Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Hint of Cuban Civil Disobedience to Come

During the past several months, it has become apparent in the communications coming out of Cuba that the government is losing its formerly iron grip on sources and dissemination of information. Bloggers, whose words shout out from the beautiful island on websites such as, provide ample evidence of the truth of this assertion. It has not taken USAID sponsored boondoggles, such as the Alan Gross affair, to accomplish this sea change. Rather, it appears that the existing primitive communications technology has provided the tinder for small fires of burning hope for democracy to ignite.

It is impossible to not draw an analogy between the occurrences of the past year in North Africa and the Middle East to what is starting to brew in the tropics, ninety miles from the U.S. coast. Not being a sociologist, I am unfamiliar with lingua franca of that profession to describe what is occurring. Resorting then to simple-plain speak, I think that in societies, there comes a breaking point, after which the limitations on personal freedom, which an autocracy has imposed, become untenable. When government breaches its social contract with the people, and the public reaches a shared conclusion that their quality of life has deteriorated without the possibility of improvement under the current regime, civil disobedience erupts. The history of the civil rights movement in the U.S. is a domestic example of this phenomenon. North Africa, Syria and Egypt are recent international demonstrations of this principle

Existing technology in Cuba has permitted its citizens to reach this shared realization: the discontent they individually feel is, in fact, widely perceived. Cubans are  concluding that the world is not really like that which is described in such state-sponsored news organs such as Granma. Its picture of Cuban life is pure fiction. How that technology-driven collective realization is occurring, and what its likely results will be, is the subject of an article I read this morning, written by Cuban blogger Miriam Celaya. Below, is a complete re-blog of her observations. The very fact that this information originates in Cuba is evidence that the “the gerontocracy and the acolytes of the generalship” will be confronting forces they will have great difficulty to control.

My fear is that what lies ahead will be far from a velvet revolution, and that large numbers of people will be subjected to repression unrivaled even by what we have seen in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia. I hope that I am wrong.

Observing daily life in Cuba is becoming increasingly misleading. Under the supposed calm of a society where nothing seems to happen, the forces of different and often conflicting trends are moving. And these movements could potentially generate conflicts of different types and magnitudes. A brief and no doubt incomplete analysis reveals an undeniable reality: nothing is immutable, nothing is eternal, not even — who would have believed it — the totalitarian regime camouflaged under the generic euphemism of “revolution.”

In recent weeks the unwillingness of the government to search for political solutions has become clear. The misguided declaration of the General-President telling us that no one should “have illusions” with regards to eventual political changes was terse, but it has the advantage of eliminating the prolonged wait for some negotiation with the regime. Then, a negotiated solution with the miniscule power group excludes possible scenarios, precisely because the will of that group.

That is, the dictatorship has clearly exposed its reluctance, not only toward changes and inclusions, but even the pretense of a fictitious social pact. To put it briefly and bluntly, the gerontocracy and the acolytes of the generalship have barricaded themselves in their trenches. And that’s from a positive point of view, thus simplifying the march and justifying the search for alternative solutions in pursuit of democracy. Unwittingly, they have passed us the baton.

At the same time, the picture is getting bleaker. Economic figures show an unstoppable increase in the cost of living, rampant impoverishment of large sectors of society, the inefficiency and inadequacy of government measures aimed at the so-called “renewal” of a model that remains on life support — that is, because of the existence of an also precarious Hugo Chavez in Venezuela — and the inability to overcome the crisis under current political conditions.

Socially, the soaring delinquency and crime rate, the deterioration of the systems of health and education — practically on the verge of collapse — widespread discontent, frustration, lack of prospects, despair, the decapitalization of confidence in the system and despondency, are all components that could lead, in the relatively short term, to a crisis of governance, the implementation of large-scale repression, or a combination of both.

On the other hand, never has there been a larger sector of dissatisfied protesters and the public will to exercise rights. The political challenge is manifested, beyond ideological tendencies, in resistance and the growth of larger and larger groups of independent civil society; in the rebellious attitude of new and old generations of dissidents; and in the speed with which these groups have been consolidating and linking to each other, despite the repression and surveillance of the servants of the regime.

The strength of these independent groups lies mainly in their open and inclusive character and their stepping back from ideology, which makes them immune to penetration by agents of the regime. At the same time, access to new technologies has been a catalyst to allow the diffusion of ideas in a medium that is beyond the absolute control of the government, despite the low connectivity of Cubans to the Internet.

The weakness of the regime lies in exactly the opposite characteristics: its closed and unchanging character, its secret and conspiratorial nature, its exclusions, its urgent need to control information and to hinder the free flow of ideas and opinions, and its need to appeal to repression as a desperate measure to slow its own inevitable end. An untenable position in the midst of a world ever more globalized and plural.

The Cuba of today has the same government it had 53 years ago; however, is quite different from that of just five years ago. And this is not a conceptual blunder. Five years ago we were not even aware of the existence of so many outraged among us; we had not thoroughly understood that we are heirs to over half a century of repressed dissent and that it’s not required to fight guerrillas in a fratricidal struggle: it is enough just to disobey.

Now Cubans increasingly understand that our bad leaders are there because we have allowed them to be, that political capital belongs to citizens, not governments, that a regime cannot sustain itself, and that the hope for our future lies precisely in the fact that this government has no future. As the civil resistance begins to move beyond its survival phase, the government adopts strategies to survive. The roles are changing imperceptibly. Now the most imminent danger is the expected response from the government. An escalation of repression from the base to try to prevent the dissidence from gaining strength.

Today, the political apathy of a large mass of the population might seem an obstacle to achieving democracy. However, this apathy is also the prelude to the denial of support for the regime: something like the wisps of an old myth that has died. The revolution ended decades ago, Cuban socialism has never existed, false social achievements did not survive the spurious grants from foreign governments, and the corrupt regime has no moral capital to demand greater sacrifices. Without its permission and without its liking transformations have been building steadily from within the island, and the regime’s stubbornness only tends to accelerate its end: Cuba is changing and the future no longer depends on them, but on all of us.

(Article originally published in Diario de Cuba on Monday, 13 February 2012)

February 17 2012

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