By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Havana recently hosted the 7th Summit of the ACS (Association of Caribbean States). The most important issues of regional interest relating to tourism, the environment and how to deal with natural disasters were overshadowed by two significant resolutions made by the conclave: the first, to support a dialogue process in Venezuela as compensation for an “over-active” attitude adopted by international bodies which could be interpreted as “interfering”; and secondly, Raul Castro explaining that “Cuba will never return to the OAS.”
There is no doubt then that the Cuban government exercises great influence in global politics, for many reasons. It doesn’t matter that most everybody thinks that we have serious problems with respecting our most basic and fundamental human rights; it doesn’t matter that they don’t agree with our one-party, state-led and anti-democratic political system; it doesn’t matter that they watch Cubans emigrating in bulk crossing forests, oceans and polar caps.
What matters are their interests. Some by taking advantage of the skilled workforce the Revolution has educated and which is underexploited in Cuba; and others for safekeeping the opportunity to make big bucks when the country finally opens up economically to the international market, which is now fuelled by the hope that the trade embargo will soon finally end.
Cuban foreign policy is very skillful and effective. This is thanks to the well-trained officials who employ a linear discourse and always remain firm in their position; focusing on sensitive issues and showing solidarity for the most noblest of causes; always standing by the weakest. It’s as if we were a miniature Robin Hood here in this Caribbean which has long been the stage battlefield between the world’s greatest powers. Of course, adopting such a strategy has its advantages.
It’s really wonderful to see the different countries that make up Our America come together at these forums which announce more concrete ties between them in the future. It’s a great dream and a great necessity. It makes us happy to see our country play an important role at these meetings, just like when Sotomayor jumped his still unbeatable world record. But we have to ask ourselves if it’s right that, as the years pass by and these meetings are held, we see new faces and new leaders representing other countries which attend and Cuba still only presents the same ones, just a little bit older.
The Cuban government remains in power more because of the international support it receives thanks to its effective foreign policy, than from the real support it receives from its people, massacred by its unstable domestic policy. If Raul were to undergo elections today, he’d lose by a wide margin, whoever his opponent would be. The comedian Panfilo could win if he promised better bread and reducing the price of sugar to 4 pesos. The Cubans’ struggle to survive is so great that we aren’t even capable of thinking about our political rights or democracy. It’s only when we’ve had enough of what the system makes us suffer that we react somehow.
But where the regime’s strength lies also rests its vulnerability. Whoever decimates this hypocritical international support they enjoy; whoever leaves them without a discourse; whoever finally reveals that they have no concrete grounds to rule: will disarm them. It’s pure fantasy to think that we Cubans can overthrow them with such control over society, with such a large army and the Ministry of Interior under their control, and without the need to be directly elected. They need the people just as much as they need Parliament: as an audience. Their strength and legitimacy lies within their foreign policy and the international recognition they receive. It doesn’t matter if it’s said between clenched teeth, it doesn’t matter if they chew it and don’t swallow it. It works and it keeps them in power.
The Revolution’s strength is no longer its people. That line of thought belongs to a Utopian past, full of hope, when we thought we were building a better future. People didn’t tire of working voluntarily during the sugar harvest and digging trenches. Today, you can’t get anyone to lift a finger without promising them some kind of economic benefit. “Voluntary work” died a long time ago. Nobody believes in promises anymore, nor accepts imitation diplomas. Since they’ve built shopping centers and the price of sugar went up to 8 pesos, their true colors have been revealed.
The revolution “has evolved” onto a supranational level. In today’s globalized world, you can’t survive without connections, without support and without international recognition. North Korea isn’t even the exception to the rule because Russia and China make up half the world and without their support, this perverted country with its “divinely inherited” communist fiefdom would no longer exist. But the Cuban Revolution is something else altogether: it interwove its strengths (human capital + social control) with the needs of the third world, making it not only a prosperous industry, but also a way of winning over important friends. Cuba’s contribution to the fight against ebola was the climax in this strategy and it brought in a lot of dough. I’m certain it had some weight in Obama’s decision to change course with Havana and in the Vatican’s mediation.
There should be no doubt, Cuba stands firmly in the political arena and the government is internationally renowned and recognized. But, can you be fair on the international playing field and be unfair in your domestic affairs with your own people? Is this leadership role really legitimate if it doesn’t come from the political backing from elections via a direct vote between opposing parties? Of course it isn’t.
But that’s the way the world works and politics always run rife with hypocrisy. Cubans who want a better Cuba, a fairer and more democratic Cuba, do not disagree with the country playing an active role in international politics in favor of truly just causes. We do not disagree with uniting with our brothers and sisters across the Caribbean and all of Latin America. We are not against humanitarian aid or providing specialized services at a lower price for those countries who need it the most. Our fight would be illegitimate if it didn’t include these political aspects. We only disagree with the fact that we are unable to choose, that we’re not taken into account, that we’re treated like “infants”, whose adoptive parents, with old and fake documents, make all the decisions for us and in our name.
That’s why, whilst on the one hand we feel patriotic pride seeing our country at the forefront of the international stage, the other part of us suffers because that same success aggravates our own pain and prevents us from building a better Cuba.