By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Today’s national political debate is focusing on whether the Cuban government and opposition can enter a dialogue or not. It seemed very unlikely, just a few weeks ago.
We have experienced an unprecedented situation in civil resistance’s history, which began with the San Isidro Movement (MSI) in Havana, opening up a Pandora’s Box. It put the matter of whether there could be a national dialogue on the table, without them even expecting this I’m sure.
On November 27th (the day of the protest outside of the Ministry of Culture), there was a sign of dialogue between the Communist Party government – represented by a vice-minister and other officials – and a mixed group of dissidents. These included artists, independent journalists and others, or people standing in solidarity with these dissidents.
There were 32 representatives out of the 300 that crowded together in front of the Ministry of Culture, in response to MSI’s demands. The Movement’s base had been attacked the night before to bring an end to some of its representatives’ hunger strike. The hunger strike had been going on for a week, to demand rapper Denis Solis’ release.
Seeing Cubans gather together without an official announcement, making demands, is unthinkable for the Cuban government. It terrifies them because it threatens the ironclad social control that their power depends upon. Their government will shatter to pieces if we shake off our fear of being labeled “counter-revolutionaries” or “mercenaries.” The slurs they use to stigmatize and stop conflicting voices from being raised.
Just five or six hours later, in the morning of November 28th, it became clear that the agreement, the negotiation, had been a dupe. It was a hypocritical dialogue, on the government’s behalf, there’s no doubt about it. It was a sham even before it was agreed.
The government’s strategy was to get out of the public eye and to demobilize the crowd. People present were demanding answers for government repression, for their lack of rights and media lynching as a government weapon.
It worked, as they managed to get out of a tough spot, and then get the wheels turning on their propaganda and manipulative media apparatus. They went even further with the defamation of MSI on every media platform. They have skilled journalists to do this, who are always willing to polish “the yoke” and tarnish “the star”, in exchange for some small priviledge.
Did the dialogue fail, then? Is trying to enter a dialogue with the Cuban government a mistake?
Of course, it isn’t. It doesn’t matter that the government sat down at the negotiations table with some dissidents and independent journalists, just as part of their deceitful strategy. The fact they sat down has set a new precedent. It refutes its own theory that an opposition movement doesn’t exist in Cuba.
To whitewash this recognition they began to plant seeds to derail that dialogue and distort its true nature. They tried to present it as a matter of normal cultural affairs. As if only a small part referred to political matters or what really led to this moment: MSI’s demands.
I don’t think we can be surprised that the Cuban government turned the dialogue into a dupe. Nor can we be surprised by its mean defamation campaigns against those who were its interlocutors.
Instead, it would be delusional to think they would respect the agreement made in exchange for demobilizing the protest. There’s no way we can bend the almighty PCC’s will, so they cooperate to set Cuba on the path to democracy. It won’t be because 300 Cubans stand outside a Ministry.
We need a lot more, a lot more attempts, more peaceful mobilizations, greater courage in more Cubans. We must shake our fear of demanding the freedom and participation that is our right. This is why I believe the strategy of not giving up on dialogue, even with such vileness on behalf of the Cuban government, is the right thing to do.
The email sent to the Ministry of Culture has been brilliant in this regard. Far from closing the door, it has opened it wider, demanding a dialogue at a higher level, with independent journalists and a trusted lawyer present.
The government is playing defense, tarnishing its image ever more as they invent things to get out of this predicament. As the world watches them. Our people are hopeful.
November 27th was just the beginning, an awakening. A pristine act of breaking the ice of social inertia and sense the strength we have as a people. We are autonomous, and we’re beginning to understand this now. Even though the PCC thinks it represents sovereignty, it is nothing more than an administrator acting like an owner. Its power lies in knowing how to manipulate and control the real owner: the Cuban people. And only the Cuban people can sort this out.
There is already a group within the opposition that is criticizing this dialogue with the government, and this is causing a lot of harm. A lack of unity and respect between different groups within the opposition is an adverse reality for Cuba. Some people can’t put pragmatism and good political behavior above sectarian ambitions. When a critical moment comes, you should stand up to the occasion or stand aside, not get in the way.
On the other hand, we know from surveys within the opposition itself that an important number of our people, the majority even, would prefer change to come from the government itself, for many reasons.
Therefore, having negotiations on the table as an option for the opposition makes sense when pressing for democratic change. It would also be a strategy with a possibility of a successful outcome. Likewise, an act of respect for what the Cuban people truly want.