Tag Archives: Opposition

CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE: MAIN CHALLENGES

Vegard Bye. Senior Research Fellow Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo. vegard.bye@sum.uio.no

Complete Article: CUBA’S CRITICAL JUNCTURE

Abstract

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, where a complete and generational change of leadership is unavoidable (between 2018 and 2021). The country and its Revolution is up against some unavoidable and complicated choices in the coming four years. With the rapidly approaching end of the Castro era, without any clear new leadership structure in sight, and with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc particularly among the younger generations, a deep legitimacy crisis is looming. What are the principal challenges ahead, and how can and will they be solved?

  1. Introduction

Cuba is rapidly approaching a critical juncture, as a complete and generational change of leadership seems inevitable between now and 2021. The country and its revolution will be facing a series of complex, unavoidable choices in the next four years. With the end of the ‘Castro era’ and no clear new leadership structure in sight, combined with an apparently unsolvable economic crisis and rapidly shrinking confidence in the political power bloc, particularly among the younger generations,1 a deep legitimacy crisis is looming.

This study analyses some of the main challenges represented by the new international setting particularly concerning relations with the USA and the change from Barack Obama (2008–2016 to Donald J. Trump (2016) in the White House. These issues include how the economic crisis is undermining the welfare state that was once the pride of the Cuban Revolution, and the political challenges that may ensue; and how the monolithic character of the Cuban power structure is being put to the test by the increasing differentiation of interests between the early winners and the early losers of the economic reforms. The study also indicates some of the dilemmas of post-totalitarian political transformation identified in the theoretical literature, and relates these to other similar processes. Finally, we present some paradigm choices facing the next generation of leaders, and then discuss how a game of power, hegemony and legitimacy may unfold in post-Castro Cuba. While the most likely outcome still seems to be the continuation of some type of authoritarian and neo-patrimonial system, it is also possible to imagine some key post-Castro decisions that could take the country in a more pluralistic and participatory direction – although President Trump’s return to confrontationalism is making that even less likely. The harsh choice may be between re-building legitimacy and reverting to a much more repressive system.

Discussing political structures and their possible transformation is highly complicated regarding a system as opaque as that of Cuba, where there is no academic or media tradition of open analysis of power structures or ready access to reliable data. Such discussion may become quite speculative, as it is virtually impossible to underpin crucial observations about power relations with firm quantitative data – turning the choice of methodology towards qualitative analysis. Still, we believe it is worth putting together the available theoretical and empirical elements that may give indications about the future direction of a country that has played such a significant role in world politics and political/ideological discussions – a role quite out of proportion to its small size. Cuba offers a laboratory for the analysis of transformative politics.

……………………………….

  1. Conclusions

As yet, fairly authoritarian scenarios appear to be the likely outcomes of the transformation process. However, there remains the question of how absolute is the power that Cuba’s formal power bloc continues to exercise – and whether other options may emerge, against the odds, as the post-Castro generation prepares to take over the reins. Recently revealed remarks by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the most likely presidential candidate in February 2018, leave few expectations for a prompt break with the past.15

The information monopoly has been definitely broken in Cuba – although the information hegemony may still be in place (Hoffmann 2016). Young people, also party loyalists, encounter no problems in seeking alternative information and views about the outside world as well their own country, including about the root causes of the economic failure. This will have consequences for how the next generation of leaders will need to communicate with the populace, and take public opinion into account, if they want to build a new capital of legitimacy. Moreover, the Party’s social hegemony appears to be slipping away, particularly among younger Cubans who hardly care about what happens at a Party Congress or in other formal decision-making bodies. This may even mean an actual loss of absolute political power – how relevant, then, will the three documents of principle discussed at the 7th Party Congress and ‘supported’ by the mid-2017 session of the National Assembly will be for the future of Cuba?

On the other hand, there seem to be no indications of counter-hegemonic forces developing, within or outside of party and state structures. Still, we should remain aware to the possibility that the looming ‘crisis of legitimacy’ in Cuba might become a ‘crisis of hegemony’ or of ‘authority’ (see Gramsci 1999Anderson 1976). It is no simple matter to apply such concepts, originally developed for analysing social and class forces in early industrial Europe, to the transformation process of a post-totalitarian system or an authoritarian socialist system searching for alternatives. However, the alternative Gramscian concepts of a passive revolution vs. the creation of a counter-hegemonic bloc may still be relevant. In the former, the bourgeoisie (or nomenclature in the Cuban case) would allow certain demands by looking beyond its economic-political interests and allowing the forms of hegemony to change (typically in the way the Nordic model was conceived in the 1930s). This would imply that the Cuban power elite might have to look for a similar adaptation of its hegemonic bloc in order to meet the emerging legitimacy crisis, particularly after 2018. The alternative might well be a deep organic crisis, tempting new social forces to set about building a counter-hegemonic historical bloc, leading to what Gramsci called ‘creating the new’ (which in Cuba would be some kind of post-socialism), rather than ‘restoring the old’ through a passive revolution.

One possible source of challenge to the existing hegemony of the Cuban political system would come from civil society, perhaps feeding on the growing self-confidence felt by private entrepreneurs as their critical economic role becomes more visible and recognised by the regime. ‘What is threatening to authoritarian regimes’, noted Przeworksi (1991: 54–55), ‘is not the breakdown of legitimacy but the organisation of counter-hegemony: collective projects for an alternative future. Only when collective alternatives are available does political choice become available to isolated citizens.’ Thus, according to Przeworski and building on the Gramsci concept of hegemony, the emergence of civil society organisations in itself becomes a relevant force for regime transformation only in a situation of falling legitimacy, if civil society organisations manage to organise a ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’. This has not yet happened in Cuba, nor is there any sign that it is about to happen. That being said, however, serious problems of legitimacy at a critical juncture may result in a new situation.

Moreover, no negotiation scenario is yet on the table in Cuba. Linz and Stepan (1996), Przeworski (1991) and Saxonberg (2013) all introduce the issue of negotiations at specific points during post-totalitarian transformation. Przeworski sees the issue of alliance building between groups willing to negotiate on the part of the regime and civil society as decisive for the outcome of any negotiation: ‘visible splits in the power bloc indicate to the civil society that political space may have been opened for autonomous organization. Hence, popular mobilization and splits in the regime may feed on each other’ (1991: 57).

Cuba has not yet arrived there: power-bloc splits are not evident, nor is there anything like a counterpart with which to negotiate. For that to happen, the combination of regime crisis –perhaps with the prospects of serious repression – and the emergence of a counter-hegemonic alternative would be required. It can only be speculated whether and under what circumstances such a situation might emerge.

Scenario forecasting in Cuba is a highly risky business. Here we make an attempt, identifying three basic scenarios that will gradually emerge with greater clarity as decisions and circumstances unfold in the time ahead:

  1. A neo-patrimonial system, whether ‘socialist’ as in China and Vietnam, or an ‘oligarchic’ variety as in Russia or Angola;16
  2. A transnational neo-authoritarian system: neoliberal capitalism based on massive US and other foreign direct investments, with the full dismantling of the current state and power structure (Cuba as a mini-Florida);
  3. Transformation to a mixed economy with a more pluralist and participatory polity, and the reconstruction of a welfare state: a negotiated process towards some kind of social democratic system.

As shown in Figure 1, we hold that a series of strategic decisions by the post-Castro generation of leaders in favour of more market-oriented economy is what might take Cuba in a less authoritarian direction, while simultaneously helping to rebuild the welfare state.

Vegard Bye

 

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WHAT’S BEHIND THE ONGOING CONTROVERSY ABOUT “CENTRISM” IN CUBA?

by Samuel Farber*

Original Article: Controversy About “Centrism” In Cuba. HAVANA TIMES, September 2017.

The editors of Cuba Posible, Roberto Veiga Gonzalez y Lenier Gonzalez Mederos.

As most people know, the Cuban mass media – radio, television, newspapers and magazines – are totally controlled by the state and they exclusively publish or broadcast content that closely follows the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC.) It is through mechanisms such as these that the government’s ordered “enforced unanimity” continues to prevail in the Caribbean island.

Yet, in spite of censorship, there exists a relatively free space created by the Internet. Although in Cuba access to the Internet is expensive and continues to be among the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has nevertheless increased, thus allowing for the existence of many publications and “blogs” critical of the regime from different vantage points.

The most important in Spanish of these publications is Cuba Posible, edited by Roberto Veiga Gonzalez and Lenier Gonzalez Mederos, two Cuban Catholic disciples of the deceased Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y García-Menocal, a progressive priest who was General Vicar of the Archdiocese of Havana. Until a few years ago, Veiga and Gonzalez Mederos were the editors of Espacio Laical, sponsored by the Félix Varela Cultural Center of the same Havana Archdiocese, but they were fired by the Catholic hierarchy that no longer wanted to support the political line of the editors.

Broadly speaking, Cuba Posible could be characterized as social democratic because of its support for a mixed economy, which in reality would end up as a market economy subject to the imperatives of competition and other economic laws of capitalism given the lack of workers’ control and a democratic planning of the economy.

With respect to the political system itself, Cuba Posible presents a pluralist perspective and has occasionally criticized the one party state as a questionable political system without making its opposition to it a central feature of its publication.

For the socialist and democratic left, those politics are troublesome enough in and of themselves. But they become even more problematic when coupled with Cuba Posible’s stated intent to act as a “loyal opposition” to the regime.  In the first place, no such thing as a “loyal opposition” is possible in a system that, as a matter of political principle rejects the mere possibility of an opposition; it is even less possible that such an opposition, however loyal, can come to power through elections or any other peaceful means. Secondly, such intent injects into the publication a conciliatory tone when indignation is the most appropriate response to the government’s abuses.

It should be noted, however, that Cuba Posible continues to include among its collaborators people who represent a broader political perspective than that of its editors. And in any case, Veiga Gonzalez as well as Gonzalez Mederos have the absolute democratic right to submit their views to the consideration of the Cuban people, whether in the Internet or in the mass media, a right that is, of course, rejected by the regime stalwarts who have lately closed ranks against them and their publication accusing them of the sin of what these stalwarts have labeled as “centrism”.

What are those who speak about “centrism” saying? 

Several months ago, a group of writers, who for some time have been agitating, supposedly on their own account, for a “hard line” position in defense of the Cuban regime, began a campaign against Cuba Posible and other moderate critics of the Cuban regime. The most important of those hard line writers has been Iroel Sanchez in his blog La Pupila Insomne (https://lapupilainsomne.wordpress.com), where he recently reproduced a whole book titled El Centrismo en Cuba: otra vuelta de tuerca hacia el capitalismo [Centrism in Cuba: Another turn of the Screw towards Capitalism].

The book includes his contributions as well as those of many of his co-thinkers. It is an open attack against what Sanchez and company call “centrists,” accusing them of using their moderate critique of the government as a mask to subvert and eventually overthrow the “socialist” system in Cuba.

Besides branding that supposed strategy as “right-wing nationalist” and “social democratic,” Iroel and his associates also brandish against those critics the term “third way,” which in reality has nothing to do with right wing nationalism or with social democracy, but refers instead to the policies espoused by Tony Blair, who far from being a social democrat, was a neoliberal trying to subvert the welfare state and the social democratic character of the British Labor Party. For Iroel and his hardliners, however, this doesn’t matter: there is no difference between right-wing nationalism, social democracy, and neoliberalism.

Of all the terms wielded by Sanchez and company against the opposition, the one that they really focused on was “centrism.” They wield it in a purely topographic sense referring to a location in between two extremes, capitalism and communism. Curiously, the supposedly communist Iroel Sanchez seems to ignore that in the political traditions of revolutionary Marxism and Communism, the term “centrism” refers to those political parties that, especially in the period 1918-1923, were more radical and to the left of Social Democracy but kept to the right of the Communist parties.

Among those “centrist” parties were the German Independent Social Democrats – a left-wing split from German Social Democracy (SPD) – and several other European parties that came together in the 1920s to form the so-called “Vienna International,” which, significantly, was also referred to as the “Two and a half International.” For the Communist International, these parties might have talked about socialist revolution, but in reality they were reformists and even counterrevolutionaries.

While centrism within that Marxist tradition referred to a specific phenomenon – left-wing radical groups that broke with Social Democracy but did not become Communist – Sanchez uses the same term to paint over with the same brush the wide political spectrum of political orientations between capitalism and Communism. If you are not 100% with the regime, your actual politics does not matter: and you are, by definition, an anti-revolutionary “centrist.”

Even in purely topographic terms, the characterization of the Cuban opposition and critics as “centrists” is highly questionable, because it assumes, as a political axiom, that the Communist parties in power are in fact left wing. This is how, by definition, Iroel and his people get to identify the left with a system that in reality is a class society based on state collectivism, where the state owns the economy, and manages it through the control mechanisms of the one-party state. To be part of the ruling class depends on the position that individuals occupy in the party-ruled bureaucracy. This type of power is hostile to democracy, civil and political rights, and especially to the working class and popular control of the economy.

Fortunately, there are other far better conceptions of what the left means. For Jan Josef Lipsky, for example, a leader in Poland, of the Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR) in the 1970s, and of Solidarity in the 1980’s, the left is, as he explained in KOR. Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981, an attempt to reconcile equality and liberty: “…being on the left” is “an attitude that emphasizes the possibility and necessity of reconciling human liberty with human equality, while being on the right…may mean sacrificing the postulate of human freedom in favor of various kinds of social collectives and structures, or foregoing the possibility of equality in the name of laissez faire.” (180)

But Iroel Sanchez and his associates defend the one-party state as the only political system compatible with socialism. They don’t even mention that Raul Castro’s “monolithic unity” proclaimed years ago disregards the profound differences in political power associated with class, race and gender in the “actually existing” Cuban society.

It is precisely because of that power differential, that those groups and individuals without power in society – workers, peasants, Black people, women, and gays among others – need the freedom to organize independently into associations and political parties to struggle for their interests. For this to happen it is necessary to abolish the political monopoly of the PCC, consecrated in the existing Constitution, through its mass organizations like the CTC [Worker’s Confederation] and the FMC [Women’s Federation], which blocks any independent attempt by workers, women and other groups to defend themselves.

Once deprived of its constitutionally mandated monopoly, and thus, of all the privileges it appropriated onto itself during its long lasting control of public life, the PCC could become an authentic political party, a voluntary organization materially supported by the dues and donations of its members and sympathizers. It would then function as one of many political parties representing the conflicts and divisions within Cuban society.  To the extent that these parties represent the interests of the classes and groups that would emerge in a changing society, it would be impossible – and undesirable – to limit their number through legal mandates, or through administrative or police methods.

Who are the people attacking the “centrists”?

Some people in the opposition regard Iroel Sanchez and his stalwarts as “extremists.” But this is not an appropriate term: historically, there have been many “extremists” who did the right thing. The pro-independence Cubans of the War of Independence (1895-1898) could have also been accused of “extremism” since they rejected both the “volunteers” and “guerrillas” who supported Spanish colonialism (equivalent to the Right of those years) and the Autonomists (the moderates of that period).

Instead, Iroel and company are hard line Stalinists, as they clearly demonstrate in their book. Thus, in his contribution titled “Una respuesta para Joven Cuba” [An answer for the Joven Cuba blog,] Javier Gómez Sánchez lashes out against the blog under that title, a blog that has been frequently critical and fairly honest but clearly pro-government, as if they were just another group of “centrists.”

The content and inquisitorial tone of Ileana González in her contribution titled “Al Centrismo Nada” [Nothing for Centrism] does not fall far behind Andrey Vyshinsky’s, the prosecutor of the Moscow Trials from 1936 to 1938. The extremely detailed information about opposition persons presented in various articles in this book also suggests that many of its contributors are State Security agents or close collaborators of that repressive body.

It is worth noting, however, that these Stalinists do not seem to have gelled into a hard line political tendency within the PCC, as was the case, for example, of the “Gang of Four” that attempted to control the Chinese Communist Party after Mao’s death, but was quickly eliminated by Deng’s forces. They don’t even resemble Fidel’s Support Group at the beginning of this century, to which the Maximum Leader conferred a certain degree of operational and administrative power. Iroel and his group are no more and no less than propagandists in the service of the PCC. That is all.

What are the purposes of the campaign against “Centrism”?

The Cuban government initiated and is using this campaign to draw a line in the sand of what is and is not permissible. But it is not doing it itself through its official press and broadcasting stations to avoid sowing more doubts about the authenticity and durability of Raul Castro’s economic reforms and relative political liberalization.

Long term, the regime is using this campaign as an attempt to close the ranks of the party and the country with another call in the style of the “monolithic unity” of former years in preparation for the foreseeable physical disappearance of the historic leaders of the revolution in the next five to ten years, and for the problems that this can create for a fluid transition of power.

The call to “unity” has become ever more urgent with the gradual but definitive increase of Internet access, especially among the youth, the professional and technocratic strata, and among those with a university education who generally have a greater access to the Internet. The information acquired through those channels can potentially undermine the political loyalty to the party and regime. It is not for nothing that practically the entire campaign against “centrism” has been conducted through the Internet, and not in the official press and mass media.

Trump’s repeal of several measures favoring the slow process of relaxation and possible abolition of the economic blockade of Cuba, have not yet eliminated the limited but real softening of the opinion of many Cubans with respect to the United States. This softening was due to Obama’s initiatives easing various restrictions of the US’s criminal blockade, such as increasing the remittances that can be sent to Cuba, resuming regular commercial flights to the Island, and his successful visit to Cuba.

As we know, the official Cuban press has used every means at its disposal to fight that softening of Cuban opinion, which for obvious reasons, the regime considers dangerous to its power. The government’s attack against the so-called “centrist” opposition, is nothing more than another attempt to harden the Cuban people to close ranks around it and to maximize its control through its call to “unity.”

*Samuel Farber was born and grew up in Cuba and has written numerous articles and books about the country. His last book, The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice was published by Haymarket Books in 2016.       

 

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Reporters Without Borders: CUBA, CONTINUING ORDEAL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 3, 2017.

Original Report here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

A self-styled socialist republic with a single party, Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Fidel Castro’s death in 2016 effectively changed nothing. The Castro family, which has ruled since 1959, maintains an almost total media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment, and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment. These practices are ubiquitous and are buttressed by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Unless forced to flee the island to protect themselves or to keep working, the few independent bloggers and journalists must cope with drastic restrictions on Internet access.

December 2, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO’S HERITAGE: FLAGRANT MEDIA FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

Castro has been hailed as one of the leading figures of the 20th century and father of the Cuban people in many of the thousands of messages that followed the announcement of his death. But behind the revolutionary’s romantic image lay one of the world’s worst press freedom predators. The persecution of dissidents was one of the distinguishing features of his 49 years in power, and constitutes the harshest aspect of his heritage.

The current situation in Cuba speaks to this. Cuba continues to be one of the worst countries in Latin America for media freedom and ranks 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, who replaced him in 2007, is now also on RSF’s press freedom predator list.

Cuba’s constitution permits only state-controlled media outlets. Independent news agencies and bloggers who try to dispute the state’s monopoly of news and information are subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and draconian censorship.

As a result, independent news agencies have often had no choice but to go into exile and post their news reports online from abroad. This is far from ideal because Internet access within Cuba is still very problematic (only 5% of households have internet access).

Finally, with two journalists currently jailed, Cuba continues to be one of the few western hemisphere countries where reporters can still be found behind bars. Venezuela and Panama are the other two.

But the situation was much worse under Fidel Castro himself. The father of the Cuban revolution imposed a climate of censorship and used often violent methods to prevent the circulation of any news and information at variance with that provided by the state media.

The persecution peaked in 2003. In March of that year, the authorities arrested more than 75 dissidents including 27 journalists, who were given summary trials and sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for talking about democracy in Cuba.

They included RSF’s then correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, who ended up spending seven years in prison. There were several waves of arrests during this period, dubbed the “Black Spring.” Unauthorized journalists were targeted and accused of collaborating with the United States if their reporting referred to Cuba’s dissidents, human rights violations or the everyday lives of Cubans.

The persecution continued during the ensuing years and in 2007, when Fidel Castro was about to hand over to his brother, Cuba was the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with a total of 25 held. Prison conditions were appalling and torture was often reported by the families of Cuba’s detained journalists and dissidents.

Many different methods were deployed against Cuba’s independent news providers including arbitrary arrests, beatings and phone tapping. But permanent censorship was one of the constants of the Castro years, both before and after the Black Spring.

Ever since its creation in 1985, RSF has constantly denounced these abuses, using awareness campaigns, protests and international mobilization. Several of our contributors and correspondents have been threatened or imprisoned. They include Roberto Guerra Pérez, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 on a charge of disturbing public order and was released in 2007.

Guerra bravely continued his fight for media freedom, launching an independent news agency called Hablemos Press in 2009. But the Cuban police harassed him and his reporters and repeatedly prevented them from working. After receiving anonymous death threats, he had no choice but to go into exile in October 2016 in order to ensure his and his family’s safety.

The battle waged by RSF and many other local and international NGOs must go on so that exile is one day no longer inevitable. But for the time being, the day-to-day existence of Cuba’s journalists is still marked by fear and self-censorship.

Cuba’s journalists currrently fear that the father of the revolution’s death will be accompanied by a new crackdown. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, it must open the way to a new era of pluralism and freedom of opinion.

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THE CUBA CAMPAIGN TO DIMINISH OBAMA’S VISIT

May 18, 2016 7:14 PM

Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article78499207.html#storylink=cpy

By Franco Ordoñez

Since President Barack Obama left Cuba, the Castro government has carried out a campaign to diminish the importance of the historic visit, according to Cuban human rights activists and U.S. officials.

Obama’s trip to Havana in March – part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba –made him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years. Activist Antonio Rodiles described how the Cuban government had launched a media push criticizing the U.S. government and praising communist leadership.

“They were trying to encapsulate – to close or create a bubble – around the visit. And they started to talk about the communist congress party. A lot of articles attacked the president’s position,” Rodiles said Wednesday during a panel discussion in Washington.

The dissident leader said, however, that Obama’s message still had gotten through to the Cuban people. Rodiles joined former Ambassador Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, for a discussion on human rights in Cuba at the American Enterprise Institute research center in Washington.

Rodiles described the situation in Cuba as a fight over the public space in that country. And he doesn’t think Obama demanded enough on human rights, allowing the Cuban government to give the “illusion” of change while it works to transition power to a younger generation of Castros.

“This is something crucial for me and many people who are working on this, to show to the whole international community, to show to the Cuban people, to show to everybody that if the Castro family is there, nothing is going to change,” Rodiles said.

Since embarking on cozier relations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro last year, the Obama administration has been eliminating stiff regulations on travel and commerce. It has expanded opportunities for Americans to visit the island, but the administration has been criticized for not doing enough to fight human rights.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights and political repression in Cuba, reported more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions in 2015, a 315 percent increase from five years ago. In the first two months of this year, there had already been more than 2,500 arrests.

Rodiles said more people were willing to speak out about their frustrations as they saw an opening for change, but he said it had also given the Cuban government a sense of legitimacy.

It’s important to keep the focus on Cuba while Obama remains in office, Noriega said. Obama placed a bet that this opening will bring about change. Noriega, who has raised concerns about the opening of relations, said momentum was beginning to slow as multinationals reported that there was little investment opportunity.

He pushed Obama to focus more on human rights:

“You can’t separate economic rights and political freedoms, because the pillar of both of them is the rule of law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you’re not going to be able to create the economy they need.”

Rodiles praised parts of the president’s visit. He thanked Obama for spending so much time with opposition leaders. The president’s speech, he said, was the first time in 60 years for many Cubans to hear someone talk about human freedoms.

But he said the United States needed to decide who really were its friends:

“The people are pushing and facing the Cuban regime. We’re the friends of the democracy world. And we’re taking the risk for that. We need your support.”

z rodilesAntonio Rodiles

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BETWEEN REFORMS AND REPRESSION, CAN CUBA’S NEW FORCES OF CHANGE SUCCEED?

Ted A. Henken and Armando Chaguaceda

WORLD POLITICS REVIEW, | Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Original Article Here: Henken & Chaguaceda, Between Reforms and Repression Can Cubas New Forces of Change Succeed – WPR –

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THE “STONES” IN HAVANA: IS ROCK ’N’ ROLL STILL THE MUSIC OF REBELLION IN CUBA?

IAN BURUMA

The Globe and Mail, Friday, Apr. 08, 2016

Original Article: “Rolling Stones in Havana”

zz3Sir Mick Jagger in Concert

After U.S. President Barack Obama’s trailblazing visit to Cuba, a free concert by the Rolling Stones in Havana might seem like a relatively minor event. Mr. Obama revived relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of deep hostility. The septuagenarian Stones just played some very loud music.

Yet, symbolically, the concert was not minor at all. To grasp the importance of the Stones’ performance before hundreds of thousands of adoring Cubans, you have to understand what rock ’n’ roll meant to people living under Communist dictatorships.

In the 1970s, for example, Czechoslovakia, like other Communist states, was a dreary, oppressive, joyless place, where mediocre party hacks set the tone, and creativity was stifled under a blanket of enforced conformism. Rock ’n’ roll was considered a noxious form of capitalist decadence. A local rock band named Plastic People of the Universe, performing in English, was arrested in the late 1970s for “organized disturbance of the peace.” Recordings by the Rolling Stones and other Western groups were banned.

And yet records were smuggled into Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, where they were treasured by young rock fans, including dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who would become the country’s president. The forbidden sounds – loud, anarchic, sexy – offered an escape from the drabness of a tightly policed normality. Rock ’n’ roll allowed people to imagine what it would be like to be free, if only for fleeting moments. For that reason, the authorities viewed it as profoundly subversive.

Rock fans in Western democracies listened to groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, or Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, for pleasure. There was a certain amount of political bluster among rock stars, to be sure, but this was widely regarded as frivolous posturing. Not in countries such as Czechoslovakia, where the music – more than the posturing – was an expression of serious rebellion. The defence of the Plastic People of the Universe became a public cause for dissidents such as Mr. Havel, ultimately giving rise to Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 movement.

When Mr. Havel offered Mr. Zappa an official role in his democratic government after the Communist regime had fallen, the musician was as astonished as everyone else. But it showed how much his music had meant to people such as Mr. Havel, when they had to listen to it secretly, risking arrest.

The role of rock music in countries behind the Iron Curtain was beautifully dramatized in Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock ’n’ Roll, in which a Havel-like character, named Ferdinand (after characters of the same name in Mr. Havel’s own plays), extols the music as a supreme form of political resistance. Other characters in the play scoff at this notion, treating musical subversion as trivial. Mr. Stoppard, like Mr. Havel, clearly doesn’t agree. The play ends with the Rolling Stones’ historic concert in Prague in 1990.

Rock is ecstatic music. Ecstasy allows people to let go of themselves. This is not always benign. Mass hysteria at Nazi rallies was a form of ecstasy, too. So is the behaviour of soccer crowds, which can sometimes turn violent.

I once witnessed a group of highly respectable Singaporeans letting go of themselves in an evangelical church service. Urged on by an excited Japanese preacher, men in grey suits started writhing on the floor, foaming at the mouth and jabbering nonsense. It was not an edifying spectacle. In fact, it was frightening. But the Japanese preacher was not wrong to say that people – especially, as he put it to his congregation, buttoned-up Japanese and Singaporeans – sometimes need a relief from everyday conformity.

Music-induced ecstasy is not the same as speaking in tongues in a religious frenzy. But the experiences are related. That is why official guardians of social order are so often eager to ban such practices.

As far back as 380 BC, Plato warned against departing from traditional forms of music. Musical innovation, he wrote in The Republic, and especially exciting new sounds, were a danger to the polis. He believed that lawlessness began with unorthodox kinds of musical entertainment and advised the authorities to put a stop to such things.

Last month, Mick Jagger told his Cuban fans, in Spanish, that “finally the times are changing.” Perhaps they are. President Obama struck a similar note in his farewell speech in Havana. He spoke about a new era, “a future of hope.” He told Raul Castro, the stiff-legged Cuban strongman (who is more than a decade older than the Stones frontman and almost three decades older than Mr. Obama) that he should not fear freedom of speech.

These are fine words. But real political freedom in Cuba may be slow to come. And the example of China shows that individual hedonism can be successfully combined with political authoritarianism. (The Stones have already played in Shanghai, even though the Chinese authorities insisted on vetting their songs.)

But it is a start. Rock ’n’ roll has officially come to Cuba. Mick Jagger paid proper respect to Cuba’s own ecstatic musical traditions. Cubans already know how to dance. The next, much bigger step is for the autocrats to get off the floor.

Ian Buruma is professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College, and author of Year Zero: A History of 1945.

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THE CONCEPT OF A “LOYAL OPPOSITION” IN THE CUBAN CONTEXT

By Arch Ritter, November 5, 2014

An earlier version of this note was prepared  for presentation as a discussant at a panel entitled “Estado, sociedad civil y oposición en Cuba” at the August 2014 meetings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Cuba has had and continues to have a “Loyal Opposition”. It consists of a broad range of independent analysts, many or perhaps most of whom are outside official institutional structure. Included here would independent journalists (14ymedio, many “bloggers” or web-based groupings), activists of many sorts, independent economists, and some academics among others.

But while there has been and is a “Loyal Opposition,” it has been effectively suppressed and un-institutionalized. Virtually all shades of opposition have been prohibited. They were perceived by President Fidel Castro as treasonous since the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution. Divergent views competing with Fidel’s hyper-monopolistic visions, ideas, arguments, and conclusions were considered to be counter-revolutionary. Anyone holding these views was silenced, shunned, fired from any responsible job, incarcerated or pushed into emigration with their property confiscated.

The expression of strong oppositional views led one to being labeled by the regime and the power of the monopoly media as a “gusano” or “worm”. Such de-humanization of citizens was despicable.

Unfortunately the United States provided a handy pretext, fully exploited by Fidel, to characterize all opposition as treacherous support for the overthrow of the regime and the reversal of the “Revolution”.

For a while I thought that the Government of Raul Castro had softened its stance on internal dissent. The “Bloggers” for example had not been imprisoned, though they have sometimes been vilified and harassed. Within academia, some analysts such as Esteban Morales Domínguez had pushed the limits but avoided severe penalty.

However, repressive actions have been building up in the last few years, leading to surprisingly large numbers of preventative arrests. For 2014, the total number of short-term preventative detentions had reached 7.215 by October 2014. Some detail on these arrests during 2014 is presented in Table 1.

New Picture (3)Source: Observatorio Cubano, 2014

In the “Westminster” or Parliamentary systems of the United Kingdom and the “Old Dominions”, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the official opposition to the political party that forms the government is labelled “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”  While critical of the policies of the government in power and continuously trying to promote its own views, electoral prospects and political fortunes, this opposition is ultimately loyal to the people of the country and its institutions, these being personalized through loyalty to the Queen.

An effective and institutionalized “loyal opposition” performs a number of vital functions. First, it participates in policy formulation, criticizing policy proposals, preventing stupid mistakes and – one hopes – correcting major blunders as soon as possible. Think, for example, of the 10 million ton harvest of 1964-1970 or the shutting down of about half of the sugar agro-industrial complex in 2002 in Cuba. Would these have been adopted and implemented if there were an effective opposition on operation?

Second, an effective opposition can check the tendencies towards the domination, arrogance and corruption that come with the continuing entitlement to power of a single party monopolizing the political system.

Third, an opposition can provide a new governing team, a “government in waiting” with fresh ideas, new vision, renewed energy and strong initiative, ready to form the government.  At some stage, “Old Regimes” become mired in their sense of entitlement, self-importance, paralytic conservatism, sclerosis, irrelevance, entrepreneurial lethargy, and intellectual exhaustion. An opposition can inject new life into governance when it is time to “throw the rascals out.”

It is interesting to note that in two of the “Parliamentary Democracies” namely Canada regarding Quebec and the United Kingdom regading Scotland, there have been “Oppositions” that have wanted to secede from the Unions. Are such “Oppositions” loyal? Fortunately they have been loyal to the institutions of their democracies and have been willing to put decisions on separation to referenda and they have abided peacefully by the results.

The existence and operation of an effective official opposition in a country is messy, preoccupying and controversial, particularly from the standpoint of the governing Party and leadership in power. Such monopoly politics is exceedingly boring and irrelevant, as typified by the meaningless unanimity of the Assemblies of One-Party states.[1]. Open debate and the uncertainty of genuine democratic participation also is more fun ultimately.

In time, Cuba will accept one institution of the Westminster political system, namely the concept and reality of a “Loyal Opposition.” The Government of Raul Castro obviously is not ready for this yet.Governing is easier for those in power when there is no opposition and no-one can challenge the wisdom of their decisions.

One could conclude that the Cuban regime blocks any opening to an authentic pluralistic and participatory democracy because it fears that it would be voted out of office and lose its monopoly of political power and the perquisites of power. But whether Raul’s regime likes it or not, an opposition, though tightly repressed, will strengthen.

If Raul Castro were truly interested in the long term health of Cuba – and his own “legacy” – he himself would make moves towards such political pluralism. Unfortunately, this is improbable though perhaps not impossible.

Bibliography

El Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, “Continúan las detenciones arbitrarias en Cuba,” Web Site: http://observacuba.org/continuan-las-detenciones-arbitrarias-en-cuba/, Accessed October 6. 2014.

Schmitz, Gerald. The Opposition in a Parliamentary System, Library of Parliament, Political and Social Affairs Division, Government of Canada: Ottawa, December 1988

The Guardian, “Raúl Castro’s daughter first lawmaker to vote ‘no’ in Cuban parliament,” 19 August 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/19/mariela-castro-raul-no-vote-discrimination, Accessed September 23, 2014  

 

Note:

[1] Even the almost unprecedented single dissenting vote to a proposal put forward in the National Assembly caused relative excitement in Cuba and among some observers of Cuba, admittedly partly because the “no” vote was made by Raul Castro’s daughter Miriela. Hers was the lone dissenting vote on a workers’ rights bill that she argued insufficiently prevented discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities. (The Guardian)

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Cuba cracks down on dissidents on Rights Day

By Juan O. Tamayo, from the Nuevo Herald, December 11, 2012

Original Article here: Cuba cracks down…..”
Cuban police have detained more than 100 dissidents and put another 100 to 150 under house arrest in an island-wide crackdown to block any gatherings marking International Human Rights Day on Monday, according to government opponents.
Among those detained were about 80 members and supporters of the Ladies in White, including dozens who were reportedly carted off roughly during roundups in Havana and on their way to the Our Lady of Charity Basilica in the eastern town of El Cobre.
Security agents also sealed off several homes in eastern Cuba to avert gatherings of dissidents to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, head of the opposition Cuban Patriotic Union.
The U.S. government swiftly denounced the arrests, saying it was “deeply concerned by the Cuban government’s repeated use of arbitrary detention and violence to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and intimidate independent civil society.”
“We call on the Cuban government to end” the arrests and violence “and we look forward to the day when all Cubans can freely express their ideas,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday.
Cuban police and State Security agents usually round up scores of dissidents on or before Dec. 10 each year to keep them from staging any sort of events marking the day. The government critics are then released after a few hours or days.
About 45 Ladies in White and 10 supporters were arrested in Havana following their traditional march outside the Santa Rita church after Sunday mass, said Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
The women usually are allowed to go home without incident after the marches, but this weekend were harassed by government agents. When they sat down in protest, police dragged them roughly to three waiting buses, Sanchez said. Most were released by Sunday night.
Ferrer said another 34 Ladies in White and two young girls were detained, 16 of them “with violence,” over the weekend around eastern Cuba as they tried to make their way to El Cobre to pray for human rights. All had been freed as of noon Monday.
Police intercepted three more at the gates to the church on Sunday and tried to seize two others already inside, Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald by phone from his home in the nearby town of Palmarito de Cauto. But a priest in the church protected the women and drove them home after the mass.
The Ladies in White, founded by the wives, daughters and mothers of political prisoners, was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. They wear white clothes and carry pink gladiolas during their marches.
Another 20 male dissidents were taken into custody and held in police lockups around eastern Cuba over the weekend, Ferrer added. Four were confirmed to have been freed as of noon Monday but there was no word on the fate of the others.

Ladies in White

Sanchez added that police and state security agents also put between 100 and 150 dissidents under house arrest during the crackdown, but stressed that he was still receiving new reports of arrests and releases as of Monday evening.
A blog widely believed to be run by State Security agents, Yohandry’s Blog, claimed that police were forced to drag away the Havana Ladies in White before civilians nearby could give them a “forceful reply” for “failing to respect the pain of the Cuban people” over the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez announced Saturday that he was returning to Cuba for a fourth round of surgery related to his fight with cancer. He arrived Monday.
The opposition group Express Art for Freedom, meanwhile, announced a contest, open to island residents only, for the best Tweet regarding International Human Rights Day. The winner, who will pick from among a computer, a camera or a cellular telephone, will be announced after Dec. 23.
And in Spain, two Cuban groups marched to the Cuban embassy in Madrid on Sunday to protest the detentions and demand the release of Sonia Garros and Calixto Ramon Martinez, dissidents who have been jailed on the island for several weeks.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia

Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz

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