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From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert

Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván García
Posted on March 18, 2016

Iván García, 16 March 2106 — Around 12 midnight on Tuesday, 18 March
2003, I was en route to my apartment in the La Víbora neighborhood when,
from the balcony, some incomprehensible signs coming from my mother set
off the alarms.

Those were hard years. My mother and I were contributing articles to
the independent press agency, Cuba Press, prohibited by the government,
which was led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were detained,
intimidated or warned by cowboys from State Security with too much
insistence.

Fidel Castro, meticulously, had prepared his “crime” scene. Since
February 1996, when MiG aircraft shot down four civilian aircraft of the
Brothers to the Rescue, and with the turn of the screw to the embargo on
the part of Bill Clinton’s administration, the olive-green strongman
unleashed his furies upon the peaceful opposition.

In 1999, the obedient and one-note national parliament had approved Law
88, a legal platform that allowed the government to impose prison terms
of up to 30 years on dissidents, human rights activists, and independent
journalists.

The acts of repudiation conducted on our domiciles were frequent. We
lived in a climate of fear. But we continued reporting stories about the
other Cuba, the one that was never reflected in the official press.

That night, my mother tells me that she had gone to turn in some
articles to Raúl Rivero at his home in Centro Habana and, no sooner had
she arrived but Raúl tells her that State Security had been searching
the homes of Ricardo González Alfonso and Jorge Olivera, and that as
soon as these searches were over, they would be taken into custody. “He
said that I should return immediately and tell you,” she recounted,
“because at any moment, they would come looking for the two of us.”

Two days later, on Thursday 20 March, Blanca–Raúl’s wife–tells us that
at around 5 pm, he had been arrested. “The operation was tremendous,”
she said. “Television cameras, several patrol cars and dozens of police
officers, as if he were a terrorist. But when the neighbors found out,
they went out into the street and several of them screamed.”

Throughout the following hours and days, we learned of other arrests of
colleagues in the capital and the provinces. Their weapons: typewriters.
Their crime: to dream of democracy in Cuba.

I was going around with a toothbrush and a spoon in my backpack. The
atmosphere was oppressive. Hijackings of commercial airlines and ships
were taking place. In a summary trial, Fidel Castro ordered the
execution of three young black men who had hijacked an old passenger
ferry. It was a state-sponsored execution.

The regime’s reasoning, taking advantage of the start of the war in
Iraq, was that the raid would be unnoticed. It was not so. Presidents,
intellectuals and international media focused on the wave of repression.
In its prosecutions, the government was requesting the death penalty for
seven opposition members.

Years later, Raúl Castro, handpicked as president by Fidel–pressured by
the fatal hunger strike of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and by
the marches of the Ladies in White demanding the release of their
husbands, fathers and sons–initiated negotiations to free the government
opponents, as part of a troika with the Catholic Church and the Spanish
chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos.

The military autocracy undertook lukewarm economic reforms that were
indispensable to its continuance in power. The furniture was moved
around, but the same décor was maintained.

It was not a gamble on market economics or democracy. No. It was a play
for survival. They legalized absurd, feudal-style rules that had kept
Cubans from accessing mobile telephones, hotel lodging, buying cars or
selling their homes. But structurally, the essence of the regime was–and
still is–maintained.

Thirteen years later, in Spring of 2016, you can say whatever you want.
But you cannot create a political party, an independent association, or
a print newspaper.

In the economic sector, the opening is limited. There is no coherent
legal framework for private entrepreneurs who, lacking a wholesale
market where they can buy their raw materials and ingredients, must
resort to trickery, corruption and cooking the books.

The State continues to classify self-employed workers as presumed
delinquents. The regime’s economic guidelines–its holy bible–warns that
the government will not consent to the concentration of capital in
private hands. The new investments law does not permit investing in the
self-employed.

What have been the changes undertaken by the Cuban autocracy? The prime
transformations have been in foreign policy. Key aspects of Cuban
diplomacy have undergone a 180-degree turn during Raúl Castro’s term in
office.

The Havana regime has gone from training guerrilla groups or terrorists
in their territory, to negotiating a place in world financial
mechanisms, to signing new treaties with the United States and the
European Union, to mediating between the Catholic and Orthodox churches,
to being an important actor in achieving a peace accord in Colombia.

Cuba has opened itself to the world, as Pope John Paul II asked, but not
to Cubans. At the internal level, the aged gerontocracy’s resistance
continues, with its anachronistic concepts of social control, absence of
political liberties, and suppression of free expression. In the economic
area, the reforms are limited and insufficient.

When Raúl Castro regards his reflection in the mirror, he does not see
himself as Wojcieh Jaruzelski, the Polish leader who opened the fortress
to democracy. He would like to be remembered as the man who perpetuated
his brother Fidel’s “Revolutionary work.”

It is necessary to prognosticate what Cuba’s future might be. To open a
Pandora’s box in closed societies is always a dangerous game. And a
presumed redeemer can turn into a probable gravedigger.

Perceptions are deceiving. A great red carpet for President Obama, a
mega-concert by the Rolling Stones, a recent accord with the EU, and the
imminent signing of a commitment between the FARC and the Colombian
government to put an end to the continent’s last armed conflict.

But on the Island, repression of frontline dissidents and arbitrary
arrests continue–as do low wages, high cost of living and a questionable
future. This is why many Cubans are opting to emigrate.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván
García | Translating Cuba –
translatingcuba.com/cuba-from-the-black-spring-to-a-rolling-stones-concert-ivn-garca/

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