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.
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.