Heroes or Villains?

Fernando Ravsberg

Instability. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, June 17 – I find it surprising the easiness with which one can turn from being a hero to villain among some Cubans. For this, it’s sufficient only that the person in question express an opinion that is different from ours on one of the issues we consider the most sensitive.

The last time I noted this was in the cases of former Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Vice-president Carlos Lage, who both —overnight— ceased to embody the great hope of generational change  and were converted , tras probar la miel (after tasting the honey), into the greatest hopes of the enemy.

Among the most sensitive issues in Cuban politics is the blockade/embargo by the United States, a couple elements of which a group of 74 Cuban dissidents has dared to question in a letter directed to authorities in the US.

The reaction abroad among exiles was sharp.  In Miami, Ninoska Perez described it as “crude manipulation (…) to support two measures that will benefit the regime.  It is inconceivable that they are victims asking that their violator be assisted.”

From Europe, Zoe Valdez even ended up accusing blogger Yoani Sanchez of working for the Cuban government and Guillermo Fariñas of fraud because —medically— his hunger strike could not possibly have extended more than 100 days.

In fact, those opponents didn’t even ask for an end of the blockade/embargo but for the expansion of trade and the elimination of prohibitions on from travel, which has weighed on Americans, preventing them from visiting the island for the past 45 years.

The travel issue

The dissidents affirm that to travel freely is a right; they consider that the prohibition serves as an excuse for Havana to limit trips by its own citizens and that the isolation of the Cuban people benefits the unyielding interests of the government.

However, they outlined an axiom that seems key: Rights are defended with rights.  The problem is that it doesn’t seem very serious that Washington demands of the Cubans the same right it deprives of its own citizens – their freedom to travel.

The other great sin committed by the 74 dissidents was to ask that restrictions on the sale of agricultural products to Cuba by the US be eased.  The objective of such a measure, as they explain it, would be to alleviate the population’s dire food shortage.

Evidently this is another highly sensitive issue because these shortages have been, since 1959, the basic foundation of Washington’s strategy to destroy the Cuban Revolution, according to what they themselves have stated in official US government documents.

One of these ordered the rapid use of all possible means to weaken the economic life of Cuba (…) to deprive it of money and supplies, to reduce its financial resources and real wages, to provoke hunger, desperation and the government’s overthrow.1

This policy has remained intact and even intensified with the years; first with the economic embargo, later with the Torricelli Act that strengthened it, and concluding the 20th century with the Helms-Burton Act to punish the entrepreneurs of third-party countries who invested in Cuba.

Nearly the whole world is against the embargo

It is a strategy condemned by 99 percent of humanity, opposed even by all of the European allies of the US.  It is a policy that internationally discredits those who impose it, as well as those who support it.

This is something that many dissidents in Cuba understand.  Economist and former political prisoner Oscar Espinoza recently said that the exiles would help more if they were to just shut up, as he explained that such extremism gives an image of Cubans that comes off poorly overseas.

That government opponent added, “What we want is a reconciliation process and unity, and this is key to understanding the disaccord between many of the opponents in Cuba and the anti-Castro groups in exile.”

The crux of the matter is that any calamity that causes Cuba to suffer hunger, war, shortages of medicine or insufficient financial resource rebounds in the lives of all Cubans on the island, as well as with the dissidents, with their relatives and with their friends.

For that reason, it seems logical that —without renouncing their political objectives— they seek less violent and painful roads to promote change in Cuba.  In addition, they are conscious that otherwise it will be exceedingly difficult for them to rally popular support.

The situation of the anti-Castro leaders in exile is very different; most of them have lived abroad for decades and have already taken their relatives from the island.  They are betting on confrontation and question any dialogue with the island’s government.

As the popular Cuban wisdom would say, like always, “The drunk thinks one thing and the bartender something else.”

[1] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba, United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1991, p. 885

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

4 thoughts on “Heroes or Villains?

  • Excellent and thanks for sharing.

  • Excellent article Fernando. I find it amusing that some of the signatories of the letter, such as Yoani Sanchez are accused by those outside of Cuba of being agents of the regime for requesting an end to the embargo, yet they are accused by those inside of Cuba as being agents of the U.S.

  • flor de luna is an example of how people become rigidified in their thinking. In the real world, both circumstances and people change. Although this change is sometimes opportunistic, more often it is pragmatic, otherwise how would the Revolution have survived the demise of the Socialist Camp? Cuba reinvented itself as a tourist destination, though this has the same limitations as is the case in the rest of the Caribbean, and has produced many evils, including the dual CUC/CUP economy and, until recently, tourist apparteid. As usual, Ravsberg’s analysis is spot on.

  • What is blatantly pathetic is for a former Cuban official, like Oscar Espinosa Chepe to tell exiles to shut up because their extremism gives a bad image, this coming from someone who until 1996 was working for Castro’s regime despite the many crimes committed is a joke. An economist working for the tourism and economic sector – both failed – signing a letter asking for credits from the US to solve the crisis he is partly responsible for. What constitutes a bad image is the he never raised his voice to complain that Cubans lost their sovereingty to the former Soviet Union while him and his wife enjoyed diplomatic posts in communist countries and Cuba became a soviet satellite. A bad image are the statements by him and his wife asking to give Raul Castro a chance which constitutes the only time in history that dissidents ask that that a dictator’s brother continue the repression his brother practiced for 48 years. Another drop of Cuban wisdom says: Ponte un cubo en la cabeza. Shame on you Chepe, put a bucket on your head before asking us to shut up.

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