By Rolf Niederstrasser*
HAVANA TIMES – Given the worst socio-political and economic crisis unfolding in Cuba in almost three decades, perennial questions are arising for the island’s political future.
Inside and abroad, influencers and local leaders are acting as agents of change. Some embraced the call for US military intervention after the July 11th protest crackdown, a few even advocate US annexation, but all demand liberty from communism.
Their work has been critical in creating a new political awakening within the population by voicing issues happening on the island with colloquial language, along with analytical, and even parodical tones. This movement also coincides with the population’s growing disinterest in the communist party’s narrative, slogans, and symbols.
Increased internet consumption, even if it’s still expensive and slow, has contributed to the ability to access information from the outside. For the first time, many see a possible future with democracy and liberty in Cuba within reach.
In the last two years, this phenomenon has been vital in fostering alternative social and political thought within the population and a belief that peaceful protest can be an agent of change. When Cubans took to the streets demanding freedom and the end of the communist system on July 11th in many major cities around the country, it was a testament for many opposition leaders.
More Stick, Less Carrot
These events have also been transformative for many Cubans, like myself, who previously supported the normalization of relations and more engagement with the government as a way to bring reforms to the island.
Before the July protests, the Cuban embargo was a crucial obstacle that needed to be tackled first so the normalization of relations could truly occur, as opposed to the scenario to pressure the Cuban government for concessions. This was rather an unlikely ordeal, because throughout the whole process, they denied making any adjustments, leaving more engaging reformers of the system in a weak position.
For me, that became clear after opposition leaders were left outside the negotiation room by the Obama administration during the Cuban Thaw. After President Trump’s retraction from the normalization process, many young Cuban-American students, myself included, saw an opportunity when Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez spoke at Howard University in 2016, saying that, “Cuba opens while the United States closes.”
In many ways, it felt like the regime was ready to engage with their exile community, especially with students about grievances and new ideas about Cuba’s future. This became personified by the proposed amended constitution two years later where the exiled community’s opinions were supposedly going to be heard.
However, in late 2018, the Cuban National Assembly approved a retrograded version of the constitution when completing the final step for a referendum that instead of reforming the system, consolidated and even tried to intertwine the communist system and the Cuban nation into one. This shattered the belief for reformers that negotiations with the regime could bring change. Now, Cubans that speak about issues and reforms are being jailed. Such repression is codified into law.
At this moment in history, Cubans have no other option than to demand a new social contract that is best suited for their present state and condition. If the Cuban government will not recognize the rights of a significant part of the citizenry by allowing peaceful protests to happen, a human right codified by the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, this contract must be rewritten.
In a Hobbesian way, the idea of government is to create it through the consent of the people and with the ultimate right to be rejected. I understand that negotiations with the Cuban government, a strategy I supported, did not work and that is why I believe that the upcoming peaceful protests of November 15th are very important and need to be supported.
*Guest writer Rolf Niederstrasser is a German-Cuban political analyst