Tag Archives: Opposition

IT’S NOT JUST THE US EMBARGO

As much as the US embargo contributes to its problems, Cuba’s historic protests show that the government can’t ignore citizens’ legitimate demands

International Politics and Society, 23.08.2021 |

Carlos Alzugaray

Original Article: “Not Just the Us Embargo” 

After protests swept the whole country in July, the Cuban government has started taking measures to contain the fallout. While this response goes beyond the regime’s initial repression, it hasn’t yet entirely left that path. If the country’s leadership wants to survive this test, it has no choice but to respond to citizens’ legitimate demands.

Whether one may like it or not, the events of 11 July 2021 will have an effect on how Cubans themselves and their country. For most of the population, it was a sad day – and most people would rather not remember the sad days. But it cannot be ignored. At present, information about what actually happened is still patchy; it is difficult to navigate between fake news and the official versions of events.

What has been established is that, on Sunday 11July, there were widespread anti-government protests, some of which ended in violence – and this had never happened before in Cuba. As such, many observers and indeed the authorities themselves were surprised. The result was images of violence and a situation which had escalated out of control. Whatever the details, this is objectively damaging for the Cuban government: and even if, as looks unlikely, the situation settles back down, the reputational damage will last.

NOT A SURPRISE

Actually, the Cuban government shouldn’t have been surprised by the course of events – this being the same government that had for months been talking up the possibility of a ‘soft coup’ or a ‘colour revolution’ planned across the water by its arch-enemy, the US. Perhaps it was the surprise of something actually happening that led the government to clamp down so repressively, while pursuing the same endless propaganda communication strategy as ever despite its demonstrably diminishing returns.

It’s equally surprising that this unrest did not surface much earlier, considering the privations to which the Cuban population has long been subject and which have been further worsened by the pandemic.

Thanks to the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile, unrest in the country was staved off.

Now, the unrest is here – and its effect is palpable. Just three months after the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party and two years after establishing a new constitution, the new Cuban leadership finds itself in crisis. A crisis that, in many ways, evokes the situation in the socialist countries of eastern Europe just prior to their collapse.

CUBA’S EARLY ACHIEVEMENTS

There are, however, several differences. Cuba is a third-world country which, after years of neo-colonial suppression, liberated itself by means of a national revolution. As the result of an aggressive confrontation with Washington, this revolution became increasingly radical – and was initially successful, too, in its goal of halting the advance of US imperialism. The result was a socialist model that because of an alliance with the Soviet Union offered considerable advantages for at least the next three decades.

Thanks to the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile, unrest in the country was staved off. Essentially, the fact that the socialist regime not only survived a direct confrontation with the US but went on to become a unique actor on the world stage – not only during the Cold War, but beyond – conferred considerable credit on the government and allowed it freedom of manoeuvre in domestic issues.

These achievements and successes are without doubt the foundation of Cuban regime’s resilience and its people’s stoicism in the face of lasting and quite extraordinary difficulties. Yet while these difficulties certainly are caused by the US embargo, they are in no small part also the result of governmental inadequacy and poor policy. When it comes to the role of the country’s political opposition, the situation is similar. Certainly, some groups are being supported from the US with a view to subverting the Cuban regime.

THE DOMESTIC OPPOSITION

Yet during the unrest, the activists with US support were less visible than those of the country’s domestic Movimiento San Isidro and 27N groupings. Then again, there is no doubt about the fact that protests were encouraged on social media – to no small degree by political influencers who do not live in Cuba, but rather mainly in Miami, where militant anti-Castro activism remains an important local industry financed from a range of state and non-state sources. In Cuban national reality, social media has become a toxic element as millions of dollars are pumped into fake-news campaigns aiming to destabilise the regime.

Even if, however, the trigger came from outside, unrest would not have flared up if it had, inside Cuba, not found fertile ground prepared by numerous political mistakes on the part of the government. Here, a range of factors played a role: in the poorest urban areas, conditions had worsened considerably; overall, food supply had become increasingly erratic; and after a successful start in combating the pandemic, the situation in healthcare was becoming unstable.

The government reacted by proclaiming that ‘the embargo is the problem’ and talking down the protests as ‘interference from outside’ in an effort to cover up its own errors. What the regime has underestimated is the dissatisfaction that this mantra now provokes. Certainly, the sanctions upheld against Cuba by the US for almost 60 years now represent, to paraphrase US historian Peter Beinart, a kind of economic war against a country under siege. Beinart is right to criticise the embargo as a non-military act of war – and one which, given that the stated aim has always been regime change, has never had much prospect of success. And while Washington refutes Cuban accusations, it is a simple matter of fact that Joe Biden has maintained sanctions imposed by Donald Trump even as the pandemic has continued to rage.

Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake.

Yes, for more than six months now, the Biden Administration has failed to make good on its manifesto promise and remains locked in the Trumpian version of Republican Party logic vis-à-vis Cuba policy – the illusion that ever more extreme sanctions will eventually succeed in dislodging the regime which came to power in 1959. So this much seems likely: sanctions against Cuba will remain in place for the next three years; Cubans will get even poorer; the Cuban government will continue to be bullied.

THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT NEEDS A RETHINK

In view of this, Havana is currently trying to contain the fallout. Yet the regime needs to examine the political and social situation – and grasp that only economic policy focusing on efficiency and activating domestic productive capacity can get the country out of the current crisis. Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake. The reforms the government has promised, especially in respect of food distribution, need to be enacted – fast.

The issue of how to deal with the figureheads of the protests adds another layer of complexity to the situation. The government cannot allow the impression to develop that, either at home or abroad, it is cracking down hard on peaceful demonstrations. Yet currently, there are rumours about summary justice and questionable court proceedings leading to sentences of ten to twelve months for people who, in many cases, do not seem to have been involved in any acts of violence. This comes for Cubans who have only recently had the important experience of debating and then approving a new constitution in which the importance of fair trials is underscored. Now more than ever, citizens are demanding nothing more – and nothing less – than that the police act within the law.

The Cuban government, too, needs to rethink how it works. As its population is increasingly deaf to the argument that the embargo is the root of all evil, it needs to make a serious attempt to overcome two key political-ideological obstacles in its way. Firstly, there is the outdated approach to socialism as a system primarily steered from central planning bureaus; this dogmatic dirigisme reduces the role of the market in distributing resources to a minimum – with all the attendant problems. Secondly, the regime needs to distance itself from an idea of socialism as an authoritarian model that can ignore or even criminalise those whose criticism is intended to make the country’s economy more efficient and its society more democratic, to see its 2019 constitution enacted and establish the rule of law.

A WHOLE NEW MOMENT FOR CUBA

Yet the regime’s reaction to the events of 11 July as communicated official media channels showed no signs of overcoming this tendency. Those who took part in the protests have been discredited and decried as criminal elements – overlooking the specific and legitimate demands made by many in a peaceful manner. This may come back to haunt the regime.

These demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just what difficulties the country’s society is facing.

Furthermore, official announcements have sought to justify the use of repressive violence – a message with which many Cubans who, while not directly involved, have observed (and been shocked by) events, strongly disagree. Internationally, Cuba’s image has taken a hit. There is still no clarity about the number of demonstrations or how they played out, how many took part, and how many participants have been placed under arrest. Meanwhile, intellectuals and artists have publicly denounced the regime’s repressive course, with many demanding the release of all peaceful protestors – including such figures as songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who enjoys a great deal of respect among many in government.

The lack of genuine information is leaving space for disinformation to circulate around both external actors and the country’s population – disinformation spread with the aim of undermining the government. At the same time, Cuban citizens have broadly accepted the precept that peaceful protests are legitimate and should be protected under law. This is a precept with which the government, however, in clear contravention of the principal of a socialist country under the rule of law, does not agree. This is not sending the right message – neither on a domestic nor international level.

These demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just what difficulties the country’s society is facing. These difficulties have been further aggravated by a US embargo which continues to impoverish the Cuban population and exert pressure on the country’s government. The current situation represents a stress-test for the Cuban regime, which would do well to remember that, when faced with similar situations, like-minded politicians had more success when they decided to pursue a path of generosity and listen to citizens’ legitimate concerns rather than leaving demands to fall on deaf ears.

The Spanish version of this article appeared in Nueva Sociedad.

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CUBA’S LEADER, FACING GROWING CRITICISM, DOUBLES DOWN ON ORDER TO CRACK DOWN ON PROTESTERS

By Nora Gámez Torres

Miami Herald, August 26, 2021 06:55 PM \


Original Article

President Miguel Diaz-Canel

With the world watching as Cubans protested on the streets all over the island on July 11, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel took what some experts believe was a decision that will come back to haunt him: He gave a “combat order” to fellow revolutionaries to squash those calling for freedom and the “end of the dictatorship.”

In the aftermath of images of police repression and pro-government mobs hitting protesters with clubs going viral, there has been a rare wave of criticism from government insiders, state journalists, and prominent figures in the arts, pointing to a crisis of governance in the communist island that no other leader has faced in six decades.

Diaz-Canel recently told journalists working for state-sanctioned outlets that he doesn’t regret the order to crack down on anti-government demonstrators. But the fact that he felt the need to gather the journalists at a meeting Saturday to justify his decision is the latest example of a damage-control campaign to restore his dwindling popularity and political standing.

“I made a call to the people that day because it seemed to me that it was the right thing to do and that I do not regret or will not regret,” he said in a video of the meeting that was later edited and televised this week. “We had to defend against demonstrations that were not peaceful at all. And that is a false story that they have also put out there.”

But even in the controlled setting of the Palace of the Revolution, and among some of his more staunch defenders, he could not avoid criticism.

A young journalist who works on Editorial de la Mujer, or Women’s Publishing, stood up and told him that political troubles call for “political solutions… not only, or not police actions.”

“President, you acknowledged that apologies should be given wherever an excess was committed,” said Lirians Gordillo. “We also need to tell those stories because nothing can harm this country more than an injustice or an excess that is not recognized out loud.”

A day after his controversial statement on July 11, Diaz-Canel appeared on television to walk back his words and strike a more conciliatory tone. But a month later, his “combat order” and the violent repression that followed, including hundreds of documented detentions and summary trials, are still causing him trouble.

Sweating despite the air conditioning at the Palace of the Revolution and stumbling over his words a couple of times, the leader acknowledged Saturday that there might have been “some excesses.” He said those cases would be investigated but denied that there are protesters who are “disappeared or have been tortured.”

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Cubalex, all human-rights organizations tracking the arrests, have documented cases of mistreatment and protesters whose whereabouts are still unknown.

“Díaz-Canel has lost all credibility,” said a source close to the Cuban government who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “That day he appeared on TV and said what he said, all hopes among the younger generations that he would be a reformer were destroyed in 20 minutes. And from then on, he has continued to screw up.”

Shortly after images of the violence spread on social media, prominent Cuban musicians and other members of the island’s artistic community, including Leo Brouwer, Adalberto Alvarez, Elito Reve and members of the legendary band Los Van Van, posted candid criticism on social media.

Brouwer said he never imagined that security forces would attack peaceful Cubans.

“Impossible to be silent,” said Alvarez. “The beatings and the images I see of the violence against a people that took to the streets to peacefully express what they feel hurt me.”

“The streets in Cuba belong to the Cubans. I can not do less than be by your side in difficult times,” he wrote on Facebook.

In a stunning rebuke of Díaz-Canel’s response to the crisis, a former Cuban ambassador who frequently defends the government’s views on foreign media said Cuban authorities could not ignore its citizens’ legitimate demands.

Carlos Alzugaray, a former ambassador to the European Union, wrote an opinion column criticizing the government’s “clampdown” on protesters “so repressively, while pursuing the same endless propaganda communication strategy as ever despite its demonstrably diminishing returns.”

While he repeated the government line that the U.S. embargo is the source of Cuba’s economic troubles, he added they were “in no small part also the result of governmental inadequacy and poor policy.” And, he added, the Cuban government was “proclaiming that ‘the embargo is the problem’ and talking down the protests as ‘interference from outside’ in an effort to cover up its own errors.”

The message, however, does not appear to be getting through at the top levels of the Cuban government.

Last week, the government published a draconian law to criminalize expressing dissenting opinions on the internet. Diaz-Canel seems to be on a personal crusade against social media, which he called a “colonial tool” that promotes hate.

The Cuban leader has not been treated kindly by his fellow Cubans on social media, where he is constantly derided, when not made the butt of jokes and memes. A vulgar insult repeated by thousands of people during the demonstrations has now become attached to his name on Google search.

After Raúl Castro picked him to succeed him in 2018, Diaz-Canel has faced one crisis after another. Widespread shortages and blackouts, and controversial decisions like selling food in U.S. dollars that the population does not earn, have made him an unpopular figure and the target of the demonstrators’ anger.

From the beginning, his position has been tenuous. As a non-Castro, he doesn’t have the credibility of the so called históricos, those who fought for the revolution in the 1950s in the Sierra Maestra mountains. But he still needs to cater to Communist Party hardliners. And he is expected to carry out long-delayed reforms like the currency unification that has angered ordinary Cubans even more.

“He might as well become a one-term president, since he was left all the ugly stuff to make the country survivable” in financial terms, said John Kavulich, the president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Still, Diaz-Canel was named the Party’s First Secretary in April this year, after Raul Castro’s official retirement, a powerful position he could have used to stop the repression of protesters “if he had the will,” the source close to the island’s government said.

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PROTESTS IN CUBA: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW REVOLUTION?

Interview with Silvia Pedraza

University of Michigan, Michigan Today

July 20, 2021.

Original Article: Protests in Cuba

Faculty Q&A

The protests calling for “Fatherland and Life” in Cuba have been met with military tanks and censorship by the Cuban government. U-M sociologist Silvia Pedraza says the protests are the result of a perfect storm that includes the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of a charismatic leader, the deep financial crisis unleashed by changes in the currency, and greater access to the internet in recent years.

Originally from Cuba, Pedraza seeks to understand the causes and consequences of immigration as a historical process that forms and transforms nations. A professor of sociology and American culture, she is the author of several books, including Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and co-author of the forthcoming Revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela: One Hope, Two Realities (University of Florida Press, under contract).

Dr. Silvia Pedraza

What is “Patria y Vida” and why is it relevant to the protests?

Current protests in Cuba are calling for “Patria y Vida” (Fatherland and Life), the title of a recent rap song by young, Afro-Cuban dissident artists, that has become the banner of the protest movement. The song was created by rappers both on the island and in Miami — Luis Manuel Otero-Alcántara, Maykel Osorbo and Yotuel, among others. It takes off from Fidel Castro’s motto of “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death), insisting that the Cuban government should provide its citizens with a decent life and liberty, as has been denied for over 60 years. This song is a continuation of the San Isidro movement that erupted last Nov. 27, 2020, when hundreds of artists and other mostly young people sat in front of the Ministry of Culture for days, demanding a real dialogue with the Cuban government and real participation in the country’s political life. President Miguel Díaz-Canel denied them both, calling the dissenters “mercenaries” and blaming the protests on the U.S. embargo. Now the protests of thousands of people in many cities across the full length of the island are being met with military tanks and repression as the government insists “the revolution” must be preserved.

What has led to the current protests in Cuba?

We are seeing a number of completely different factors that have come together, creating a perfect storm. One of these factors is certainly the continuation of the U.S. embargo, but that is an old ingredient Cubans have adjusted to, so it can’t be said to be the cause of what is happening right now.

In January 2021, Cuba underwent a drastic reform of its financial life as it did away with the old currency it imposed many years ago, the CUC, and returned to the old Cuban peso overnight. The result was a spiraling inflation of prices that left Cubans unable to buy food or medicine, when they were hungry and ill. In the last decade, the Cuban economy has declined steeply, contracting by -11% GDP growth last year. At present, Cuba imports food and exports little. The pillars of Cuba’s economy are international tourism, Venezuela’s oil, and remittances from the émigrés. Recently, all three have declined to the point where they no longer hold up the island’s economy.

Before, events where the people rebelled against the government happened in different parts of Havana, for example, but nobody else knew what had happened so it never triggered a collective response. Now, we see that knowledge of what others are doing is widely shared and it has triggered a collective response. As a result, the Cuban government cut off the internet for some days.

The new ability that Cubans found in the last three years or so to get onto the internet, to see how the rest of the world lives, and to communicate among themselves with ease (none of which was ever possible before), is quite an important ingredient. Before, events where the people rebelled against the government happened in different parts of Havana, for example, but nobody else knew what had happened so it never triggered a collective response. Now, we see that knowledge of what others are doing is widely shared and it has triggered a collective response. As a result, the Cuban government cut off the internet for some days.

Former President Trump also left in place some sanctions that have made a difference. For example, Trump did away with Western Union offices in Cuba. Now Cubans who live in poverty inside the island can no longer rely on the help from their family in Miami, throughout the United States, in Latin America, and Spain. Until just a few months ago, the family overseas sent money, clothing, medicines, and food. Now, Cubans whose lives are very precarious cannot rely on their family abroad to buoy them up.

The pandemic also has made a difference. The impact the coronavirus has had on society has been profound — not only in Cuba but also in the United States, India, and Brazil. Not only has it killed many people, but people can see the government’s lack of capacity to deal with a very serious problem. The problem has not gotten better but has gotten much worse to the detriment of everybody in the population. Thus, no one believes that the government can be counted on to really help them.

The Cuban people are tired of communism — so many beautiful promises, so little delivered. I honestly believe that we are possibly seeing the beginning of a revolution in Cuba, another revolution after 62 years.So all of these things have come together and there is a perfect storm going on in Cuba. It could end in a massive exodus, but I am not expecting it to. People are not saying, “I want to leave this country and get out of here and make a new life somewhere else.” What they are saying is,  “We want a different government. We want real democracy in this country. This is our nation. This is our fatherland. This is our motherland. Look at the signs people are holding up, saying: ‘Patria y Vida.’ Listen to what they are shouting: ‘Libertad (Freedom).’”

This could be the beginning of another Cuban revolution because it is not just about economics or just about the exodus. Now, it is about the political structure of the country. The problem is the government, which is not responsible to its citizens. The Cuban people are tired of communism — so many beautiful promises, so little delivered. I honestly believe that we are possibly seeing the beginning of a revolution in Cuba, another revolution after 62 years.

What other factors have influenced this wave of protests that we have seen in Cuba?

When the communist world collapsed in the early 1990s and something similar happened, when the economy contracted by -35% of GDP in three years and Cubans experienced great hunger, Fidel Castro, with his great skill and charisma and “lip service,” as they say in Cuba, called it “a special period” during a time of peace. People don’t want to experience this twice.

Donald Trump did away with Western Union offices in Cuba. Now Cubans who live in poverty inside the island can no longer rely on the help from their family in Miami, throughout the United States, in Latin America, and Spain. Until just a few months ago, the family overseas sent money, clothing, medicines, and food. Now, Cubans whose lives are very precarious cannot rely on their family abroad to buoy them up. Second, Fidel Castro, with his charisma and oratory skills, is not there. Raúl Castro is already very old and never had that charisma, though he did usher in some good reforms for the people. And Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is not a leader who has reached the minds or hearts of the people, and I do not think he has much administrative capacity either because it is already seen that his response to the protests has been repression.

Social scientists often wish they could separate the impact of one variable from another in predicting a particular outcome, so we could say that this was due to the currency exchange or to Trump’s sanctions or to the coronavirus or to the dwindling help from Venezuela. But the reality is that it is due to all of this having come together, in a historically contingent manner.

What has been the contribution of the U.S. embargo to the crisis?

The embargo has been eased since 2000, when Congress voted to do so, given the tragedy of family separation that took place around the small boy, Elián González, the youngest balserito (rafter) to be rescued at sea. Since then, the U.S. is a major trading partner for Cuba. The United States sells cereals and grains to Cuba, from the Western states. It sells chickens from the Carolinas and turkeys from Michigan and some medicines.

Trump imposed very strong sanctions against Cuba. President Biden could have easily removed them, but he hasn’t. New Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that neither Cuba nor Venezuela was a priority for the administration. It is up to Congress to ease the embargo further, and I think they should, as it has not been able to topple the Cuban revolution but has, rather, been counterproductive. One can see Cuba’s president now blaming all that is happening on the embargo — as they have consistently done. That is what counterproductive means. The Cuban government is going to try to blame everything on the United States embargo, but it is no worse now than before. More serious is that Donald Trump destroyed the ability of the Cuban exile to help their family on the island, to keep them afloat.

Trump imposed very strong sanctions against Cuba. President Biden could have easily removed them, but he hasn’t. New Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that neither Cuba nor Venezuela was a priority for the administration. So if anything will result from these protests, it is that they may well make Cuba, and perhaps Venezuela, a priority for Biden. I hope so.

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A Revolt Against The Revolution: THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON PROTESTERS

The communist island has not seen such big displays of discontent for decades

Original Article: A REVOLT AGAINST THE REVOLUTION

On july 11th thousands of protesters took to the streets spontaneously in more than 50 Cuban towns and cities. They had a long litany of grievances: recurring electricity shortages, empty grocery shops, a failing economy, a repressive government and an increasingly desperate situation regarding covid-19. In a display of discontent not seen on the communist island for perhaps six decades, people of all ages chanted and marched, some of them to the tune of clanging spoons and frying pans. They shouted “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life)—a riff on the revolutionary slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death), and the name of a rap song which criticises the government—along with “Libertad!” (Freedom) and “Abajo la dictadura!” (Down with the dictatorship).

Although protests continue, by the next day cities were quieter as the police went from house to house, rounding up the demonstration leaders. Riot police spread out across cities, plainclothes officers took to the streets and pro-government mobs brandishing images of Fidel Castro were called in to chant revolutionary slogans and wave Cuban flags. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president and first secretary of the Communist Party, appeared on television to declare: “Cuba belongs to its revolutionaries.” Around 150 people have gone missing, and one protester has been killed. There are rumours that young men are being forcibly conscripted into the army.

The big question is how much staying power the protests will have. The coming weeks will show whether the regime’s stock response of swatting down any signs of dissent will work again. The government has little leeway to buy social peace. Cuba has been badly hit by covid-19 and by a precipitous drop in tourism, on which it heavily depends. A lack of foreign currency with which to buy imports has led to acute food shortages and blackouts. Under the administration of Donald Trump, the United States tightened sanctions on Cuba. These have added a little to the island’s longstanding economic troubles.

Cuba’s reluctance to buy foreign vaccines, born of a mix of autarky and a shortage of cash, means that only 16% of the population is fully inoculated. Home-grown vaccines are being developed, but have not yet been fully rolled out; meanwhile, pharmacies are short even of basics like aspirin. Whereas tourism has resumed in nearby places where covid-19 has receded, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Cuba is suffering from rising infections. Even the official data show the number of new cases doubling every seven days. In a video posted to Facebook, Lisveilys Echenique, who lives in the city of Ciego de Ávila, described how her brother spent 11 days battling covid-19 without treatment because he could get neither medicine nor a hospital bed. After he died, his corpse remained in her home for seven hours before an ambulance arrived.

The Cuban economy came close to collapse in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union brought foreign aid to an abrupt halt. There were public protests then, too, which were quickly dispersed. But Cubans now have access to the internet and are adept at using it to mobilise. Videos of police violence and arbitrary arrests have been circulating rapidly in recent days. At one point in the afternoon of July 11th, as the protests reached their height, the authorities appeared to block all internet access. Some social-messaging sites have also been suspended.

But much as the government may wish to turn the internet off, it cannot afford to: the exorbitant access fees charged by the state telecoms monopoly are an important source of foreign exchange. The internet is also a vital conduit for remittances from Cubans abroad. Mobile data and Wi-Fi charges bring in perhaps $80m a month for the government, estimates Emilio Morales of Havana Consulting Group in Miami.

“The government has closed itself up like an oyster,” says José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas, editor of El Toque, a Cuban magazine mostly published online. “Instead of acknowledging that it has to come out and establish a dialogue with its people, it has chosen repression.” Tear gas and rubber bullets were used against crowds, although in some instances security officers were so outnumbered by protesters that they were forced to retreat. As things escalated, police cars were overturned and some dollar stores, symbols of the regime’s economic incompetence, were ransacked.

Mr Díaz-Canel blames Cuba’s troubles on the embargo imposed by the United States, as the government always does. He has ignored the complaints of the protesters, dismissing them as mercenaries, and offered excuses rather than plans for reform. After the president gave a speech on July 12th more protesters gathered outside the Capitol building in Havana. Other than stepping down, there is not much Mr Díaz-Canel could do to make amends to his people, says the owner of a small business. “You can’t cover the sun with one finger,” she says. Rumours are circulating that even members of the police are starting to defy their orders, as some think the protesters have a point.

Alfred Martínez Ramírez, a member of 27n, a group of activists, artists and intellectuals campaigning for greater freedom of expression, joined a protest outside the Ministry of Culture in November. Some 300 people were present, which at the time seemed a huge number. Cubans rarely protest, not least because unauthorised public gatherings are illegal. Seeing thousands of people on the streets of Havana and elsewhere in Cuba gives Mr Martínez Ramírez hope that his group is not alone, and that they may have even helped many others overcome their fear of dissent. “There has been an awakening,” he says.

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THE MASK SLIPS: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING LIE AT HOME

Joe Biden should scrap Donald Trump’s policies and lift the embargo

The Economist, July 15th 2021

Original Article: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING

Thousands of protesters thronged the streets on July 11th. Some stoned the police and looted posh shops. Such outbursts are unprecedented in Cuba since the communists secured their hold on power in the 1960s. “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” they chanted, and “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life), quoting an underground reggaeton song that mocks Fidel Castro’s tired slogan of “Fatherland or Death”.

All this poses an extraordinary challenge to the dull bureaucrats who rule Cuba, after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his younger brother, Raúl, earlier this year. The regime has responded with repression. “Revolutionaries, to the streets,” urged Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president who this year took the helm of the Communist Party, unleashing troops, police and loyalist mobs wielding baseball bats. At least one person was killed. Scores have been detained and the government has sporadically cut access to the internet.

Repression may work in Cuba, as it has elsewhere. But something there has snapped. The tacit contract that kept social peace for six decades is broken. Many Cubans used to put up with a police state because it guaranteed their basic needs, and those with initiative found a way to leave. Now Cubans are fed up. When Mr Díaz-Canel blames the protests on “American imperialism”, all he shows is how out of touch he is. The protesters are young, mainly black and dismiss the Castros’ revolution of 1959 against an American-backed tyrant as ancient history.

They have plenty to complain about. The pandemic has shut off foreign tourism, aggravating the economy’s lack of hard currency. Raúl Castro launched economic reforms, but they were timid and slow, permitting only minuscule private businesses. It was left to Mr Díaz-Canel to take the most momentous step, by ordering a big devaluation in January. Without measures to allow more private investment and growth, that has merely triggered inflation. As its sanctions-hit oil industry collapses, Venezuela, Cuba’s chief foreign patron over the past 15 years, has curbed its cut-price oil shipments, prompting power cuts during the heat of summer. Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become acute. Despite Cuba’s prowess at public health and its development of its own vaccine, the government has failed to contain the pandemic. The sick are dying, abandoned at home or on hospital floors.

Two other factors explain the outburst. One is the change of leadership. The Castros commanded respect even among the many Cubans who abhorred them. Mr Díaz-Canel, without a shred of charisma, does not. And the internet and social media, allowed only in the past few years, have broken the regime’s monopoly of information, connecting younger Cubans to each other and the world. They have empowered a cultural protest movement of artists and musicians. Its message, in the unanswerable lyrics of “Patria y Vida”, is “Your time’s up, the silence is broken…we’re not scared, the deception is over.”

Mr Díaz-Canel faces a choice: to turn Cuba into Belarus with sunshine, or to assuage discontent by allowing more private enterprise and greater cultural freedom. That could weaken the army and the Communist Party, but it would eventually salvage some of the revolution’s original social gains.

Curiously, many Republicans in the United States echo Mr Díaz-Canel’s description of America’s role in the protests. President Donald Trump tightened the economic embargo against Cuba, barring American tourists, curbing remittances and slapping sanctions on state firms, largely reversing Barack Obama’s opening to the island. Like Cuba’s president, Republicans argue that the unrest proves the embargo is working at last.

Not so. True, the embargo has made life harder for the Cuban government. But its restrictions mainly hurt Americans. The regime can still buy American food and medicine and trade with the world. The causes of Cuba’s social explosion lie at home.

Open the windows

Joe Biden should draw the obvious conclusion. So far he has left Mr Trump’s Cuba policy intact, so as not to annoy hawkish Cuban-Americans. Instead he should return to Mr Obama’s approach. The big threat to a closed regime is engagement with the world, especially the United States. Mr Biden should lift the embargo and deprive the regime of an excuse for its own failures. 

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CUBAN ANTI-COMMUNIST ANTHEM FEATURING GENTE DE ZONA GOES VIRAL, SPARKS STATE FURY

Reuters, February 20, 2021.

By Sarah Marsh, Rodrigo Gutierrez

Original Article: Anthem Featuring “Gente de Zona” Sparks State Fury

HAVANA (Reuters) – A group of Miami-based Cuban musicians including reggaeton duo Gente de Zona launched an impassioned anti-Communist anthem this week that has gone viral, sparking a furious state response.

Gente de Zona, Yotuel of hip-hop band Orishas fame and singer-songwriter Descemer Bueno collaborated on the song with two rappers in Cuba, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, who are part of a dissident artists’ collective that sparked an unusual protest against repression outside the culture ministry last November.

“Homeland and Life” repurposes the old slogan “Patria o Muerte” (“Homeland or Death”) emblazoned on walls across the Caribbean country ever since Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution and expresses frustration with being required to make sacrifices in the name of ideology for 62 years.

The lyrics refer to ideological intolerance, the partial dollarization of the economy, food shortages and the exodus of young Cubans who see no future on the island. The government blames its economic woes largely on crippling U.S. sanctions.

The video here featuring the five artists – all Black men – has racked up 1 million views on YouTube in three days, sparking lively discussions on social media, while many in Cuba – where internet service is costly – are sharing it on USB sticks.

“No more lies, my people calls for freedom, no more doctrines” sings Alexander Delgado, one half of GdZ, chanting “It’s over” in the refrain.

The Miami-based artists had until recently managed the tightrope of achieving capitalist success abroad without breaking with the Communist-run island. GdZ even called for applause for Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel at a Havana concert in 2018 although that sparked calls for a boycott from some in the exile community.

BACKLASH

Cuban state media and officials including the president have launched a barrage of attacks, Twitter hashtags and memes on “Homeland and Life,” branding it unpatriotic and without artistic merit. They say the artists behind it are opportunistically trying to placate their Miami public.

“It makes fun of one of the slogans held aloft by our people in the face of continuous U.S. aggressions,” said Havana-based TV anchor Froilan Arencibia.

Ana Dopico, the Cuban-born director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University, said the rejection of that revolutionary cry was unprecedented in recent Cuban popular music.

“It shocks us all out of the depressing menace of death that comes with our understanding of nation,” she said.

The song reflects a surge in overt anti-Cuban-government sentiment among more contemporary generations of Cuban migrants, said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

But it has also resonated with people on the island, especially youths who have become increasingly vocal about their frustrations since the advent of mobile internet two years ago, with some emblazoning their Facebook Profile photos with the banner “Homeland and Life.”

“I follow Fidel’s ideals but lately things have been happening that I don’t really agree with,” said Havana resident Loraine Martinez, who enjoyed the song.

This is not the first time that the songs of Cuban musicians on the island and abroad have become stand-ins for political causes, said Bustamante. But the Cuban government’s response was unusually forceful, he said, reflecting its anxiety and what he called “misplaced priorities.”

“If they are worried about popular frustration, the way to fix that is to focus on bread-and-butter reforms, not this kind of reflexive ideological performativity,” he said.

Yotuel, Patria y Vida
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THE CRIMINALIZATION OF OPPOSITION POLITICS IN CUBA

Against the Soviet Model

Sam Farber

SPECTRE JOURNAL, January 13, 2021; Original Article

This is a translation of an article that appeared on December 28, 2020 in La Joven Cuba, a left-wing critical blog, one of the most important in Cuba. The article immediately created a stir in social media. The Cuban government has so far failed to entirely control the Internet, which remains the main outlet for critical political views in the island. –SF

There are anti-democratic states that not only repress political opposition, but also criminalize it – a very effective method to avoid the dissemination and discussion of political ideas that diverge from the ideology of the state. That was the case of the Soviet Union and continues to be the case in those regimes that adopted the principal structures of the Soviet model, such as China, Vietnam, and our own Cuba.

That is how, under the direction of the Cuban government, the members of the San Isidro Movement were recently arrested by the police on criminal charges for supposedly having violated “the health protocols of international travelers” adopted by the government to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. In reality, they were arrested for political reasons: for publicly protesting as a group against state repression of one of its members. This is a typical example of how the Cuban government faces its critics: replacing political language with administrative-police language.

Cuba was once part of the longstanding Latin American tradition that sets apart political conduct and avoids reducing it to common crime. That is why this tradition supports the right of political asylum as well as the differential treatment of political and common prisoners.

Batista’s dictatorship, for example, respected the political asylum that hundreds of Cubans opposed to the dictatorship claimed, in order to save their lives, by taking refuge in many of the Latin American embassies in Havana. He certainly violated that right on many occasions, as in the notorious case of the police assault on the Haitian Embassy that he ordered on October 29, 1956, where all his political opponents who had taken asylum there were murdered. The chief of the National Police, Rafael Salas Cañizares, one of the most notorious henchmen of the dictatorship, also died in that incident when one of the asylum seekers shot him to death with a gun he had in his possession.

In the case of Latin America, the most notable exception to the general practice of conceding political asylum was that of the Peruvian Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder and leader of the APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) who, in order to protect himself from the Peruvian government under the dictatorship of Manuel Odría, obtained asylum in the Colombian embassy at the beginning of 1949. Haya de la Torre remained in that embassy for five years until he finally obtained safe passage from the Peruvian government to leave the country for Mexico, although only after the International Court of Justice rejected Odría’s demand for Colombia to hand over the Peruvian opposition leader.

The revolutionary Cuban government abandoned the tradition of recognizing political asylum when it adopted the Soviet model at the beginning of the sixties. A clear example of that turn were the events that took place in the Peruvian Embassy in Havana in April of 1980, when under the orders of Fidel Castro, the government forces surrounding the periphery of the embassy blocked the entrance of the Cubans seeking asylum there. The only ones who were initially able to enter the embassy were the survivors of an armed clash that ensued with the government guards where several people were killed. The government eventually withdrew the guards from the embassy. It was then that approximately ten thousand Cubans were able to get in and ask asylum in order to leave the country, which they did, along with more than one hundred thousand other Cubans, between April and June of 1980.

Continue reading: The Criminalization of Opposition Politics in Cuba

Sam Farber
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PROTEST IN CUBA: SPREADING NONCONFORMITY IN THE AGE OF COVID AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Halifax ChronicleHerald, Dec 14 at 4:44 p.m.

YVON GRENIER

Original Article: Protest in Cuba

Something extraordinary is happening in Cuba these days — and I am not talking about the absence of Canadians on its beaches.

Hundreds of mostly young artists, independent journalists, and some academics, are raising their voices against censorship. Some of them even call the regime for what it is: a dictatorship.

Discontent has been brewing in the island for some time, especially among young Cubans. But the spark for this rapid escalation was a few arrests too many, as well as the wider availability of social media over the past two years.

First, there was the arrest and imprisonment of an irreverent rapper (Denis Solís) for “disrespecting authority.” Solís is a member of a loose and mostly artist-based collective named the San Isidro Movement. The “MSI” emerged in 2018, to protest against new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Then, Solís’ arrest, the video of which he made available on social media, prompted some of his friends to go on hunger strike in the MSI headquarters, demanding his release and calling peers to join them in protest. It was their turn to be detained, by police in civilian clothes, who illegally broke into their apartment for the alleged misconduct of violating the COVID-19 testing protocol. The websites they were using to call for action were blocked by the government — so much for the public health concern — but, apparently, too late: digital nonconformity was already spreading wide in the community.

Arbitrary arrests are common in Cuba: There were close to 2,000 cases in the first eight months of last year. But this time, a straw broke the camel’s back. On Nov. 27, up to 300 mostly young Cubans turned up in front of the ministry of culture, calling for the release of Solís, greater freedom of expression, and … dialogue with the minister of culture. Many more would have joined had the place not been blocked by security agents.

In a one-party communist state that criminalizes opposition, no collective and public protest of this magnitude was ever attempted or tolerated in Cuba since the revolution — with the possible exception of a repressed LGBTQ parade last year.

This appears to be a wide opposition movement. There are known dissidents (like “artivist” Tania Bruguera), and a few irreverent but institutional cultural figures, like film director Fernando Pérez and beloved actor Jorge Perugorría, who offered support. In between, one finds a whole ecosystem of potential dissidents, who are not (yet) advocating open confrontation with the so-called “revolutionary” (in fact conservative) government. Many of them are independent journalists and bloggers, like Carlos Manuel Alvarez (age 31), who publicly called for “conversation …  not just with a supporting actor like a minister,” but directly with President Díaz-Canel.

Unavoidably, protesters were cheered on by the usual suspects in the U.S. government; no less predictably, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the event an “imperialist reality show.” Official media called the protesters “mercenaries,” and even “terrorists”. Two white members of the almost all-white ruling class (Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto) indulged in tropical Trumpism, smearing the mostly poor, brown and black crowd as “vulgar, tacky and miserable” (Mariela), and “marginals” and “criminals” (Prieto). Even an occasionally dissonant but mostly official bard of the regime like singer Silvio Rodríguez, whose songs were actually sung by the protesters, publicly said that the government was handling this very badly.

All of this may seem like a footnote compared to massive anti-dictatorial demonstrations and violent crackdowns in Venezuela and Nicaragua — or even anti-neoliberal demonstrations in democratic Chile and Peru. Cuba is a dictatorship, but not one that systematically tortures or opens fire on crowds. (This may change.) In addition to exporting its opposition (about 20 per cent of Cubans live abroad), the government secures compliance most effectively with neighborhood spy networks, public shaming (the infamous “acts of repudiation”) and incarceration. This toolkit has been in full display in the past two weeks.

Change in Cuba?

This may just be a moment, an important one, in the awakening of civil society. Cubans generally toe the line, and know what line not to cross. But the “little police” in each and every Cuban, as they often call this mechanism of self-control, is increasingly disrupted by other voices. Social media is a big factor here, so the Cuban government may crack it down more. But it would be a mistake. Young Cubans are already fed up, and crave change (or exile). If artists can connect with them more broadly, this moment may lead to something bigger.

Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish.

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THE ART OF DISSENT: The Movimiento San Isidro challenges Cuba’s regime

The government has responded with repression. But the dissidents’ movement sees signs of progress

The Economist, December 5, 2020

Original Article: The Art of Dissent

THE FRONT door of Damas 855, a ramshackle building in San Isidro, a poor neighbourhood of Havana, snapped like a wishbone when security agents charged through it on the evening of November 26th. The lock and chain tumbled to the ground. The agents, dressed in medical gowns, arrested 14 people (their pretext was that one of the residents had violated a covid-19 testing protocol). They had locked themselves in for eight days to protest against the arrest of Denis Solís, a young rapper who had been accused of disrespecting authority and sentenced to eight months in prison. A few of the Damas 855 denizens were on a hunger-and-thirst strike. Police cars took the detainees away. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram went down on most of the island for about an hour. Connections have been spotty since.

To defenders of Cuba’s 62-year-old revolution, the adherents of Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) are reprobates. On Twitter the country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, called it an “imperial show to destroy our identity and subjugate us again”. A photo of President Donald Trump accompanied the tweet. State media echoed the message.

Some Cubans take a kinder view of the movement, which includes artists, scholars, journalists, rappers, poets and scientists who advocate freer expression and more democracy than the communist regime allows. Its leaders are Luis Manuel Otero, a performance artist, and Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo, a musician who sewed his lips shut in prison in August. They gather in a part of Old Havana where the mainly black residents live in rickety housing in the shadows of luxury hotels. When a balcony collapsed in January, killing three girls, Mr Otero wore a hard hat for nine days to honour them. He has been arrested more than 20 times over the past two years. His hunger strike landed him in hospital.

The movement began in September 2018 in response to Decree 349, which proposed to restrict cultural activity that is not authorised by the culture ministry. After a protest that month outside Cuba’s legislature, the government suspended enforcement of the decree. That has not stopped it from silencing voices it doesn’t like.

MSI is not comparable to Belarus’s mass movement to overthrow a dictatorship. Cuba has no such movement, though pro-democracy activists were among the 1,800 people who have been arbitrarily arrested in the first eight months of 2020, according to Human Rights Watch. MSI has more in common with other recent home-grown protests that have wrung small concessions from the regime.

In August 2017 cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) proposed reforms, such as the right to incorporate, to the labour ministry. Initially they were rebuffed. The government forced the cancellation of events meant to help budding entrepreneurs. When in 2018 it threatened to restrict each entrepreneur to one line of business, cuentapropistas, who run much of the economically vital tourist industry, said they would strike. The rules were eased.

A clash between the gamers who cobbled together SNet, a private intranet, and the communications ministry played out in a similar way, though the government yielded less. On an island with poor and expensive connectivity, the network was a way for gamers to play with one another, often games they had created. When the government restricted the use of such networks and threatened to confiscate the equipment in May 2019, SNet users were devastated. Several dozen gathered at the ministry to protest. Police cars quickly surrounded them. The government eventually decided that SNet and its hardware would be permitted, but under the supervision of the state-run youth computer clubs.

Like the cuentapropistas and the SNet gamers, MSI began in response to a threat to its members’ private pursuits. But it has more potential to grow. On the day after the Damas 855 raid nearly 300 people, many of them supporters of other movements, gathered outside the culture ministry, refusing to leave until the vice-minister, Fernando Rojas, agreed to meet them. Security forces and “rapid-response groups”, trained to shout communist slogans at sceptics, flooded the area. Agents in plain clothes snapped photos and took videos.

Mr Rojas met with 30-odd activists for nearly five hours on November 27th-28th and promised more dialogue. But the government then launched a media campaign against MSI. Police chased Mr Otero after his release from hospital.

Even so, the movement thinks it has made progress. The gathering outside the culture ministry is a sign of an emerging “collective unconformity”, says Carlos Manuel Álvarez, one of the Damas 855 detainees and a co-founder of El Estornudo (“The Sneeze”), an independent online magazine. He sees that as a direct threat to the culture of submission demanded by the regime. Its agreement to meet participants in such a large protest “was unprecedented”, says Camila Ramírez Lobón, a visual artist who joined the meeting with Mr Rojas. Artists who are both popular and acceptable to the regime, like Fernando Pérez, a film director, and Leoni Torres, a musician, have publicly backed MSI.

The internet, unreliable though it is, is making such movements harder to control. More than 60% of Cubans have access to a connection. That has led to “an explosion of civic activism” among groups advocating such causes as feminism, gay rights and animal rights, says José Jasán Nieves, editor of El Toque (“The Touch”), an independent online publication. Some were at the culture-ministry protest. If they joined forces more often, they might challenge the government more effectively.

Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, divided between hardliners who remember the revolution and younger officials who are slightly more liberal, is not about to yield. On December 1st the government released Silverio Portal Contreras, a prominent political prisoner (and supporter of Mr Trump, who has imposed sanctions on the Cuban regime). That is probably not a sign that the regime is growing tolerant of dissent. More likely, it was a way to allay anger about the San Isidro raid.

Most Cubans, who queue for hours for chicken or eggs, often to return home empty-handed, have little interest in the doings of agitators like those of MSI. Their suffering has got worse since the pandemic shut down tourism. But a vaccine, and perhaps a softening of American sanctions by the incoming Biden administration, might eventually ease shortages. More Cubans might then ask why they have so little freedom.

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CUBAN GOVERNMENT CALLS OFF TALKS WITH ARTISTS

 Original Article, Havana Times, December 4, 2020

By Circles Robinson

Cuban artists after the late-night encounter and initial accords for dialogue with the vice minister of culture Fernando Rojas early on November 27th. Photo: 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – The Ministry of Culture, announced today it would not honor its agreement for a dialogue with Cuban artists. The Communist Party currently carries out a massive media campaign to paint artists critical of government policy as “mercenaries”. They are also holding “seminars” at workplaces to reinforce the accusations.

The government had already backtracked in less than 24 hours on the other accords reached between the vice minister of Culture and hundreds of artists in the wee hours of November 27th. These included a truce in the harassment and criminalizing of independent artists and journalists, and police restrictions on their mobility.

The reasons for reneging on the agreements

The Ministry of Culture said today it would no longer meet with the artists. It alleged: “they have direct contacts and receive financing and logistical support from the US Government and its officials.”

Furthermore, the Ministry blames the artists for its backtracking on the dialogue for including participation of members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI).

It was that Movement, a week long hunger strike, and the nighttime State Security assault on their headquarters on November 26th, which led to a spontaneous day-night sit-in of hundreds of people from the Cuban cultural world the following day at the gates of the Ministry of Culture.

Late that night vice minister Fernando Rojas finally met with a delegation of 30 artists including some MSI members. To diffuse the tense moment, Rojas promised a dialogue for the coming week to discuss issues and concerns.

The Ministry statement published in the official press today justified their reneging on their promise. “The inclusion of persons who for a long time, have violated patriotic symbols, committed common crimes and made direct attacks on the Cuban Revolution under the guise of art, is what led to breaking off any possibility of dialogue.”

The Castro-Diaz Canel government maintains that any criticism of their policies, laws and leaders originates from the United States. According to them, no Cuban has a right to criticize a government that only acts to benefit the people. Furthermore, for decades they maintain that the US embargo is the cause of all their failed economic policies.

The policy of dealing with artists and writers dates back to 1961

The Ministry said its doors were open, “as always”, to those artists who are not committed to the enemies of the Cuban nation.

Back in 1961, Fidel Castro set what is still government cultural policy. He said that all cultural expression that supports the Revolution would be permitted.  In official lingo, the Revolution, Communist Party, leaders and the government are all one and the same.

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