A primer on repression in Cuba

The other day I posted about how the castro dictatorship gets significantly less play on the internet than things like the Pinochet dictatorship that ended more than 20 years ago (when Pinochet stepped down voluntarily). I noted that Babalu happens to be one of the leading voices denouncing the castro brothers on the internet. Today, Alberto posted how CNN finally reported on the latest acts of repression going on in Cuba despite the fact that WE have been reporting it for days and despite the fact they THEY have a bureau in Havana. So it occurred to me that many of our readers may not understand the castro regime’s most common methods for repressing the citizenry.

In castro’s Cuba people live in fear of government reprisals if they are deemed to be critical of the regime or found to be otherwise “counterrevolutionary”. To be counterrevolutionary, or against the Cuban Revolution, is the gravest of sins. The “Revolution” is the government and vice versa.

In order to protect themselves, average Cubans have become experts in something called the “doble moral” or being two-faced. That is to say they have learned to say one thing publicly while believing the exact opposite privately. For example, a Cuban citizen might tell a tourist or a foreign journalist a glowing appraisal of fidel castro and Cuba’s medical system but privately he may be cursing both. It’s hard for many Americans to fathom this because we’ve become quite accustomed to saying whatever we want about our leaders and the industries that are supposed to serve us. That’s because we have freedom and they don’t.

Once a Cuban citizen appears on the radar of the regime as a possible counterrevolutionary there are many tactics the regime uses to silence them. It used to be that they would simply arrest and prosecute the offending citizen for crimes against the revolution and sentence him/her to a long prison sentence. This is still in the regime’s toolbox but not the preferred method since it’s much easier for the rest of the world to find out about such things and public relations is very important to the dictatorship. This is why it prefers to use more subtle methods.

Knock, knock. Who’s there?
One method of repression is a visit from a state security agent. He will visit the offending citizen and have a “come to Jesus” reminding him/her about how much the state has done for that him/her and the the all-encompassing power of the state to take everything away. Essentially this is a veiled threat of much more distasteful tactics to come if the subject does not cease and desist in his/her objectionable discourse or behavior.

The honor of your presence is requested
One of the favored methods is to serve the subject with a summons to appear at a local police station. The purpose is to have a similar type of discussion as above but within unfriendlier confines. The obvious fear of those voluntarily appearing at police station is not knowing when or if they will be allowed to leave.

Round up the usual suspects
A little further up the repression scale is the temporary detention. In this case security agents will pick up the subject and detain him/her for an undefined period of time (usually overnight). This of course reinforces the fact that you are at the mercy of state.

The Upright Citizens Brigade
No, I’m not talking about an improvisational comedy troupe. The official name is “rapid response brigades” and they are made up of Cuban citizens that are specially trained for their task which is to disrupt any public protests against the government. The brigades are mobs, usually led by state security agents in plain clothes and are made up of both men and women. These brigades are among the most important tools the regime has at its disposal. Because the regime’s official discourse is that there is very little opposition in Cuba (none legitimate because according to them all dissidents and opposition members are in the service of the US government) the rapid response brigades give the regime a plausible degree of cover with the compliant foreign media. For example, if a 4 or 5 dissidents stage a protest in a public place and begin attracting attention a rapid response brigade will be dispatched to the scene. The mob will throw rocks and yell revolutionary slogans to drown out the protestors. The resulting media coverage will be about a small group of citizens protesting the government who were met by a much larger pro-government “counter-protest”. The anti-government folks are usually roughed up in the process and we’ve posted many pictures here at Babalu of bruised and beaten dissidents and opposition members.

Ostracize me
Because the castro regime is totalitarian it controls virtually all aspects of Cubans’ lives. From the ration booklet that provides the little food available, to the home one lives in to the job one works at, it’s all under the authority of fidel castro and his underlings. In a free society if you lose your job you simply go out and find another employer. But in Cuba there is basically one employer. Get on his bad side and you’ll literally be on the street selling black market peanuts for figurative peanuts.

Forgive them for they know not what they do
Once a Cuban citizen has become a full-fledged enemy of the state they are subject to jailing as mentioned at the top. A show trial is held and after the defendant is found guilty he/she is sentenced to a long prison term (upwards of 15 years is typical). This causes a great deal of discomfort for the regime. As long as the regime has political prisoners rotting in its dungeons Cuba is subject to criticism from human rights groups and its goal of gaining political and economic legitimacy in the world is damaged. This is why the regime periodically purges itself of prisoners by forcing them into exile. We’ve recently seen such forced exile when Havana’s Catholic Cardinal Ortega brokered a deal with Cuba’s dictators to release a large number of such prisoners to Spain.

To summarize, the regime has no shortage of creative techniques to keep the streets quiet of protests. The castro brothers routinely surveil and harass their critics. They detain them and jail them and then banish them. They ostracize them and mobilize against them. Just because they haven’t seen the need to roll tanks on the streets does not mean they are not willing to do so. In 1994 a mob of disenchanted youth began throwing stones in protest of the government near Havana’s harbor drive (known as “el Malecon”) and the military came in to restore “order”.

Keep all of this in mind over the coming days and weeks and we’ve seen a discernible increase in the number and intensity of protests against the castro regime recently. Spread the word about Cuba. The enemy of the dark is light. Explain to those who are unfamiliar with the above exactly how the regime stifles dissent and how the media is too cowardly to report it because they fear losing the necessary accreditation for their Cuba bureaus.

4 thoughts on “A primer on repression in Cuba”

  1. Great ‘Primer’, Henry. It’s probably the best and most uptodate primer on the Castro Mafia’s tools for daily repression. I venture to say that I find it extremely interesting of the increasingly widespread displays of public opposition to the dictatorship. Scenes of individuals and groups not ready to be seen in public yelling at the top of their lungs for all to hear, with security people tentatively watching until there’s enough cavalry to make a move on them. The fact that there’s very little island-wide coordination and the fact these demonstrations are now popping up throughout the island, gives me hope that it won’t be long before the general public just literally joins them into a full street parade show of force. Then the dictatorship will have to make a death choice.

  2. Sharansky would understand and recognize this whole scenario.
    Excellent, Henry.

    Remember the Reagan joke? He is talking to Gorbachev about the wonders of freedom in America. Reagan says, “In my country ordinary citizens can stand up on any street corner and denounce me and nothing will happen to him.” Gorbachev answers, “What’s the big deal? In my country anyone can stand up and denounce you and nothing will happen to him, either.”

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