom in the world.
Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes was one of the 75 prisoners of conscience swept up by the Castro regime in the March 2003 crackdown and had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for his activities. He was released early due to his poor state of health and allowed to go into exile. Presently he works as a member of editorial staff and political analyst in ‘Miscelaneas de Cuba’ magazine in Sweden where he has lived since 2005.