What would happen if members of Cuba’s leadership accepted an exchange with figures of the opposition?
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — The recent international tours of several prominent Cuban dissidents have been meticulously documented by the world’s media. I think this has been very positive, in many ways.
To begin with, it allowed these individuals to come into contact with an entire sector of Cuban society which does not reside on the island and, on the basis of this exchange, to begin training in the kind of argumentation and public debate of ideas that is never demanded of them in Cuba.
Having secured greater international exposure, something which will doubtlessly help soften the onslaughts of State repression, is no less significant.
It is not my intention to draw a balance of this recent process, which, to be sure, has not yet ended. I will limit myself to writing that, at first glance, everyone seems to have availed themselves of the opportunities opened up to them.
To mention one example, I was surprised by the composure and coherence shown by Yoani Sanchez, who has lengthened her political CV with impressive experience thanks to this tour. In all cases, we saw a decisive step forward, in a new era of international exposure for the opposition – a time that, as with everything else in life, entails both new opportunities and new threats.
Despite these achievements, I feel that some personalities have shown a preference for certain sectors of Cuban émigrés that could seriously undermine their relationship with the community that supposedly constitutes their political audience, that is, with those Cubans residing on the island.
Such choices raise the question of who these dissidents are addressing as they attempt to bring together the social bases of their political platforms. If we conceive of these dissidents as political figures and assume they have legitimate public aspirations, then I believe that they should articulate their positions regarding complex issues more precisely, and that we ought to demand this of them.
This has been the case, for instance, with the issue of the U.S. blockade/embargo. I won’t go into the historical, juridical or political background of this whole affair, which is key to any public proposal regarding Cuba’s future. Anyone who reads these pages knows that I am absolutely opposed to the embargo, and for more than one reason.
For now, I only wish to point out one fact: it is not unreasonable to presume that the immense majority of Cubans alive today are against the embargo. According to polls, a little over half of all Cuban émigrés are opposed to it, and it is safe to assume that huge numbers of people in Cuba condemn it also.
Consequently, if a politician wishes to win over the hearts and minds of Cuba’s population, I think they would be pretty much obliged to condemn the US blockade/embargo. Or, if they do not publicly condemn it, they should at least show a bit more sophistication that did the leader of the Ladies in White, on stating the United States must handle Cuba with a “firm hand”, so as to stifle the government and spark off an apocalyptic revolt in the country.
Now, if the target of Berta Soler’s political discourse are the hardliners of Cuba’s exile community and the aim is to secure their favor and access to US financing, then, the “firm hand” is no doubt the ideal image to reach this goal.
If I lived in Cuba, however, and had come to sympathize with the humanitarian exploits of these courageous women, and found out that their leader was asking for harsh measures against me and my family, and was asking such measures from the country that strikes me as the devil incarnate (because it has acted as such on occasion, and has been portrayed as such in others), then I would have more than enough reasons to feel somewhat frustrated and cheated.
If leaders of Cuba’s opposition ought to learn anything from this half century of revolutionary history, it is the fact that nationalist sentiments are a key political capital in Cuba.
It is true that dissidents aren’t exactly free to choose their interlocutors, but are rather beset by the highly polarized circumstances that prevail in Cuba. It is also true that the possibilities of establishing links to society, be it through words or actions, are always severely limited by the State’s repressive apparatus. This helps explain the obliquity of their declarations, but does not justify it.
But, what would happen if members of Cuba’s leadership accepted an exchange with figures of the opposition?
This is the possibility that one of the most exemplary and self-denying of Cuban dissidents, Guillermo Fariñas, is apparently suggesting. According to Fariñas, he has, accidentally or intentionally, come into contact on more than one occasion with high Cuban government officials, culled from the military circles he was a part of before becoming a declared dissident.
He refers to half a dozen high-ranking officials who speak to him of such delicate matters as a proposal to include dissidents in Cuba’s parliament, the subordination of Raul Castro to his senile brother, their fears of having to repress an uprising calling for political changes and of flirting with other transitional processes taking place in the high spheres of power. He also speaks of a less than friendly and casual meeting with Cuba’s new Vice-President.
If this is the case, and I have no reason to assume Fariñas is lying, then we would be facing a rather complex situation, in which the renowned dissident speaks openly of his sensitive ties to those in power and puts at risk his potential interlocutors within the Cuban government, in order to strengthen his public image before Miami’s Cuban-American circles.
The way Fariñas portrays himself, as a privileged interlocutor who has no qualms about sharing his private exchanges, is precisely the contrary of what any power faction in Cuba is looking for.
None of this undermines the value that I believe these people have, nor does it prevent me from recognizing the difficult conditions they face on a daily basis or from continuing to admire them for their actions.
But, if we are at all concerned about the political effectiveness of their discourses, we must recall that politics – in which they will invariably have to become involved – is not a catwalk, but, as Weber said, a satanic dance where the forces of evil are constantly clashing against the armies commanded by the goddess of love.
It is a game where many decisions are completely wrong, and where none is absolutely right. A spell-binding journey full of twists and turns, where the mind and heart suffer surprise attacks, and the tongue is almost always ambushed.
And these ambushes are almost always deadly.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.