Orestes R. Betancourt Ponce de León
FAES International development specialist
here are no ambulances, but if you say “down with the revolution”, in less than 10 minutes you have a police patrol taking you prisoner. The ordinary Cuban, the one who barely eats bread for breakfast with whatever he can find, knows it, suffers it. An inflation of up to 900% and being the fifth Latin American country in cases of COVID-19 per capita have overwhelmed the health system, pockets and patience. It’s not just the coronavirus, it’s that there is no food or medicine. “They have taken so much from us, that they took away our fear” say Cubans in their Facebook profiles.
As detonating factors, the material conditions are joined by the climate of freedom that social networks, despite censorship, has given to those who occasionally connect to the Internet. The group of intellectuals and artists of the 27N group and the San Isidro Movement, and the song “Patria Y Vida” have been putting the regime in check for months. Cubans see it through the networks and live this rebellion as their own. Moreover, for some weeks now, in the face of the health crisis, the hashtag #SOSCuba and the request for humanitarian aid has attracted artists from all over the world. This means that Cuba does not feel alone. But the bad government in Havana has mocked this outcry. “I can only laugh,” said a spokeswoman for the regime.
The arrogance, contempt and blindness that sickens dictatorships.
On Sunday morning, July 11, in the streets of the town of San Antonio de los Baños, the cry of “Freedom” and “Down with the dictatorship” was heard. It went viral. Within minutes it was Palma Soriano in the east of the island. And a few hours later it was all over the country, from Pinar del Rio to Santiago de Cuba. Never in six decades of dictatorship had the people taken to the streets so massively. The Maleconazo of 1994 is a fraction of what is happening today. Back then there were only two television channels and Fidel Castro was still undoing things as he pleased. For example, the horror of the sinking of the tugboat 13 March that same year was not known to anyone on the island. This is not the case today. Even if the internet is cut off, videos and images of the repression spread on social networks as fast as the protest did.
Diaz-Canel’s response on Sunday, after accusing “Yankee imperialism” and the “counterrevolution”, was that “the order to fight has been given, the revolutionaries should take to the streets”, to then finish off: “they have to step over our corpses and we are ready for anything”. The nomenklatura has given the green light to repression and the political police in civilian clothes is executing the script applied in Caracas and Managua. After all, Havana has not only trained the repressive bodies of Chavismo and Sandinismo, but has also learned from the street protests of 2014, 2017 and 2019 in Venezuela and 2018 in Nicaragua. If Maduro and Ortega are still there, Canel and Raul Castro will say, so are we.
From the first hours the police shoot, arrest and beat with impunity. There are no more masks or postures. Those who thought that the leadership was going to do its best to maintain a certain image were wrong. The dictatorship of the proletariat, that phase that Marx elucidated between capitalism and socialism, is only dictatorship and in Cuba today the proletariat is shouting “down with communism”.
As the hours go by, videos and testimonies will make their way through the social networks, mainly about what happens at night in the streets and in the prisons where there are already at least hundreds of detainees. There is an additional tool that authoritarian dictatorships do not have, and that is that, in totalitarian systems such as Cuba’s, the State not only exercises a monopoly over politics but also over the economy. Václav Havel said that the communist system controlled your life. That is, where are you going to work if your employer is the State/Party? So, with 87% of the workforce employed by the state leviathan, the blackmail not to participate in the protest and to mobilize in counter-marches in favor of the regime is an extra tool of pressure. But the crisis is so great that the worker has nothing to lose but his chains, to use Marx as a reference.
In the midst of so many shortages and material difficulties, the cry is not “Food and medicine”, but “Freedom” and “Down with the dictatorship”. Cubans know what the real problem is and its solution!
There is currently no organized political opposition within the country to channel the protests. There is no way. It is a spontaneous and massive discontent. However, the regime knows what is being demanded in the streets: Freedom. Although improbable, that would be the road map for a dialogue. There are many good actors from civil society and the political opposition, inside and outside Cuba, to cover the spectrum of ideas and hopes of the country. But this possibility seems remote.
Everything seems to indicate that the regime’s position is to entrench itself. They feel comfortable. They have the weapons, the media and they have been preparing for this situation for decades. On the other hand, in the streets the people tasted freedom, the real one, not the one of social networks, and “there is no more fear” as it is heard all over the country. The fed-up people are not going anywhere.
In this scenario, the complicity of part of the international left, from López Obrador and Alberto Fernández to Podemos in Spain, causes blushes and even indignation. But we Cubans have never counted on them. Now more than ever Cuba needs its diaspora and free countries. We need the firm and unequivocal denunciation, the pressure on the dictatorship and the support to the brave people inside the island who risk everything.
Cuba today cries out for freedom and there is no other way.
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