Analysis by Dalia Acosta
HAVANA TIMES, March 19 (IPS) — Cuba shouldn’t have let dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo die. Nor should it have gone to the extreme of shooting the three hijackers of a passenger boat in 2003; and seven years before that, it also shouldn’t have allowed itself to be provoked to the point of shooting down two small planes that had violated its airspace during a spate of similar incidents.
All of this may be true. Notwithstanding, the evidence that everything possible was done to save the life of the prisoner who had been on a hunger strike for 85 days, all defensive arguments become contradictory when speaking of a person’s death, no matter what their political affiliation might be or whether they were a common prisoner, a political prisoner or a prisoner of conscience.
For a country like Cuba that has lived under siege for decades and has been the victim of more than a few terrorist attacks, nothing should justify the use of force, much less the application of the death penalty as a punishment to set an example, despite the fact that this practice is employed quite extensively in other countries.
But beyond the facts, those who are accustomed to following the course of events from within begin to sense the presence of a pattern that has been repeated over and over during the history of Cuba in the last decades: the vicious and seemingly inevitable circle of relaxing – tightening and/or crisis – hardening.
The protagonists? The governments of Cuba, the United States, the European Union, and – Why not? – the media. The victims? As almost always, the real victim will be the Cuban people, battered by an economic crisis that has already stretched for almost two decades, and those families whose lives are split between the Caribbean island and Miami.
On the one side they’ll talk about the Cuban tendency to generate an incident each time that the waters begin to flow in favor of a break in the old conflict with the United States. This recurrent tendency supports the theory that Havana needs the blockade to strengthen its position as a place under siege and to maintain certain policies.
On the other, they will speak of the opportunism of a political opposition that has substituted external legitimacy — from governments as well as from civil groups or associations — for the need of building a grass roots base on the island, and that lives, in every sense of the word, by the existence of such tensions. The sharper they become, the better.
If the vicious circle repeats itself and the involved parties cede to the temptation of falling into it, one logical consequence will be a backlash on the part of the US government of Barack Obama. With luck, they’ll have the justification they need to stop advancing towards a relaxation of the ever more obsolete blockade on Cuba, much less on lifting it.
The European Union will continue firmly in its “common position,” assumed in the wake of the small plane crisis of 1996. A position that only serves to impede greater cooperation with individual countries who belong to the European bloc, relations that could better everyday life on the island and bring about more interchange.
What will happen with the neighboring countries of Latin America and the Caribbean? Save for a few possible exceptions and perhaps certain political condemnations, the current balance is quite likely inclined against isolation and in favor of maintaining the active presence of Cuba in projects of integration underway in the region.
On their part, the government of Raul Castro will dig in and repeat its position of never ceding to external pressures; they will invite their accusers to look at themselves in the mirror, and will respond with an echo of the declarations of support from different organizations that, however they may be seen from the outside, are as much civil society as the opposition groups.
That echo has already begun: “It’s essential to detain this new aggression against a country that has been blockaded and harassed mercilessly,” assured a March 16 declaration of the secretariat of the National Union of Writers and Artists, and the national direction of the Saiz Brothers’ Association, a grouping of young creative artists.
Meanwhile, the Network for the Defense of Humanity “deeply” lamented the death of Zapata, but opposed having “his death, the first ‘in almost forty years’ according to the European Parliament itself, be misrepresented for political ends, very distinct from and contrary to those of human rights defense.”
“We declare ourselves in favor of the immediate and unconditional liberation of all political prisoners in all countries of the world, including those of the European Union,” the text counter-attacked. It then demanded an end to the United States interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, the closing of the prison on the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, and the return of the Falkland Islands to Argentina on the part of Great Britain.
Meanwhile, Havana’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center that “deplores the death of any human being” assured that, “once again the hegemonic centers of power have employed their resources and efforts in concert with the aim of imposing on the Cuban people a model that responds to their own interests rather than those of our nation.”
In its defense, Cuba already wields the argument of “the media war,” placing responsibility on the mass means of communication for “constructing characters”, legitimizing “mercenary movements” and generating the condemnation of outside countries with its news bombardment and “manipulation of the Cuban case.”
And, to a point, they’re right. The history of the Cuban present, as written by the foreign and national media, is marked by an absence of tones, background, voices and diverse opinions, much more diverse and pluralistic that those that emitted by the recognized – especially outside of the island – political opposition.
But beyond this itinerary, traveled over and over in the last years, the truth is that it’s very difficult to imagine how any measure coming from the exterior could ever lead to a greater opening of the Castro government or in any real improvement of the living conditions for the population of 11.2 million inhabitants. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The political and economic siege will only lead to the official search for new sources of income, as occurred in 2004 with the imposition of a 10 percent surcharge on changing dollars. Any such new sources could affect primarily a sizable number of people who count on family remittances from outside the country to face their everyday lives.
The population, the same as ever, will look “to invent” ways to survive, and will “resolve” the problem and wait calmly, with a few isolated exceptions, for better times to come or for the proclamation of certain measures of the moment to alleviate the day to day difficulties although leaving unresolved the underlying issues.
Finally, the people who work for real transformation and to promote authentic debate on Cuban society will suffer the consequences of the “threat of the enemy”, while the radical factions from both sides will gain ground: those who, far from favoring changes, are betting on the immobility that guarantees them their privileges and the status quo.
Havana Times translation of the Spanish original from IPS.