The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Fernando Ravsberg*

Aron Modig, the Swede who came to Cuba to advise and fund the opposition, during his press conference in Havana. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES — The trial of Angel Carromero will soon begin in Cuba. He is the youth leader of Spain’s conservative “Popular Party” who was driving the car that wrecked, killing the main leader of the Cuban dissidents, Osvaldo Paya, along with another opposition figure, Harold Cepero.

The tragedy occurred while they were campaigning across the country, giving advice about the creation of youth organizations and distributing funds. Apparently they intended to revive the dissident movement to promote the fight for democracy and human rights.

One might think that this was part of a global campaign, but the truth is that it only involved Cuba.

As I was told by Aron Modig (the Swedish driving partner of Carromero) they weren’t going to any other country in the world to offer such assistance.

It’s not that there’s any lack of dictatorships on the planet, only that some are their political allies and others are oil rich. Therefore, despite the fact that Saudi women are extremely oppressed, no funds or advice is provided to such people on how to organize in defense of their rights.

The choice of Cuba has a clear ideological stain, but Paya’s death highlights the debate around whether to give money and advice to dissidents to strengthen them or to let them develop on their own.

For half a century, Washington has publicly supported and financed them. No president has tried to conceal the funding of $20 million per year, but the fact is that the internal opposition remains tiny and lacking of any social influence.

This was recognized even by the former chief US diplomat in Havana, Jonathan Farrar, who in a cable to the US State Department said the Cuban people are “almost totally ignorant of the personalities of the dissident movement and their organizations.”

In that message — later revealed by Wikileaks — the US official complained that the members of the opposition “are more concerned about getting money than making their programs known to wider sectors of Cuban society.”

Farrar’s analysis was crude but it had the virtue of showing the “collateral damage” that this funding has on dissident activities: politically distracting them from their essential task of drawing in more citizens into the fight against the government.

This assistance is even more complicated since it generates a strong dependence on the exterior, which could explain why the demands of Cuban dissidents identify more closely with the demands of the US and Europe than with the aspirations of ordinary Cubans.

While the opposition raises the flags of the multiparty system, the market economy and human rights, most Cubans are concerned about food prices, the dual currency, low wages, and the lack of housing and public transportation.

According to US diplomats. om Cuba the majority of the people are unaware of the political agenda of the dissident groups in the country. Photo: Raquel Perez

US and European policy makers are so unaware of the situation on the island that they sent Alan Gross to jail for bringing in computers to connect people to the internet when tens of thousands of Cubans buy their black market accounts for $50 a month.

With just $1,000 the “buscavidas” (hustlers) on the island create clandestine cable businesses and provide entire neighborhoods with satellite television broadcasts from around the world, while Washington spends tens of millions of dollars bankrolling TV Marti, a station that nobody here can watch.

Despite all this, still some believe they have the solution to the “Cuban problem.” Anita Ardin, the Swede who accused Julian Assange, also brought money to Cuba. But in addition she was attempting to direct the dissidents, which ended up breaking relationships with her, as was explained by the leader of the “Arco Progresista” opposition party, Manuel Cuesta.

Then they sent another Swede and a resident of Madrid to teach youth groups how to organize an opposition movement. But the truth is that the realities of their countries are so different from Cuba that I doubt very much that those lessons have been of any use.

External advice doesn’t seem to pan out. The number of opponents is still minimal, as Osvaldo Paya managed to collect only 15,000 signatures to change the constitution and dissident Marta Beatriz Roque assures that the total opposition movement has only 20,000 members.

What’s more, the growth of these groups is very slow. Berta Soler, the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, told me that at the start there were 30 women, but nearly a decade later there are now just 130 nationwide. They’ve barely managed to recruit 10 “ladies” a year.

I should add, they’re not growing grow even though the revolution has lost many people due to the economic crisis. It appears that the bulk of the “disenchanted” find it more attractive to take advantage of opportunities offered by US immigration than to join opposition groups.

If the dissidents ever hope to become a political alternative, they will need to follow a more independent and autonomous path that reflects the aspirations and demands of ordinary Cubans, if they hope to become a social force with any weight.

But this path doesn’t run through Madrid or through Stockholm. No Nordic apprentice sorcerer will know more about Cuba than the Cuban people themselves. The advisors needed by the dissidents are much closer than these people think – they’re their neighbors.

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


6 thoughts on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  • It’s in your nature to think you are the greatest nation in the world ( as said by Obama the other day ) so you can interfere wherever you like and want and it’s in your nature to fuck everybody everywhere as much as you want cause it is in your nature.

  • Claiming my “cynical interpretation” of his comments “is completely misplaced”, ‘Moses’ posts a series of one-liners that actually don’t have much to do with what I wrote. Note the technique – if you have no valid point, change the subject. Still, we can have fun replying to the non-sequiturs, presumably a data dump from some kind of US propaganda database.

    ‘Moses’ writes, “American interests in the third world can also manifest itself through Peace Corps volunteers, Doctors without Borders and even Mormon missionaries.” The Peace Corps and Mormon missionaries have self-serving agendas – one to sell the US as good guys, and also to ‘keep an eye on things’, the other to sell their religion. Both are US institutions. Doctors without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, is based in Geneva.

    ‘Moses’ states I am a ” Castro sycophant”. I’ve written I have vast respect for what Fidel has accomplished but am hardly his sycophant, or “A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people” according to one common definition. I don’t know Fidel and hardly seek his favour. ‘Moses’ may not have understood what the word means.

    ‘Moses’ asks how I can write about capitalist police-state tactics in light of Cuba’s. Of course I am more concerned about iniquities taking place in my own country, something ‘Moses’ curiously chooses to ignore in his and it causes him great agitation when I point them out. But he forever goes on about Cuba. Why do you suppose that is?

    ‘Moses’ thinks I wrote the US is “taking the advantage” with China and Saudi Arabia. I wrote “both have something the US highly covets”. Advantages are in the court of suppliers, not coveters.

    ‘Moses’ invokes a bunch of statistics, trying to convince us the US has “no desire to re-colonize Cuba.” I’m reminded of Aesop’s fairy tales involving predators preying on potential victims – Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Hansel and Gretel. All of the perpetrators claimed no interest in devouring their victims. The US record and ongoing practices belie any claims of innocence in this regard.

    ‘Moses’ would have us believe it’s only because of Cuban-Americans that the US is interested in Cuba. So we can expect that interest to fade as the original ‘gisanos’ die out and the US-born generation of Cuban-Americans proliferates? I met one recently on my way to Cuba. He had a Cuban wife and has been to Cuba several times. He wished his kids would get as good an education in the US as what his wife’s relatives’ kids were getting in Cuba.

    Somehow I doubt US interest in Cuba will fade with the changing demographics. ‘Moses’ serves as a pointed example that the Americans have other interests and designs on Cuba. Be aware.

  • Lawrence, you have misinterpreted my comments. American interests in the third world can also manifest itself through Peace Corps volunteers, Doctors without Borders and even Mormon missionaries. BTW, how does a Castro syncophant such as yourself accuse anyone else of police-state tactics with a straight face? That takes huge pair of cojones! With regards to US relationships with the totalitarian regimes of Saudi Arabia and China, can you really say for sure that the imperial US is the one taking the advantage? Really? Finally, maybe as recent as 40 years ago, a relationship with Cuba was likely sought for geopolitical or commercially exploitative advantage. However, today, we don’t use or need nickel as steel production is outsourced. Brazilian sugar is 10 times cheaper than Cuban sugar. Bacardi makes better rum than Havna Club and Cuban cigars are overpriced and overrated. The Cuban consumer market represents less than .0001% of US exports (like selling to Scranton, Pennsylvania). Cuba no longer represents a strategic military threat. There is no “desire” to re-colonize Cuba. Heck, we already have Puerto Rico! The only reason America is “interested” in Cuba is because nearly 2 million Cuban-Americans in the US still have grannys, cousins, moms, dads, etc. living there and they want them to live freer and more hopeful lives. Your cynical interpretation of my comments is completely misplaced this time.

  • An excellent essay. Thank-you Fernando!

    Unsurprisingly, the two foreign commenters who relentlessly insist on offering advice to Cubans, choked on this article. ‘Moses’, however, nicely spells out the price of US largesse, stating that it “is simply not practical nor likely to happen” for the US not to have an “opinion” about what goes on in Cuba. And we have plenty of examples of what US ‘opinion’ leads to – interference in internal affairs openly and subversively, legally and extra-legally, peacefully and violently. As Americans are so fond of saying, “there are no free lunches”, at least in the capitalist world. Be aware.

    I did have a good LOL over this one: “It is in the nature of Americans, in general, and therefore US policy to be interested in the quality of life of others, especially our closest neighbors.” The weasel word here is “interested”. ‘Moses’ has unknowingly slipped into police-speak. A current trendy phrase in the world of enforcement is, “persons of interest” – suspects that are watched, monitored, hounded and otherwise subjected to surveillance and held without recourse to habeas corpus rights by a variety of state enforcement agents – all now routine in the capitalist world under so-called anti-terrorist legislation, an excuse for police state practices in capitalist countries.

    The reference to “our closest neighbors” of course refers to the notorious right of hegemony – interference and invasion – the US insists on for its ‘closest neighbors” in North, Central and South America.

    As for Americans’ natural concern for “the quality of life of others”, one has to look no further than what its insane embargo has wrought or the apocalyptic quality of life it is responsible for in Iraq to put that spurious claim in perspective.

    “Moses’ writes somewhat ominously that US “interests must take shape in one way or another” in regard to Cuba, but tries to reassure Cubans the economic relationship will be a good one by citing Saudi Arabia and China as examples. He neglects to point out both have something the US highly covets – oil from the first and cheap labour from the second. We don’t need to guess at what the US sees Cuba offering as notorious memories of the Batista era are still vivid. Americans especially love countries that prostitute themselves – in body and spirit – to the yankee empire.

    Does he really think Cubans will sell themselves for laptops and phone cards? Americans are known more for propaganda than for reality.

  • You can’t have it both ways. Are you saying that Cubans want US remittances, US tourism and US investment but they don’t want the US to have an opinion about what goes on in Cuba. That is simply not practical nor likely to happen. It is in the nature of Americans, in general, and therefore US policy to be interested in the quality of life of others, especially our closest neighbors. Americans can no more turn a blind eye to Cuba as Cubans could resist dancing to the music of Los Van Van. The key therefore is how we manifest our interests. In Saudi Arabia, we become a good customer. Our influence is felt in Saudi Arabia every day through the flow of US dollars in their economy. With China, we sell our debt. Their attentions to US desires never wander astray too far as to imperil the fortunes they have invested in the US economy. So therefore with Cuba our interests must take shape in one way or another as well. Be it through Cubacell phone cards to bloggers or laptops to Ladies in White. It is simply our nature.

  • Get your facts right, Fernando!
    As I understand it the first submission of the Varela project in 2002 had 11,200 signatures. Later in 2004 14,000 were added.
    That is a total of 25.000, not 15.000.
    This in a very difficult period in Cuba or does Mr. Ravsberg not remember the black spring” of 2003 with the heavy repression?


    El manifiesto que Oswaldo Payá no llegó a firmar
    Eduardo Labarca Viena | 05-08-2012 – 2:02 pm.

    But the growing popularity of the dissidents in Cuba is illustrated by the latest effort to get a referendum: the demand to end the dual currency system in Cuba.
    An initiative Mr. Ravsberg does not seem to know as he doesn’t even refer to it.
    They have deposited 30,000 signatures deposited and 41,000 collected.

    FLAMUR lleva demanda a la fiscalía cubana
    jueves, agosto 30, 2012, 12:53 pm

    I know reporting from Cuba imposes some restrictions, Mr. Ravsberg, but the BBC does require a bit better than this.

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