Are we Cubans as alone as we think? What is the regime’s international status in the wake of the 11J protests?
Prompted by the impression that, after the events of July 11, little has been done in the international arena to rebuke the regime for the repression it perpetrated, DIARIO DE CUBA consulted analysts and activists to inquire about how Cuba is seen in today’s world.
This article includes the opinions of Juan Antonio Blanco, president of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba; Javier Larrondo, president of Cuban Prisoners Defenders; Manuel Cuesta Morúa, vice-president of the Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba and coordinator of Arco Progresista; and Erik Jennische, director of Civil Rights Defenders’ programs for Latin America.
In your opinion, have Washington and the European Union taken steps to chastise Havana after what occurred on July 11? How are pro-democracy and anti-democracy forces organized in Cuba today?
Juan Antonio Blanco: Among many others, appeals for solidary with the Cuban people have gone out to Governments and people around the world, to shape opinion. But we are not, unfortunately, the only people suffering abuse. So, let me touch on two sides of the problem.
First: This world is full of massacres of innocent people and human rights abuses. In order for governments —whether in the European Union, the OAS or the UN— to make support for your cause a high priory, it is not enough to explain to them that it is fair, or coincides with their values. You have to convince them, providing evidence, that your cause is also related in an immediate, direct and important way to their national interests.
If you proceed based on that premise, you will see more clearly that Cuba’s alignment with Russia in the Ukrainian conflict, and that power’s military presence in the western hemisphere, as well as its connection with activities of the transnational criminal underworld, make Europe and the United States much more likely today to take the Cuban issue seriously, and be willing to act on it.
Second: The international attention and support of governments, and public opinion, materialize not only when there are abuse of power, but also when the victims manifest their determination to show resistance to it.
The spontaneous uprising on 11J did more in one day to discredit the myths and narratives of the Cuban government regarding popular support for the regime than the selfless work done by those who, for decades, condemned human rights violations on the island.
In other words, it is often the case that a 100-page report on abuses in Cuba does not generate as much solidarity in the international public community (because newspapers feature similar and sometimes worse news about what is happening elsewhere) than a 10-page report on national protests and resistance in response to abuse. An abused people generates sympathy. Those who put up resistance, like the Ukrainians, elicit solidarity.
To sum up: After 11J, the world has a closer eye on Cuba, and is more inclined to actions expressing solidarity with our cause. Havana’s support for Moscow in the war with Ukraine has reinforced this sentiment. But, it is up to us Cubans to efficiently take advantage of this global sensitivity when, unfortunately, there are many peoples suffering similar tragedies and also calling for attention. A lot depends on sustaining and bolstering the people’s struggle on the island, and not just among dissidents.
Insisting exclusively that our tragedy has lasted for a long time can, sometimes, be a counterproductive argument. It is necessary to provide continuous evidence that, just as the Ukrainian people do not surrender to Putin’s war, the Cuban people have not surrendered either to the current terrorist war waged by the State against their welfare and freedoms.
But that’s not enough either. It is very important to document that our enemy also directly threatens the national interests and security of those countries to whom we turn for solidarity.
What have the governments of Latin America done to chastise the regime for the repression it unleashed after July 11? How are the current political forces in Latin America, and especially in Spain, willing to favor democracy in Cuba?
Javier Larrondo: We can’t talk about reprisals of any kind for the repression unleashed after 11 July by European or Latin American actors. There has not been a single retaliatory action.
Europe, and Spain, therefore (although hamstrung in the European Union thanks to its thorny and rickety alliances with partners who support the Cuban regime), in the face of the new geopolitical scenario, in which the Cuban regime has decided to take sides, supporting Russia and its massacres in Ukraine, will undoubtedly take a new stance against Cuba.
We do not know how serious this change will be, or whether it will entail sanctions, or other mechanisms, but we do know that there will be a policy change within the framework of the Dialogue Agreement, and that the Dialogue Agreement could even be cancelled, and a phase of serious economic and dialectical confrontation could begin.
How do you assess the reactions of international political actors to the repression unleashed in Cuba on 11 July? Are we as alone as we thought? Can you make a small comparison between the current scenario and that of the Black Spring of 2003?
Manuel Cuesta Morúa: These impressions merit nuances. In the last six months of 2021 more attention was paid to the issue of human rights in Cuba than at any time in years. In this sense, there was a parallel with 2003. There were three statements by the European Parliament, one by the United States Congress, and media exposure that took news of Cuba to places as far away as Australia, sparking the press’s interest in every niche. This included something unprecedented that could not be had in 2003: the Council, which brings together the governments of the European Union —that is, the Executive, which makes decisions— issued two statements through Josep Borrell, its High Representative for Foreign Policy, condemning the Cuban Government and instructing its embassies in Cuba to support the Cuban demonstrators. In addition, here they have received many of the relatives of 11J prisoners.
I might seem like a diplomatic spokesperson, without being one, but I’m telling you this for an important reason: the external silence is very much related to the internal silence. And the voice of the world disappeared, though not entirely, because expectations fell after the harsh repression and realignment in civil society.
The 11th showed another society, but, at the same time, it forced us to be up to the task, in one way or another, to mobilize the international community. One point is interesting: the international community is overhauling its relations with the Cuban regime in view of its loss of legitimacy.
After all this, the spotlights were turned on Ukraine. In this regard, something similar happened to what did in 2003, with the invasion of Iraq: geopolitical events involving the powers ended up forming a smokescreen behind which the Cuban regime hides, and continues to repress the people.
One element that helps distinguish 2003 from 2022 is that the sustained attention at that time was due to the fact that the Dark Spring, as I call it, struck against civil society, an entity with more international pull, one more visible and more concrete.
Today, despite the fact that the repression is against the people, and what most damages the regime’s legitimacy and credibility, it is more diffuse and difficult to identify it in a sustainable way for those who suffer repression. Diplomatically and politically, it is more complicated to immediately launch a more effective and visible external campaign or action. It’s being developed from inside Cuba, but it’s a process.
After the popular protests of July 11 in Cuba and the repression unleashed by the regime, do you think that the idyllic perception of the Cuban Revolution that abounds outside Cuba has changed? Has the regime paid an international political cost for its cruelty?
Erik Jennische: The idyllic perception of the Revolution, in political and diplomatic sectors, has never been based on reality, so it doesn’t change in response to changes in the reality on the island either. That romanticism has been a fiction since the beginning.
However, I don’t think that the diplomats and politicians who control European policy towards Cuba are part of that romantic world. They know what is happening, but they cannot speak clearly about it because there are many interests invested in European policy towards Cuba – which makes it very difficult to speak a common language as well. What is certain is that since July 11 the EU has spoken out much louder than before, though still not strong enough.
What has been most costly for Havana is that it can no longer articulate a narrative claiming “changes” and “reform” on the island. Raúl Castro created that narrative when he came to power in 2008, and they managed to pull it off for many years, at least until 2019. The EU was talking about the modernization of the Cuban economy. Many governments talked about decentralization, foreign investment, agricultural reform, etc. It was not a question of recreating the romanticism of the Revolution, but rather reproducing a narrative of change.
As long as that narrative worked, Europeans didn’t feel the need to demand political reform and condemn human rights violations, because they could point to those supposed changes. Díaz-Canel can no longer make this argument, due to the collapse of the Cuban economy itself, and due to the repression. These are two factors that effectively undercut any narrative alleging change.
Who is going to stand up in the EU now and say that there are interesting and positive things happening in Cuba, that there is a process of modernization and change? No one. At least no one in the power structures. And if Europeans cannot say that, they will have to talk about the reality, or remain silent.