Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dentro del embargo, todo...

There is a practice of exclusion in Cuban political culture that is really remarkable.

When I see it, I recall the remark often attributed to President Reagan, that an 80 percent friend is not a 20 percent enemy. The practice of descalificación turns that idea on its head, where disagreement in one area can become the basis for never talking to, listening to, or dealing with a person ever again.

Certainly the Cuban government has long engaged in this form of symbolic banishment by claiming that its opponents represent a foreign agenda, a foreign enemy, and are barely Cuban.

Sometimes its opponents (both on and off the island) engage in a variation of the same thing. The political risk would seem to be higher for opponents who, after all, have not been in power for five decades and whose success must depend on processes of addition rather than subtraction and exclusion.

These thoughts came to mind last spring when I read perhaps the loopiest thing ever written about the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. In this column, political scientist Carlos Moore dumps on a number of Cuban Americans who lamented Zapata’s death. Using not one iota of evidence, Moore links them to racism in Cuba before 1959 and alleges that they want to return Cuba to a “neo-colonial, segregationist and subservient past.”

Read it for yourself. In the end the column isn’t very instructive, except perhaps to explain why a single party has been comfortably in power in Havana since 1959.

The same applies to much of the reaction to the very interesting letter that those 74 Cubans, including leading dissidents, bloggers, and civil society figures, wrote in support of an end to U.S. travel restrictions (English here, Spanish here).

You have seen the reaction from Miami – that the signers were manipulated, that they can’t possibly have known what they were doing, that it is unfair that they were asked to give an opinion on U.S. policy, that they may be agents of the Cuban government because the Cuban government also wants travel restrictions lifted. In this excerpt from Maria Elvira Salazar’s program, Hector Palacios notes that fellow signers of the letter received phone calls exerting “enormous and abusive pressures” but not one of the 74 has withdrawn a signature.

In this radio interview, talk show host Ninoska Perez hammers Guillermo Farinas, a signer of the letter, about his support for a bill that would, in addition to permitting travel, extend loans to the Cuban government. She returns to this point time and again, and Farinas isn’t prepared for it, because it is a complete falsehood. (More on that here.)

Taken together, it’s a mix of repudiation and condescencion at Cubans who expressed an opinion contrary to what seems to be part of the civic religion of hard-line Miami, i.e. loyalty to every aspect of the U.S. embargo, travel restrictions included.

Even though much of the dust has already settled, I’ll add a few things.

  • If the point of U.S. policy is to help Cubans, what could possibly be wrong with learning what Cubans in Cuba think?

  • In the past, the line has been that dissidents themselves can decide on the risks they take when it comes to political activity, accepting resources from the United States, appearing on Radio Marti, etc. Now that they are speaking out in favor of freedom to travel, we are told that they should be shielded from discussions of American policy. Give me a break.

  • If unrestricted travel is such a bad thing, why is there no effort – none whatsoever – by the Cuban American community or its representatives to stop their own people from traveling to Cuba?

  • Why should it be surprising that Cuban dissidents, who view freedom to travel as a universal right, would argue that no government – in Havana, Washington, or anywhere – has any business abridging that right?

  • And why should it be surprising that dissidents would argue that an end to U.S. restrictions would destroy the “spurious justification” that Cuban officials use to support Cuba’s restrictions?

  • Politics aside, can anyone imagine any group of Cubans, open and friendly by nature, saying they want foreign visitors kept out of their country?

  • Are we to expect that Cubans, alone in history among all peoples who have lived under communism, yearn for their country to be cut off from the outside world?

My guess is that part of the sting of this letter comes from the fact that hunger striker Guillermo Farinas is among the signatories. Farinas, who reportedly stopped eating in February and has been in and out of hospitals ever since, is pressing for release of political prisoners. Internationally, he has been a hero and the rallying point for that cause ever since the death of Zapata Tamayo. As soon as suggestions were being made that some of the signers didn’t know what they were signing, Farinas gave El Nuevo Herald a very clear explanation of his reasons. In the interview with Ninoska Perez cited above, he also stuck to his guns. One of his reasons was that if Americans are allowed to travel freely to Cuba, it will “knock down one of the paradigms of castrismo” – an idea that matters to those who live in Cuba, and doesn’t click with those who don’t.

On top of that, there are the bloggers who have provided minute-by-minute information about Zapata and Farinas. They signed too.

So did many others whose bona fides as defenders of human rights is beyond question. Gisela Delgado comes to mind, a woman whose Vedado home housed an independent library; she was left alone in it one morning in the spring of 2003 when the library was ransacked and her husband Hector Palacios taken away to jail.

An important sector of Cuban Miami now seems to be telling people like these to take a hike.

The clash with el exilio has overshadowed the purpose of the letter, which was directed at American legislators, whose reaction remains to be seen.


pOpEyE said...

May God bless you, man!
As a Cuban that has lived there and here I would explain all that with this simple mathematical expression f(x)=1/x.
The "exilio" is just a function of "castrismo". At the far end they share so many things that you can become confused. But there's something yo can be ABSOLUTLY sure, tolerance is not a word in their dictionaries.

Alberto de la Cruz said...


I find it quite interesting that as you defend and applaud the "74 dissidents" for expressing an opinion, you excoriate the Cuban exile community for expressing their opinion. Is open and honest political debate not the basis of a free society? Or do you believe that we are "free" only to express points that you and others like you happen to agree with?

I am glad the 74 expressed an opinion, but I am even more glad that I am FREE to disagree with them and point out the inconsistencies in their act. I know persons like you and the Cuba Study Group would prefer us to stay quiet, but thankfully, for us at least, we live in a free society where we can speak our minds.

Phil Peters said...

Alberto, if you read what I actually wrote you will see that I didn't applaud or excoriate anyone for expressing an opinion. I just gave my own opinion. I didn't even excoriate Ninoska Perez for her extended "gotcha" act with Guillermo Farinas based on a complete falsehood. I just said it was based on a complete falsehood.

Alberto de la Cruz said...


With all due respect, the title of your post says it all. It is hard to think of a more effective way to insult the Cuban exile community than to liken then to Fidel Castro.

Perhaps it wasn't your intention to do that, but you, as a "Cuba Expert," should have known better.

Anonymous said...

there is only one objective for the exile anti-revolutionary movement. anything or anyone, regardless of placement, that is seen to offer a contrary position outside those parameters is denigrated. Be as harsh as you want to be on the Cuban government, but absolute intolerance for change lies elsewhere.