Omar Lopez is the Human Rights Director at the Cuban American National Foundation and President of the Latin American Center on Nonviolent Conflict.
By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES – Covid-19 has sent a very clear message, at least to me. The human race has to rethink the way it interacts with its environment. People are talking about the danger Western democracies are facing.
Omar, do you believe this new landscape will allow for a dialogue with the government in Cuba, or will the government take advantage of this situation to rachet up its authoritarianism?
The government doesn’t dialogue, it must be taken to a situation where it has to accept the strength of its adversary, and as a result, this “dialogue” sounds like a dream. The government will only negotiate when it feels like it can’t impose itself on its adversaries.
The Castro regime doesn’t enter a dialogue, just like every other authoritarian regime. No dictatorship of any kind enters a dialogue with its adversaries. Over time, we have seen how the regime has taken financial advantage of the export of medical personnel, where the State holds onto 75% of their wage. In political terms, repression has increased, and the most common charge being applied against activists in Cuba today, is “Spreading the pandemic.”
This kind of state of siege, martial law or whatever you want to call it, which has come in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is being used by regimes to attack their political opposition in many parts of the world. Especially attacking the independent press.
Our reality in Cuba today is most similar to a post-war scenario. In Colombia, for example, there is a reparations program for victims of the armed conflict. Do you believe this experience could be applicable in our context?
Of course, we have a post-war landscape in Cuba. The concept of the Revolution is just the justification for this permanent state of war. Let’s remember that the French Revolution brought along with it a reign of terror, the guillotine, the elimination of every liberty and institutionalism, subjugating them to the concept of Revolution. This abstract entity is placed above the fundamental values of any democratic society.
I completely agree with you, this situation does exist. I wouldn’t say it’s a post-war scenario because the war isn’t over yet, but the experience can be applied to our country. In fact, I have attended conferences on situations a lot more complex than Colombia’s own.
There is the famous Post-Conflict Research Center, led by Velma Saric in Bosnia, where the most atrocious crimes in the history of post-Communist Europe were committed, and it’s a center that works to help the victims of this post-war situation.
I believe that it is an issue that does really need to be studied and it should be studied from a legal perspective, I believe that victims have a right to reparations because I have attended many seminars, including the ones organized by the The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation both in Chile and South Africa, and it’s a very important subject for healing wounds and minimizing the chances of future conflicts happening.
I remember listening to a Chilean lawyer who was a member of both commissions and said something that is key for me: “There can’t be reconciliation without truth and justice.”
It’s important for me to find different strokes within the opposition. I feel like it helps that we aren’t taking blind swipes at each other, and especially to know what we want to change and the way to do that. What do you think about this diversity?
Opposition movements aren’t a unified front like many people think, but are instead like a rainbow of colors, but this rainbow has to radiate white light. There has to be a deliberate convergence in strategy-making and tactics that are solely based upon efficiency and it’s good that you’ve mentioned strategies.
I’d like to note that we Cubans are very reluctant to take on and learn from success stories in other places. I would say that Latin Americans are too, but this is emphasized a great deal in the Cuban people, when we speak about these issues in general.
We are talking about a nonviolent conflict against a dictatorship. There are a series of common rules that don’t guarantee success, but you can’t win without them. The holy trinity of nonviolent struggle is unity, planning and nonviolent discipline. If you don’t have these three elements, you can’t win.
Speaking about strategies, having one doesn’t mean you will win, but it will get you a lot closer. There is an excellent book by Dr. Maria Stephan and Dr. Erika Chenoweth which is called “Why Civil Resistance Works”, which analyzes every conflict in the world over the past century up until part of the current one. The figures are surprising.
Nonviolent movements have a much higher success rate than violent movements. They have a higher rate of leading to longlasting democracies, with all of the problems that having a longlasting democracy implies, than violent movements which mostly end up with another dictatorship.
In Latin America, only two revolutions have taken power in the past 61 years: the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, twenty years later. What have the results of these two revolutions been? They are very similar, a personal, family dictatorship in Cuba with two brothers governing the country for over 60 years. In Nicaragua, there were also two brothers, Daniel Ortega and Humberto Ortega. Then, it was just Daniel Ortega and his wife leading the country. Thousands of Nicaraguans in exile. Right now, there are over 60,000 Nicaraguan emigres in Costa Rica. Hundreds of political prisoners.
We know that violent revolutions have these results. What I mean to say is, what are the means? Strategic, nonviolent struggle. It has its foundations, rules, but variety within the movement is the guarantee for a democracy in the future, provided that you can reach a consensus among these different groups to carry out campaigns within this movement. This exercise of reaching a consensus is a way of preparing for change. It’s the seed of democracy. Pablo Reyes Martinez, the founder of
independent journalism in Cuba, who passed away in the US said: “The opposition is a school of democracy.”
I am aware of how the Cuban government has used the excuse of the US embargo to mask the fact that in 61 years it has been unable to produce a sweet potato a day for every Cuban. But I would like to know, what do you think about this new political landscape in which current US president Donald Trump has turned the heat up on sanctions?
The Cuban people’s problems won’t be solved based on diplomatic relations between the US and Cuban governments. These problems need to be resolved between the Cuban government and people. Strangely enough, almost all of the world agrees that the problem in Cuba is that there is a dictatorship which denies its citizens their basic rights.
As a result, this relationship is the heart of the problem. When the Cuban people change their obedient behavior for disobedience, and articulate campaigns with specific objectives, like what has happened in other places with conflicts of a similar nature, the Cuban problem will be solved.
So, the new landscape won’t essentially change this. They haven’t been as radical as some extremists would like them to be. Being radical means getting to the root and I want to take a moment to look at this word, because it has been mythicized, and is used to label a person as if they were an extremist. We have to recognize that the main source of extremism – not only in Cuba, but the entire region of Latin America – is the Castro led regime. So, it makes perfect sense that there are reactions that might be classified as extremist against the regime, but the reality is that the dictatorship hasn’t given up an inch of power over the past six decades.
What is the economic model you would like for the Cuba of our dreams?
A system where the State’s intervention is reduced to the bare minimum. People often think that it is the State that is controlling everything in countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway; but no, in reality they are market economies. The State acts as an intermediary and collects taxes and wealth to provide social security for its citizens. However, what shouldn’t happen is when politics and the State get mixed up in how the economy works, because it means that power becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer people’s hands. In Cuba, there was a tradition before 1959 of social and economic benefits under a free market economy.