Skip to comments.More Cubans finding the courage to speak out
Posted on 12/09/2007 12:38:51 AM PST by elhombrelibre
HAVANA -- Voices that once whispered are rising to a crescendo.
Sylvia, a chemist and self-described socialist, vents that she feels betrayed by a revolution that ''enslaved'' her. Felipe, a carpenter, asks in front of his co-workers why Fidel Castro can come up with an idea one day and have it become law the next. Lisette, a nurse, tells a total stranger how the medical system has deteriorated since thousands of Cuban doctors were sent to Venezuela.
Call it the law of unintended consequences: Since Cuba's interim president, Raúl Castro, called for public meetings to debate the country's innumerable problems, more and more people are speaking out -- and not just about empty store and pharmacy shelves and lousy public transportation but topics long off-limits like democracy and freedom.
''In the street, at jobs and in neighborhoods, there's some flexibility in terms of repression and expression,'' said Ahmed Rodríguez, an opposition journalist who runs the Youth Without Censorship news agency in Havana. ``People have lost a little bit of their fear -- not all of it.''
While no one is suggesting that the Cuban government has knocked down the door to freedom of expression, experts say that little by little, the entrance has widened. The fact that Cubans, invited by Raúl to speak up in workplace and community meetings, now also feel more comfortable doing so in other settings represents a significant shift and underscores the subtle changes slowly taking place in the nearly 1 ½ years since Fidel Castro fell ill.
Some experts wonder whether the move to allow more open criticism will backfire and, instead of allowing Cubans to let out steam, will make them boil over.
''In a closed political system like Cuba's, there is always risk in promoting that kind of discussion, which is compounded by the fact they are not delivering on any of this -- people's lives are not getting better,'' former top CIA Cuba analyst Brian Latell said. ``Maybe we are already beginning to see early signs of rising or spreading restlessness. If this goes on, they are playing with fire.''
Cubans agree that some are becoming more vocal in their complaints.
''People can't take it anymore. This revolution was supposed to be one thing, and now we realize it is something else,'' said a laborer who asked that his name not be published. ``People want change. The government held meetings to hear what we had to say, and let me tell you, people went for it.''
Last month, several youth were arrested for protesting Cuba's municipal elections, calling it a sham. Weeks later, an organization of rural women presented the national legislature with a petition allegedly signed by thousands of women demanding an end to Cuba's dual currency system. A few days after that, a youth group said it collected 5,000 signatures from students demanding independent universities.
In a rare move, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma alluded this week to the petition drives in its pages -- coverage that dissidents said was both new and surprising.
One of the most unexpected displays of debate came last month, when several intellectuals who spoke out earlier this year against a government official who in the 1970s led a crackdown on artists were invited on a state-run television show called Open Dialogue.
''We accustomed ourselves to not debating,'' filmmaker Alfredo Guevara, a longtime Fidel Castro ally, said on the show, Mexico's La Jornada newspaper reported. ''We answered Fidel with silence'' and later ''Raúl had to come'' to begin a dialogue.
The television appearance was thought to be the first time the government-controlled media openly discussed the 1970s crackdown on intellectuals. It was also the first time the Cuban press mentioned the massive nationwide grievance meetings held in October at Raúl Castro's request.
Cuba-based blogger Yoani Sánchez dismissed the importance of the TV appearance, calling the show a one-sided ``debate among revolutionaries.''
But the head of the Communist Party's culture committee recently cast the debate in much broader terms, telling a Cuban magazine that the revolution is considering a profound transformation.
''The party itself is rethinking its relationship with society to seek a more direct, more efficient dialogue and greater participation of the people in decisions,'' Elíades Acosta told the website Cubarte. ``We aspire to have a society that speaks aloud about its problems, without fear . . . in which mistakes are publicly aired to seek solutions, in which the people can express themselves honestly.''
He called for an end of the ``the abuse of institutional practices to limit criticism.''
Opposition journalist Rodríguez noted that government media seem to have responded to Raúl Castro's call for openness: Cuban television recently broadcast a speech by President Bush, and then aired the King of Spain telling Cuba's No. 1 ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, to shut up.
''There it was, clear as day, on Cubavisión, the king telling Chávez to shut up,'' he said. ``In the past, we would never have been allowed to see that.''
He cautioned, however, that the Cuban government is still controlling the news and rounding up activists at will. Three youth leaders who presented the university petitions were detained for a week. Washington's anti-Castro television programming, TV Martí, is continuously jammed, and Cubans are largely kept off the Internet.
So while more and more people are feeling free to speak out, a 50-year legacy of repression against free speech is hard to overcome, Cubans say. Raúl Castro has been described as both a consensus-driven reformer and a tough security enforcer.
''You know in the universities they are now offering a course called `Reflections'?'' said Felipe, the carpenter.
Fidel Castro 'writes little essays, calls them `reflections,' and now students have to study it,'' he said. ``The students will read those essays and study them, but they will not really debate them. Maybe people are speaking up more, but they don't do it where it counts, so in the end, it's all bull.''
A POLICY SHIFT?
Dissidents in Cuba say the change is not only indicative of a policy shift pushed by Raúl Castro, but also of a fed-up society.
''It's been more than 40 years of this crap already,'' said a Havana cleaning lady, who admits she voted ''no'' for all the candidates listed on a recent municipal election ballot. ``Now they want us to tell them what's wrong.
``We'll tell them a thing or two. We're going to unleash our tongues.''
The Miami Herald withheld the name of the correspondent who prepared this report and the surnames of the people quoted, because the reporter did not have the journalist visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island.
Raul has been secretly sizing up retirement palaces in Italy according to the Cuban blogs.
The end will come unexpectedly and very violently. I only wish all the Hollywood and democrat party vermin who have oppressed the Cuban people for so long, will be on hand to face the wrath of free Cubans.
Uh, maybe because he's a dictator?
There has been going on in Cuba than the MSM has “informed” us, the little people. Bracelets marked CAMBIO (change) are popping up in Cuba, secret bloggers/hackers are using guv comps to spread the word. The exile community..worldwide is getting worked up and college kids are protesting. This isnt very organized but it’s a clear sign.
Here in the US Americans of Cuban parents are getting into the act and this is very good news.
Cubans are very restricted from travel in Cuba...while tourist have food, med care, nice beaches and so on available average Cubans have nada.
Will the revolt be bloody? I hear from some Cubans it will be a little violent. Revenge killings from imprisoned political prisoners and their families will go on for years I think.
Neighborhood “bosses”, commie snitches, school teachers and police will get the special treatment.
The tourist, and I have no sympathy for them, will get robbed blind by Castro’s goons that are closely watching them spend their money. The MSM will blame the average Cuban for this but everyone knows the average Cuban cannot even get into the tourist areas!
If a revolt doenst happen within 6 months...Cuba will be lost for a few more generations. The exiled community knows this and efforts are underway now to hasten the revolt.
There are a lot of Cuban Blog sites that would welcome FReeper support.
Ahh, but if they all arise at the same time the “bad” guys will be way outnumbered.
Amen——and it’s about damn time!
I think this tactic is used in cities and school districts here in the United States.
Enemies of the mayor-city council and school superintendent-school board are identified and discredited.
No one gets arrested for opposition but codes enforcement is used by cities and infiltration of groups that oppose the status quo do happen.
This helps to confuse the opposition and discredits their position with the public.
In one Democrat controlled city some years ago (York,PA) there was a simultaneous roundup of Republican leaders in the city for unpaid parking tickets.
It won't be.
After Castro, expect millions of US$ to be privately developing Cuba's mountains and warmwater coastlines, and the Boomers to be migrating there in droves. Cuba's vaunted HealthCare will even improve!
“I do hope its not violent”, why?
If I were to hit you with a stick for half a century and more if you ever got the ability to I’d hope you grab the stick someday and beat me with it real good.
The good Cuban folks will someday hit those who have enslaved them for decades.
yes but the bad guys are the ones with all the guns.
What Cuba needs is for a military wing to join in for Cambio.
Tell that to Jimmy Carter and the dems who love Castro.
Dude, comeon, drop the “It’s all (Carters/Clintons)fault” bs.
History and politics in Cuba go back a couple months more than that.
Making the type of statement you made is as productive (and analytical) as posting yet another picture of Helen Thomas.
The SOS ain’t working. We need to find a way to invite Cuba into a political and economic sphere that will benefit all involved.
Hate to put it this way, but it's the truth:
Communism in Russia died with a whimper, not a bang.
And only a few years later, because they didn't "clean up the mess", communist party survivors have reconsolidated and are expanding their once broken power again.
Cuba needs to feed the flame of liberty with the blood of tyrants to do this right. They cannot afford to leave any lingering trace of the old leadership if they truly with to be free. Again, look at Russia...
Hey wait a minute...I thought there was a documentary stating that the health care
down there in Cuba was first tier...I'm confused hearing this
I wish I could be more hopeful for Cuba. They are a good people, but I see that after a generation or two under communism, there usually springs up attitude of dependency on the government.
In states that develop a strong black market economy, there also is a strong tendecy to breed criminality. I keep telling my lib sister, when you tell people they can’t do or have something you don’t deprive them of it. All you do is make more people criminals. She doesn’t get it.
The only bulwark I see against this is a strong faith. Places where religion stays strong cannot be defeated by communism.
Agreed. To give Carter a little credit -- just a little, don't have a heart attack -- when Carter visited Cuba, he insisted on speaking on national television, live, in Spanish. His Spanish is really terrible. i don't even speak the language, and I could tell. But it meant that there wasn't a translator to muck around with the speech, in which he praised a group of dissidents Castro had recently jailed.
The SOS aint working. We need to find a way to invite Cuba into a political and economic sphere that will benefit all involved.
We need to be -- and I'm fairly confident we are --- planning for a way to help glide Cuba to a soft landing. Fidel has succeeded in building a communist personality cult, the way the Kims have in North Korea or Mao did in China. Far more Cubans feel loyalty toward Fidel than toward communist principles.
With Raul as "interim" president (raise your hand if you think Fidel is ever coming back, if indeed he's alive right now), the cracks in the facade are already starting to show. Raul is only a couple of years younger than Fidel, and all the other towering figures of the Revolucion are either elderly or dead. It's not as if Che is next in line. To protect their own power, Fidel and his cronies have not raised a next generation.
The best we can hope for right now is the kind of soft landing that most of Eastern Europe had in 1989-90. A new leader who sees the writing on the wall and allows multi-party elections. Western companies ready to invest.
Cuba has some advantages -- a population that is literate and well-educated, even if that education included a lot of propaganda and indoctrination. Abundant natural resources. A climate that is pretty close to paradise, aside from the occasional hurricane. It is ripe for counter-revolution.
If the new hotels and casinos are built by Marriot instead of the Mob, they could bring jobs and prosperity and freedom without the stench of corruption. Pre-Castro Havana was comparable to Las Vegas when it was run by the mob. If post-Castro Havana could be comparable to Vegas today, that would be a huge victory.
The US government should be prepared for Fidel's death, ready to nudge developments in the right direction. Subtly, because being seen as an American puppet is the last thing a new Cuban government wants. The front line is going to be the exile community in the US, because Cubans are less likely to distrust or resent their own kin.
The future of Cuba is in Miami waiting for the call. They're passionately pro-democratic, and in the last few decades, some of them have made a lot of money that they would love to invest in a Nuevo Cuba.
There are many reasons to doubt the foresight of American intelligence, but all the signs are that smart folks in our government are planning in the ways I've just outlined. I don't know what plans are in place, and I don't want to know, if my knowing would also mean that Fidel's cronies know.
When -- not if -- Cuba reaches the crisis point, we need to be prepared. Until then, we need to hang fire. If the crisis is seen by Cubans as one manufactured by the US, it will not end well for us. Cubans must take the lead, and then we offer assistance.
And thank God for that. Because if it had ended with a "bang," that bang would be measured in gigatons. We could not -- the world could not -- afford that risk.
And only a few years later, because they didn't "clean up the mess", communist party survivors have reconsolidated and are expanding their once broken power again.
That's way overstated. Russia is certainly a mess, but the current threat is cronyism, not communism. Russia's apparatchiks have moved from the worst form of communism to the worst form of capitalism in a blink. It isn't about ideology. It's about sheer lust for power.
This is interesting.
I don't really believe they would reassert themselves as communists, at least initially, so much as a force to undermine the establishment of a functional republic. That in itself can lead to the emergence of yet another tyrannical regime.
There is no such thing as a “little bit” of freedom. Once people find out that the dissidents outnumber the controllers, look out!
I think they're driven by sheer manic greed, not by any ideology. Communism is just a red (ahem) herring. They'll claim whatever principle works for the moment. The Russians have gone from a rapist who beat them to a rapist who kisses them on the cheek and leaves money on the dresser on the way out.
I would love to believe that, but the evidence doesn't support it. The People's Republic of China has walked that tightrope for a long time now, and isn't looking like it's gonna topple any time soon.
I agree that the historical pattern is that trade is the thin end of the wedge, and that capitalism usually leads to democracy. China is the counter-case. I retain hope, but not quite faith, that more trade and more contact will bring the tyrants down.
You certainly have a valid point. I believe, though, that China has been gradually loosening its totalitaristic control ever since the crack down in the late 80's, and they have gone much too far to ever turn back. The progress is certainly slower than I would prefer.
I agree whole-heartedly. China has been the rare success story in allowing economic freedom without political freedom, but that cannot hold forever. Liberty is a virus. It is spread by casual contact. The more contact, the better. There is no vaccine.
“Since Cuba’s interim president, Raúl Castro, called for public meetings to debate the country’s innumerable problems, more and more people are speaking out”
Let a thousand flowers bloom...
“yes but the bad guys are the ones with all the guns.”
No citizens, no slaves, no need for guns.
How can this be? Didn't Michael Moore tells us that Cuba's health care system made the Mayo Clinic look like some third world first aid station? (sarcasm)
I hope you're right. I'm not convinced, but I hope. If another Tiananmen broke out tomorrow, I would like to think that the Internet and satellites would let more people, and more Chinese, know about it in real time. and more folks throughout the country would take to the streets. Enough of an uprising to up-end the Mao regime. I have hope, but not faith.
In the last couple decades, China has become ever more connected with the world. It cannot practice big business without a constant flow of communication; Achilles, let me show you your heel.
I would love to see China become more democratic without violence. I would love to seem them as merely an economic rival rather than a military threat. I would love to have a billion and a half people see a greater hope for a better life. But I don't think it's likely, at least not soon. If events prove me wrong, you will never met anyone happier to be proven wrong.
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