Castro & Co. deaf to Cubans' frustration
Posted on Thursday, 04.08.10
Castro & Co. deaf to Cubans' frustration
BY MARIFELI PEREZ-STABLE
Things aren't going well for Havana, and the regime simply doesn't get it.
On Sunday, Raúl Castro said: “Today, more than ever before, the
economic battle is the main task.'' Yes, the economy is a battle but
only because the regime stubbornly refuses to take the market by its
horns. Yes, state enterprises need to shed up to a million people from
their payrolls, but the regime balks at legalizing the small-business
sector. Yes, the state is paternalistic and agriculture woefully
unproductive, but who's to blame if not those in power for far too long?
Since early March, Havana has been swirling with rumors about a
corruption scandal. A top general with a long revolutionary pedigree and
a veteran Chilean businessman with close ties to Fidel Castro are
involved. Authorities in Cubana Airlines, the airport, customs, the
Transportation Ministry and travel agencies were using the airline's
planes to move passengers off the books. Could a stealth privatization
be in progress among old revolutionaries?
But it's in the international arena that the regime is facing its direst
straits. Cuban hunger strikers — Orlando Zapata, first and foremost —
have put Havana in check. Cuban leaders see only a vast conspiracy in
the worldwide outcry after Zapata's death. Now Guillermo Fariñas, Darsi
Ferrer and Franklin Pelegrino are on hunger strikes, asking that two
dozen political prisoners in ill health be released.
On Sunday, Castro also said: “We will never yield to blackmail from any
country or group of countries, no matter how powerful they might be, and
regardless of the consequences.'' He's painting himself into a corner
when all he has to do is look at the regime's own past to find a solution.
In 1968, Comandante Fidel fired the interior minister and hired another
trusted revolutionary. The new minister improved prison conditions,
opened talks with political prisoners and established a plan to release
them. Cuba's attorney general has recently been replaced and, thus, the
regime could avail itself of the opportunity to defuse the current crisis.
Why is the release of two dozen political prisoners for humanitarian
reasons such an affront to the regime's “principles'' when 3,600 were
freed in the late 1970s? The leadership then felt secure and thought the
Cold War would last forever. Washington and Havana were on the mend
which gave the regime cover for the prisoner release.
The regime today is confronting a restless society, especially among the
young who have known only hardship and leaders who live in the past. In
2005, the elder Castro warned that the revolution could only be defeated
from within (I agree). Only his recommendations — uphold correct ideas,
banish markets, never make concessions — are a recipe for disaster.
Maybe Raúl and others of his generation know it but can't bring
themselves to defy the Comandante.
In any case, the still-unfolding corruption scandal confirms that some
elite sectors are also restless. Second- and third-tier government
officials are likely pulling their hair at such intransigence when it
would be so easy to end the international outcry. Just release the
Interviewed by the Argentine newspaper Página 12, singer-songwriter
Silvio Rodríguez said: “We have to overcome the logic of the Cold War.
I wouldn't care if they said we freed them under pressure. We have to
change the old logic: We can't be prisoners of our own past forever.''
But, overcoming the Cold War mindset means opening the economy,
listening to new ideas and reaching compromises. There's no squaring the
Perhaps the main difference between the late 1970s and today is that the
demand now is coming from within Cuba. It's not just that the hunger
strikers are calling for the prisoner release but that many in the
government are asking why such a big deal over releasing them. Wouldn't
their release help Spain make the argument against the Common Position
in the European Union?
That's a slippery slope, I can hear Fidel, Raúl and the other
gerontocrats say. What's next, allowing the Red Cross to visit Cuban
prisons? Signing an EU cooperation agreement with a democracy clause?
Engaging the United States? Legalizing the small-business sector?
Publishing Silvio's interview in Juventud Rebelde?
Marifeli Pérez-Stable is a professor at Florida International University
and senior non-resident fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.