Cuba’s “Loyal Opposition”

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Photo: Julie Webb-Pullman

HAVANA TIMES — One can get a sense of the direction that things are moving in Cuba by looking at how a number of intellectuals on the island have begun to flirt with the idea of a “loyal opposition.”

This notion has been voiced, with some insistence, by no few critical “pro-system” intellectuals, that is to say, by those intellectuals who assume critical stances before a number of important aspects of the system but who believe that the changes they feel are necessary to build a better society can be achieved only within the system and by its current political leadership.

They are the supporters of an “organized transition”, a well-intentioned but erroneous formula that, on occasion, invokes such a degree of organization that the proposed transition seems like an argument aimed at naïve gringos.

I believe that the first text expounding on the benefits of a “loyal opposition” in Cuba that I read (in this point in history, at least) was published by Espacio Laical, the contemporary publication which, within the system, has advanced proposals for political change the furthest.

The article had been authored by Lenier Gonzalez, a refined analyst who believes that the creation of a two-party system with a loyal opposition would constitute a first step towards the establishment of a multi-party State – an opportunity which has already been lost, according to the author.

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo
Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo

Following the publication of this article, the concept of the “loyal opposition” continued to appear, more timidly, in the pieces of less enlightened analysts, until the editor of Cuba’s Temas journal, Rafael Hernandez, a loquacious and respected public figure, again unsheathed it, during an ill-fated interview where we find the following statement:

 “Ultimately, 80% of the problems that the anti-socialist dissidents refer to are analyzed and debated publicly in Cuba by majorities – and minorities – who do not agree with the solutions and do not share the political style of the former, people who, in many cases, assume the role of a loyal opposition within the ranks of the revolution, in spaces that we must continue to democratize together, as part of the country’s new socialist model.”

The quotation is rather vague. In the end, Hernandez does not mention what 80% of Cuba’s problems are debated by everyone and what 20% is addressed only by the opposition, or whether that 20% is or is not relevant. We are also left in the dark about the political style of the opposition which these hypothetical “majorities and minorities” do not share, for the opposition encompasses many different projects and styles.

It is difficult to get a sense of the position assumed by the editor of Temas when he refers to the “ranks of the revolution” and the “new socialist model”, two rather confusing terms that have been invoked both to punish rebels and to seduce unwary sympathizers.

Photo: Gregory Israelstam
Photo: Gregory Israelstam

Finally, it isn’t clear who is included in, and who is left out, of that promising category he calls “everyone”, which Rafael Hernandez invites to democratize the island.

The paragraph, nevertheless, helps us appreciate to what extent these “pro-system critics” – unceasingly caught up in the tragic dichotomy of what is and what ought to be – can advance innovative ideas in many areas, with the possible exception of those strictly related to politics. Or, to stick to the logic of the paragraph quoted, in that 20% of areas addressed and exploited by the opposition in its precarious isolation and no few courageous assessments.

Here, we should stop to clarify a number of crucial points. Before all else, it is well worth bearing in mind that a loyal opposition does not mean a slow-witted opposition. It is an opposition that accepts the rules of power established by its contender, but, at the same time, an opposition that does not limit itself to softening the sting of the main faction’s ill-conceived policies or to embellishing its measures.

It is an opposition that aspires to take charge and, such, to displace the established government. Once in power, it can work towards implementing substantial changes to the system, provided it adheres to the norms and procedures recognized as legitimate in the country.

This, and nothing else, is what a loyal opposition is. And to believe, from this perspective, that a loyal opposition exists in Cuba is a monumental mistake. Intellectuals like Rafael Hernandez use the phrase “loyal opposition” to refer to something quite different, a kind of consultation regarding some details of government policy and the tolerance this government shows towards certain criticisms.

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo
Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo

What intellectuals like Hernandez are referring to is something more along the lines of a loyal companion, and the Cuban leadership has already assigned this role to the Catholic Church: an institution as nationalistic and conservative as they are, and one that will never challenge their claim to power. To believe that this role can be taken on by the members of Temas’ literary circle is a fantasy, at best.

I don’t believe Cuba’s political system will move towards the creation of a loyal opposition as Lenier Gonzalez conceived it any time soon.

Facing no considerable external pressures and consisting of an elite that is pretty much unified under the hegemony of a technocratic and military stratum, the system will likely move towards other forms of organization, such as a Chinese-styled authoritarian, single-party corporatism.

This system will grant the pro-system critics greater conditional freedoms just as Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party did in the post-revolutionary period.

Evidently, I am speaking here only of trends. Different factors could lead to increased friction within the elite and to intensified social dissatisfaction (if coercive mechanisms began to weaken). This could result in political cleavages that might impel a transition towards a democratic system, whose specific political sign would depend entirely on the balance of powers, the pacts, ruptures and other maneuvers that characterize politics and cannot be summarized with any concise formula, like this trivial conception of a tolerant and complaisant opposition.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s “Loyal Opposition”

  • If you take a fresh balloon and you turn it inside out and then you want to inflate it, do you exhale or inhale?

  • Haraldo is quite correct when he writes that the elite will not move Cuba towards democracy but “towards other forms of organization, such as a Chinese-styled authoritarian, single-party corporatism”. That is indeed the direction Raul’s reforms are moving Cuba, and it is the great tragedy that awaits the Cuban nation.

    An authoritarian system of single-party corporatism dominated by the army: that’s Fascism by definition.

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