Cuba: Dissidents changing tactics
Shifting tactics, dissidents help average Cubans
When about 200 owners of horse-drawn carts in the Cuban city of Santa Clara gathered recently outside a government office to protest their stiff taxes, dissident Guillermo Fariñas and a dozen other democracy activists stood with them.
The cocheros, who transport people and cargo, broke up peacefully after their protest on Sept. 11. Fariñas, winner of a top European prize for human rights, and the other dissidents were carted away by police, and freed later that day.
More than a simple protest, the event reflected a new strategy for Cuba’s dissidents, learned in part from Poland’s Solidarity labor union in the waning years of that country’s communist rule: If you want to win more popular support, tone down the push for a political opening and back the common people in their demands for economic and social change.
Opposition groups say they are now offering medical help and transportation for the ill, food and laundry for the elderly, education and entertainment for children and vocal support for squatters and illegal street vendors harassed by government inspectors.
“The idea is to do things so that the people can perceive us as their defenders,” Fariñas said. “We’re going to relegate the political demands because we need more popular support before we can really push them.”
What real impact the new strategy will have, if any, is uncertain in a country where the government regularly jails dissidents and brands them as “mercenaries” financed by the U.S. government to undermine the communist system.
The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, in a 2009 dispatch to Washington, wrote that it perceived “very little evidence that the main-line dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans.”
That’s all changing now, said Fariñas and José Daniél Ferrer, who founded the island’s most active dissident organization, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), in 2011, just days after Ferrer was freed after serving eight years in prison.
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