HAVANA TIMES — Obama’s trip – its behind-the-scenes incidents and echoes – is hastening the birth of a new Cuba. Hours before the Boeing 747 had landed in Rancho Boyeros, two separate, well-connected and reliable sources informed me that certain magnates and Cuban-American and US lobbyists met with members of the president’s staff to try and temper the tone of Obama’s speech on the island dealing with the support for democracy and human rights.
We are talking about people with lots of money, contacts, patience and stealth, of ancient lineage and bicentennial surnames. I know two decent people among them, those who believe, in a sincere and Christian fashion, that, in the long term and through patience, the market brings us civil liberties. Others, however, are nothing other but heartless exploiters, the heirs of the American landowners and Cuban sugar barons, the same sort of people who protracted the end of slavery and gave their support to Machado and Batista. These friends of “order and good manners” stand nothing to gain from a country of empowered run-away slaves or big-mouthed carriage-drivers. They quite simply want to reign over an authoritarian form of capitalism, without combative trade unions or watchful NGOs. They need consumers and employees, not active citizens.
This group of people – and their organic intellectuals – have joined in the rhetoric of the Cuban government in one form or another, the government that seeks to uproot all demands for democratic change on the island. The discourse that sustains this condemns all concerns about the undermining of liberties in Cuba, expressed by international actors, as attempts at subverting and changing the existing regime. In view of such blatant falsehoods, it is worthwhile to clarify a number of things. A regime change is a misguided policy, often impelled by the US government through unilateral and violent methods, that brings about terrible consequences. We have the case of Bush and Kissinger, Chile and Iraq to remind us of this. We have no need of marines disembarking at Havana’s ocean drive or proconsuls at the Capitolio.
The defense of democratic values and standards, however, is another thing altogether: it is a moral imperative for governments, societies and free, decent people. Helping people live with guarantees, express opinions, become organized, exercise their rights and practice their beliefs without suffering repression, be it in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Russia, is not foreign interference. Someone should “explain” to Cuban officials – and their new friends – that they should stop saying the “Cuban people made their choice in 1959,” that they only need order, investment and – for the most privileged – consumer products.
Countries are neither homogenous entities nor talking stomachs, and no government can fully and perpetually embody the people’s will, particularly when this government hasn’t been ratified in open, free and fair elections. But, in order to prevent a leap into savage capitalism, we must build a formal framework of rights and real mechanisms to enforce these – particularly for those below.
Cuba doesn’t only need to take the step towards a 21st-century economy and the official acknowledgement of its multi-racial and transnational character. The main anomaly, at least in this hemisphere, is the persistence of a one-party system that manages this economy, controls this society and curtails all dissent, even among its more sincere followers, who seek to reform the system to address the demands of the people and increase its efficiency.
The pace of the transition seems to hasten after Raul Castro demonstrated the utter obsolescence of his leadership at the joint conference with Obama. I do not believe that the transition to democracy is something inevitable and that, at most, it will come about around 2018. The change underway in the Cuban nation and in Cuban society stems from a combination of exogenous geopolitical and cultural forces and the agency of its political actors, especially those who wield power today. We could well see a transition from a State-command, post-totalitarian system to a form of authoritarian market economy, under the auspices of the worst elements in the neighboring empire.
During the meetings with Obama, Raul Castro has been accompanied by his older son, an intelligence official of dubious background. If these images broadcast today say anything about the reality of tomorrow, a change in command will soon take place within the governing family, as when Michael Corleone replaced a sick Vito. Now, a younger and more ambitious predator seems to step onto the stage, something that is anything but good news for the other species of the island’s socio-political ecosystem.
The (one) good thing about all of this is that the fissures and alliances of the Cuba we are being sold begin to define themselves. I use the term “sell” in its two senses, as deceit and transaction. On the one hand, a military-industrial bloc begins to consolidate on the island, with the blessing of the Church and the endorsement of conservative US elites. At the other end, without much organization, money, means or lobbyists, there’s us, those who believe, from democratic-liberal to socialist stances, in a free and fair nation, with rights for everyone. It is well worthwhile, therefore, to acknowledge our disadvantage, to acknowledge each other and, without effacing our differences, do something to change the fate of the Cuba that’s coming.