Cuba, Burma and Obama
More than a year after the announcement of the restoration of relations between the US government and the regime in Havana, it remains to be seen what direction our island's political and economic scenario will take.
The Administration of President Barack Obama has drawn up and is following through on a broad agenda full of concessions to the regime, without asking for or receiving anything in return, for the United States or the Cuban people.
It is important to note that the violation of the Cuban people's political, civil, economic and social rights is covered by the existing judicial and legal system, which limits, by law, the implementation of any measure that might favor us.
The US government has validated the Castro regime as a political actor, even managing for internal and external sectors, ostensibly in the opposition, to accept this premise and generate strategies based on it.
The agenda features a certain logic and points coinciding with that adopted towards Burma, though the Cuban regime is unwilling to take even initial steps. It is important to point out that the influence and scopes of the two dictatorships, especially in the international arena, have been very different, as are the environments in which they developed.
One of the elements that makes the Cuban case peculiar is the existence of a community of exiles just 90 miles away, wielding considerable human, political and financial capital, which the regime observes with great trepidation. It is hardly surprising, then, that in recent times it has focused not only on trying to exploit, as a parasite, but to seek agents and areas of influence to control, or at least handcuff it. No political or social dynamic, in the present or the future of the island, can be effective if it ignores the role of Cuba's exiles.
In line with the Burmese case, some propose an electoral process in Cuba as a possible road to democracy, even under an iron-fisted totalitarian regime. But pursuing an electoral process in this scenario would end up legitimizing those in power and their successors, at least in the medium term, and would also leave in their hands all the economic power and networks of influence for a new political era. Validating neo-Castroism is utterly at odds with fostering a society based on the rule of law.
The potential visit of President Obama to our island appears to be approached in terms similar to the first one he made to the Asian country. In that case the president met with the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who on many occasions has been criticized for being soft on human rights violations. He also met briefly with other representatives of civil society. The visit drew sharp criticism from dissenters, like former political prisoner Aung Din, who pointed to it as an act legitimizing the regime.
There is serious concern that a trip by the US president to Cuba would only give neo-Castroism a shot in the arm. While the president has publicly stated that he wants to meet with different sectors of Cuban society, we get the impression that the opposition, especially that which does not share the current Administration's agenda, could be given the cold shoulder, as has happened on other occasions.
The inclusion within civil society of the self-employed, artists, intellectuals and others, who remain under the regime's total control, is part of an attempt, in many cases successful, to dilute and muffle a clear and direct message denouncing the daily excesses and abuses committed on the island daily.
We have heard the insistent but fallacious argument that the opposition is totally out of touch with the people and their problems. This statement reveals a lack of information and an ignorance of the nature and modus operandi of totalitarian regimes.
The opposition is that portion of the people, already weary, who dare to point openly and directly at the regime as the main source of our problems, and to demand their basic rights, despite the costly implications of this protest. Demanding the right to exercise liberties is the essential commitment of any opposition movement against a despotic and corrupt dictatorship like that established in our country for almost 60 years now.
Assigning Castroism legitimacy implies consenting to its crimes and violations, past and present. Accepting neo-Castroism as part of the future of our nation does us great damage, and dooms us right from the start. Those who propose a process of reconciliation in which the truth is overlooked and justice and compensation for victims are excluded as fundamental elements are making a mistake.
The White House has an opportunity to alter the course of a process that does not enjoy the approval and support of many groups of Cubans, especially those who have paid dearly for openly confronting a despotic regime. Insisting on an agenda devoid of principles and truth is to condemn it to failure.
President Obama's visit, though it would prompt an initial eruption of euphoria and expectations, could furnish the regime with greater legitimacy and give rise to more confusion and dismay amongst Cubans. As before, all that momentum will end up fizzling out if the dictatorship is not asked to take concrete steps to dismantle Cuba's totalitarian State.
Very fresh in our memory is the unfavorable impressions made on many Cubans by Pope Francis and Secretary of State John Kerry during their visits. In both cases the regime reaped the most dividends, despite remaining comfortably settled in its intransigent and violent position.
Three basic steps that could be taken in the context of the visit would be, as proposed by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL):
—An immediate end to the repression of all Cubans for defending their fundamental rights and freedoms. Amnesty for all prisoners detained for political reasons.
—The ratification of the UN Covenants on Human Rights and follow-up to ensure compliance with them.
—A formal meeting with representatives of the Cuban opposition.
We who demand and defend freedom and our rights, and for more than nine months have been doing so in public as part of the #TodosMarchamos campaign, are all too familiar with the regime's repressive capacities. Despite the costs involved, we will carry on with an effort that we continue vital to this struggle.
Under such circumstances, and in the face of similar challenges and dilemmas, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King said: "On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."