The Holes in the Wall around Cuba
February 20, 2015
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — Raul Castro is not likely to go down in history as a
daring and innovative politician. He may in fact be remembered as one of
the most fainthearted leaders ever to govern Cuba. The general and his
retinue of octogenarian and fiftyish officials say they are making “slow
but sure” progress, as though they had all of the time in the world to
deliver the glass of milk promised every Cuban child, as though every
delay didn’t have a huge impact on our society.
Every delay, in fact, prompts pessimism, deception, annoyance and many
other negative feelings among observers, converging into a familiar
idea: with the exception of a few, superficial changes, no significant
transformations are taking place in Cuba.
That, however, is not my opinion. Though I acknowledge the highly
capricious nature of Cuba’s political class, I do believe there have
been concrete changes and that some are highly relevant and positive. In
contrast to the system’s apologists – the soft, the hard-liners and the
semi-critical – I also believe that a good many of these changes are a
sort of unplanned “collateral damage,” and that a no less significant
number of these are the result of the elite’s inability to govern the
way it could two decades ago.
As an example, the migratory reform is a relevant and positive change.
It is insufficient, failing to recognize a number of civil rights,
excluding the émigré community and several other things. It is also true
that, in the short term, it serves to take social pressure off the
regime and to increase its dividends. But it is also unquestionable that
it favors family ties and helps Cubans come into contact with realities
they have only been exposed to through caricatures published by Granma.
The authorization of small private businesses is another incomplete
measure, but I consider it vital that Cuban society begin to become
acquainted with other forms of property, that the market should become a
means of assigning value and that 20% of Cuban workers should no longer
be State employees.
As I see it, the most important thing is that these measures – and
others we could mention – point towards the strengthening of two social
virtues that totalitarianism deprived Cubans of: diversity and autonomy.
As a result of its own social and cultural sophistication and of the new
circumstances created, the island’s society is today more varied and
autonomous than it has ever been since the second half of the 1960s. For
this same reason, and because the State is losing its capacity to
control every aspect of society, Cuban society is freer today than it
was twenty years ago – and not because the revolutionary leadership (the
anti-democratic clique par excellence) wants it this way, but because it
can no longer do things the way it used to.
About 12 years ago, 75 dissidents were given long prison terms for
writing critical articles in the foreign press. Today, they continue to
do so and even have an online newspaper. Generally speaking, their
private activities are tolerated, or harassed only minimally (at least
when we compare the situation to the repressive brutality of years
past). Only their public presence is fiercely attacked, and less
severely than in the past (through express detentions that last a few
hours). This does not make the Cuban government noble or speak very
highly of its legal structures, but we must acknowledge that the
situation favors the development of an anti-establishment movement more
than it did in the past.
Something similar is happening in the sector that I refer to as the
system’s “critical accompaniment.” When the Catholic leadership
dismantled the journal Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”), its main
proponents sought other forms of religious support to found Cuba Posible
(“A Possible Cuba”), a project that seeks to encourage debate among
intellectuals and activists who harbor critical perspectives that would
have met with a severe government response not long ago. The new journal
is tolerated, as other small spaces for popular participation are tolerated.
To get a sense of the changes, suffice it to compare this situation with
what happened in 1996 at the Center for American Studies and later with
other autonomous projects, such as Habitat Cuba. If the system’s
critical companions had declared they were a “loyal opposition” in the
year 2000 (as they do today, wherever they can), they would have found
themselves in the bitter situation of being dubbed the opposition plain
and simple, or of exhausting whatever loyalty they had left in exercises
in political obsequiousness.
The Cuban State is no longer capable of asking every citizen for their
soul, and contents itself with requesting obedience. The totalitarian
regime that, during the “Soviet” era, was sustained by the State’s
monopoly over the economy, politics and ideology, today retreats to a
less ambitious position and is forced to share spaces with the Catholic
Church and the market, formally, and with society in general, informally.
In the now distant 90s, I heard Jorge Dominguez say that we were
witnessing the transition from a totalitarian to an authoritarian
regime, and it struck me as an exaggeration. But Dominguez was right and
that transition is today more evident than it was at the time – and it
will become even more so as social diversity and autonomy gain more and
That is why I consider positive developments the re-establishment of
diplomatic relations with the United States, the lifting of the
blockade/embargo and the complete normalization of relations. Not
because I believe Cuba’s governing elite is going to liberalize the
country politically of its own will (it won’t), but because the road to
liberalization inevitably leads to the intensification of
contradictions, the maturation of explicit forms of social diversity and
autonomy and to broadening those spaces that the political class can no
longer control or can control only marginally.
In short, it is true that the walls of government repression and
intolerance still stand – but it is also true they now have holes in
them, and, as I see it, the holes are sometimes more important than the
Source: The Holes in the Wall around Cuba – Havana Times.org –