Cuba Opposition ‘Needs to Reflect’ after Wikileaks

Patricia Grogg

Havana's 23rd and 12 St. Cinema. Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA, Dec 28 (IPS) — The internal dissident movement in Cuba faces some big challenges in 2011, after ending the year with low marks from the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, according to confidential cables made public by Wikileaks, some of which were published on the official government website

“The opinion from USINT (United States Interests Section, the U.S. office in Havana) is quite harsh, but it’s close to reality. I have quite a critical view of us too,” Manuel Cuesta Morúa, spokesperson for the moderate opposition group Arco Progresista, told IPS.

However, Cuesta said the nuances of the case should be kept in mind when reading the U.S. statements, because “not everyone” falls into the same category, and the “traditional” dissident movement has had “the courage to resist for many years,” independent of whether it could offer any serious political alternatives.

In cables sent to the U.S. State Department, USINT chief of mission Jonathan Farrar does not so much disparage the Cuban dissidents as note their lack of influence on Cuban society, particularly young people, because their messages don’t have much youth appeal.

The dispatches also indicate that the opposition groups waste energy “boycotting” each other, lack programs for attracting a broad spectrum of Cuban society, and although they claim to represent thousands of citizens, USINT said it had seen little evidence of such support.

Another indictment in the cables is that “the greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day.” Farrar cited the case of one who presented a USINT official with a budget to pay his group’s salaries.

“We haven’t responded with maturity or high-mindedness to the challenges of Cuban society and we have got caught up some childishness,” said Cuesta Morúa. In his view, the opposition should not be overly concerned about the USINT comments, but instead accept that it needs to “conduct an in-depth reassessment.”

According to the diplomatic cables, Washington “should look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot likely successors to the Castro regime.” They mention in particular that young people are disillusioned with the system, such as bloggers, musicians and artists, who take “much better” rebellious stances with a greater public impact.

But Cuesta Morúa pointed out that the bloggers “are only trying to be the critical conscience of Cuban society. They do not move in the political sphere, they do not claim to represent the people, nor do they pose themselves as a political alternative, he said, noting that of course “they can have a political position just like any citizen, but that is something else.”

Despite the criticisms, and looking ahead to the New Year, the moderate dissident said “an interesting path is opening” for the opposition movement, “as long as it undergoes a profound review of its positions and options.” He believes that the chance for the opposition to build a political alternative in the medium-term lies in improving its ability to connect with the Cuban people.

Fragmented into several dozen small groups, which the Cuban authorities refer to as “groupuscules” (tiny groups) on Washington’s payroll, the opposition’s international notoriety increased after the Feb. 23 death of Orlando Zapata, a prisoner who staged an 80-day hunger strike to demand, among other things, recognition as a “prisoner of conscience.”

Zapata’s death was followed by the highly publicized hunger strike of psychologist and journalist Guillermo Fariñas in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, demanding the release of political prisoners. He ended the strike on Jul. 8, and on Oct. 21 received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The award was the third in seven years that the European Parliament had given to a Cuban dissident. In 2002 it went to Oswaldo Payá, of the Christian Liberation Movement, and in 2005 to Ladies in White, a group of wives and family members of 75 opposition members imprisoned in 2003.

The prize revived Fariñas as a media celebrity, but the Cuban government did not grant him an exit visa, so he was unable to travel to Strasbourg, France, to accept the 50,000-euro (70,000 dollars) prize in person.

The Ladies in White remained active throughout the year, keeping up the demand for the release of their loved ones. Pressure from the Catholic Church, in direct talks with President Raul Castro, won the freedom of most of “the 75,” save for 11 who refuse to go into exile in Spain once released.