Cuba’s Leaders Are Sleeping on a Powder Keg

By Ariel Hidalgo

Danger! Havana photo by Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban political expert Armando Chaguaceda wrote an article called “Freedom is brewing in Cuba”, which was published here on HT on May 6th, in which he accurately points out the resources the Cuban government uses the most to alleviate social tensions: “Every once in a while, social pressures peak in Cuba. The Government tries to resolve this by opening up the migration valve, passing half-hearted reforms and repressing popular initiatives that emerge.”

“Well, these mitigating circumstances have gradually moved into forgotten territory, or the gears of domestic policy have gotten rusty, at least. Let’s take a look:

This leadership can no longer use the “migration valve” like it did before, because former US president Obama put an end to the “wet-foot / dry-foot” policy, just before he left the White House.

This means that it can no longer turn to mass exoduses as a resource: Camarioca 1965, Mariel 1980 and Guantanamo 1994. A cycle that was being repeated every 14 or 15 years. The mass exodus that should have happened in 2008 or 2009 could have been dangerous amidst the US’ war against terrorism. With “social pressures peaking” and so great that Raul Castro himself warned on December 18, 2010, during a National Assembly session: “we’re on the edge of the precipice.”

So, the solution was to drip the exodus towards third countries, especially to Ecuador when president Correa came to power, as this was a matter of migrants only passing through with the sole objective of reaching the US border. However, immigration policies in both countries changed and there were further restrictions.

If this silent exodus met the expectations of Cuba’s leaders at the time, the next exodus should come about in 2022 or 2023, although it is clear that with the arrival of the new Special Period… sorry, “temporary situation” the “peak” has come sooner.

So, if another mass exodus can be repeated, they’d want to do it this year, but I can’t see them having the right conditions to do this.

Repressive policies is the other mitigating factor. The coercive tool they’ve used the most has always been to send mobs to attack dissidents’ homes with insults and threats, the so-called acts of repudiation, to make it seem like it was the general population who was expressing its outrage in the face of alleged “counter-revolutionary” activities.

However, it is becoming increasingly harder for the government to organize these hate rallies without them being repudiated themselves by the many people who spontaneously react to defend victims, and sometimes even stand up to public forces.

Last but not least, reforms to cool down the population’s heated spirits (like they did during the Special Period), have not been implemented, and instead completely opposite measures have been taken that have devalued the Cuban peso after the currency reform in January. Minimum wages went up, but buying power dropped even further, so it is even harder for the Cuban people to cover their most basic needs.

However, it’s not the problems that the regime has to apply these resources that’s the most important thing today, but rather the fact that the general population has it a lot easier to make their protest heard, thanks to their access to telecommunication technology.

Despite all the obstacles placed to try and stop this access, the government lost their monopoly control over information when blogs and digital newspapers appeared, as well as instant messaging.

When half of Regla, Havana took to the streets after a young man was murdered by a policeman, in 1991, many people who lived in other Havana municipalities came to find out what had happened the next day. And the vast majority still don’t know this happened, even after 30 years, because no media platform in the country gave it coverage, as they were all under the State’s control. If this were to happen today, the information would have reached the entire population in a few minutes, even with official media censoring it.

In 1996, almost every dissident group in the country, which were integrated into a common front known as the Concilio Cubano, decided to celebrate a national congress in Havana.

Communication between them was very different, as the vast majority of the population didn’t have telephones, so contact was made via the Human Rights Information Bureau (INFOBURO), which is based in Miami. Activist Tete Machado, in particular, made hundreds of phone calls morning, afternoon and evening to different municipalities, in spite of the fact that phonelines between Cuba and the US were very unstable.

The Government sabotaged every attempt the breakaway groups made to try and get a big enough venue for them to meet, and it placed lots of obstacles in the way of dissidents who were trying to travel to the capital.

Finally, over a hundred dissident leaders were arrested, in Havana. Today, they’d be able to communicate without middle people, and they wouldn’t have to travel anywhere, or have to find a venue, because they could hold the congress virtually, where police raids can’t happen, by the way.

However, this technology goes hand-in-hand with another phenomenon that we are seeing in many countries across the globe, especially in Latin America: networks, not social media per se, but what we would call popular networks.

What’s the difference? Popular networks aren’t planned. Nobody has invented them, they just emerge spontaneously with opinion trends, which are nourished by nonconformity and rejection for incompetent political institutions. They develop in the subsoil of society, not like on social media where everything is on the surface, within everyone’s sight.

Instead, popular networks begin with small groups that normally communicate via email, and depending on how social problems around them stimulate them, they grow without any leaders or boards of directors.

For example, in a dialogue between two people, the email will almost always be sent “to all”, and any other member in the network is free to chime in. A lot of the time, they reach a point where they come into contact with other similar networks and then you get larger networks.

Suddenly, one day, when an injustice or unpopular measure knocks the glass over, they all come to the surface at the same time, and this results in mass social explosions, and this is happening in countries where we wouldn’t normally think there are serious problems.

In Puerto Rico and Bolivia, this has led to a governor and president stepping down, respectively. There have been protests in Ecuador, Chile and now in Colombia.

Incidents like these surprises a lot of people, and not just any people, but especially political experts, sociologists and journalists all over the world, who wonder: “How did they all get in line with each other?” “Who is the leader?” However, the alleged “leader” doesn’t appear anywhere.

I’d be surprised if this kind of network wasn’t already brewing in Cuba. The country’s leaders seems to be asleep, but they are sleeping on top of a powder keg.

Read more from Ariel Hidalgo here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Cuba’s Leaders Are Sleeping on a Powder Keg

  • I have heard and even often believed that something like this would happen in Cuba several times in the past. And then? Nada. Each time the difference between Cubans and everyone else across Latin America is idealism. Cubans spend all day every day thinking about what they are going to eat that day. They are unable to spend even a moment being “idealistic”. In the other countries listed, a comfortable middle-class originated these public outcries. Poor folks in those countries joined in once the fuse was lit by people who weren’t worried about dinner. The Castros have insulated themselves against real protest simply by keeping people hungry.

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