TIMES – After three months on the air, La Colada podcast sees this year
out with the last episode of its first season. The podcast’s hosts, writer and
journalist Jorge de Armas and political analyst Enrique Guzman Karell, went
over some of the events that marked a turbulent 2021 in Cuba.
course of approximately an hour, they discussed the protests on July 11th,
November 15th, the difference between the San Isidro Movement and Archipielago,
the figure of Miguel Diaz-Canel as the representative of a decaying system and
Cuban women in the struggle for freedom and democracy on the island.
11th: Cries for freedom and the order for combat
is a date that will go down in Cuban history because of its dimensions. The
flame that was lit with a mass protest in San Antonio de los Baños on the
outskirts of Havana, and quickly spread like wildfire in dozens of other towns
and cities across the country. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets to
protest, a kind of domino effect on a people desperate for freedom and fed up
of living in crisis.
Government had tried to prevent for 62 years, broke out that Sunday. Cubans of
all ages demanded their rights loud and clear, and they displayed their
explicit rejection of the Cuban government, whose repressive response reached
its climax with President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s order for combat, calling upon
the Cuban people to stand up to protestors.
order for combat has been given, revolutionaries take to the streets,” said
Diaz Canel on national TV that day. “This is a fascist phrase, a phrase which
encourages a genocide among Cubans to some extent, a civil war,” Jorge de Armas
order given by somebody with a clearly fascist character like Fidel Castro
could have resulted far worse,” he warned.
to the writer and journalist, Diaz-Canel symbolizes the Cuban government’s lack
of a comprehensive approach to politics. Guzman Karell adds that this is also
the expression of a system in decline that has already reached breaking point.
remains a sad fact that we have such a bleak, unenlightened figure at the head
of a country in crisis on all fronts, nothing good can come of this,” he
of La Colada recalled how Diaz-Canel later said he didn’t regret pitting
the Cuban people against one another and how he lied when he said that there
weren’t any disappeared or tortured persons after July 11th.
Likewise when he said there aren’t any political prisoners in Cuba and that
“people who aren’t with the Revolution are free to protest freely,” when NGOs
have reported over 1300 arrests linked to the protest.
Five months after the protests, over 700 Cubans are still behind bars, including minors. Dozens of protestors have been subjected to summary hearings, charged with crimes such as public disorder, attempt, incitement and contempt.
Isidro and Archipielago
Isidro Movement (MSI) was born in late 2018 as a direct response to the Government’s
Decree-Law 349, a threat to freedom of artistic creation and speech in Cuba. It
takes its name from the poor and marginalized Havana neighborhood where it is
based, and gathers a group of artists and activists who advocate for civil
rights and democracy on the island.
started making lots of noise all over Cuba in November 2020, when a group of
artists, activists and journalists entrenched themselves at their headquarters
to demand the release of one of its members, anti-establishment rapper Denis
Solis, who had been given a prison sentence during a summary hearing, and
without a legal defense.
Cubans both in Cuba and abroad supported the hunger strike, and the Government
launched a repulsive slander campaign in the media and stepped-up intimidation.
Then its security agents dressed up as doctors to forcefully remove those who
were part of the sit-in and arrested them. This led over 300 artists of all
ages to gather outside the Ministry of Culture, on November 27th 2020, to
demand an explanation and for them to respect rights of speech and freedom of
artistic creation in Cuba.
main leader, artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, has been in police custody
since July 11th. He has become one of the most emblematic faces of Cuba today
and is one of the main threats to the Government, because of his close ties to
marginalized groups over the years, and his power to mobilize people.
great threat San Isidro poses is the same as what the Cuban people pose. The
November 27th protest wasn’t so much a threat. I believe the San Isidro
Movement represents the majority of what Cuba is today, maybe not what it was
70 years ago, but Cuba today resembles San Isidro more than anything else,” De
Armas weighs in.
a citizen-led platform appeared in Cuba, driven by playwright Yunior Garcia
Aguilera, one of the leaders of the November 27th protest. The project was
called Archipielago and its main call was for a civic protest for change
on November 15th to demand the release of political prisoners, among other
things. The initiative was thwarted in the end by the Government and Garcia
Aguilera went into exile in Spain soon after, which led to a break in the
platform, and many of its members left the project.
Karell talked about those who define citizen-led platform Archipielago
as a Leftist party, an idea that he doesn’t share “precisely because this
symbology refers to a more classist, more university-educated, more white, more
organized Cuba, which is far-removed from the Cuba we saw on July 11th in Cuban
towns and neighborhoods.”
the things that upsets De Armas the most in regard to the dismantling process
of Archipielago, isn’t the deception many of its members had – which he
points out is valid – but rather the deception of those who believed and
followed the project.
a duty in hope and a tragedy in disenchantment, and this is what
totalitarianism has always played with, the Cuban government with its people,”
pointed out that the positive thing that came from 15N was the wave of
solidarity it unleashed. Cuban artists coming forward, such as Leo Brouwer,
Jose Maria Vitier, Chucho Valdes, and celebrities on the international public
scene such as Ruben Blades and Mario Vargas Llosa.
y Vida” phenomenon
2021, Cuban artists Yotuel Romero, Alexander Delgado, Randy Malcom, Descemer
Bueno, Maykel Osorbo and El Funk released the song “Patria y Vida”,
which became an anthem for freedom in Cuba and the soundtrack for protests of
Cubans around the world.
a song, “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) became a social phenomenon
and served as an impetus to amplify the Cuban people’s cries for freedom on
symbolic value that it has taken on also depends a lot on the social context it
represents. De Armas points out that the most important thing about this is
that a song like “Patria y Vida” has become a symbol of social needs.
won the Best Urban Song and Song of the Year categories at the Latin Grammy
Awards that was recently held in Las Vegas. During the gala, Cuban artists
performed an acoustic version of “Patria y Vida” and dedicated it to
political prisoners, especially to Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara – who appears in
the music video – and to Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, one of its composers, who
has been in a Cuban prison, since May.
a special merit in my eyes, and the fact that the Grammy Awards ceremony and
how controversial it could have been and what it sparked on social media, was
all as important as the Latin World seeing Ruben Blades, Residente, and Mario
Vargas Llosa talk about Cuba. I believe that “Patria y Vida” did in
fact, to some extent, put the issue of Cuba on the table within this space of
pop culture,” De Armas pointed out.
y Vida phenomenon managed to unify Cuba’s cultural space, with both
residents and its diaspora community,” he adds; an opinion that Guzman shares
because “if a people embrace an artistic representation, this is the greatest
political analyst highlighted the fact that “Patria y Vida” as a song
and phenomenon, also represents the Cuban people. Out of everything that has
happened in recent years in Cuba, the San Isidro Movement is closely linked to
what happened on July 11th, as well as Patria y Vida.
might seem trivial, but it’s no coincidence. It’s extremely significant that
all of these young people are black. They are responding to a particular
history and tradition,” he says.
women in the anti-establishment struggle
the most important issues that this last episode of La Colada paid
special attention to was the role of Cuban women in the fight for change in
Cuba. The struggle that the Ladies in White have been playing a role in for
years, or with growing women’s representation in independent journalism and
podcast’s hosts made a special mention to Cuban activists Saily Gonzalez,
Daniela Rojo, Camila Lobon, Anamely Ramos, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Thais Mailen
Franco, Katherine Bisquet and Tania Bruguera, whose names, complaints and work
for freedom has marked this year.
somebody has been at the forefront of this front against the government that
oppresses society, for over 20 years, that’s Cuban women. With all clarity,
with all strength. They were there before the Ladies in White, but especially
with the Ladies in White. For they were able to firmly embrace a discourse, but
the idea they proposed was also peace,” stressed Guzman Karell.
December, the independent magazine El El Estornudo published a feature
article with five complaints of sexual abuse against folk singer Fernando
Becquer. The article sparked a heated debate on social media and encouraged
over twenty victims of the musician to come forward and tell similar stories.
result of the discussions that recent sex abuse allegations against Becquer
have sparked, two key issues in Cuba society have returned to the table, in
addition to the legal vulnerability of women on the island, which date back to
Cuba being founded as an independent State: race and gender.
as a society understand this and all of the responsibility this implies, this
country will never be free, even when we shake ourselves free of
totalitarianism, if we don’t face these issues head-on, we will never be free
and we will never live in a free and prosperous society,” Guzman says.
harassment, sex abuse and violence against women, De Armas pointed out that the
problem is that there is no representation within the Cuban State to protect
Cuban women from this harassment, abuse and rape. “It isn’t culture, it’s a
lack of social interest.”
growing numbers of cases of gender-based violence across the country, and in a
country with a high percentage of female lawmakers and professionals, the
legislative agenda passed up until 2028, still lacks a comprehensive law
against gender-based violence.
Cuba continues to be disgustingly macho, and white,” Enrique Guzman points out.
“It’s clear that this is a systemic problem because after you’ve managed to overcome
a great deal of conflict, you go to the police to file a complaint, and they
don’t listen to you, they don’t keep you in mind, they mock you, it’s
believe that change in Cuba has to be female, otherwise change won’t come,” De
The article by Karel J. Leyva was, to me, disturbing. I think that it reflects the US
government perspective of Cuba and not that of the many Canadians who spend
time in and study Cuba and its history. Also, it does not recognize the
progress of Cuba in the Caribbean and South American context where political
turmoil is common and human rights abuses make those of Cuba seem minor.
Also, the US support for dictators and the overthrow of democratically elected
governments that lean to the left has been the norm, but only Cuba has been
able to withstand the unrelenting US subversion.
It is also important to recognize the history of
Cuba. Exploited first by the Spanish and then by the US who
supported the likes of Batista and the US mob operations in Havana. It
must be recognized that much of Cuba was exploited by US owned sugar plantations
that provided a few months of work each year, restricted the ability of farmers
to use vacant land and provided no social services, hospitals or
schools. This resulted in oppressive conditions for many Cuban families
and widespread illiteracy. But much of this changed after the Revolution
which heralded high rates of literacy, more social equality. access to
education and to health care. This has been followed by an enviable
achievement in medical internationalism and support to other developing countries
and the development of a pharmaceutical industry with many successes in
tropical disease and COVID 19 vaccines.
All of this in the face of the US unrelenting
blockade and covert support of dissidence. I am not saying that Cuba is
perfect. There is much left to be done and Cubans are facing difficult
times and much would be improved if the blockade were to be suspended.
And if covert support for dissidents stopped, then the government would have no
excuses for repression of Cuban’s expressing their frustrations. This is
made worse by admitted erroneous reporting by the media.. Showing crowds
of Cubans demonstrating in support of the Cuban government and then claiming
them to be dissidents calling for the overthrow of the government is not constructive.
For outsiders, it is difficult to get
access to fair media coverage and analysis. There are articles such as
that by Leyva, but there is information from people recently or currently in
Cuba who say that the coverage often reports legitimate demonstrations
complaining about the pandemic or the economy as calls for regime change –
which they often are not. If we want to help the people of Cuba, we need
to focus on them and not political differences. Like all of the western
democracies, we have been working on democracy since the Magna Carta in 1215
and had many revolutions and demonstrations along the way. Cuba has had
60 years. Let’s give them some breathing space for orderly self
For now, Canada should avoid the US
bandwagon, respect the incredible progress of Cuba from the colonial era and
use our influence to stop the US embargo/blockade and covert efforts at regime
change. Many Canadian visitors to Cuba and Canadian academics who
specialize in Cuban issues share this view.
CUBA, LE CANADA ET LES DROITS DE LA PERSONNE
Le vent de changement qui souffle
sur Cuba et la répression grandissante doivent forcer le Canada à repenser ses
relations bilatérales avec La Havane.
La nature dictatoriale du régime cubain a été reconnue à plusieurs reprises par des représentants du gouvernement canadien. En 2009, le ministre des Affaires étrangères Peter Kent a déclaré que Cuba est « une dictature, peu importe comment on la présente ». En 2016, Stéphane Dion, alors également ministre des Affaires étrangères, l’a reconnu lorsque la journaliste de Radio-Canada Emmanuelle Latraverse lui a demandé s’il trouvait approprié le ton employé par Justin Trudeau pour annoncer sa tristesse à la mort de Fidel Castro. La journaliste rappelait alors qu’il s’agissait d’un dictateur qui avait emprisonné des dizaines de milliers de Cubains et exécuté ses opposants. La même année, Justin Trudeau a fini par reconnaître que Castro était bel et bien un dictateur.
le Canada est allé jusqu’à présenter au régime cubain une série de recommandations concernant les droits
civils et politiques, dont celle de garantir que tout individu arrêté soit
informé sans retard des raisons de son arrêt, qu’il ait accès à un avocat de
son choix et qu’il ait droit dans des délais raisonnables à une audience
publique où il est présumé innocent.
le régime a brutalement réprimé les manifestations pacifiques de son peuple, le
11 juillet 2021, le gouvernement canadien a une fois de plus reconnu la nature
dictatoriale du régime et ses violations des droits et libertés. Le ministre
canadien des Affaires étrangères Marc Garneau a rencontré son homologue cubain pour lui faire
part des profondes préoccupations du Canada concernant la violente répression
des manifestations à Cuba, en particulier les détentions arbitraires et les
mesures répressives contre les manifestants pacifiques, les journalistes et les
surprise, les recommandations canadiennes en matière de droits de la personne
présentées à Cuba n’ont pas été prises en compte. Au contraire, comme le
souligne le plus récent rapport d’Amnistie internationale,
le gouvernement cubain continue de réprimer la dissidence sous toutes ses
formes en emprisonnant des responsables politiques, des journalistes
indépendants et des artistes, et en harcelant des poètes, des membres de la
communauté LGBTQ et des universitaires.
prises de position du gouvernement canadien soutiennent la légitimité des
revendications démocratiques du peuple cubain qui se traduisent, par exemple,
par une augmentation soutenue du nombre de protestations politiques recensées par
Cubano de Conflictos. Mais, contrairement au traitement que le
Canada réserve à d’autres dictatures, les dénonciations d’Ottawa n’ont aucune
incidence sur ses relations bilatérales avec La Havane.
au traitement que le Canada réserve à d’autres dictatures, les dénonciations
d’Ottawa n’ont aucune incidence sur ses relations bilatérales avec La Havane.
Le cas de
Cuba demeure une exception. L’intolérance du Canada face aux violations des
droits civils et politiques dénote donc une attitude à géométrie variable.
situation qui se dégrade, malgré des pressions qui s’intensifient
La résolution du Parlement européen sur la situation des droits
de l’homme et la situation politique à Cuba, adoptée en juin 2021,
souligne que depuis l’entrée en vigueur, il y a quatre ans, de l’Accord de
dialogue politique et de coopération avec Cuba, non seulement ce pays n’a
accompli aucun progrès au regard des objectifs définis par l’accord, mais le
régime cubain a intensifié la répression et les violations des droits de
l’homme. La situation politique et économique s’est détériorée, provoquant une
nouvelle vague d’actions de résistance pacifique violemment réprimées par le
Un article d’Options politiques publié en
2006 soulignait que la politique d’engagement constructif du premier ministre
Chrétien à l’égard de Cuba n’a favorisé ni la démocratisation ni l’amélioration
de la situation des droits de la personne. De même, les politiques de
négligence « relativement bénigne » des premiers ministres Martin et
Harper n’ont pas eu d’effet sur Cuba non plus. Et le gouvernement actuel ne
montre pas de volonté franche à faire progresser les droits et libertés des
Cubains. Il serait donc temps que le Canada repense ses relations bilatérales
avec le régime de La Havane. Le Canada doit trouver un équilibre entre la realpolitik
et son engagement à promouvoir la démocratie et les droits de la personne.
C’est le peuple cubain, et non le régime, qui « a besoin de plus de Canada ».
ambivalence du Canada
pourrait se demander quel serait l’impact réel de l’application de sanctions
canadiennes sur un régime qui, depuis des décennies, a démontré une grande
résilience face aux pressions internationales, notamment américaines. Au-delà
du fait qu’en matière de droits de la personne, adopter une moralité politique
à géométrie variable n’est pas une attitude éthiquement acceptable, le contexte
politique actuel justifierait pleinement un changement de posture de la part du
gouvernement du Canada. Voici cinq tendances récentes qui soutiennent cette
contexte politique actuel justifierait pleinement un changement de posture de la
part du gouvernement du Canada
bien que le gouvernement cubain ait toujours violé de manière systématique les
droits de la personne, ces violations se sont aggravées considérablement au
cours des dernières années. Depuis le rassemblement de plus de
300 artistes, intellectuels et journalistes devant le ministère de la
Culture, le 27 novembre 2020, pour réclamer le droit à la liberté d’expression
et la cessation de la répression, le nombre de détentions arbitraires n’a fait
qu’augmenter. Selon les rapports de l’Observatoire cubain des droits de la
personne, entre février et juin 2021, 2 906 actions répressives, y
compris 734 détentions arbitraires, ont eu lieu à Cuba. L’ampleur de la
répression s’est accrue après le 11 juillet, lorsque des centaines de milliers
de Cubains ont marché pacifiquement pour réclamer la démocratie. Les
manifestants ont été accueillis par des balles, des passages à tabac et des
chiens lâchés sur eux. Par la suite, les agents de sécurité de l’État n’ont eu
de cesse de se rendre au domicile de manifestants identifiés, de les détenir
sans mandat d’arrêt, puis de les condamner lors de procès sommaires souvent
menés sans avocat. Le rapport de Prisoners Defenders du 6 octobre 2021
souligne qu’un record historique de 525 prisonniers politiques au cours
des 12 derniers mois vient d’être établi à Cuba. Ce document estime entre
5 000 et 8 000 le nombre d’arrestations arbitraires des suites de violences
policières depuis le 11 juillet, parmi lesquelles certaines victimes ont
dénoncé des tortures. Les personnes qui ont déjà été libérées l’ont été au prix
d’amendes très élevées équivalant à plusieurs mois de salaires à Cuba. Selon un document produit par l’ONG Cubalex, certains
font face à des peines de prison allant jusqu’à 27 ans. Un citoyen canadien de
19 ans a été emprisonné et est actuellement obligé d’effectuer des travaux forcés, malgré de
graves problèmes de santé.
la nature même des violations a pris une nouvelle ampleur durant cette même
période. Domiciles de militants assiégés, menaces, harcèlement, coupures
d’Internet, amendes élevées, actes de répudiation et licenciements sont devenus
la norme à Cuba. En outre, le récent décret-loi 35, qui renforce les contrôles
sur la liberté d’expression dans les médias sociaux à Cuba, contrevient aux
dispositions des articles 41, 46, 50 et 54 de la Constitution de la
République de Cuba, tout en étant contraire aux traités internationaux ratifiés
par le gouvernement de ce pays. De plus, les acteurs ciblés ne sont plus exclusivement des dissidents politiques.
Ce sont des adolescentes menacées de viol par des agents de l’État, des
journalistes contraints de se déshabiller devant des militaires dans une
salle d’interrogatoire ou humiliés et agressés sexuellement, des grands maîtres des
échecs en grève de la faim détenus arbitrairement, des médecins et des
professeurs expulsés de leur emploi pour avoir fait la promotion du respect des
droits fondamentaux, des poètes harcelés par la police à leur domicile, des jeunes de 14 à 17 ans détenus et des
activistes forcés de rester dans leur maison durant des mois. Pour le Canada,
il n’est désormais plus possible de croire l’argument traditionnel du
gouvernement cubain selon lequel la contestation serait alimentée par des
groupes radicaux basés à Miami.
désormais plus possible de croire l’argument traditionnel du gouvernement
cubain selon lequel la contestation serait alimentée par des groupes radicaux
basés à Miami.
il existe une conscience internationale croissante à l’égard de la dégradation
du respect des droits de la personne à Cuba et une conviction morale que la
situation qui en résulte est inacceptable. À la suite des sanctions de l’administration Biden envers des
responsables des attaques contre les manifestants cubains, le Parlement
européen a émis une résolution, le 16 septembre 2021, sur la
répression gouvernementale visant les manifestations et les citoyens à Cuba. La
naissance du mouvement 27N et la répression constante de ses membres ont
donné une nouvelle visibilité à la fois nationale et internationale à la
situation des droits de la personne à Cuba. Des publications sur ce mouvement
dans la revue du Museum of Modern Art de New York en font
foi, tout comme la nomination de l’artiste Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, leader
du mouvement 27N emprisonné le 11 juillet, parmi les
100 personnalités les plus influentes de l’année selon le magazine Time. Les nombreuses manifestations
contre la dictature organisées par des Cubains en exil aux quatre coins du
monde ont également contribué à cette visibilité.
la communauté de Canadiens d’origine cubaine est devenue très active
politiquement. Des dizaines de manifestations exigeant du gouvernement canadien
des mesures concrètes contre la dictature cubaine ont déjà eu lieu au Canada.
Des pétitions ont été présentées à la Chambre des
communes demandant au gouvernement canadien de soutenir le peuple cubain face à
la forte intensification de la répression. Des rencontres ont été organisées avec des sénateurs et des députés pour exiger que
le Canada s’engage envers les droits de la personne et la démocratie à Cuba. Le
gouvernement fédéral se trouve ainsi sous la pression des politiciens et de la société civile canadienne,
qui lui demandent tous de mettre fin à sa complaisance à l’égard du régime de
tendance à la hausse du nombre de protestations politiques à Cuba depuis 2020
s’est cristallisée dans l’explosion sociale survenue le 11 juillet dans plus de
60 endroits, événement sans précédent en 62 ans de dictature. Il serait
faux de réduire les revendications de ce mouvement aux seuls enjeux économiques
et sanitaires. Les vidéos qui circulent montrent le peuple cubain demandant
liberté et démocratie. Pour seule réponse, le président cubain a ordonné aux
« révolutionnaires » de réprimer et de battre les manifestants
malgré la peur que cette période de terreur a générée au sein des familles
cubaines, de nouveaux mouvements sociaux et des alliances sont en train de se
créer dans la société civile du pays. De nouvelles marches pacifiques sont
prévues, comme celle qui est organisée pour le 15 novembre prochain par le
groupe de la société civile cubaine Archipiélago – une nouvelle plateforme
de représentation citoyenne – et le Conseil pour la transition démocratique
gouvernement a répondu en convoquant à plusieurs reprises les signataires
devant les autorités et en les menaçant d’emprisonnement. Il a également eu
recours à la diffamation publique, à des coupures de téléphone et d’Internet,
et à l’intimidation. La maison du leader d’Archipiélago a été vandalisée
avec des pigeons décapités, de la terre et du sang. Les rues commencent déjà à
se militariser et le gouvernement arme des groupes au moyen de fusils
automatiques et de bâtons. Les images qui circulent donnent froid dans le dos
et beaucoup craignent que la journée ne se solde par des violences et des
emprisonnements. Dans le but de soutenir la marche, la société civile
transnationale cubaine a organisé des manifestations dans 80 villes à travers le monde, dont Montréal,
Ottawa, Toronto et Calgary.
devrait accompagner le peuple cubain dans sa quête de liberté au lieu de se
contenter de soutenir, comme il le fait, le « processus de
modernisation de l’économie » amorcé par le régime ou de lui fournir une
aide financière dont le peuple ne bénéficie pas, mais qui semble plutôt servir
à acheter des équipements antiémeutes modernes jamais vus auparavant à Cuba.
Pourquoi un gouvernement qui, l’an dernier, en pleine crise sanitaire et
économique, a importé d’Espagne pour plus d’un million d’euros de matériel militaire
aurait-il besoin de l’aide financière du Canada ?
de sanctionner les responsables de ces violations des droits de la personne
constitue un aveu de complicité avec un régime en pleine décadence qui n’a
aucune légitimité politique et qui est même condamné sur la scène internationale pour esclavage moderne.
Non seulement une telle abstention minerait l’image du Canada en tant que l’un
des principaux défenseurs des droits de la personne dans le monde, mais il
mettrait le pays sur la sellette par rapport au traitement à la carte qu’il
réserve à différentes dictatures. Le Canada a signé avec les États-Unis et le
Parlement européen une déclaration commune appelant à un processus de
négociation global dans le but de restaurer les institutions au Venezuela, d’y
organiser des élections crédibles et de revoir les sanctions en fonction des
progrès réalisés dans ce pays. Comment, alors, expliquer qu’il n’envisage même
pas de repenser ses relations avec le régime de La Havane, qui non seulement
commet lui aussi des violations flagrantes de droits et des libertés, mais qui
est considéré comme un acteur crucial de la crise vénézuélienne ?
sa réputation de défenseur des droits et libertés partout dans le monde, le
Canada pourrait jouer un rôle décisif en joignant sa voix au nombre grandissant
de celles qui soutiennent une transition démocratique à Cuba.
November 15, the US media primed us for a repeat of the events of July 11 in
Cuba — only more massive and more dramatic.
tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets to express their frustrations
with their government and, more generally, the state of their country and its
lead-up to this month’s announced protests, Archipiélago — a broad
umbrella of dissident groups led by well-known
dramatist Yunior García — boasted a Facebook group
of 37,000 members. It publicly identified rallying points around the island
where demonstrations would begin that day at 3 pm.
nothing much happened. Organizers asked Cubans to take to the streets to demand
radical changes in the government, but only a handful responded. They invited
Cubans to bang pots later that night to show the world their frustration. Even
fewer did. Despite predictions of violence and vandalism in the streets, CBS
Miami reported only 11 people arrested, with another 50 barricaded in their
homes by government agents and supporters. By the next day, García himself, without
telling any of his fellow dissidents, decamped to Spain.
knew — or claimed to: “By suppressing protest, Cuba’s government displays its
fear of the people” (Washington Post); “Cuban government quashes planned
march by protestors” (NBC News); “Cuba Crushes Dissent Ahead of Protest”
(New York Times).
was not totally wrong. The Cuban government does have a long history of
repressing dissent, which it claims is largely fomented by the US, and which it
considers an existential threat. (Those claims aren’t wrong either, though
their implications rarely get explored in the media.)
some Cubans were dissuaded from demonstrating by the large police and military
presence on the streets.
alone doesn’t explain the lack of outcome.
the US media, which generally parrots Washington’s malign interpretation of
anything that happens in Cuba, miss in its myopia? Plenty. Start with some significant events
that actually did happen in Cuba on November 15.
day, for example, the country’s critically important, pandemic-ravaged tourism
industry reopened to fully vaccinated international visitors after 18 brutal
months of COVID-19 shutdown. In the first week, international flights to Cuba
were scheduled to increase from 67 a week to over 400.
became possible because Cuba has brought COVID under some level of control
again, thanks in part to a massive Cuba-wide vaccination program using vaccines
developed in its own labs. Cuban vaccination rates are among the highest in the
world. And the number of COVID cases has decreased from a daily average of
10,000 in the summer to 243 the day of the planned protest.
coincidentally, November 15 also marked the much-delayed return to in-classroom
learning for 700,000 Cuban children, a major return-to-normal milestone that
helped buoy spirits. So too did a series of free concerts and art exhibits to
celebrate the upcoming 502nd anniversary of the founding of
those markers, there were other pragmatic reasons for Cubans to feel more
hopeful as protest day dawned. Venezuela, the major supplier of oil
to the island, increased its supplies from 40,000 barrels per day in August to
66,000 in November. Power has become more stable, with fewer blackouts, and the
cooler weather has helped ease pressure on the grid.
also fair to note that the Cuban government — caught napping in July — learned
lessons too. But not — as the US media would have it — simply how to intimidate
and control its citizens.
leaders acknowledged many of the frustrations that led to the July protests
were legitimate and set about making changes, particularly for women and young
people, and those in marginalized zones in larger cities. There are 62 projects
in Havana alone as job creation, infrastructure development, housing repair,
all became priorities.
government launched additional economic reforms too, offering greater freedom
for self-employment, access to hard currency credits for the private sector and
opportunities to collaborate with foreign investment partners. Over 16,000
self-employment projects have since been registered, 416 requests to establish
small and medium-sized enterprises approved.
same time, the Cuban government launched a massive media campaign to make the
case to Cubans and the world — rightly again — that much of what ails the Cuban
economy is still the result of the ongoing, never-ending US embargo and
US-financed efforts encouraging right-wing regime change of the sort promoted
by Miami-centred dissident groups like Archipiélago.
this is to suggest Cubans are suddenly universally satisfied with their
government or with the pace of change. But it does indicate Cuba’s November
“normal” appealed more to Cubans than Yunior Garcia’s call to the barricades.
should make us all question what we read and see in the media. Cuba is far more
complex, its citizens’ views far more nuanced, than the simplistic media
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez:
“It is clear that what I called a failed operation — a political
communication operation organized and financed by the United States government with
millionaire funds and the use of internal agents — was an absolute failure,”
Rodríguez said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Unlike the events on July 11—when thousands of Cubans took to the streets and largely spontaneous demonstrations spread rapidly across the nation—the demonstrations scheduled for Monday, November 15 did not take the Cuban government by surprise. Members of the civic group Archipiélago, the main organizers behind this demonstration, had notified authorities back in October of their intention to march on on this date to call for the release of political prisoners and protesters still detained after the July 11 protests, and to advocate for the respect of the rights of all Cubans and the resolution of differences through democratic and peaceful means. The government was prepared and for weeks, they harassed, intimidated and smeared the organizers of the march. On Monday, “acts of repudiation,” heavy surveillance by state security agents, and cripplingly policed streets made sure streets in Havana—and the six other provinces where the new set of demonstrations were to take place—remained empty. Fear and the physical impossibility to leave their homes are the main reasons for the low turn-out of Cubans on November 15.
proposed demonstrations came after the events of this summer, when Cuban
authorities sought to contain the largely peaceful demonstrations that occured
on July 11, using tear gas and excessive use of force, which resulted in the death of one demonstrator, Diubis Laurencio
Tejada, and the arbitrary detention of several hundreds of people—many of which
remain deprived of their liberty in violation of
their right to due process under the Cuban constitution and international law.
Cuban government has the right to protect itself against foreign
interference—and the concerns about U.S. involvement with opposition groups are
understandable—it should not infringe on the human rights of its citizens. The
human rights enshrined in the Cuban constitution are universal, and need to be
guaranteed to all, regardless of political preferences. Article 56 of the
Cuban constitution grants its citizens the right to demonstrate, but the
government deemed the November 15 march illegal, alleging that it was
attempting to undermine the socialist order and that the organizers had
financial ties to the U.S. However, just as the Cuban government allows and
encourages pro-government demonstrations, it should respect the freedom of
expression and the right of assembly of those who disagree with it.
media have focused their coverage on the country’s reopening to tourism and the
return of elementary students to school after months, which also occurred on
November 15. In the case of the protests, it has once again been social
networks, independent journalists, and foreign correspondents who offer
information about what is happening on the island to those attempting to be
November 15 itself, images showed largely empty streets, except for police and
military vehicles. Some of the organizers complained their homes were
surrounded by state security agents, police officers in plain clothes, and
government supporters chanting slogans and insults so they couldn’t go out.
Others said they were warned by police that they would be arrested for contempt
if they forced their way onto the streets. According to the New York Times, at least 40 people were arrested, although the
Archipiélago group claims this number is closer to over 100.
Sunday, November 14 and Tuesday, November 16, Yunior Garcia Aguilera, the
best-known member of Archipiélago, was prevented from leaving his apartment, as
he had planned to stage a solo march through Havana that day carrying a white
rose, as a sign of peaceful demonstration. Security forces and government
supporters surrounded his house, and his phone and internet services were
interrupted. He was seen waving a white rose from an apartment window while
displaying a sign reading “My house is blocked,” when government supporters
hung a giant Cuban flag from the roof of the building covering his windows to
keep him from communicating with anyone outside. The flags were still there
Monday and a guard stood at the door, while the phones of García and other
coordinators of Archipiélago group remained without service. After no known
communication from him since early Tuesday, Garcia Aguilera announced on Wednesday that he had arrived in
Spain with his wife, in circumstances that remain unclear.
social movements are a sign of a rapidly changing Cuba
November 2020, a coalition of about 300 people made up of artists and industry
workers (which later became known as 27N) met in front of the Ministry of
Culture to request a dialogue with the highest authorities after state forces
stormed the headquarters of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) in Old Havana on
November 26. During this raid, authorities evicted those who had declared a
hunger strike, with some refusing even liquids, in protest of the detention and
the judicial process against one of its members (rapper Denis Solís). In
January 2021, after the government had shown no interest in engaging in
dialogue with civil society, a number of the participants of the 27N gathered
in front of the Ministry of Culture only to continue to face the authorities’
unwillingness to listen. In April, people once again gathered in Calle Obispo
to protest in a show of support for the leader of MSI, Luis Manuel Otero
Alcanta, after authorities forcibly interrupted his hunger strike to take him
to the hospital.
march for change, and more broadly the Archipiélago group, inserts itself in a
rapidly changing Cuba. During the past year, groups like MSI and 27N have seen
increasing support among the youth, whom have been finding spaces both online
and in public spheres to call for an end to violence as a response to artistic
expression that is not aligned with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), to demand
respect for fundamental rights, and an end to political repression.
the July 11 protests were not the first expression of political disagreement to
have happened in the past year, they were definitely the first of such scale,
and they marked a before and after in the realm of public dissent with the
status quo in Cuba. It was no longer only artists and intellectuals, but the
broader citizenry protesting as thousands of Cubans took to the streets. The
demonstrations were a manifestation of both economic and social grievances that
are deeply intertwined. Protesters were seen asking for food and medicine,
deeper economic reforms that would improve Cubans’ daily lives, and more
freedom and political change.
Current Conditions Contributed to Displays of Dissent
island, which had kept the COVID-19 pandemic under control in 2020, saw
infections skyrocket this summer, with daily COVID-19 cases tripling in the
course of a few weeks and deaths spiking to record highs, which pushed health
centers to the point of collapse. On top of that, Cubans are currently facing
serious shortages of basic goods and medicine. In addition to that, a series of
economic reforms introduced by the Cuban government this year (such as currency reunification, which most observers
agree were necessary) have not only created additional harsh impacts in the
short-term, but were implemented at a particularly difficult time. These
factors have triggered inflation and increased the frustration of the Cuban
people. One of the main sources of discomfort is the dollarization of the
economy and the difficulty to access food and basic necessities— a process that
had been marketed since the end of 2019 in foreign currencies—which have placed
a larger sector of the population in a very precarious economic situation and
amplified already existing inequalities. The return of long power blackouts,
that take Cuba back to the 1990s and the so-called special period, add to
Cubans’ irritation and uncertainty. When procuring food and basic goods becomes
the number one concern for a family, it shifts from being an economic crisis to
being a social crisis.
Biden-Harris administration has voiced support for the Cuban people’s right to
protest and has condemned the ongoing repression, yet it continues to downplay
the role of U.S. sanctions in fueling Cuba’s humanitarian crisis by not
acknowledging that sanctions contribute to the severe and undue suffering of
the Cuban people. Supporting human rights in Cuba and empowering the Cuban
people also means removing the barriers that exacerbate the economic, health
and social crisis. Restrictions on remittances, including caps on
the amount and measures that have made it impossible to wire remittances from
the U.S. to families in Cuba, have limited the purchasing power of many,
banking regulations have made third country purchases more difficult, and
onerous rules governing medical sales have had an especially devastating impact
during the pandemic.
Cuban government managed to avoid mass protests with a wave of repression and
heavy security presence that discouraged the participation of the ordinary citizens
that powered the summer demonstrations, the desire of young Cubans to be heard
has not disappeared. On Tuesday, Archipiélago issued a statement celebrating
the bravery of all those that protested in one way or another, and extending
the Civic “March” for Change until November 27—a date which is no
coincidence—calling for the release of political prisoners; respect for the
rights of all Cubans to assembly, demonstration, and association; the end of
acts of repudiation and all violence among Cubans for political reasons; and
the beginning of a transparent process for the resolution of differences
through democratic and peaceful means.
authorities should refrain from violence and repression, and immediately
release those detained unfairly. In order to move forward, it is important for
the Cuban government to recognize the need for a peaceful dialogue that
includes the plurality of voices we are currently seeing among Cuban citizens,
including artists, journalists and civil society actors among others in order
to truly allow freedom of expression. For its part, the Biden-Harris
administration has a responsibility to take concrete and swift actions that
will alleviate the humanitarian and economic crisis beginning with the removal
of specific licenses required to send medical supplies, restrictions on sending
family and donative remittances, and restrictions on travel.
Acts of repudiation (actos de repudio) is a term
Cuban authorities use to refer to acts of violence and/or humiliation towards
critics of the government.
demonstrations of July 11 were the first great autonomous and democratic
movement of Black and poor Cubans since 1959. The demonstrators did not chant
any of the slogans of the U.S.-based Cuban Right.
While it is true that the Cuban rap “Patria y Vida” (Life and Fatherland) that inspired many July 11 marchers is not clear about the alternatives it proposed to the social and political system that rules the island, it cannot be said, as some have pretended, that its political content is right-wing.
response to the July 11 demonstrations, the Cuban government decided to
prosecute the great majority of the hundreds of demonstrators arrested on that
day. As is its wont, the government has refused to provide the number of
arrested demonstrators, the charges against them, and the sentences that were
imposed on them. It seems that some of them were subject to summary trials without
the right to a defense lawyer, and got sentences of up to one year in
prison. However, for those that the government considered to be the protest
leaders, the prosecution demanded much longer sentences. That is why, for
example, in the case of 17 Cubans who were arrested in San Antonio de los
Baños, a town near Havana where the protests began, the prosecutors
demanded sentences of up to 12 years in prison.
same time, the government increased its social assistance in numerous poor
neighborhoods of the capital and other cities in the island, which indicates
that even if it has not publicly admitted it, it is worried about the popular
discontent expressed on July 11, and it is attempting with those social
services at least to calm the people hardest hit by the economic crisis, and to
diminish the growing alienation and anger with the regime of large
same time, the political leadership has tried to discredit the popular protest,
taking advantage of its absolute control of the press, radio and television to
broadcast images of the demonstrators who got involved in violent incidents,
deliberately ignoring that the great majority demonstrated in a peaceful
manner. The official mass media similarly ignored the violence, that under the
leadership’s orders, the so-called “black berets” and other repressive organs,
like State Security, carried out against people who were exercising their right
to demonstrate peacefully.
profound economic crisis – exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and by Trump’s
imperialist measures that Biden has almost entirely kept in place – especially
affected the Black and poor Cubans who went out into the streets on July 11.
That crisis is not about to disappear with the official reopening of foreign
winter tourism on November 15
the government no longer counts with the degree of legitimacy that Fidel and
Raúl Castro, together with the rest of the “historic” generation, enjoyed when
they ruled the country. People like Miguel Díaz-Canel, the new president of the
Republic and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee,
and Manuel Marrero Cruz, the Prime Minister, belong to the systems’ second
bureaucratic generation, whose political prestige and legitimacy does not
compare with that of the historic leaders. It is not idle speculation to wonder
how many of the July 11 demonstrators would have insulted Raúl Castro and even
less Fidel Castro with the epithet singao (fucker or fucked) that they
yelled at President Díaz-Canel.
among those who think that the national demonstrations of July 11, may very
well be a watershed in the contemporary history of Cuba. But this depends
on how the Cuban people respond to the call by the citizen virtual platform Archipiélago
to organize demonstrations throughout the island on November 15. We will then
see if the demonstrations of July 11 sowed the seeds of tomorrow’s fruits, or
if unfortunately July 11 was only an isolated outbreak of rebellion
to demonstrate on November 15 could not happen in a more opportune moment
than this. After the great explosion of July 11 – and the manner in which the
government responded — it was politically logical that the next step would be
to pressure the government to recognize, de facto, if not de jure,
the right of the people to freely demonstrate in the streets.
also to be expected, that the government would proceed, as it effectively did,
to deny the permit for the demonstration, arguing that “the promoters and
their public postures, as well as their ties with subversive organizations or
agencies associated with the U.S. government have the manifest intention to
promote a change of Cuba’s political system,” and citing the Constitution
of 2019 that defines the socialist system that rules Cuba as “irrevocable.” In
other words, the present Cuban rulers have the constitutional right to maintain
and control the ruling system in the island per saecula saeculorum (forever
the constitution that was adopted under a one-party system that
monopolizes the access to television, press and radio, and did not allow other
opinion currents and parties to participate in the process of writing the new
constitution in 2019. The control of the one-party system was such, that the citizens
who participated in the discussions sponsored by the government in different
places to voice their suggestions about the project, did not even have the
right, even less the opportunity, to organize and coordinate their suggestions
with those of other people in other meeting places; nor were they able to
promote directly their suggestions (without the filters and censorship by the
PCC) to the Cuban public through the mass media, a classic symptom of the
deliberate political atomization maintained and promoted by the
impossible to predict how and to what degree the government’s prohibition is
going to affect the reach and dimensions of the protests projected for November
15. To plan small protests, as has already been proposed with the purpose
of appeasing the all powerful Cuban state, would be perceived by the regime as
a victory (achieved through its abuse of power).
international press would also see it that way, whose importance in these
situations must be taken seriously, including its impact on the Cuban
government as well as on the opposition. Such a victory would be
proclaimed by the Cuban government as a defeat for the legacy of July 11.
And it would embolden it to at least maintain the political status quo without
also must be taken into account the drastic measures that the regime will take
to prevent people from joining the march, something they could not do on July 11
because of the unforeseen nature of the protests. Cuba’s Attorney General has
already publicly warned that it will take very harsh measures to punish those
who go out in the street to challenge the regime on November 15. Face with such
a reality, it is very possible that many people will decide to stay home
and not demonstrate. And that same government will no doubt weaken the
possibilities of the movement by arresting, hundreds and hundreds of Cubans
before the day in which the demonstration is scheduled to take place, as it has
done on other occasions,
difficult to prepare for the repression that is likely to occur. But should the
Cuban people confront the state in a massive protest – people must be
prepared to take advantage of that display of power to present and promote
democratic demands. A massive protest on November 15 could lead
a surprised and fearful government to adopt a hard repressive line,
which is very likely, or to open new possibilities for the autonomous
organization of new political forces in the island.
latter possibility would require a strategic and tactical reevaluation of
the proposals and political attitudes of the new critical left in Cuba, keeping
in mind that it might possibly occur in the context of a triangular
conflict among this new left, the government and U.S.-based Cuban Right. Such
proposals, that should have been put forward a long time ago, would
become, with this opening, truly indispensable.
the list would be the abolition of the single party state, that has been
justified by the government in a great number of occasions and with the
most diverse arguments for so long. Among these is the appeal to José Martí’s
(Cuba’s principal Founding Father) idea of political unity. At the end of the
Nineteenth Century, Martí called on all the factions and groups that supported
Cuban independence to unite under the banner of the Cuban Revolutionary Party
to more effectively combat Spanish colonialism. When Martí made this call for
unity for the independence cause, he was trying to overcome the petty
jealousies and authoritarian tendencies of the insurgent military leaders and
unify the military campaign against Spain under civilian control. The unity
that he called for with respect to war, had nothing to do with the party system
that he, together with other independence leaders conceived for the new Cuban
independent republic, and even less for the constitutional establishment of
a one-party state that would exclude or declare other
justification frequently argued by the regime is based on what Raúl Castro called
the “monolithic unity” of the Cuban people that the PCC pretends to represent.
A conceit that was irrefutably exposed by the diversity of the July 11
demonstrations. Even less serious are the government’s May Day proclamations,
when it declares that the PCC is the only party that can and should represent
the Cuban working class.
one-party system is the principal obstacle to the democratization of the
country, a qualitatively different process from the liberalization
that the regime has implemented to a certain degree, as for example, when
in 2013 it considerably increased the number of Cubans who could travel abroad.
While it liberalized travel out of the country, it did not establish traveling
abroad as a right for all Cubans in the island, but as
a privilege discretionarily conferred by the government, as it is shown by
the situation of Cubans who have been “regulated,” and are not permitted to
travel abroad and return to their country.
It is for
reasons such as this, that politically conscious Cubans who are concerned with
the arbitrariness that has typified the system of the current ruling class of
Communist Party officials, have insisted for a long time in the necessity
to establish what has already been sanctioned even by the 2019 Constitution:
a country governed by the rule of law that functions according to laws and
not based on the discretion of those who rule.
a fundamental demand in the struggle against arbitrariness, privileges and
the abuse of power. However, it is an impossible political goal under the
dominant one-party state in Cuba, where the political will of the PCC,
transmitted through its “orientations” is above even of the laws and
institutions of the system itself.
consider that the abolition of the one-party state is too radical
a demand, but who want to still participate in a movement to
democratize the country, could push for demands that advance the struggle along
the same road and educate the people, making more transparent the enormous power
of the PCC. Thus, for example, they could argue that while the PCC is the only
party allowed to legally exist, it should represent the full social and
political diversity in the country, which at present it clearly
argument in favor of the inclusion of diversity in the party, would lead to the
demand that the PCC break with the tradition that they wrongly refer to as “democratic
centralism,” which in reality is a bureaucratic centralism: decisions
taken from above, in contrast with those based on a free discussion and
free vote. To achieve this would also facilitate the right to form, whenever
a number of members find it to be necessary, party factions and platforms
(for party conventions) inside the party itself.
also be demanded that the PCC transforms itself into a purely electoral
party, restricting itself to propose its candidates for the elections of public
officials. Such a change would bring to an end the “orientation”
functions of the PCC, through which it controls and directs, as the single
party in government, all economic, political, social and educational
activities. Although this change would not by itself bring about greater
democracy, it would at least bring about pluralism among power holders, with
each elected Communist acting on his or her own, which would effectively
fragment the bureaucratic monopoly of the single party.
reality, these last two proposals differ more in degree than in substance from
the first proposal, since they would all be a serious blow to the
one-party system and would create spaces to organize more effectively the
opposition to the regime, and especially to continue to insist and struggle for
the total abolition of the one party system with the objective of creating the
political basis for a socialist democracy.
playwright Yunior García has shot to fame over the past year, but not because
of his art. The 39-year old has become the face of Archipelago, a largely
online opposition group which is planning a string of pro-democracy marches
across the island on Monday.
Communist party has banned the protests – which coincide with the reopening of
the country after 20 months of coronavirus lockdowns – arguing that they are a
US-backed attempt to overthrow the government.
and other organisers say the protest is simply to demand basic rights for all
Cubans. Over syrupy black coffee and strong cigarettes in the living room of
his Havana home, García said he hoped to channel the “peaceful rebelliousness”
that he believes all Cubans have inside them.
believe in a diverse country and I think we have to completely do away with the
one-party system which limits too many individual rights,” he said.
is anathema to Cuba’s rulers who are already struggling to contain a simmering
social crisis which earlier this year triggered the largest anti-government
protests for decades.
US sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in social media use and a younger
generation hungry for change have left the Communist party reeling.The Biden
administration has continued with Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, which
since 2017 has hammered the island with more than 200 sanctions aimed at choking hard currency inflows.
result has been an economic crisis that rivals the so-called Special Period,
after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Special Period was a piece of cake compared to this,” said Umberto Molina, 71,
waiting in line outside a pharmacy. “There was medicine and you didn’t have
these never-ending queues.”
mounting frustrations exploded on to the streets in an unprecedented rash of protests – and a hardening
of positions. Cuban special forces beat demonstrators and hundreds were
imprisoned. Washington responded by imposing new sanctions.
“When the Cuban government feels more threatened by the US, its tolerance for internal dissidence goes down,” said William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University in Washington DC. “All
governments, when they feel under attack, become less tolerant of internal
opposition,” he added, pointing to the US Patriot Act following 9/11.
week, the foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, vowed that the protests would not
go ahead. “We will not allow it,” he said. “We will use our laws, our
constitution and the strictest adherence to the principles of our socialist
state of law and social justice.”
Thursday, García, said that he would march in silence and holding a white rose
on Sunday, but it was not clear if this amounted to a scaling back of Monday’s protests.
not willing to have a single drop of blood spilled, on either side of this
conflict,” García said in a Facebook post.
interview, García, 39, said he was well aware of the risks he was facing.
is full of people who have gone to prison for struggling for their rights,”
García said, offering José Martí, the 19th-century Cuban intellectual and
independence fighter, as an example.
Martí, García says he opposes “foreign interference” in Cuban affairs. But
while Martí saw the US as a “monster” to be kept at bay, García takes a
different tack. After he met with the
head of the US embassy in Havana and a former US army captain, the Communist
party released video of the encounter, and labelled García a “political operative”.
said he discussed censorship on the island and the US embargo (which he
opposes), but he denied taking advice. Nobody in Archipelago, he said, takes so
much as “a cent” from foreign governments.Tolerance of dissent on the island,
which increased under Obama years, is nosediving. Activists say more than 600
are still in prison.
of strategies have been employed to prevent Archipelago activists from
organising: García’s mobile phone line has been cut, two coordinators have been
fired from their state jobs, and activists’ families have been interrogated by
protests are scheduled for the very day that Cuba is supposed to go back to
normal after a long lockdown, with tourists returning and schools opening, has
only heightened the stakes.
government has planned a “National Defence Day” for later next week, and
menacing photos have emerged of government supporters wielding batons in
a quite properly widespread desire … that Cuba should move steadily and
quickly, and as soon as possible, towards a true democratic system, and that
the rights of peaceful protest and full freedom of expression be finally and
properly respected by the state,” said Hal Klepak, professor emeritus of
history and strategy at the Royal Military College of Canada.
“However, it is simply
unrealistic and contrary to all logic, to think that the Cuban state, besieged,
attacked and under quite savage economic warfare conducted by the greatest
power in the history of the world … can allow such rights to flourish.
Ignacio de Loyola, echoing the same conclusion as Machiavelli in such
circumstances, said: ‘In a besieged city, all dissent is treason.’”
realism is little solace for young activists yearning for the democracy.
Rojo, a single mother with two young children , said she was raised to “speak
softly and avoid problems”. But after being jailed for 27 days following the
July’s protest, she said she was determined to march on Monday for her
“I want them to grow up in a country where they can express themselves freely,” she said.
he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors
that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11,
considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on
On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street
protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane
Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11
outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns
and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of
the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media
in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no
wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media
sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt.
The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable
everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less
likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial
support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival
in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods
available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also
been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where
“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved
for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men.
The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or
ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official
Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by
right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing
were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in
South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for “humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas
(Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and
abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right
to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola,
himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological
activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and
essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a
phrase that in Cuba translates as “fucked” but
means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida
(fatherland and life). “Patria y Vida” is
the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group
of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the
song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its
explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.
“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old
Cuban government slogan of “Patria
o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense
in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual
invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation
bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence
and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.
But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959,
the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no
Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959
is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of
political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew
the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic
sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately
silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst
right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it
True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the “revolutionaries”
to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the
demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the
secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that
responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several
leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they
had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of
charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of
defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but
which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those
Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that “the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that “the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.
But Why Now?
Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the
Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the
severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying
The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of
tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and
inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years.
Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the
pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even
reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent
years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various
currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the
dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted
among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC
is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with
the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate
is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black
market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is
going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever
more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s
recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency.
Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas,
the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last
years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are
inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and
for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for
20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the
government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but
not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is
costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the
state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop
that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is
notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not
arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference
and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This
creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of
goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports
70% of the food it consumes from various countries
including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to
Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the
goods are shipped to the island.)
The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming
millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of
tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before
the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is
starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the
one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic
practices. This is not a “flaw” of the Cuban
system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a “flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and
the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the
United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of
Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in
exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that
Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely
reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House,
has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it
more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American
or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will
punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing
business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the
Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since
then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for
the American consulate in Havana.
While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it
has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at
the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and
irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is
the Cuban government and its “left” allies in
the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades,
to blame only the blockade.
At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have
neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic
control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work,
thus reducing the quantity and quality of production.
Health Situation in Cuba
After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the
early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well
during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the
region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still
unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made
a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the
economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez
Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13),
until April 12, a little more than a year
after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had
died among the 87,385
cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19.
But only three months later, on July 12, the number
of the deceased had reached 1,579
with 224, 914 diagnosed
cases (2.5 times as many
as in the much longer previous period).
The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of
the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor,
Matanzas province was 3,000
beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of
Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with
a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals.
My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of
controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated
a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take
a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional
medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing
with what results.
Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for
the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was
responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the
island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines
from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX
(Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by
several international organizations including the World Health Organization
(WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations.
Currently only 16% of the population has been fully
vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of
The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into
a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban
government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen
what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable
family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has
seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale
(including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government
clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government.
Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to
bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless,
going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they
earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods.
However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they
are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile
of 8 years duration.
The Political Context
Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime
and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their
government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel
(born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz
(born in 1963) as prime minister. This new
leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social
liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013
the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of
people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same
time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave
the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it
on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 “regulados” (people
subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all.
It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by
the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of
Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made
outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds
of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out
every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by
the government (a police method that only works for previously planned
political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11).
The One-Party State
The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s
rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym)
is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties.
Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control
from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the
unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.
Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin
America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not
approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as
reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one
honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that
doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party
bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly
repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into
the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba,
Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution
was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of
the actions of counterrevolutionaries.
The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban
constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in
a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the
so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the
decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the
official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to
maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing
the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of
working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was
established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the
workers’ best interests.
The same control mechanisms apply to other “mass
organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other
institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational
system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under
the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the
Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to
the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the
Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely
cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its
parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception
is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its
absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and
dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet
that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible.
Where is Cuba Going?
Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy
retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government
leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11,
even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad
international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the
single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course
to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the
Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political
authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially
At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow
inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing
control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized
the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it
would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the
hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an
important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with
ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The
most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen.
Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who
is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which
includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is
significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of
Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian
bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years
of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the
failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during
those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To
be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by
encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of
increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more
Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his
first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that
were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second
Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025
will do anything different remains an open question.
There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba
policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class
interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly
contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh
or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably
the most politically active business institution in the United States has
advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years.
Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year,
visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big
agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are
agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain
States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it
is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in
achieving that goal.
This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the
deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade,
through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression
and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time
becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state.
Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key
tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba.
Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather
than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the
struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in
Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong
El autor, aborda la
despolitización de la sociedad en Cuba a través de la consigna de la
Revolución, a su vez, reafirma la necesidad de la crítica y de la discusión
política, así como del conocimiento del sistema político.
Cuba es un país desbordado de
política, y a la vez extrañamente apolítico.
A pesar de toda la inflación de los
símbolos políticos, no hay espacio para discusiones políticas genuinas, debates
verdaderos, y análisis a fondo del proceso político. Escasean fuentes
confiables de información y evaluación de las políticas públicas en la isla. La
política está en todas partes, pero como tótem (¡La Revolución!) y tabúes, no
como un proceso deliberativo en el sentido de Aristóteles o Hannah Arendt.
A pesar de la aparente fertilidad de
las ciencias sociales en Cuba, medida por el número de revistas académicas y
institutos de investigación, lo que encontramos todavía en Cuba son ciencias
sociales y humanidades desangradas, que sí hablan de problemas en la isla, pero
nunca de poder. Eso solo lo puede hacer a fondo en el exilio y por cubanólogos
de afuera, pero casi siempre con datos insuficientes. Por eso los estudios
cubanos se basan demasiado sobre repertorios discursivos, dada los escasos
datos cuantificable y la falta de transparencia institucional en la isla.
Incluso las estadísticas económicas son, a menudo, poco confiables.
Dentro de la
Revolución, No Política
En la conocidísima novela 1984 de
Orwell, desbloqueada en la isla a partir la Feria del Libro de 2016, la
Newspeak, o neolengua, “was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of
thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of
words down to a minimum.” De la misma manera,
el gobierno cubano se ha esforzado para despolitizar la sociedad, “achicando”
el lenguaje utilizado para hablar de política en el país, reduciéndolo a
consignas (o mots d’ordre en el sentido de Bourdieu). La consigna mayor es la
misma “Revolución”: origen y fin (mito) de la política; fuerza infinita,
omnisciente y omnipresente; actor y proceso; persona, en el sentido de máscara
(Grenier, 2020). ¿Quien es responsable de tal o cual decisión? En fin, la
Revolución, es decir todo y nada.
Una temprana víctima del achicamiento
del lenguaje fueron las ciencias sociales, en particular la ciencia política,
eliminada como disciplina académica a principio de los años sesenta bajo la
consigna: “La universidad para los revolucionarios” La sociología también fue
abolida de 1980 a 1991. Un marxismo leninista de corte soviético (e.g.
Konstantinov, Yajot, Makarov) pronto se convirtió en pensée unique en la isla.
Con “las ideas de emancipación social de Marx, Engels y Lenin” (Constitución de
la República), no hace falta ciencia política—disciplina burguesa por definición,
ya que supone una autonomía de la esfera política, y que a la pregunta “quién
obtiene qué, cuándo y cómo”, para citar la famosa definición de la política del
politólogo Harold Lasswell, la respuesta no puede ser solamente la burguesía o
El economista y cubanólogo canadiense
Arch Ritter destaca algunas de las implicaciones de esta situación. Para él,
“una de las consecuencias de la ausencia de la disciplina de ciencia política
en Cuba es que solo tenemos una vaga idea de cómo funciona realmente el
gobierno cubano. ¿Quién en el Politbureau y el Comité Central del partido
realmente toma decisiones? ¿Hasta qué punto y cómo las presiones de las
organizaciones de masas afectan realmente a la toma de decisiones, o el flujo
de influencia siempre es de arriba a abajo y no el inverso? ¿Qué papel
desempeñan las grandes empresas conglomeradas que se encuentran en la economía
del dólar internacionalizada y la economía del peso en el proceso de
formulación de políticas? ¿La Asamblea Nacional es simplemente una concha vacía
que, por unanimidad, aprueba cantidades prodigiosas de legislación en períodos
de tiempo extremadamente cortos?” (Ritter, 2013). Enseguida pregunta
retóricamente: “¿Por qué este análisis político está esencialmente prohibido en
las universidades cubanas? Puedes adivinar la respuesta” (Ritter, 2013). Bueno,
sí, podemos: tiene que ver con los tabúes acerca de “quién obtiene qué, cuándo
y cómo”. Como lo afirmó Masha Gessen con respecto
a la sociología en la Rusia de Pútin: “An ideal totalitarian regime would find
a way to obtain sociological data without the sociologists” (Gessen, 2016). No
existe un régimen totalitario ideal, así que el plan B es tener científicos
sociales, pero controlados.
Los estudiosos de las ciencias
sociales e intelectuales en Cuba deben rechazar el dogmatismo y celebrar la
crítica y los debates, como invariablemente lo hace el mismo liderazgo político.
Sin embargo, es sabido que de ninguna manera se puede cuestionar los dogmas
oficiales sobre la infalibilidad del liderazgo histórico o la identificación de
la dirección con la Revolución, así como la irrevocabilidad del sistema
político comunista de partido único. En otras palabras, hay que fingir el
Ha sido aconsejable para los
científicos sociales partir de un repertorio marxista leninista, como
fundamento metodológico e ideológico de todas investigaciones, o al menos no
confrontarlo con una perspectiva alternativa. Se ha podido explorar teorías
no-marxistas (el posmodernismo fue popular durante los años 90), pero con
cuidado, sin cuestionar el paradigma único. También se acogen con beneplácito
las blandas descripciones de las estructuras jurídicas y los debates pseudo
técnicos sobre las políticas públicas en revistas de ciencias sociales como
Previsiblemente, los “debates” en Cuba
cuentan con oradores ultra-cautelosos que en su mayoría están públicamente de
acuerdo unos con otros, siendo toda la energía redirigida hacia las polémicas
contra los enemigos oficialmente sancionados y los flagelos intemporales del
gobierno: dogmatismo, burocratismo, corrupción, descontento juvenil, residuos
pre-revolucionarios del sexismo y el racismo, y por supuesto, el imperialismo
norteamericano, el “bloqueo” y el orden mundial capitalista. Todos se animan
para “mejorar el socialismo” y la revolución. El liderazgo político
rutinariamente desafía a los “intelectuales públicos” y periodistas a atreverse
más, no menos: signo infalible de la presencia de la censura sistemática.
En cualquiera de los “debates” de
“Último Jueves”, por ejemplo, las soluciones a los problemas convergen hacia el
ideal oficialista: más participación, más compromiso con La Revolución, y a
mejorar un sistema político en construcción perpetua. Es significante que
cuando unos se atreven a abordar el tema de “cómo funciona el sistema político
en Cuba,” como fue excepcionalmente el caso de un “debate” de Último Jueves en
febrero de 2016, no hubo ninguna discusión sobre “cómo funciona”, solamente
comentarios generales sobre posibles mejoras, las cuales invariablemente pasan
por una reafirmación de las aspiraciones oficiales. Cuanto menos se habla de
poder, más se habla de ideales políticos universales (justicia, participación,
El marxismo de corte leninista permite
una politización de la “ciencia” y conlleva un aura científica a la política
(el “materialismo científico”). Ha sido una ideología conveniente para el
gobierno cubano y para otros gobiernos comunistas por dos razones, ambos
relevante para entender el marasmo de las ciencias sociales cubanas.
En primer lugar, abrazar y estudiar
sus textos canónicos adormece la curiosidad sobre los procesos de toma de
decisiones reales bajo un tipo de régimen que fue solo un sueño durante la vida
de Marx: el comunismo. Marx escribió ampliamente y a veces con perspicacia
sobre las fallas estructurales de las sociedades capitalistas (y
pre-capitalistas). Pero aparte de sus nebulosas referencias a la Comuna de
París y las glosas sobre las estrategias revolucionarias en su “Crítica del
Programa de Gotha”, el análisis de Marx del comunismo es más teleológico que
político. En la Cuba de hoy, el marxismo leninista es un repertorio de códigos
ideológicos y un arma que permite criticar los enemigos del gobierno.
En segundo lugar, el marxismo (no
tanto su versión leninista) puede usarse como una teoría o un paradigma en
ciencias sociales, como ocurre en todo el mundo–hoy en día en las humanidades
y estudios culturales más que en ciencias sociales y para nada en economía.
Pero en sociedades abiertas, el marxismo compite con otras teorías e
interpretaciones, lo que le da una vitalidad inexistente en países donde es una
pensée unique como en Cuba. No es sorprendente que el marxismo no sea muy
sofisticado en Cuba: la ausencia de crítica genuina, la cual pasa por la
confrontación con otras perspectivas, es una sentencia de muerte para cualquier
perspectiva científica o filosófica.
Un tropo común utilizado por los
porteros de las ciencias sociales oficiales es que el marxismo cubano es
crítico y humanista, al revés del marxismo soviético “rígido” y “mecánico”,
defendido (y definido) por nadie. Se puede criticar el “estalinismo”, entendido
como desviación del modelo leninista original (oficializado en la misma
constitución cubana), pero no la Constitución de Stalin de 1936, la cual es el
modelo por la constitución cubana de 1976. En Cuba, el rechazo del “marxismo
mecánico” es mecánico. Tiene que ver con posicionamiento político y
burocrático, no con la práctica de la crítica, sin la cual ningunas ciencias
sociales pueden florecer.
Hay buenos cientistas sociales en
Cuba, por la misma razón que hubo buenas pinturas erótica en la época medieval:
porqué el talento y la imaginación siempre pueden manifestarse a pesar de los
parámetros más estrechos.
MSI, 27N, y
El espacio público se abrió
inesperadamente con la irrupción del Movimiento San Isidro en septiembre de
2018 y la manifestación frente al ministerio de cultura el 27 de noviembre de
2020 (27N). Se trata de un movimiento de jóvenes artistas y periodistas independientes,
con demandas bastante parecidas a la Glasnost (más espacio de expresión), pero
con relámpagos de críticas metapolíticas que amenazan el régimen. Recordamos
que el mundo del arte goza de una autonomía relativa y condicional impensable
en la universidad. El arte de vanguardia, por definición disonante y elitista,
es también una fuente importante de proyección internacional y de divisas por
las arcas del estado (el embargo no se aplica a la venta de producción
No hubo, que yo sepa, apoyo
significativo de la universidad al movimiento, salvo una larga petición, con
más de quinientos nombres de “intelectuales cubanos,” titulada “Articulación
Plebeya”. Si no me equivoco, la grande mayoría de
los firmantes viven en el extranjero, y el texto de la petición se limita a
celebrar el bien común, la paz, el medio ambiente, el diálogo, la inclusión, y
mucho más parecido, todo “dentro del marco de las leyes y la Constitución.”
Aunque llama la atención el pasaje sobre el rechazo a “toda acción estatal
violenta,” el tono más conciliador que el del MSI o 27N indica claramente la
presencia de parámetro más estrechos en la academia que los que rigen el
mundillo de las artes y de lo que podemos llamar la sociedad civil cubana.
Un país no puede sobrevivir sin
historiadores, matemáticos, economistas, biólogos, etc. Aparentemente sí se
puede subsistir sin genuinas ciencias políticas … pero ¿a qué precio? Y las
ciencias sociales en general, ¿que pueden cumplir si el máximo de crítica
posible es la revista “Temas”? ¿Y si Cuba Posible ya no es posible?
Para funcionar bien y utilizar
plenamente su capital humano, un sistema político necesita transparencia, información,
examen crítico de las políticas públicas, sin miedo a la verdad. En Cuba se
necesita mejores datos sobre cómo funciona realmente su sistema político, y
análisis a fondo de los problemas y de sus posibles causas políticas,
levantando el velo del secreto que cubre la mayoría de las transacciones
políticas. ¿Es esto posible “dentro de la Revolución”?
Grenier, Y. (2020). Cuban Studies and
The Siren Song of La Revolución. Cuban Studies.
. “Achicar” el lenguaje también es una
característica de la distópia totalitaria en la obra maestra de Boualem Sansal,
2084, La fin du monde (Paris: Gallimard, 2015).
. Asimismo, Armando Chaguaceda afirma
que “la ausencia de estudios a fondo y la falta de acceso público a temas clave
como la composición de la élite política cubana y su circulación real y
mecanismos de toma de decisiones mantienen casi toda la producción en el campo
en un nivel superficial.” Armando Chaguaceda, “House of Cards and Political
Science in Cuba,” Havana Times, 21 March 2014,
 Ver el último capítulo de mi libro:
Yvon Grenier, Culture and the Cuban State, Participation, Recognition, and
Dissonance under Cmmunism (Lexington Books, 2017): chapter 6: “Faking
 “Articulación plebeya: a propósito de los
sucesos en el Ministerio de Cultura,” El Toque, 28 de noviembre, 2020.
In response to crippling economic
stagnation, Cuba has passed regulations which hint at a turn towards a more
market-driven economy. However, political control over key sectors including
education and the media still lies heavily with the state. The most striking
policy, which allows thousands of professions to run outside the remit of the
state, will change the character of business within Cuba and may lead to
increased innovation and interaction with international markets. Could Cuba’s
economic liberalisation lead to further political freedoms?
Hints of Change
the number of tourists visiting Cuba dropped by 80% and its economy accordingly shrank by 11%.
Times are hard for Cubans, with queues growing outside grocery stores and
businesses being forced to close. The economic downturn has been lurking for
many years. In particular, Cuba has suffered from the Trump Administration’s
sanctions, imposed to placate the Republican voter base by designating the
Cuban government as a “sponsor of terrorism” from its support for
response to economic hardships and US sanctions, Cuba has indicated an
intention to liberalise the economy. A strong signal of change to Castroist
economic ideas are demonstrated by the Díaz-Canel government’s removal of the somewhat confusing dual currency system
in January 1, 2021, previously established in 1994 after the loss of Soviet
subsidies. This major change, which led to a surge in inflation and devaluation
of the peso, had costly implications for Cubans by placing downward pressure on
the purchasing power of salaries and pensions.
A Landmark Shift in Business Privatisation
currency change is just one part in a series of major reforms. On 6th February,
Labour Minister Marta Elena Feito Cabrera stated that the government would
allow private participation in more than 2000 professions; a stark contrast to
the previous limit of 127 professions. The expansion in private participation
means that previously illegal enterprises can now function openly.
hoped that this will unleash a wave of innovation in a wide range of sectors. This
could work in tandem with recovery from the pandemic. For instance, there
has been encouraging news regarding Cuba’s own “Soberana 2” Covid-19 vaccine: The government
believes that it can administer this vaccine to the whole of Cuba’s population
by the end of the year and export the vaccine to Latin America as a source of
the new private business law does have many caveats: private enterprises lack
certain resources and access to supply chains that state-owned enterprises
possess. For instance, the government maintains control of all large industries
and wholesale shops and monopolises 124 professions, thereby restricting
options for obtaining supplies. In the short-term, the large restructuring of
the economy will inevitably cause painful effects with bankruptcies and unemployment rising.
Yet, in the long-term, opening up may yield positive benefits through increased
opportunities for entrepreneurs. The sectors included within the 124 professions remaining under state remit (including
law enforcement, defence, the media, education) suggest that Cuba is looking to
follow the model of China or Vietnam through the
introduction of capitalist economic policies with the maintenance of tight
Could Improved Relations with the US Spur Political
Change in Cuba?
follow-on effect of Cuba’s economic liberalisation could be a strengthening of
relations with the Biden administration. Indeed, the recent theme of economic
policy changes would require more foreign investments and capital, for which
improved relations with the US would be important.
ties could have political liberalisation effects in Cuba. The Obama
Administration’s relationship with Cuba was emblematic of this trend: Obama’s approach
of normalising relations with Cuba, which was designed to “create economic opportunities for the Cuban people”,
increased US influence in other spheres of Cuban society. Citizens began to criticise issues such as access to medical care,
education, unemployment and domestic media sources while religious leaders and
artists started to articulate positions contrary to the official narrative. This
suggested that civil society was for the first time open to vocally opposing
the political system, despite the government responding with detentions of some dissidents and censorship of blog posts . A similar phenomenon
is possible if Havana’s new economic policies leads to a strengthening of
economic ties with the Biden Administration.
Is a new Cuba Realistic?
Cuba is ripe for change. The push and pull of reform efforts in recent years suggest disputes between traditionalists and more progressive, youthful factions. In April, Raúl Castro will step down as leader of the Communist party which will see the end of the Castro name in Cuban politics for the first time in over 60 years. This has major symbolic significance: Fidel Castro established the political and economic systems that endure today, such as the characteristics of a one-party state with complete control of the media. Combined with the election of Biden, who will likely take a more lenient approach to Cuba in comparison to Trump, and an array of free market policies in the midst of an economic crisis, it seems a realistic possibility that Cuba could undergo major structural change in the coming years.
Author’s Note – This article originally appeared
in Spanish in La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), one of the most important
critical blogs in the island, where the Internet remains the principal vehicle
for critical opinion because the government has not yet succeeded in
controlling it. The article elicited some strong reactions including that of a
former government minister who called it a provocation.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by the revolutionary government in
1921 was in fact an attempt to reduce the widespread discontent among the
Russian people with measures designed to increase production and popular access
to consumer goods. Even though the Civil War (1918-1920) caused great hardship
among the rural and urban populations, it was the politics of War Communism,
introduced by the Bolshevik government during that period, that significantly
worsened the situation. This led to a profound alienation among those who had
been the pillars of the October Revolution in 1917: the industrial workers, and
the peasantry that constituted 80 percent of the population.
In the countryside, the urban detachments, organized to confiscate from the
peasantry their agricultural surplus to feed the cities, ended up also
confiscating part of the already modest peasant diet in addition to the grain
needed to sow the next crop. The situation worsened when under the same policy
the government, based on an assumed class stratification in the countryside
that had no basis in reality, created the poor peasant committees (kombedy)
to reinforce the functions of the urban detachments. Given the arbitrary
informal and formal methods that characterized the operations of the kombedy,
these ended up being a source of corruption and abuse, frequently at the hands
of criminal elements active in them, who ended up appropriating for their own
use the grain and other kinds of goods they arbitrarily confiscated from the
Moreover, during the fall of 1920, symptoms of famine began to appear in the
Volga region. The situation became worse in 1921 after a severe drought ruined
the crops, which also affected the southern Urals. Leon Trotsky had proposed in
February 1920, to substitute the arbitrary confiscations of War Communism with
a tax in kind paid by the peasantry as an incentive to have them grow more
surplus grain. However, the party leadership rejected his proposal at that
The politics of War Communism was also applied to the urban and industrial
economy through its total nationalization, although without the democratic
control by the workers and the soviets, which the government abolished when the
civil war began and replaced with the exclusive control from above by state
administrators. Meantime, the workers were subjected to a regime of militarized
compulsory labor. For the majority of the Communist leaders, including Lenin,
the centralized and nationalized economy represented a great advance towards
socialism. That is why for Lenin, the NEP was a significant step back.
Apparently, in his conception of socialism, total nationalization played a more
important role than the democratic control of production from below.
The elimination of workplace democracy was only one aspect of the more general
clampdown on soviet democracy that the Bolshevik government launched in
response to the bloody and destructive civil war. Based on the objective
circumstances created by the war, and on the urgent need to resolve the
problems they were facing, like economic and political sabotage, the Bolshevik
leadership not only eliminated multiparty soviets of workers and peasants, but
also union democracy and independence, and introduced very serious restrictions
of other political freedoms established at the beginning of the
decade of the nineties, and especially since Raúl Castro assumed the maximum
leadership of the country in 2006–formally in 2008 – economic reform has been
one of the central concerns of the government. The logic of that
economic reform points to the Sino-Vietnamese model–which combines an
anti-democratic one-party state with a state capitalist system in the
economy–and not to the compulsory collectivization of agriculture and the
five-year plans brutally imposed on the USSR by Stalinist totalitarianism after
the NEP. The Cuban government’s decision to authorize the creation of the PYMES
(small and medium private enterprises), a decision frequently promised but not
yet implemented, would constitute a very important step towards the establishment
of state capitalism in the island. This state capitalism will very probably be
headed by the current powerful political, and especially military, leaders who
would become private capitalists.
now, the Cuban government has not specified the size that would define the
small and especially the mid-size enterprises under the PYMES concept. But we
know that several Latin American countries (like Chile and Costa Rica) have
defined the size in terms of the number of workers. Chile, for example, defines
the micro enterprises as those with less than 9 workers, the small-size with 10
to 25 workers, the medium-size with 25 to 200 workers, and the big size with
more than 200 workers. Should Cuba adopt similar criteria, its mid-size
enterprises would end up as capitalist firms ran by their corresponding
administrative hierarchies. If that happens, it is certain that the official
unions will end up “organizing” the workers in those medium size enterprises
and, as in the case of Chinese state capitalism, do nothing to defend them from
the new private owners.
political reform, there has been much less talk and nothing of great importance
has been done. As in the case of the Russian NEP, the social and economic
liberalization in Cuba has not been accompanied by political democratization
but, instead, by the intensification of the regime’s political control over the
island. Even when the government has adopted liberalizing measures in the
economy, like the new rules increasing the number of work activities permitted
in the self-employed sector, it continues to ban private activities such as the
publication of books that could be used to develop criticism or opposition to
the regime. This is how the government has consolidated its control over the
major means of communication –radio, television, newspapers and magazines –
although it has only partially accomplished that with the Internet.
government is also using its own socially liberalizing measures to reinforce
its political control. For example, at the same time that it liberalized the
rules to travel abroad, it developed a list of “regulated” people who are
forbidden to travel outside of the island based on arbitrary administrative
decisions, without even allowing for the right of appeal to the judicial system
it controls. Similar administrative practices lacking in means for judicial
review control have been applied to other areas such as the missions organized
to provide services abroad. Thus, the Cuban doctors who have decided not to
return to the island once their service abroad has concluded, have been victims
of administrative sanctions – eight years of compulsory exile – without any
possibility of lodging a judicial appeal.
pending is the implementation of the arbitrary rules and the censorship of
artistic activities of Decree 349, that allows the state to grant licenses and
censor the activities of self-employed artists. The implementation of the
decree has been postponed due to the numerous and strong protests that it
provoked. All of these administrative practices highlight the fact that the
much discussed rule of law proclaimed by the Constitution is but a lie. Let us
not forget that the Soviet constitution that Stalin introduced in 1936 was very
democratic … on the paper it was written. Even so, Cubans in the island should
appeal to their constitutionally defined rights to support their protests and
claims against the Cuban state whenever it is legally and politically
beginning of the Cuban revolutionary government there was a variety of
political voices heard within the revolutionary camp. But that disappeared in
the process of forming the united party of the revolution that established the
basis for what Raúl Castro later called the “monolithic unity” of the party and
country. That is the party and state model that emulates, along with China and
Vietnam, the Stalinist system that was consolidated in the USSR at the end of
the twenties, consecrating the “unanimity” dictated from above by the maximum
leaders, and the so-called “democratic centralism”, which in reality is a
Communist Party (CCP) is a single party that does not allow the internal
organization of tendencies or factions, and that extends its control over the
whole society through its transmission belts with the so-called mass
organizations (trade unions, women’s organization), institutions such as the
universities, as well as with the mass media that follow the “orientations”
they receive from the Department of Ideology of the Central Committee of the
CCP. These are the ways in which the one-party state controls, not necessarily
everything, but everything it considers important.
ideological defenders of the Cuban regime insist in its autochthonous origins
independent from Soviet Communism. It is true that Fidel Castro’s political
origin is different, for example, from that of Raúl Castro, who was originally
a member of the Socialist Youth associated with the PSP (Partido Socialista
Popular), the party of the pro-Moscow orthodox Communists. But Fidel
Castro developed his “caudillo” conceptions since very early on, perhaps as a
reaction to the disorder and chaos he encountered in the Cayo Confites
expedition in which he participated against the Trujillo dictatorship in the
Dominican Republic in 1947, and with the so-called Bogotazo in Colombia in
in a letter he wrote to his then good friend Luis Conte Aguero, Fidel Castro
proclaimed three principles as necessary for the integration of a true civic
movement: ideology, discipline and especially the power of the leadership. He
also insisted in the necessity for a powerful and implacable propaganda and
organizational apparatus to destroy the people involved in the creation of
tendencies, splits and cliques or who rise against the movement. This was the
ideological basis of the “elective affinity” (to paraphrase Goethe) that Fidel
Castro showed later on for Soviet Communism.
can we do? The recent demonstration of hundreds of Cubans in front of the
Ministry of Culture to protest the abuses against the members of the San Isidro
Movement and to advocate for artistic and civil liberties, marked a milestone
in the history of the Cuban Revolution. There is plenty of room to reproduce
this type of peaceful protest in the streets against police racism, against the
tolerance of domestic violence, against the growing social inequality and
against the absence of a politically transparent democracy open to all, without
the privileges sanctioned by the Constitution for the CCP. At present, this
seems to be the road to struggle for the democratization of Cuba from below,
from the inside of society itself, and not from above or from the outside.
lesson of the Russian NEP is that economic liberalization does not necessarily
signify the democratization of a country, and that it may be accompanied by the
elimination of democracy. In Cuba there has been economic and social
liberalization but without any advance on the democratic front.