Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The opposition on tour


Blogger Yoani Sanchez meets privately with Senators Menendez and Rubio in Washington and complains in Europe that activists from other countries don’t empathize with Cubans.  Blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is falling in love with New York.  The daughter of Oswaldo Paya appears before a UN body and goes on Spanish television criticizing the Spanish government’s handling of the case of Angel Carromero, who drove the car in which her father died.  Berta Soler of the Damas de Blanco gives interviews (here and here) in Spain slamming the Cuban government.  And young activist Eliecer Avila, visiting Stockholm, declares his intention to start a political party when he returns to Cuba.  There’s lots more where all of that came from – press conferences, panel discussions, press coverage everywhere.

The Cuban government surely didn’t set out to do a favor for the Cuban opposition when it made citizens’ travel abroad easier by eliminating the exit permit requirement.  But that is a prominent by-product – a small exodus of political opponents who are touring capitals on both sides of the Atlantic, criticizing the Cuban government, meeting friends, allies, and the curious, and surely making it easier for those who support them to learn, strategize, and provide assistance.

Yoani Sanchez believes that the Cuban government had no choice but to let her travel.  She told CNN that “the political cost of leaving me on the island was becoming pretty difficult to bear,” and “maybe they thought if I left I wouldn’t return.”  As for the new travel policy, “more than a show of reform it was a show of weakness,” she said. 

Maybe so, although I don’t think it would be particularly hard for a government that had restricted travel for 50 years to do so for several more, notwithstanding its promise to include travel among the “excessive prohibitions” being lifted as part of its reform program. 

It’s quite possible that the government decided to open up travel for reasons having nothing to do with its political opponents.  According to press reports since the reform was enacted, the government has barred travel by denying passports in very few cases – dissidents who were released from jail conditionally and whose sentences have not expired, and personnel of key economic importance. 

We’ll see if this practice continues.  If so, it could represent a different calculation on Havana’s part about the political opposition, that its members’ ability to circulate and speak outside Cuba will not alter their political fortunes inside Cuba. 

In Yoani Sanchez’ appearances in New York and Washington, her views on the U.S. embargo were front and center.  At times she expressed her opposition based on the political value it holds for the Cuban government.  Other times she differed with the “pressure cooker” logic of the embargo, that its aim is to create misery and drive the miserable to revolt.  That theory doesn’t sit well if you live in Cuba, she points out.  Shortly after her meeting with Senators Rubio and Menendez, she in part adopted their position and appeared to place herself in a “process of debate” – with whom, she didn’t say – that could lead to change.  From an interview with TV Marti:

Q.  Are you in favor of lifting the embargo unconditionally?

A.  I am not in agreement with that.  I believe that, clearly, at this time there have to be conditions and above all I believe that it is a long process of debate that has to take place beforehand.  We are already taking the first steps and I believe we have to continue on that path.

Surely the topic will come up when she visits Miami.

Also:

Author Zoe Valdes, as ever, less than impressed with Yoani Sanchez.

Clarinet/saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera is one of many who argues that Yoani Sanchez should be treated respectfully even by those, like himself, who disagree with her on the embargo.  Mambi Watch has an interesting post on this development.

Tracey Eaton on Yoani’s New York visit.

10 comments:

El Yuma said...

Phil,

Excellent summary as usual. In terms of the "process of debate" that Yoani refers to, I sat next to her and translated her words to White House officials. Her proposal/message to Obama is this:

The Obama administration has been doing the right thing in promoting people-to-people contact and should continue. It should also make the following conditional offer ("process of debate") to the Cuban government for direct talks:

Offer to sit down with representatives of the Cuban government to discuss bilateral relations but insist that two key constituencies also have a place at the table: representatives from Cuban civil society and representatives from the Cuban diaspora. If the Cuban government accepts that, it will be an inclusive and potentially productive dialogue. If it does not, then the onus of the frozen relationship will be squarely on the Cuban government.

We'll see what happens in Miami.

One thing is for sure after her visits to NYC and DC, neither the far left nor the far right quite know what to do with this impertinent woman!

Who's afraid of Yoani Sánchez? It turns out a lot of people...

brianmack said...

Great news item Mr. Peters. As always, your sight seems to be the tops in giving insight into what's happening on both sides of the ocean.
What's transpiring is all good and
should shake rattle and roll all the
major players in the Cuban circle.

Anonymous said...

Yoani is maturing, analizing the Cuban crisis from different perspectives, and learning.

I think it is very interesting that she has begun to have a more sophisticated point of view about ending the embargo.

She no longer calls for simply lifting it.

She now believes it will require conditions and a long process of debate.

There is progress here. She is no longer thinking in the short run.
She is no longer only responding to popular demands, to the suffering around her and to Cuban government propaganda although these factors continue to have an influence on her.

She begins to reason in long range terms and to do so pragmatically seeking the best possible way to end the Cuban totalitarian regime.

This latest stand, which I believe correct, will of course create problems for her at home both with the island's population at large and with the Cuban government.

These statements in favor of a conditional lifting of the embargo will be use to attack her when she returns to the island.

She will be accused of being a traitor and a mercenary who is in favor of continuing a US embargo against her own people.

But before that she will also face attacks from the Cuban American extremists when she visits Miami.

They expect her to agree with keeping the embargo in place until the Castro regime is overthrown.

Since Cuban political culture is intransigent, Yoani will be hit from both sides by political extremists.

I hope imder these circumstances that she keeps her wits about her, and has enough political courage to not allow the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum to scare her and to be able to stick to her own positions and convictions firmly.

Cantaclaro

Antonio said...

It remains to be seen just how much all this travel raises the stature of individuals like Yoani in Cuba, as she is still better known outside of Cuba.
On a different, somewhat humorous note, I hope Yoani wins the Nobel Peace Prize, not so much for the merit, but just so the heads of some indignant Fidelistas may explode. After all, less deserving people like Kissinger and Mother Teresa have been awarded this recognition.

I'm just saying...

Anonymous said...

I disagree with 90% of what Zoe Valdes says but she sums up what has been troubling me for years about Yoani. She is the un-Cuban. Where does she come from? Who on the exile side or island side knows her or placed her where she is? This all seems to sprout from some foreign concealed entity.

Anonymous said...

el yuma
quite revealing your position. what should be unconditional is the lifting of the embargo and renunciation of regime change. that's the only basis of starting a dialogue. cuba doesn't have to accept any condition before that. the onus on the relationship is the american position. there were no such conditions put on vietnam before the USA normalized relations and ended that embargo. so should it be with cuba as well.
and just what conditions is yoani talking about? how ridiculous is it that this embargo has been on for 50 years, and still you think conditions are appropriate. cuba changes, and the americans still maintain the embargo. what a joke

Anonymous said...

"the onus of the frozen relationship" will be always on the aggressor. No rethoric can change that.

Omar

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this occurs because only the foreign entities are in a position to evaluate fairly a dissident's value and stature.

We Cubans are unable to do this because we are too busy squabbling over positions, honors and subsidies to be able to be able to recognize the leadership qualities of other dissidents that do not belong to our own cligue.

Let's stop casting blame on the foreigners and begin to recognize our own weaknesses and responsibilities!

Otherwise if we continue to quarrel endlessly over who will be our leaders and refuse to accept any but those belonging to our own clique, we will never get anywhere.

We need to be united in a common endeavor and to leave these rivalries for later.

I frankly do not see why we all can't adopt a common plan to bring about a democratic transition and allow the Cuban people to choose our future leadership through free elections once the democratic transition has taken place.

Cantaclaro

Anonymous said...

We must not forget that by deciding what opposition figures are allowed to travel abroad, how often they do it and who stays behind, the government:
1- Has some degree of control over their behavior abroad.
2- Promotes competition, division jealousy and infighting among opposition groups (This is already apparent in the reaction of those groups whose leaders have not been able to travel abroad and that resent the limelight the leaders of other groups are receiving.)
3- Can use its sympathizers abroad to create negative propaganda against such visitors by accusing them of being agents in foreign pay.

We must also consider that the news impact of such visits will decrease if they are allowed to continue and become frequent.

So the propaganda costs of such a policy will decrease in the future for the Cuban government.

At the same time the benefits of such a policy will increase and IMHO in the long run will weigh more.

This will be true because such travel will make quarrels among opposition groups that have been frequent in Cuba but were ignored abroad become more widely known in foreign countries.

When these visits stop being a novelty and no propaganda value can be extracted from accusing the Cuban government of not allowing opposition figures to travel and the infighting among opposition groups becomes well known abroad, public opinion abroad will loose interest rapidly in the Cuban opposition figures and will also become much less supportive of their cause.

The divisive and intrasigent nature of Cuban politics is very tiresome for foreigners and in the long run will be counterproductive for the Cuban opposition.

I really wonder if the Cuban government is following Machiavellian objectives by allowing the figures of the Cuban opposition out of the island.

Such a policy probably may eventually result in changing the opposition' public image from that of victims of a totalitarian government into groups of opponents who, in order to have a greater share in foreign subsidies, publicly insult and denigrate each other.

The impact of future public quarrels outside of the island over American financing will probable convince many of their backers that the opposition is made up of opportunists and mercenaries in foreign pay and thus decrease international support for all such opposition groups.

This will be extremely harmful for the Cuban democratic transition!

Because the 800 pound gorilla in the opposition's living room is that their infighting turns them into their own worst enemies and that there is no better way of promoting it than allowing them all to travel so that they can carry on their quarrels publicly abroad.

Maybe in the near future the Cuban American congressmen will surprise us not only by asking for the Cuban Adjustment Act to be repealed but also by requesting the Cuban government to continue stopping the opposition leaders from travelling abroad or by reducing financing for such purposes so that they will not continue sticking their feet in their mouths.

"Cosas veredes mio Cid que haran fablar a las piedras!"

Cantaclaro

kj said...

She might as well be called the "Chief whiner" in Cuba. Funded obviously from outside Cuba, she enjoys a nice life but can not stop whinning about everything. She needs a dose of humility. Even tho it might be a surpise to her, she is not the most important person in Cuba. The Cuban leaders are not scared of her and the Cuban people don't know her and she is not the center of cuban politics. She is one of more than 11 million people. Unless she stops personalizing everything and portraying herself as so immeensley important, she is most likely now to burn out or move out.

KJones