Double-bladed Scissors

La oposición cubana marcha unida durante la Cumbre de las Américas
Members of the Cuban opposition march together during the Americas Summit in Panama

Value judgement comments are very often made abroad about what – more or less – some have taken to calling “an internal dissidence crisis in Cuba,” implying an epitaph, and with premature and unjustified gloating, when we consider that frustration and dissatisfaction – the primeval basis on which all dissidence feeds – have maintained an upward trend on the Island.

However, the existence of a crisis is not necessarily a negative sign. The new landscape, encompassing daily life in Cuba and international relations, involves rearrangements and challenges for all stakeholders, especially those who move counter to truly hostile political conditions. In any case, crises create growth opportunities as well as challenges.

So we are facing what will be a growth crisis for some opposition groups, if they know how to assume the challenge to define their strategies and advance. If they persist in continuing with their old methods and concepts that lead nowhere, however, they will face a crisis of extinction.

Slow going, winding path

The current Cuban scenario is at a juncture where a transformation is taking place due to circumstances that have been building in the past few years which mark a slow, though significant, turning point in the profoundly State-based, centralized system that characterized the entire previous “Revolutionary” period.

Among these changes are Fidel Castro’s exit and his brother’s, the general-president, succession to power with the start of a process of economic lukewarm reforms which – though lacking in depth, extent and effectiveness – envelop an admission of the failure of the government’s mission, opening a crack in the extreme centralization and creating a point of no return that has permitted the (minimum) resurgence of private initiative.

The repressive capacity of the Castro regime is its most powerful institution to date, and it is extraterritorial in character. Venezuela is proof of it.

There have also been legal changes that restored certain rights, such as the sale of homes, cars, and other goods, as well as emigration reform that eliminated the humiliating exit permit and extended to 24 months the Cuban nationals’ periods of stay abroad.

In the field of computers and communications, marketing of computer hardware and cell phones were authorized, mobile e-mail service was established and public Wi-Fi sites were created, among other measures. Despite their limitations – high prices and slow, sporadic connections – these measures represent some flexibility from the previous ironclad monolithic practices of the regime.

Obviously, compared with technological advances and rights that are enjoyed in democratic societies, such transformations are minimal. In fact, they implicitly reflect the lack of rights that Cubans have been enduring for decades. However, these restrained steps taken by the Government – forced by the need to survive and not by a real political resolve to change – mark the beginning of the end of totalitarianism and prepare the setting for demanding deeper changes.

Unfortunately, in the absence of solid structures in the independent civil society that can sway the pace, direction and depth of the changes, the transformations have been implemented from the very military power established in 1959, to suit its own interests, which has set the slow pace of the process and the twists and turns along the road, including about-face phases or stagnation of some of the adopted measures.

A new  schism

In this sense, last year’s December 17 th announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the U.S. marked a milestone that shocked the entire Cuban society in general – and the dissidence in particular – since it dramatically ripped to pieces the old official discourse of David vs. Goliath, rendering it obsolete on the one hand, while on the other, it introduced a new relationship style between the U.S. government and the internal opposition.

Strategies of factions of the opposition are inevitably leading to a breaking point, and, in addition, they are fueled by ancient evils such as autocratic governments, authoritarianism and the yearning of its better-known leaders to steal the limelight.

This has forced a schism in the dissidence, whose most radical sector considers this reconciliation of the two governments a “betrayal” of democratic Cubans on the part of the Obama administration, at the same time that they disapprove of an eventual lifting of the embargo, all of which immediately places the solution to Cuba’s internal political conflicts in the hands of and under the laws of a foreign government.

Another problem is the tendency to ignore their own limitations against the powerful government machinery. Some radical groups expect general elections to be held immediately after the resignation of the current government, an unrealistic (and impossible) move, considering that the longstanding dictatorship holds not just the country’s economic, political and military power, but in addition, it absolutely controls all the structures of the social order and directs a broad and efficient paramilitary apparatus. In fact, the repressive capacity of the Castro regime is its most powerful institution to date, even extraterritorially. Venezuela is proof of it.

There is also a moderate trend sector within the dissidence that views the end of the U.S.-Cuba dispute as a possible opening that would favor a climate of deeper changes – including legalization and consolidation of independent civic organizations and the emergence of a middle class – as well as increased pressure from the international community on the Cuban Government for change in the political sphere, and a potential improvement in the living conditions of the population, among other positive effects.

This trend is betting on dialogue and negotiations to achieve reforms that will open opportunities for citizen participation that will face the power structure, historically based on a monolithic system as well as a gradient to ensure a peaceful and orderly transition, avoiding social chaos, settling of scores, summary trials and vandalism peculiar to abrupt changes in long-traumatized societies.

But, so far, the moderate sector has not been able to assert itself in the political arena and lacks recognition, not only by the Cuban Government – for obvious reasons – but it has also been ignored by international governments and organizations currently interested in negotiating with the regime.

The Cuban opposition cannot delay in such issues as abandoning the role of mere political folklore which the international press has tried to turn it into, and assuming the new conditions more realistically.

Both strategies, the radical and the moderate, pursue, as a common goal, the establishment of democracy in Cuba, but their irreconcilable approaches will inevitably lead to a breaking point. In addition, they are being fueled by ancient evils, such as autocratic governments, authoritarianism and the yearning of its better-known leaders to steal the limelight.

However, the real challenge facing the opposition is to overcome the resistance phase as an end in itself and to conquer the participation and commitment of Cubans inside the Island, something that has not been attained by either strategy.

The Cuban opposition cannot delay in such issues as abandoning the role of mere political folklore which the international press has tried to turn it into, starting by putting an end to conflicts that lead nowhere. The other path would be to disappear from the effects of wear and tear and mass departures.

It is clear that the current political and economic global interests of governments with very different ideals have encroached on our country and are negotiating with the dictatorship, while those of us who rightfully aspire to re-establish the nation are not finding the essential unification hinge to get the two sharp blades of a scissors to cut the Gordian knot of the Castro regime. Tomorrow could be too late.

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