The New Scenario

Roberta Jacobson durante su conference de prensa en La Habana (Luz Escobar)
Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War.

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the Socialist Camp, it wasn’t enough to confiscate all American-owned properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious “scientific atheism” and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn’t maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains, bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald’s arrived in Moscow before the flag of the proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics. These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their constituents.

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S. military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition, there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee program, or to be beneficiaries of “help” from the North, and fear that all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island’s power structure who totally reject the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don’t speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party, the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded buses, in the lines for “chicken for fish,” in the private taxis and private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her strategies.

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