May Cuba Not Owe Its Democracy To America

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“Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba.”

In 1950 Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring presented to the Ninth Congress of History his controversial essay Cuba Owes its Independence to the United States. In it he laid out a little more than a century of facts and his nationalist and anti-imperialist view attributing the victory over Spain to Cuban troops.

Still discussed today is the weight of the American involvement in the conflict and especially the motives for its intervention. It has been another half century since that book came out and Cubans are no longer fighting to obtain their independence as a nation, but to install a system of democracy, and again our neighbor to the north makes laws, approves budgets and undertakes actions, this time with the declared intention to favor the future democracy on the island.

The Cuban government’s first endorsement of the scope of these measures is expressed every time it classifies as mercenaries, employees of the empire and other similar labels any opponent, civil society activist or independent journalist it sees.

Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba. For those who differ from the Communist Party line, the fundamental contradiction is the conflict between the Party-State and the legitimate rights of citizens.

There is an unbridgeable gap between American interests, which demand the return of confiscated property or compensation, and the demand for freedom of association and expression, made unanimously by all opposition political trends, whether social democrats, anarchists, liberals or Christian Democratic.

The point of agreement is that, as long as the current leaders remain in power, both things seem impossible, and that “common cause” has promoted, on the one hand, logistical support to armed invasions, the supply of military equipment, diplomatic pressure or trade embargoes, and on the other, riots, sabotage and, more recently, peaceful and political structures attempting to organize protests.

It is a fragile and uneven alliance and the first to want to break it is the Cuban government. So the Communists had two paths: open political space to opponents on the condition of “maintaining sovereignty,” or reforming the market to attract American capital. Faced with the dilemma, they chose the second option.

Consequently, some leaders of the opposition environment feel betrayed because they believed they had some sort of pact for democracy with the US government. The main argument put forward is the continuation of repressive acts against the Ladies in White and other peaceful activists who support them with their actions, just days before the formalization on the Havana Malecon of the restoration of relations between the two governments.

For others it is about a sovereign decision by President Obama backed by the idea that confrontation has not brought results. The concept of changing methods without renouncing objectives, proclaimed publicly and without nuance by the Americans, is a complete challenge for the Cuban government, which sees itself forced to maintain its repressive and confrontational methods to achieve its only objective: maintaining itself in power.

The United States maintains diplomatic relations with countries where there are not democratic regimes, which does not mean friendship or support for a totalitarian model. Now, in the case of Cuba, it remains to be seen if it will maintain, in the embassy, the internet rooms, the communications courses, the refugee program, invitations to celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and all the contacts programmed by the former United States Interests Sections, now belonging to the embassy.

There are more than a few who fear “being abandoned in the dark of the night,” left to the excesses of an intransigent government. The new interests created between the old contenders are economic and everyone will do their best to protect them. Perhaps the Americans will keep the opponents at a distance to not annoy the Cuban leaders; perhaps the repression will give way to please the investors, be they real or potential.

What will not arrive by this route is democracy, as real independence will not come by way of American gunboats. The political system we deserve must arise from our own efforts, independent of solidarity that comes from outside.

Emilio Roig would not have written his famous book if a few miles from Santiago de Cuba the American ships had returned home and those troops had never landed. But history is the enemy of the subjunctive, and similar conjectures lack any value.

Hopefully a historian will never have to clarify that Cuba owes its democracy to the United States.


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