The Invisible Struggle of Cuba’s Largest Opposition Group

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Jose-Daniel-Ferrer-Garcia-1HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) is without a doubt the Cuban opposition organization with the most extensive membership and the most intense activism.

Especially strong in the Eastern tip of the country, its activities have become part of the political landscape in Santiago de Cuba and other southeastern Cuban cities. Further, they have diversified their activities, so that along with the protest marches they’ve held recreational events and activities to support vulnerable sectors of the population. They explicitly reject violence and propose a democratic transition backed by political reconciliation.

Despite this, the UNPACU has little visibility. I believe there are two reasons for this:

First, its leaders, headed by Jose Daniel Ferrer, are people with direct ideas and few affectations; they don’t indulge in speculation and they avoid mounting a show for the media. Ferrer is one of the political prisoners who in 2010 refused to leave the country under the liberation/exile agreement that the Catholic Church brokered with Raul Castro’s government. As such, he has no possibility of traveling to foreign countries, which provide an important sounding board for opposition activity. The Cuban government has decided to have the whole of Cuba be Ferrer’s jail.

Secondly, UNPACU’s activities are in the eastern part of Cuba, a historically battle-seasoned zone, but also an area where – as a friend reminds me – there are no embassies or organizations for foreign cooperation, and no international press. The presence of these entities generally obliges the government to maintain a level of reserve when repressing their opponents. In their absence, the repression is harder and more violent, and reports received from the region indicate physical and moral abuses against hundreds of activists detained in several points there. Stones have been thrown at the houses of opposition members and noxious substances smeared on them. And their activities, as occurred recently with some parties for young children, are aggressively interrupted by the police and by pro-government bands staging the infamous “repudiation meetings.

The repression against the Cuban opposition and against UNPACU in particular presents us with a moral obligation. I believe that you can’t call yourself politically or intellectually honest while maintaining a skeptical distance from this reality. This, unfortunately, is the attitude of a good part of the Cuban intellectuals, who have preferred to enjoy the government’s tolerance in exchange for a softened and specific criticism, as if Cuba’s problems were soft and specific.

This is also the attitude of a considerable segment of the Latin American leftist and progressive political universe. These groups suffer from a calamitous political short-sightedness that allows them to support in Cuba the same things that they condemn in their own countries: anti-democratic repression, social impoverishment and emigration as a last resort.

The repression against the Cuban opposition should cease. The UNPACU activists have an absolute right to demonstrate in the streets and attempt to change the government and the system. It doesn’t matter to me if this change is to the right, the left or the center: they have the right because they’re Cubans. The streets are not Fidel’s, as those in the pro-government hordes proclaim, but everyone’s. Just like the country belongs to everyone.

There are no excuses to justify the excesses of Raul Castro’s government: decency obliges us to demand an end to the repression.



23 thoughts on “The Invisible Struggle of Cuba’s Largest Opposition Group

  • No problem with that. I don’t like what Colombia or the US does it, nor do I like it when Cuba does it. Since this website us about Cuba, I’m commenting about Cuba. Care to comment?

  • The thing about human rights is that they are supposed to be universal. So if you don’t care about human rights in Colombia you don’t care about human rights.

  • No, you’re wrong Dan. This article has nothing to do with Colombia. It has to do with the violence perpetrated by the Cuban government against fellow Cubans. I’m Cuban and care about Cuba, not Colombia. Comment on that!

  • You miss the point. The facts invalidate the legitimacy of the embargo.

  • You ate wrong about Cuba.

  • Let’s not overstate the US policy. Overt US hostility would be on the order of the 3rd Marine Amphibian Battalion. Sending a middle-aged man undercover to pass out a few laptops and cellphones is a long way from a “hostile” policy. Let’s not split hairs regarding the degree that the US embargo has stalled progress towards greater democracy in Cuba. What I hope we can agree on is that the Castros themselves are the greatest barrier to democracy in Cuba.

  • Let us hope this happens. I would just point out that in the great majority of cases, historically, the transition from a more authoritarian to a less authoritarian system has come about peacefully, and depended critically on senior leaders of the system carrying out the change — sometimes this required the accession to power of a younger layer of leadership, sometimes not. There is no way to know for sure, of course, but I believe the unremitting overt American hostility, of the sort not shown to, say, Vietnam or China, has been a powerful barrier to the changes we would both like to see.

  • At this point, Doug1943, I believe that it’s a toss-up. Ending the embargo and fully unraveling it’s limitations will take just as long to do as the time remaining on the clock for the Castro regime. Once the Castros are dead or gone or both, the “younger” generation will take over. This group of leaders, now in their 50’s and 60’s have lived their entire lives with unfulfilled promises from the Castros and the rest of the “historicos”. I am betting they will move quickly to effect the necessary reforms. At that point, those who support the embargo, myself included, will have no argument for keeping it in place.

  • You really must expand your readin list John.

  • I have a better understanding of U.S. foreign policy than do 99% of the general public.
    It’s what I’ve studied for upwards of 45 years.
    That said, I will always yield to anyone with greater knowledge .
    There’s no other way to learn whether you’re right or wrong about things.
    You should try it sometime.

  • Suggested reading:
    “Killing Hope”
    The book or the website .
    The USG has been in the business of crushing every alternative to free enterprise in the world since the 1918 Soviet incursion.
    This book should provide all the evidence you need that the USG is indeed at war with Cuba’s revolution.
    It’s what they do .
    Have you been living in a cave ?

  • Jose Daniel Ferrer, was violently arrested in Santiago Cuba, according to sources in his organization.

    About 130 members of the UNPACU and the Ladies in White movement were arrested in the eastern province while trying to reach the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. Police and special forces intercepted them at various points along the busy road to the church

    http://translatingcuba.com/jose-daniel-ferrer-arrested-and-beaten-in-santiago-de-cuba-14ymedio/

  • Look at it another way. Once the Castros die and go away and their dictatorship fades, democracy in Cuba can take hold. As more real democracies take root in America Latina, more progress is possible in places like Colombia.

  • Get a clue John. The post writer, who is Cuban, lives in Cuba. You, on the other hand, have never visited Cuba and I dare say, have no direct acquaintance with any Cubans. If he doesn’t classify current US/Cuban relations as “war”, how dare you pretend to know more than he does about the impact of the embargo.

  • Not justified, just less worthy of world attention. Cuba is subject to an embargo, supposedly because of its repressive nature, yet Colombia is the recipient of billions of dollars of US aid. In Cuba you might have to spend a few hours in a police station, or get shoved a little by some Cederistas. In Colombia, if you’re lucky you go to jail for years. If you are unlucky, you end up dead. Stark difference, right ? Yet it is ignored or even, more commonly inverted to Cuba’s disadvantage, by the majority of public opinion. Cuba’s di$$idents are the most coddled in the world. I resent having to support you.

  • John, really, what war?

  • And, repression in Bogota justifies repression in Havana, do you actually think so? Why?

  • So that makes the repression in Cuba ok eh papi?

  • “….overwhelming majority of Cubans supporting the revolution? ” really? Do you know any Cubans John?

  • This argument — “we can’t have democratic freedoms because we’re under attack by a powerful neighbor” — will remain so long as the US government undertakes acts aiming at ‘regime change’ in Cuba.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s valid in the current circumstances, because it IS valid abstractly, and it’s a matter of judgement whether the current circumstances justify making that abstract truth concrete. And a lot of people in Cuba will continue to prefer to err on the side of prudence.

    So the answer is: if you want democratic freedoms in Cuba, work to end active American hostility to the current government. (Or, to be blunt, change American hostility to the Cuban government to the same sort that it displays towards the governments of powerful nations, like Russia or China, whose regimes it doesn’t like, but whose existence it accepts, knowing that active attempts to ‘destabilize’ will backfire: the usual stance of governments towards each other.)

    Thus: end the embargo, treat Cuba like any other nation, and stop shoveling millions of dollars into the outstretched hands of those who claim, against all evidence, that they can ‘destabilize’ Cuba, most of which probably goes into Swiss bank accounts anyway.

  • With the overwhelming majority of Cubans supporting their revolution in the face of ONGOING imperialist attempts to crush it , I am surprised that the public doesn’t run this very tiny minority out of their respective neighborhoods.
    Imagine what would happen to these opponents of the revolution were they living in Colombia opposing THAT government as openly as do these people
    Haraldo, there is a WAR against Cuba going on.
    You are oblivious to that fact and the fact that ANY internal opposition to a government at war especially one that espouses the institutions of the enemy usually results in justifiable charges of treason and at least imprisonment for the term of that war.
    That said, everyone should be entitled to freedom of speech and the press but there are few places in the world where this right is absolute and definitely fewer in cases of open hostility as is the case with the embargo and a massive propaganda (lies) campaign lasting over 50 years .
    Go read the introduction to “Killing Hope” ( Blum) at the eponymous website and learn something about why the US acts as it does and both “Manufacturing Consent ” Chomsky and Herman and “Necessary Illusions: Brainwashing Under Freedom Of The Press: Chomsky, both seminal works on the corporate media, to understand why the vast majority of the US public has a twisted understanding of history that is reflected in your writing.
    Stop the U.S. war against the revolution and THEN if the revolution remains totalitarian, rise up
    as necessary .
    For now and at least, stop serving the purposes of the Empire.

  • Violent repression ?! Por favor, mijo. You want violent repression for holding public marches, talk to, let’s say, unionist Hubert Ballesteros. I’ll send you his address in La Picota prison in Bogota. He can’t run to a Reuters reporter or the Czech embassy everytime he gets a bruised shin either. And he has to worry about his gfamily disappearing to boot.

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