Monday, September 24, 2007

Old assumptions, new light

With possibilities of change in Cuba appearing closer – either through policy change or Fidel Castro’s departure from office – I’m beginning to wonder if people are beginning to re-examine assumptions and to discuss in the open issues previously kept private.

Last week I posted an article from an independent Cuban journalist who argued that dissidents are not well known in Cuba and their influence is limited not only by government repression, but by their own actions too.

Now here’s another one from an independent journalist, Luis Cino. It begins by sounding like one more criticism of the way foreign reporters working in Cuba write about the opposition. But in fact he criticizes dissidents themselves – he gives no names – for dividing their own movement by accusing Hector Palacios and others, “for their disposition eventually to have a dialogue with the government, of being ‘dissidents of low expectations.’” Referring to the critics as the “intransigent ones,” he goes on to say:

“It seems to be that, according to them, a member of the opposition must inevitably support the American embargo, advocate for the Constitution of 1940, and flatly reject any kind of dialogue with the communists unless it would be in a tribunal like that of Nuremberg.”

Then there’s this article from Jorge Sanguinetty, a U.S.-based consultant and Cuba analyst who served as an economic official in the revolution’s early years. He sees Cuba caught between a need to reform and a need to avoid change that brings instability. So he predicts that if change comes, it will be gradual – but expectations could get out of control, leading to an opportunity to aid Cubans, who are “not prepared to rebel successfully,” in the task of changing their government.

How to help? “The first thing that would have to be done is to break the information blockade and isolation between Cubans,” he says. (By that he doesn’t mean spending more on Radio and TV Marti.) More visits from Cuban Americans, Sanguinetty says, could be a “very effective destabilizing force.” What blocks this force, he continues, is “the fact that we don’t know how to choose better thinkers among us to choose real leaders (not aspirants to become caudillos) and to follow them in the fight against the tyranny.” Travel with a political purpose is needed, he says, “without worrying too much that some will go to Cuba to have fun.” The current “inertia,” he says, is Raul Castro’s “best guarantee of stability.”

Now, I don’t share Sanguinetty’s implicit assumption that Cubans in Cuba need instruction about how “to rebel successfully.” Were he to visit, I’ll bet he would find that Cubans welcome visitors, and if someone wants to come from Miami to try a rebellion, they would say they are free to try, but their priority is to solve the more immediate problems before them and not to try to start a new revolution, with all the risk that would entail.

But no matter. What Sanguinetty is saying, quite sharply, is that if you want to influence Cuba you need to be there.

Ot that there is no influence without presence and contact.

Let the debate continue.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Sanguinetty. By preventing Cuban-Americans from traveling to Cuba, all we are doing is making things easier for Cuba's rulers. said...

Hmmm. Imagine if the failed Plan A Embargo was lifted a couple decades ago, maybe Cuba would be a different place today.

If more Americans went to Cuba they would see first hand how bad it is politically and economically then maybe they would have demanded change.

Anonymous said...

Nice analysis Phil. I don't like the call for extranjeros to try to influence internal policy of Cuba, but I do like your response.

you write,
"Were he to visit, I’ll bet he would find that Cubans welcome visitors, and if someone wants to come from Miami to try a rebellion, they would say they are free to try, but their priority is to solve the more..."

This is accurate (and witty) take on it without question.

In my opinion, the limit on Cuban american travel does indeed help the Castro inc., rather than harm them. All one would have to do is travel there to see that the unintended consequences of us policy, namely the ban on Cuban- american visits. What are they thinking?

I find the notion of Sanquinetty that travel with a political purpose is needed "without worrying too much that some will go to Cuba to have fun.” HA, too too too many cuban americans in miami are hung up on a few that go to Cuba to have fun. Well put! I think the miami crowd is actually quite delusional about their obession about stopping those who go to Cuba for fun - especially if just the ban on Cuban -american visits were lifted.

With the whole rest of the world going to Cuba for fun (canadains, spanish, french, Venz., etc) , worrying about a few hundred (or thousand) Cuba americans going there for fun is simple naive, and childish. Listen miami - there are several DIRECT flights to Cuba per day from Paris, Toronto, Madrid, and even a few direct flights per week from Moscow to Havana! Not to mention all of the flights from South America to Cuba (even Lan Chile goes there now).

Cuban americans, if anyone, can at least create dialouge with Cubans on the island .. Inevitably conversations would arise and these conversations would challenge the status quo.

leftside said...

I think this line of reasoning (by Sanguinetty) is really quite mistaken. It is perhaps one area where I agree with the hard-liners. They have studied this quite closely and beleive (rightly) that increased tourism and trade will greatly benefit the government, providing material benefits to Cuban citizens and thereby giving Cuban socialism a giant breath of life. This will allow Cuba to make some of the anti-beaucratic reforms in response to the open talks happening right now and for the next month across the country. Some goodwill from the US will go even longer in making political reforms. It is becoming increasingly clear which exiles prefer the US right to intervene vs the right of Cuba to go down this path.

To think that an exchange between Cuban-American ("political") tourists and Cubans will provide some bit of knowledge or prodding that Cubans need to start the "destabilization" is woefully naive. I mean, what has the CIA not tried already, what Cuban has not heard the familiar litany that erupts so predictably from exiles mouth, what Cuban does not know the US Govt. considers it unfree and a terror state, heard about the official US Cuba Transition Plan, or does not have a family member abroad who tries in vein to tell them la verdad about the system they live in every day? What essential truths does someone who has been living in Miami for 40 years have about the path to a better Cuba? Most know that talks about politics between those who support the revolution on the island and those who don't, go nowhere fast. The sorts of hardline anectodal "truth" that works here on discussion boards and blogs get decimated by any average Cuban worth their salt.

Sure, most Cubans readily admit their country has many problems but they have not given up on their form of government to solve them. So much progress on other problems has been made. This is the great thing about socialism. You can actually make a plan and carry it out (in energy, tourism, transportation as more recent examples)...

leftside said...

In a better world the debate over our internationally condemned embargo would be a moral one, not a geo-political one (will the upcoming UN vote total top Cuba's 183-4 last year?). Still, I think US foreign policy would benefit greatly by atoning for its Imperialist actions in Cuba and throughout the region the last 50 years. Dropping the embargo would be a powerful signal to the region that there is a new day...