Friday, July 15, 2011

Here we are!

Last week Oswaldo Paya published an essay expressing concern that the Cuban government is “disguising itself with changes” and “recycling itself to convert itself into its own alternative” and thereby winning “support based in pragmatism on the part of some who forget history and lack perspective.”

It was time, he said, for opponents of the government to state a common position on fundamental issues and to address the Cuban public: “Let’s tell them: Here we are!”

They did so Thursday in a statement signed by Paya and an ideologically diverse group of 20 others, plus a group of Cubans abroad. (AFP English story here.)

It is a call for political reform, placed in the context of today’s economic reforms. In a way it breaks a relative silence on the part of the opposition at a time when the government is embarking on a policy process that – whether one thinks it will succeed or not – is addressing bread-and-butter concerns of most Cubans.

To me, the opposition’s relative silence (with this notable exception) is one more indicator that it is mainly a brave ideological opposition as opposed to a movement that engages significantly in retail politics. An active political movement would react much more strongly to a government initiative that grabs so much attention and leaves opponents out of the civic conversation.

The new statement (pdf), titled “The People’s Path,” sums up as follows: Economic reform is fine, and in fact it’s deeply needed – but it should only begin after political reforms take effect and the current government is replaced.

It includes a nod to the logros de la revolucion, sort of, saying that political reforms are needed “so that the people may preserve all the good they have created and change in a sovereign fashion all that they may decide to change.” Also: “The deepest economic changes should only be brought about under the control of citizens through democratic institutions.”

It addresses two big fears that many Cubans have about change – fears that have been fed over the years by people with different motivations in the Plaza de la Revolucion, the White House and Congress, and Calle Ocho – that their social benefits and their very homes might be at risk.

It says: “Every Cuban will have the right to continue living in his house and no one will be able to evict him, nor take away or deny him his property or real estate that he inhabits legally, nor demand any compensation at all by virtue of being the previous owner of the property.”

It also says that health services and education must remain “guaranteed free of charge”

As I read the document, the sequence of political reforms is not clear to me, but the intent is clear enough: the opposition should be legalized, freedom of speech and association guaranteed, a new electoral law enacted, and more; plus a national dialogue is to be convoked that includes the government, the opposition, and other elements of Cuban society. There are a few areas of overlap between some of the demands in the statement and some actions the government has taken or promised, e.g. small enterprise, an end to travel restrictions, and an end to the state’s practice of taking the home of a person who emigrates (salida definitiva).

In practical political terms the statement shows the opposition’s strategy of demanding systemic change rather than pushing toward that goal by pressing the government and the society to take smaller steps, even at a time when large areas of economic policy and the social contract itself are in play.

And it amounts to a request that the government dismantle itself.

Not very likely.

My guess is that the point of the exercise is to deliver a strong statement that the reform process and the government itself lack legitimacy, and to get the opposition off the domestic political sidelines and into the game.

I would welcome contrary views, but my reading of Cuban politics today tells me that’s not very likely either.


Anonymous said...

Yes, they are brave and have been fighting for years to promote reforms of the kind that the Cuban Government is implementing now. It is not clear whether that pressure has had some significant weight on what the government is doing. In any case, I think they deserve some credit. However, there is no political actor better suited to advance the reforms than the current Cuban government, not just due to the obvious reason that they have the power now but also because they have the monopoly required to push the reforms in an orderly way which is the only possible for preserving all what the oposition itself thinks that should be preserved. One thing is to want and the other is to be able to afford it. My point is: "Con que cuenta la cucaracha?"
As long as the Miamian corner of the triangle doesn't change its sign, there will be little space for the participation that the opposition in Cuba is rightly demanding.


Anonymous said...

the cuban government has always marginalized (most often to the point of complete discrediting) the so called organized opposition. Mostly because it has been seen, correctly, to be in service to the United States. So now there is this attempt to connect itself to the economic changes taking place in Cuba, and using that as an opportunity to promote its political agenda. Whether one agrees with the agenda or not, the government most likely will discredit the more extreme aspects because, once again, it is so easy to paint it as a tool of American policy. Understandably, this opposition led by Paya wants to play a part in the changes now taking place. They are desperate to gain any sort of legitimacy and influence in the process. Maybe they should look at the church as an example; because as long as perception remains reality in their relationship to US goals, the Cuban government will continue, with justification,to ignore them. As most everything in Cuba; it all comes back to the ridiculous American policies. End the blockade, the travel restrictions and hostility. Normalize relations and remove the stain of association from the opposition. Only then will Paya etal be given any chance of credibility.

Chris Lewis said...

Thanks for this analysis. I haven't seen any Cuban dissidents mention anything like "all the good [the people] have created," or the need to preserve the health and education systems. I wanted to ask: is this new? If so, I think the dissidents might score a few domestic political points. I agree with you though, that they will continue to be largely sidelined until they stop flaunting two cardinal rules of Cuban politics. The first rule is the respect of Cuban sovereignty and resistance to external powers like the United States. The second is loyalty to the Revolution (not necessarily the government in its present form). Until the dissidents start respecting these principles, they will never resonate with a majority of Cubans. That's how I see it.