Cuba: Petitions and Apprehensions
HAVANA TIMES — For more than a half a century, we Cubans have suffered from apprehension, as we have gone through an adverse social juncture in which our civil rights have been constantly vetoed by the government.
Beyond the prohibitions themselves, the cardinal problem lies in that most Cubans do not know (and seemingly don’t care) whether they have any legal standing. Constitutional rights (and the constitution itself in fact) are things that the masses usually don’t involve themselves.
This is because the discourse and government will are imposed. Here the government is not a body subject to the population, rather the population has been (and will continue to be, if there is no collective consciousness) subjected entirely to the government.
Over the past period, a number of citizen initiatives have been circulating online. These are letters concerning a variety of demands and specific proposals directed to the government. These made me review our history in this regard, since attempts like these have always been made on the island.
The most well-known was the “Proyecto Varela” (Varela Project), which was devised by government opponents in 1998. This was led by the late Oswaldo Paya, who named the initiative in honor of Father Felix Varela.
This movement undoubtedly achieved international impact between 2002 and 2003. It was based on Article 88 of the 1976 Cuban Constitution, which permits citizens to propose laws if at least 10,000 registered voters sign a petition in favor of a proposal.
In 2002 the National Assembly rejected the request, although the organization reported having obtained 11,200 signatures (more than the number required to be considered). In 2004, Paya personally presented 14,000 additional signatures without the demand being acted upon.
By contrast, the reaction was swift as the Cuban government responded through the Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of Popular Power in Cuba. It proposed an amendment to the Cuban Constitution to make the socialist character of Cuban state permanent.
That referendum was approved by 98.97 percent of the voters, which as everyone knows was the result of pressure applied on citizens and most people’s unfamiliarity with the real reason for the amendment.
Law No. 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba (better known as the “Gag Law”) was passed to justify a series of arrests and convictions against government critics, which occurred in April 2003 in what came to be known as the “Primavera Negra de Cuba” (Cuba’s Black Spring).
The initiative concluded that way — the perfect ending — with the government’s response to the proposed political reforms. Seventy-five prisoners of conscience were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 10 to 20 years after their having been subjected to summary trials.
The document, called the Demanda ciudadana por otra Cuba (Citizen’s Call for Another Cuba), is nothing more than another invention to promote a project for advocating political reforms on the island in favor of greater individual freedoms. They have also collected a good number of signatures.
But more recently, there appeared another manifesto called the Llamamiento urgente por una Cuba mejor y posible (Urgent Appeal for a Better and Possible Cuba) organized by Ariel Hidalgo. The letter, in my opinion, was ambitious and accurate. In it, according to colleague Armando Chaguaceda: (link…) they combined principles and urgencies, visions focused on the nation and on the people who live here, a denunciation of violence and an uncompromising defense of a future without exclusion or injustice (…)
The two latter documents have some things in common:
1 – they encouraged cyber-debate.
2 – they collected signatures from an ideologically wide range of people.
3 – they used certain terms too much (“we call for” and “we demand that the Cuban government to immediately implement…”)
4 – and the majority of signatures they collected were from Cubans in the diaspora, with very low representation by residents on the island (which was unfortunate).
I’m ready to sign any of those manifestos, or even all of them. However, and though they seem on target to me, an aura of skepticism surrounds me with respect to them.
Apprehensions and other causes
Could my skepticism come from the methods that we Cubans are using to achieve change in Cuba?
1 – In none of these efforts are there signatures of even a quarter of the Cuban population (those people both on and outside the country).
2 – The Cuban people have been programmed to only understand that any display of disaffection with the political system can lead to them being questioned, even to the point of experiencing serious problems – such as seeing themselves at any time being accused of involvement in a crime and subsequently jailed.
3 – These letters are circulated on the Internet, which is practically inaccessible here in the country.
4 – Although a radical change is imminent in the country’s politics, people limit themselves to comments on corners and in hallways, but no consciousness is being created about how they need to be advancing real transformations in all spheres of the nation.
5 – The Machiavellian strategy of divide and conquer, implemented by the government and its security agencies, has proven itself effective and continues to sow paranoia and betrayal among the citizenry.
6 – While each and every one of these initiatives have been designed to demand reforms and alternatives peacefully, calling for dialogue and understanding with the country’s leadership, it’s clear that the other side does not accept such dialogue. Their responses will be placid (this is evidenced by the wave of repression unleashed on the island with all opposition groups and the so-called cyber dissident movement).
What are we to do?
I don’t know. I confess, right now I don’t have the answer, not even a proposal. I join with all efforts that are proposing change. I am (and I want to make this clear) not calling for the use of violent methods.
But I remember my history classes, when studying the causes of the outbreak of the War of Independence and the reasons given by Fidel himself for starting the revolution. In both cases there was an impossibility of dialogue and understanding with the ruling classes.
And I repeat, I am not calling for the use of force, but time will have the last word – assuming this article doesn’t cost me an accident with some tree in my path.
4 thoughts on “Cuba: Petitions and Apprehensions”
Amazing how uncannily similar the frustration expressed in this essay reflects the unrest I see here from Occupy Movement activists -representatives of the 99%. There is a direct correlation with the six points of impotence in the essay:
1 – “In none of these efforts [petitions, cyber debate) are there signatures of even a quarter of the Cuban population” [single digit percentages here at most].
2 – “The Cuban people have been programmed to only understand that any display of disaffection with the political system can lead to them being questioned, even to the point of experiencing serious problems…”. [not a problem here as long as you don’t cross the government’s agendas, in which case you can be denied entry to the country (George Galloway), hounded at border crossings (Amy Goodman), placed on no-fly lists, racially profiled, denied government support as a Canadian citizen (Omar Khadar), have your civil liberties abrogated under anti-terrorist legislation, be barred from sending charitable donations to Palestinians. The list for the US is even worse, including hounding journalists like Julian Assange.
3 – “These letters are circulated on the Internet, which is practically inaccessible here in the country”.” Despite the Internet being widely available here, the vast number of people are distracted by sensationism – “viral” videos, porn, movie star and pop singer gossip, junk news, advertising. Letters and petitions are incapable of pushing through all of the ‘noise’. And since they tend to be overwhelmingly ignored, it doesn’t encourage support.
4 – “Although a radical change is imminent in the country’s politics, people limit themselves to comments on corners and in hallways, but no consciousness is being created about how they need to be advancing real transformations in all spheres of the nation.” Raise a political issue in discussion here, even with friends, it is likely to be greeted with silence and a look that makes you feel like a subversive. Political discourse is viewed as divisive and sectarian. On the rare occasions it occurs, you are likely to only hear what is in recent corporate-run mass media newspaper stories. So much for the possibility of having an intelligent discussion.
5 – “The Machiavellian strategy of divide and conquer, implemented by the government and its security agencies, has proven itself effective and continues to sow paranoia and betrayal among the citizenry”. Divide and conquer has been the strategy here from the beginning of time. The current resurgence of efforts to kill off unions is a pointed example. Technology eliminates the need for people to ever come together, even for entertainment purposes, to see a movie.
6 – “While each and every one of these initiatives have been designed to demand reforms and alternatives peacefully, calling for dialogue and understanding with the country’s leadership, it’s clear that the other side does not accept such dialogue”. No one has ever been charged for the banking fiasco here. On the contrary they were bailed out and their executives rewarded with higher salaries and continued bonuses. In the meantime, privatisation, real estate speculation that makes housing unaffordable and the ever-widening income gap continues unabated.
So activists in both Cuba and Canada-US (unfortunately becoming more like Tweedleum-Tweedledee every day) have similar difficulties trying to find peaceful ways to bring about change. The propaganda is overwhelming here to discourage change, obviously more effective than in Cuba which is constrained by money and restricted to not telling outright lies to its citizens and the world. Any speech by Obama will indicate the US has no such limits. Read any comment by ‘Moses’ as another example of the relentless propaganda that flows out of the US. After many years of having to deal with it, it’s obvious, especially in such unskilful hands, and a slam dunk to counter it.
Jerzy, the only “wolves at at the gate” are fellow Cubans who have waited 53 years for free and open democratic elections. These are Cubans who seek the basic human rights of unrestricted travel and economic self-determination. Most Americans could not care less about Cuba. The less than 1% of us who do care look forward to a future for Cuba that is decided by all Cubans, both inside and outside of the island. The invading forces you constantly seem to fear, at worst these days, are an army of McDonald’s Starbuck’s, and WalMart executives. There are too many Cubans living in Miami with grandmothers living in Cuba to justify your fears. Unless of course, if your last name is Castro, then all bets are off.
Another words (putting in simple to understand language) you call for some reforms that would change Cuba toward more open and democratic entity. See.. embargo is a custom design trap where any move you make will get you closer to become a pray. There’s a thousands of political and military instruments that are idling in readiness to be deployed in response to any movement to change anything within the country. Boiling this down – cubans supposed to be starved to submission. And it works. It brakes the will of the very people who fought the agressor back. Give it long enough time and new generation won’t even care what was the struggle all about. The glitter on the other side in combination with imposed hardship for many becomes too much and that’s when you become vulnerable. I understand you call for internet freedom and such… Surely you know it’s number 1 weapon in modern warfare. All of those similar winnings of yours are obvious cries of disstress but be ware – wolves are at the gate. You really need to be certain that leaving independence in disstress for fulsome freedom is giving your country away and it’s OK with you. On the other hand in some perspective you might be able to live thru this.. things are leaning the right direction, it’s a sign that your sacrifice might eventually prevail. I understand that in your eyes it might be a gamble but so is fight for survival and like in any warfare you are against tough choices. Good luck choosing sides!
What made the Varela project ruin was James Cason from the USINT. Call them for support and you’re looking for serious trouble. If it wasn’t for this, the National Assembly could just take in the proposal of law and reject it.
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