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.