The Cuban dissidence speaks


This video deserves to be seen. In it, four prominent members of the Cuban dissidence movement make their case. They basically feel betrayed by Obama, in the words of Guillermo Fariñas. They feel the lifting of the embargo is a reward to the Castros, and will end up benefitting the regime. And they also had some pretty interesting things to say about the younger members of the Castro clan.

I don’t share their point. True, government elites will probably benefit, but so will the population at large. Undoubtedly, communications will be vastly improved, and people will find greater access to the Internet and mobile phones. And if relations with the US helps Cuban standards of living rise, then it might make Cubans more amenable to the ideas of the dissident movement.

I got the chance to meet one of the four men, Antonio Rodiles, last month in Halifax. He made the same point to me – that lifting the sanctions would be bad – but during our conversation I got the feeling he seemed ready to adapt and take advantage of any opening should the embargo be lifted.

I think that part of the equation is missing from the press conference – in other words, bitch all you want guys, but at the end of the day, this is a done deal, and it presents an opportunity. How are you dissidents going to grasp it? The press conference, while coherent and remarkable, is also kind of a downer. No vision for the future is laid out, no hope for the future is conveyed. It’s all about how bad the regime is, and how Obama got played.

Then again, what do I know? I’ve never been to Cuba, and this is a problem the Cubans will have to sort out themselves. Perhaps if I had lived through what they have lived through, I would also find hope a fickle mistress to notch.

Regardless, these guys have suffered the regime in the flesh. They deserve to be heard.

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  1. I think you’re right, the old policy with Cuba didn’t work at all and a change was needed. These guys seem to have lost perspective -although I don’t blame them for it; we’ve seen that with opposition leaders here in Venezuela.
    I wonder how will they react to the very recent words of Obama regarding a change in Cuba.
    The story is still being written.

    • It’s hard not to sympathize with them, though. They know the island better than anyone. They have a point in saying that this may end up strengthening the regime. Who knows…

      • I am with your key point JC. The end of the embargo will also mean the end is closer for the Castro regime. Look, the Berlin wall fell not because the DDR was isolated, it was precisely because the East Germans were able to figure out that life in the west was better, much better! Same goes for Cuba.

    • I have a problem with impoverishing ordinary people. Because it makes them more exploitable which makes it easier for tyrannical rulers to be, well, more tyrannical. I don’t like watching Venezuelans slide evermore into poverty and become the next Cuba, because it makes Venezuelans weaker to stand up to the very people oppressing them.

      Normalized relations with Cuba is the essence of what Tallyrand wrote about politics: “The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.” How long were Americans going to perpetuate this farcical and unproductive stalemate with a territory 90 miles off the coast of the U.S wherein everybody suffered except the Castro Regime? 53 years is plenty of time to declare a policy a complete failure.

      Enough of that. Let all boats rise. The Castro Regime may get to wash off a bit of the smell, but at least the rest of Cuba will with any hope become healthy enough to start putting guardrails around their power and otherwise bettering their own lot in life. One could only hope the same for Venezuelans in time.

      • Juan,

        Your use of the word “notch” is incorrect. But then, Shakespeare never let grammar and dictionary definitions get in the way of expressing himself either. I think we all knew what you meant.

  2. Yoani Sanchez had the same point of view.

    I don’t see it. Maybe they know something we don’t or, then again, maybe they don’t know something we know, about Eastern Europe and how consumer goods contributed to the fall of the wall.

  3. I don’t know if I am the only one but, I have come to detest the Cuban accent. Really. I can’t stomach it, don’t want to listen to it ever again.

    For me, after all these years, it has come to represent something sticky and disgusting. Even impudent. Like a tumoral growth in a face otherwise normal.

  4. I think I can understand how they feel, but Obama, as president, must act in the interests of the American government and its people, not Cuban dissidents. These may overlap, or may not. Hopefully Cuban dissidents will be able to adjust to new realities and not get stuck playing the role they’ve been playing for decades. Everyone else involved (the US and Cuban governments, the Miami Cubans, etc.) has been ritually enacting the same play for 30 or 50 years; the agreements announced are the first big steps out of it. How relevant Cuban dissidents are in the near and medium term future will probably be determined, as JCN suggests, by how well they adapt.

    • Imho, Obama is not thinkin in either cubans or américans. He is merely thinkin of his legacy. He who helped democratic transición without firing a shot.

  5. It might not have been an optimal outcome, but from a humanitarian point of view it seems reasonable, and the timing was important. Low oil prices for one thing are argued to have encoraged the process. I sense too that the Castros have seen the light of day, after all Raul’s calling this time for a “new economic model”. Tehy probably see what’s happened in Venezuela as well as in other countries that have instead prospered.
    The cuban opposition has to keep pressing for change, and other countries should help. LatAm more than USA should be blamed for abandoning the cuban oposition. Increased openness is an opportunity for sharing of ideas.

    By the way, ot and somewhat old news, but, no comment on Lilian Tintori at the socialist international?

  6. I don’t think we can start counting eggs yet. Embargo is not lifted and Obama does not have a congress behind him to support such a move.

    Moreover, next U.S president will surely be a Republican. I find hard to grasp how a Republican congress with a Republican president would lift cuban embargo.

    • if big business sees Cuba as a market, as a chance, the Republicans will lift the embargo. Obama already did the hard part.

      The Republican party has very little ideology and a lot of interests. All that tea party claptrap is for the base. The real policy is designed with something else in mind.

  7. If sanctions are lifted, I fear that Castro will further use that to rekindle Cubans’ faith in the revolution. And that Castro might secure his hold on the island for a while longer.
    But I hope not. I count myself among those who hope that this approach will open Cuba’s economy and that it will give the Cubans such a taste of what they’ve been denied for so long that they’ll turn on the revolution. If not, then let the worst case scenario be that the revolution fades over time with communist policies dismantled and free markets embraced.

    • A fading revolution may not be the worst case. In the chaos ensuing a rapid collapse bad actors of another sort may assume power, and el pueblo could be victimized all over again. Better a Chinese transition than a Russian revolution.

  8. I don’t share their point. True, government elites will probably benefit, but so will the population at large.
    Consider all those multi-story tourist hotels filled with Europeans and Canadians. Who benefits? The foreign companies operating the hotels pay the Cuban government for the use of the Cuban employees. The Cuban government pays those hotel employees the equivalent of 20-40 dollars a month, which is considerably less than what the foreign companies pay the Cuban government. The Cuban government benefits considerably more than the Cuban hotel employees.

    Quoth Raul and Fidel: see you ’round, sucker.

      • The difference being that the Cuban government is taking a 92% cut out of what the foreign companies pay the Cuban government for those worker. Cuban Gov. to Keep 92% of Worker Salaries .

        Cubans working for firms with foreign capital on the island received a bucket of cold water Tuesday when a new resolution published in the official Gazette fixes their salaries at only 8% of what the joint venture or foreign companies must pay the government in hard currency for their services.

        Go ahead and tell me how great a deal THAT is for the workers. I’m waiting, Charlie….Decime, por favor.

  9. I don’t join in the collective assessment that American recognition of Cuba will lead to greater earnings for Cuban workers that will in turn lead to greater demands for democracy. Just before Raul Castro announced the deal Cuba adopted a policy that Cubans employed by foreign companies will not be compensated more than other Cuban workers. More specifically the Cuban government will take 92% of the foreign company’s paycheck and the Cuban employee will receive 8%, quite a haircut in my view.. In addition the Cuban employee will pay another 10% of his pay as a vacation tax. I think that the Cuban government will be the big winner and subsequent negotiations on the embargo may help the Cuban worker but I am not holding my breath. The communist party will have to cede power before the working Cuban gains, like for example the right to form a union. Facts are stubborn things.

  10. Perhaps the dissident folks in Havana prefer a rerun of the Bay of Pigs invasion rather than normalization of relations with Uncle Sam.

    But Cuba is opening up, and that’s definitely a good thing for its people. And perhaps a limited possibility of Chinese-style reform is likely.

  11. The dissidents are heroes, but their own people are who will bring about change, not outside pressure. That’s what it comes down to. You are right on all points.

  12. There are many valid reasons to object to the U.S. changing its policy vis-a-vis Cuba. But the one argument for that trumps everything is that the existing policy has not produced positive results. It is time to try something different.

  13. For decades we have identified countries with a communist economic model as offering its inhabitant with little opportunity for a life of prosperity and comfort as can be enjoyed by people living under a free market economy .

    Now China has created a model where a certain degree of prosperty can be offered to many under a communist regime if it allows the economy to incorporate elements of a market model that fosters its economic growth . There are inmitators (e.g. Vietnam) , and now among the wanabe inmitators Cuba.

    Assuming such initiative where to be ultimately succesful in raising the living standards of Cubans would that mean that Cubans would then be inmune to the enticements of living under free political conditions , that by giving people a better life you can indeed buy their tolerance to a life bereft of basic political freedoms !!

    If the answer to that were yes , then indeed the normalization of relationships between the west and Cuba could ultimately help the regime consolidate itself , if the answer is that the desire of freedom goes beyond that , then nothing will stop Cubas eventual conversion into a democracy . Is there an answer to this conundrm??

    Do we price liberal democracy because it allows us to live a better material life or because we cherish for itself a life lived under institutions of freedom. ??

    • “…Now China has created a model where a certain degree of prosperty can be offered to many under a communist regime if it allows the economy to incorporate elements of a market model that fosters its economic growth…”

      Sorry to stain the pristine view of China’s prosperity as a paradise for workers, but for the working class there (Every salaryman who’s not engaged in grossly absurd corruption), you work like a bloody slave 6 and half days a week (most of the time above 10 hour shifts/day) while getting paid a misery and more often than not, under working conditions that would drive some people to suicide (Ask the Foxconn guys, they even had to install SAFETY NETS on their factory buildings to stop employees from going splat on the sidewalk, instead of improving their damn working environments)

      Also, you have the repressive nature of the police state, always wanting to beat the crap out of you if you ever displease one of their overseers, like some years ago, when a woman was imprisoned for a week for something as stupid as sending her husband a text that basically said “You’re getting some tonight, hun”

      Yeah, China looks like elvish silverware compared to may other places, but still treats their people like expendable garbage.

      “…Do we price liberal democracy because it allows us to live a better material life or because we cherish for itself a life lived under institutions of freedom. ??”

      Both, for the right to improve your material life along with your living conditions and standards, and for the right to live without being deathly afraid from a monstrous hydra-like regime that could come and step on your rights and even outright kill you if you dare to displease them.

      “Work, progress and peace”, come on, folks, is that too much to ask?

      • Ralph , i never said China was a paradise , I mentioned the regime could offer some DEGREE of prosperity to a large portion of its people which no one in the west has denied , the Work conditions of many are worse than in the west but maybe better or equal to what they have known in the past with nothing to show for it . And this is not because they are politically free but because they have been economically more competent at developing a market economy that works (which again no serious economist can deny) . In some respects they are doing better than some free market economies in the west. This as you well mention comes at a heavy cost in the sacrifice of freedoms which are normally enjoyed in the liberal democracies of the west. This of course is to be regreted .

        There are however some people who point out that many of the Asian tigers developed as first class prosperous market economies as the result of measures and actions of regimes which were dictatorial and authoritarian in character , some.later became democratic others like singapore have not, even while retaining a degree of respect for the basic freedoms of its citizens . Singapore is an improved succesfully modernized version of china but lets not forge that Deng Tsiao Ping went visiting Singapore when he was seeking for a solution to the problems of post mao China . Singapore has shown us that it is possible for an authoritarian regime to improve the lot of its people without embracing liberal demoracy as practiced in the West .

        Can we really say that no country can prosper as a market economy unless its citizens live in a liberal democracy of the kind we cherish in the West , some would argue thats not necessarily the case .

        There is very tender and romantic tendency in our cultural roots to think that the good the beautiful and all things precious necessarily go together , that nature demands it , even while history teaches us that human experience with these values is full of incongruities . Isaiah Berlin in his book on the historical roots of romanticism does a great job of bursting this bubble . Thus my question , do we price liberal democracy because we think it allows us the fruits of a well run market economy , or do we prize iit because of itself even if sometimes a dysfunctional liberal democracy leads to disasters such as we have come to know in Venezuela .!!

  14. This is not a “deal”. A deal is a quid pro quo. The U.S. gets nothing from this except the release of a single prisoner. The Castro government gets complete legitimation from its oldest and most powerful enemy. Anyone think this won ‘t be portrayed as U.S. capitulation?

    Some people argue that exposure to consumer goods and other outside influences will subvert the Castro regime. This is nonsense. Cubans have been exposed for decades to large numbers of European tourists and to radio and television broadcasts from the U.S. Tens of thousands of Cubans have experienced other countries as government-controlled guest workers (most recently in Venezuela) and then gone home,

    There is no one in Cuba who doesn’t know what life is like outside. I don’t know – but my impression is that outside of its bought-and-paid-for goons, loyalty to the Castro regime is nonexistent.

    The Castroites know this. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t cutting their own throats. They can see that the Revolution is dead. Perhaps not Fidel himself and Raul, but they are about the only surviving founders. The rest are all apparatchiks, and the new model they are looking at is post-Communist Russia.

    The object of this “deal” is to legitimate the Castro state, kill off any possibility of “regime change”, and enable the transition from revolutionary failure to oligarchy, with regime insiders becoming billionaires. Will the people benefit? Somewhat. But much less than if the regime was swept away. The real beneficiaries will be the insiders.

    Russia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe have demonstrated that a de facto plundering dictatorship can pose as a nominal liberal democracy, even to the point of allowing semi-functional elections and some free media, and still hold power securely.

    That’s where Cuba is going — with Obama’s aid.

    • The US never got anything from the embargo except a bad rap for being a bully. So some modest benefit will accrue to the rehabilitation of reputation. Anyway, what would the US get from a regime change besides several hundred thousand refugees and responsibility for alleviating a humanitarian nightmare?

      • What did the US get from ending its embargo to the Soviet Union in 1987? Wait! There was no embargo of the Soviet Union back then? How come?

        PIENSA, hombre, PIENSA.

        • The unilateral embargo was ended in 1981 because its only effect was to supplant American suppliers with suppliers from other countries. The US didn’t need the embargo in 87 because they had Ronald Reagan, who simply shouted “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” and it fell like the fortress of Jericho before Joshua’s horn.

          • Oh, Geez!
            Do you really believe in the crap about actor Reagan being responsible for anything?

            Firstly, read a very general book about the Soviet Union, something like this:

            Then check out what oil and gas prices were between the early eighties and 1987.

            Then try to find a little bit more about the relations between the US and the Soviet Union across the decades.
            There was NEVER, NEVER an embargo and less a breaking of relations as there was with Cuba.

            Try to follow less US news outlets and try to check out others, particularly in a couple of other languages…

          • Reagan was responsible for a lot of things. A pretty good movie co-staring a chimpanzee, for one thing.
            Never Never seems a little strong. The post-Afghanistan grain embargo was a pretty big deal for American farmers back in the day.
            and anyway
            What has the US gotten in return for its unilateral embargo of Cuba? The embargo has contributed to the destitution of the island but has not otherwise yielded anything of tangible benefit to the US. If the policy is exclusively ideological then the tangible benefits still remain elusive; outside the Cuban ex-pat community two generations of Americans don’t relate to the ideal. The rest of the world relates, but not in a good way; Cuba’s disproportionate standing in the world is largely, if not entirely, related to its status as David to the US Goliath. Do US politicians maintain this obdurate position in the hopes that one day Cuban Ex-pats will be able to retrieve property expropriated 60 years ago, or because of their horror at the terrible plight of dissidents, or because they believe they can garner swing voters in a swing state and secure a national election?
            thinking, always thinking

  15. First of all, the embargo cannot be lifted w/o Congress’ changing or revoking the law. Having said that I am torn about this change in policy. First, I hate those f*g Castro brothers and anybody who believes that communism brings joy to the masses—that experiment has been proven wrong all over the world. Second, they (Castro & Co.) have kept the Cuban people in a hell hole for the last 50 yrs.. They can’t claim that the embargo is the main cause of their economic abyss as they have full diplomatic and commerce relations with Europe and the rest of the world. So, rewarding these a*holes goes against everything I stand for.

    On the other hand, the U.S. government has used this detente policy for 50 yrs and nothing has changed in Cuba. Literally nothing. So, let’s try something else. Like the old saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expect a different result each time”.

  16. Que se de la libertad de embargo!!! porque ya veran! cini oesa la hija de Chavez en Concierto de Madona, nn o mm, espero que los sepan del hombre y la ley, especialmente se obvio la mujer!

  17. el indio bandido, como sera el cibernetico vslo vs korea del norte! cuanto saben medio lugar, cuanto saben no soy izquierda o derecha, y que fue un invento!!!

  18. Eso fue con odio y medio para enterarse!

    donde esta! Su fugita de Cerebreo Pinky! dpnde Esta! que horrible! Si supieran cuantos serian o son caboz raxox!

  19. Servicios de Inteligencia! no voy A gritar bolivariano, VZLO siempre, gringo o ruso, comunistodie o liberal, o de mas y al revez, DESNUDAME! MALVADOS!

  20. so what happens to the billions of dollars that were never paid to American companies and people after the expropriations. It was part of the embargo reasoning. Is all that forgiven? In the end, the companies lost millions which trickles down to American citizens. It affected families too. rt is it “OK” because America is a rich country and people can recover money again someday? There were people hurt on both sides of this embargo, both after AND before..Regular people…


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