By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – Several friends sent me the column about Cuba written by Anthony DePalma for The New York Times. It touched a thousand nerves. It’s a moving article, with realities many of us have experienced. With human drama at its very heart. It’s almost a fable, with a moral and all: poor people, let’s take politics out of their sad Fate. Let’s give them a chance to survive!
Reading it made me remember painful experiences of my own family. My adoptive father passed away after receiving late medical assistance for his kidney failure. He died a “revolutionary”, but he had been neglected and disillusioned, even though he never admitted it. I found this out from his friends. Many people share his story. There are too many Limontas in this country.
After setting the human backdrop, there are several noteworthy ideas in the article.
It isn’t true that restrictions on independent work and the budding civil society on the island – from young journalists to community groups – came in response to Trump’s hostile actions. In fact, it happened after Obama’s visit to the country. It has been well-documented.
Many of us gave the thawing process a chance, although my optimism was clipped by experience. The Cuban government put the brakes on foreign investors, private business owners and different activism initiatives. Let’s remember the raids against dissidents, during the days of Obama’s visit. The ideological bashing just about ended his speech at Havana’s Grand Theater.
On the other hand, the “I’m not a Communist, but I’m a patriot” overtone of the witness account that DePalma writes about, speaks to a great extent about that generation’s kind of “resigned self-conviction”. Our parents’.
They can’t be classified in ideological terms: they are just survivors, quite frankly. This is what you are when, after dedicating your entire life to the revolutionary “process”, you eat every day thanks to the “enemy’s dollars” – which your children send you from far away – while you hold onto a loyalty forced by the person who oppresses and governs your life with fear, disappointment, pretense or (less and less) intolerance. Thanks, Fidel!
In Cuba, there are people who insist on being subjects: there are Marxists, Liberals, Catholics, people who advocate for the community and local development, the environment, the LGBT cause and independent journalism. They are valuable and brave people. There are quite a few, but they still aren’t enough. Many of us have left; many have left us.
Meanwhile, most of the population, especially the aged population, just live and don’t exercise their citizenship. Within this group – where the freedom of political choice has been hijacked by a disciplining power – there is a disjointed and incoherent thought, in regard to everyday life.
No return to the “engagement” of the Obama era, which was formulated as a series of unilateral concessions, will work. It won’t empower anyone living on the island. Especially not the key sectors that, in spite of this crisis, continue to produce, create and show themselves: the human reserves of a rotting society, that is still alive.
Do I mean to say that Trump’s actions have worked? No, because many of them have been reactive, incomplete and conceived for the politicking show at home, in Florida and the presidential election. What the hell does Marco Rubio know about Los Pocitos? Pretty much the same as Machado Ventura.
Trump’s actions won’t have a decisive impact on the elite or will do very little, affecting an unarmed population in the process. Other measures, which are potentially more consistent because they touch the elite’s investments and resources outside the country, have been unilateral, without the support of allies.
A more creative and wide-ranging policy is needed, with support from the international community and with a focus on Cuban society. This also requires a greater commitment from Europe and Latin America: they question US policy “ad nauseum”, but not the appeasement and collusion of its countries with an anti-democratic government. The case of doctors and votes about Human Rights at the UN, is an example. So, ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump isn’t to blame – even though we would like to have another reason to loathe him.
Not even the incoherent siege by Trump’s administration, or the eventual Biden-style “reload” are appropriate focuses for “Cuba”, under the current system. Actions should be focused at the immediate need to contain a regime that is persistently damaging regional democracy – with Venezuela as a tragic example of its predatory work – and it also hurts its own defenseless population, who resist, languish and get out any way they can.
An agenda that deals with humanitarian issues, with greater (and better) multilateral pressure of democratic governments – counteracting the Cuban government’s actions and its global allies such as China and Russia – and backing concrete solidarity actions with the true emerging players on the island. An agenda so that Cuba can stop being an abnormal and exotic issue, that provokes passion, silence, ignorance and different kinds of collusion, in this world under lockdown.