Who are Cuba’s Dissidents Addressing?

What would happen if members of Cuba’s leadership accepted an exchange with figures of the opposition?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Yoani Sanchez

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.

The Ladies in White during a protest march in Havana. Photo: alongthemalecon.com

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.

Guillermo Fariñas. Photo: forocomunista.com

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.


24 thoughts on “Who are Cuba’s Dissidents Addressing?

  • June 11, 2013 at 11:02 pm
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    You mean that “poll” by the Republican Institute, the same folks that lied through their teeth to get us into an illegal war in Iraq, and oversaw the biggest financial fraud in the history of the world? Are we now to believe ANYTHING they say?

  • June 11, 2013 at 7:26 am
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    I could not agree more with you. Unfortunately that’s where I think we are heading. Like you say, there are strong forces that don’t want change or lose power. I think Raul himself is one of them. But maybe in his case it’s more personal?
    Raul is known to be a family man, unlike his brother. With his children and grandchildren all over the world enjoying a jet set lifestyle, maybe he is just making sure that the changes to come won’t rob them of that privilege?

  • June 10, 2013 at 11:00 pm
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    When I say “unpopular views,” I mean their views are not in line with the majority of their neighbours. They are the ones who these “dissidents” of yours must initially win over to get anywhere.

    No one is stopping them from attending CDR, union or school meetings, etc. to make their views known. No one is stopping them from talking to their neighbours. No one is stopping them from taking an active role in making their communities a better place to live. And you don’t need wads of cash from hostile foreign powers to do any of this.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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    The regime controls who they can vote for.
    When the people are not offered a real choice there is no election. It is just rubber stamping.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm
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    Would gerrymandering qualify as an action of the “central authority” in Cuba, Dan Christensen.
    From this site:

    Was Sirley Avila Right?, November 13, 2012, Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=82045

    By the way: why do you want to restrict the search to central authorities? All authorities in Cuba are controlled by the Castro regime – centrally.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:19 pm
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    Records of the selection process are not publicly posted. Your request to post anything therefore is no more than a propaganda ploy. You know they are not available. nobody knows who was proposed to the electoral commissions and how or why they were selected.
    The process is very clear though. it is controlled from start to finish by the dictatorship and the organizations it controls. All participants are state controlled.
    In the final analysis, which nobody with a good knowledge of the Cuban electoral process denies, the elections hardly matter as the dictatorship controls who gets on the ballot and can eventually be selected.
    In short: the Cuban people have no choice and certainly no free choice.
    The Cuban dictatorship is illegitimate just because of that.
    The dictatorship fears the people, as did regimes in the other Stalinist systems. A Stalinist system has elections without choice. That has been shown from East Germany to North Korea. These dictatorships also boast incredible approval rates based on the results of these phone elections. All intelligent people see through the lie.
    The UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Carl-Johan Groth, who had been a diplomat for Sweden in Cuba was not deceived by the reality of the system. His report is very clear and his conclusions were never contested by anyone.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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    When you say “unpopular views” you mean that their veiws are not in line with the Cuban regime.
    Whether these vies ware popular or not” was never tested as people with these views were never allowed to stand and promote their views.
    The hurdle dissidents must overcome is that the whole process to select the people that are allowed to be on the ballot is controlled by the Castro dictatorship.

  • June 10, 2013 at 9:54 am
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    “Steely resolve”? You must be talking about the recent poll taken in Cuba that 40% of Cubans under age 25 would like to migrate to another country. Or maybe that more than 1 out of 6 Cubans born in Cuba alive today live outside of Cuba. The faith you claim exists in the Castro government is a lie. The only “steely resolve” that exists in Cuba is to get the hell outa’ there as soon as possible.

  • June 10, 2013 at 8:50 am
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    I concede only that unpopular people with unpopular views have no chance of being nominated by their neighbours or other local-area residents. That is the only hurdle your “dissident” pals must overcome — a fair hurdle in most people’s opinions I would think. It must be frustrating for the small minority who oppose the Revolution and its leadership, but in Cuba, the majority really does rule.

    You seem to believe that given the chance to protest even in a secret ballot, the Cuban people will not take it. Much to your chagrin, however, the Cuban people are not sheep. Time and again, they have demonstrated their steely resolve and overwhelming support of the Revolution and its leadership. It must be for this reason that the US regime believes so strongly that genocidal trade sanctions targeting every man, woman and child on the island are the only Solution to the Cuban Question.

  • June 10, 2013 at 8:36 am
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    I challenge you to name even one popular candidate whose nomination was disallowed by any central authority in Cuba. No one but the residents of each electoral district controls who they can vote for. Only they can nominate a candidate that will appear on their ballots. Only they have final veto at the ballot box.

    No report on the Cuban electoral system has ever been accepted by the UN General Assembly. Or any other UN body for that matter. A report by one person was once put to the UNHRC (in the 1990’s), if that is what you are thinking about. As you must know by now though, the Commission rejected that report in a recorded vote, and immediately sacked the author, his mandate “discontinued”.

  • June 9, 2013 at 10:42 am
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    You obviously concede the point the point that candidates with views that oppose the regime have no chance of being nominated. Given that, all names that appear on these secret ballot are more or less cut from the same cloth. As a result, my Cuban friends tell me that there is no real choice between candidates. You are now suggesting that the remaining means of protesting the lack of choice is to simply vote no or not to vote at all. Not voting is an unlikely choice as Cubans rightly believe that records are kept regarding who voted and who didn’t. As for the former choice, to simply vote no is an option exercised more often than the regime will admit. It is unreasonable to assume however that a majority of Cubans will ever likely vote “no to all” in order to trigger a new slate of candidates, especially because they believe the new slate will simply be more of the same. To reiterate, the Castros have installed an electoral process which provides a charade of democracy that ensures the status quo will prevail. Were it not so, the regime would not be so violently opposed to the public expression of ideas which oppose the regime. You should not pretend to know that I am frustrated by the Castros continued domination of the Cuban people. I know exactly how he does it.

  • June 9, 2013 at 9:49 am
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    The Castro dictatorship controls who people can vote for.
    If no other candidates than those that are approved by the dictatorship can be on the ballot it becomes meaningless.
    That was also the conclusion of a UN report on the Cuban electoral system.

  • June 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm
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    Nobody controls how people vote on a secret ballot. The 2008 vote, the first after Fidel retired, was widely covered in the international media. And there was not a hint from any quarter, not even the rabidly anti-Cuban Miami media, that this was anything other than a clean vote.

    Though less widely covered internationally, the same can be said for this year’s vote. In this, and every other previous vote — all by secret ballots — the overwhelming majority of Cubans endorsed the Revolution and its leadership. I can sense your frustration, Moses.

    But I guess that’s really why the US regime feels so strongly that their genocidal and universally condemned trade sanctions targeting every man, woman and child on the island are the only solution to the Cuban question.

  • June 8, 2013 at 7:44 am
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    That explains a lot.

  • June 8, 2013 at 7:15 am
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    Thank you for honestly responding to how the process works. You should have continued to be honest, however, about the nominating process. The truth is that these local bodies are controlled by PCC hacks who depend on CDR and employer representatives to submit the initial endorsement letters. They also look at whether or not potential candidates were FEU members and all other official means to determine the ‘revolutionary’ credentials of the proposed candidate. The truth is despite however well known, well-liked and respected Yoani Sanchez is by her neighbors, she has got a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ of ever being approved as a candidate. Besides, to Fidel’s credit, he has always been honest about his disdain for democracy and elections. As recently quoted by the Venezuelan ex-TV host, Mario Silva, Fidel believes that the people “may get it wrong” which would have threatened the revolution. He also arrogantly and openly criticized Ortega in Nicaragua for “holding an election he could possibly lose”. He told Barbara Walters in a US television interview, “what’s so wrong with a dictatorship?” So, it surprises no one that the nominating process in Cuba is also rigged to generate rubber-stamp candidates. You sound silly when you compare the overfunded and superficial but democratic electoral process in the US with the ‘window dressing’ voting that has sustained a dictatorship for 54 years in Cuba. Nonsense!

  • June 8, 2013 at 6:34 am
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    Moses, the nic “DC1945” belongs to Dan Christensen. He posts at many Cuba related blogs repeating the same hackneyed quotations of propaganda, often getting into nasty flame wars, even with other pro-regime apologists. Simply put, he isn’t worth the candle.

  • June 7, 2013 at 9:45 pm
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    I wouldn’t presume to speak for the Cuban people, but it is a fact that candidates for the Municipal Assemblies are nominated by their neighbours in open, public meetings held in each neighbourhood prior to elections. That is why I said that your “dissident” pals will first have to establish themselves as leaders in their own communities before they can get anywhere politically. That only makes sense, wouldn’t you say? I have never heard of a popular local leader who, once nominated, was somehow prevented from running by an central authority in Cuba.

    Candidates for the Provincial and National Assemblies, including Fidel and Raul themselves, are nominated by the Municipal Assemblies. To keep things honest, voters have the final veto at the voting booth. They actually have the option of rejecting, by a secret ballot, every candidate on the national and provincial ballot and calling for an entirely new slate of candidates. So, it is in no one’s interest to put forward unpopular candidates, or to alienate voters with unpopular policies.

    Perhaps this is too much democracy for you? Perhaps you think the nomination process is too important to be handled by ordinary workers like this. Better to have it controlled by distant, money-hungry political machines like your US political parties and the well-heeled elites of corporate boardrooms. It seems to have worked well for many of the Miami crowd, but Cubans on the island definitely seem to have other ideas.

  • June 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm
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    DC1945, your comments tend to be the same ‘cut and paste’ remarks over and over again. Using original thought, would you respond to this question: Do you believe that a majority of Cubans are pleased with their government and wish for more of the same? If so, how do you explain the ferocious opposition in Miami? If you believe most Cubans are happy, why not permit open dissent? Second, if you see the electoral process in Cuba as open and accessible, why limit it to one party? Isn’t it true that all local candidates must be approved by local councils before they are allowed to stand for election? Please be truthful. Thank you for your response.

  • June 7, 2013 at 10:08 am
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    If dissidents want to take part in the Cuban parliament, they had better start showing some leadership in their respective communities. In Cuba, you can’t just buy a nomination. At the very least, you must have the support of your neighbours and local area residents.

    However, as the previous head of the US Interest Section in Havana, Jonathan Farrar, wrote in a top secret report to his superiors in Washington:

    “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas….

    “Despite claims that they represent ‘thousands of Cubans,’ we see little evidence of such support….

    “When we question opposition leaders about their programs, we do not see platforms designed to appeal to a broad cross section of Cuban society. Rather, the greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day…

    “The next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources.”

    Source: WikiLeaks

  • June 7, 2013 at 9:42 am
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    Under the terms of Section 206 of the Helms-Burton Act, the genocidal US embargo is to continue until such time as socialism in Cuba is dismantled and capitalism (read US corporations) reign supreme once more in Cuba. It won’t matter kind of elections they hold — on this the Cuban people are to have no say. This, despite the fact that even after a half-century of the US onslaught, Cuba continues to maintain what is widely believed to be best health care and education systems in the region. (Check out CIA infant mortality rates at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html )

    Internationally, the longstanding opposition to these cruel and inhumane sanctions is nearly universal. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional lifting:

    “The US government is acting CONTRARY to the Charter of the United Nations by restricting the direct import of medicine and medical equipment and supplies, and by imposing those restrictions on companies operating in third countries.”

    “The RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED BY THE EMBARGO help to deprive Cuba of vital access to medicines, new scientific and medical technology, food, chemical water treatment and electricity.”

    “The US embargo against Cuba is IMMORAL and should be lifted. It’s preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health.”

    “Amnesty International calls on the US Congress to take, WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY, the necessary steps towards lifting the economic, financial and trade embargo against Cuba.”

    “UN agencies working in Cuba, such as the WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, continued [as of 2012] to report the negative effects of the US embargo on the health of the population, particularly members of marginalized groups. Access to specific commodities, equipment, medicines and laboratory materials remained scarce as a result of restrictions imposed on the importation of items manufactured by US companies and their subsidiaries or produced under US patents.”

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR25/002/2009/en/e7b1efe4-27f4-4b2c-9a39-23c88749e39e/amr250022009en.html

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/president-obama-should-take-lead-lifting-embargo-against-cuba-20090902

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR25/007/2009/en/51469f8b-73f8-47a2-a5bd-f839adf50488/amr250072009eng.pdf

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/cuba/report-2012

    For 20 years in a row, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelming to condemn these sanctions as well. Not even the US regime’s closest allies can support them on this matter!

    This is completely the opposite of anti-apartheid sanctions in the 1980’s, which US conservatives like Ronald Reagan as well as Margret Thatcher actually opposed. This may have something to do with the fact that Nelson Mandela and Fidel have always been the strongest of allies. At a banquet in South Africa in Fidel’s honour in 1998, Mandela said:

    “If today all South Africans enjoy the rights of democracy; if they are able at last to address the grinding poverty of a system that denied them even the most basic amenities of life, it is also because of Cuba’s selfless support for the struggle to free all of South Africa’s people and the countries of our region from the inhumane and destructive system of apartheid. For that, we thank the Cuban people from the bottom of our heart….

    “As the beneficiary of international solidarity that helped make it a member of the community of free nations, democratic South Africa is proud to be amongst the majority of nations who affirm the right of the Cuban people to determine their own destiny, and that sanctions which seek to punish them for having decided to do so are anathema to the international order to which we aspire.”

  • June 6, 2013 at 11:30 am
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    Cubans in Cuba don’t want regime change, they want the blockade to end!

  • June 6, 2013 at 9:54 am
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    The general consensus is that the regime won’t last long after Raul & Fidel pass on. The next ruler will be of the old guard, or a slightly younger copy (aka Diaz-Canel), but he will lack the authority of the historicos. What will happen after that is unclear.

    Raul has one last shot at reforming the regime. He won’t make it, and I’m not at all sure he wants to, because the forces at play are too strong to resist. The temptation to keep hold of power are too great. The wealthy cadre of senior officers who control all the big state-run corporations won’t allow anything or anybody to upset their power, wealth and privilege. As a consequence, while a transition to democracy would be best for Cuba, the leadership is instead moving in the direction of China or Vietnam, to a military dominated state-corporate system. That’s fascism by definition.

  • June 5, 2013 at 10:59 am
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    Moses said: “the best course for the US is to wait and let it play out”. I’m not sure I agree with you. The regime in Cuba are experts at the waiting game. They have been playing it for years. Always finding windows that will let them cheat the changes that have to be made for just another decade. You have Mariel, signing of the declarations and now the reforms. I think the time is right for the world to negotiate a solution together with the regime. A solution the regime can’t say no to but with tough conditions for a transition.

  • June 5, 2013 at 10:20 am
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    I believe it is less critical that the messages delivered by the Cuban dissident community abroad be unified on every issue and more important that the overall message demanding regime change be conveyed. To this end, whether the message supports the embargo which obviously appeals to the Miami extremists or opposes the embargo which seems to appeal to more recent and moderate Cuban émigrés and Cubans still under Castro’s thumb in Cuba, the objective remains the same: regime change. To clarify, technically regime change does not necessarily mean the end of the Castro era. However, at 82 years old and with less than 5 years left to rule, the chances are very slim that significant political reforms will occur while Raul is in charge and much more likely to take place once he retires. It is not unheard of that a leader of a government’s dissident opposition could support sanctions against that government and then later go on to a leadership role after regime change has taken place. Events in South Africa and Myanmar immediately come to mind. Finally, Haroldo seems to ignore the pressure on the regime to institute reforms while retaining control of the government. Continued failures in agriculture, housing, sports, education and even health care have put the Castros on the spot. Given this pressure, simply raising public awareness regarding Cuban reality exacerbates the international pressure on the Castros. This pressure on the Castros directly contradicts the statements often made by Cuban intellectual and frequent contributor to HT Esteban Morales who incorrectly claims the pressure is on President Obama the US to respond to recent Cuban reforms. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As more dissidents travel and make their grievances known, the best course for the US is to wait and let it play out. Regardless of the unity of the message, time is on the side of democracy and regime change in Cuba.

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