From Within Cuba: Changing Views (in Favor) of Sanctions

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Last year, Cuban democracy leader and Sakharov Prize recipient, Guillermo Fariñas, stated during a visit to Washington, D.C.:

"The overwhelming majority of dissidents on the island do not support the lifting of the embargo. There are those who do support its lifting, and we respect their criteria, but they are mostly intellectuals who do not have a membership base behind them."

His observation is clearly supported by the overwhelming response of Cuban opposition groups against the recent proposals of the Council of the Americas, which lobbies President Obama to bypass Congress, negotiate with the Castro regime and further ease sanctions.

But the most telling response has come from those who have historically opposed sanctions, but are now raising important concerns about such efforts.

We've previously cited the example of Cuban democracy leader, Manuel Cuesta Morua, who once again elaborated his concerns yesterday in Diario de Cuba (in Spanish).

And this week, famed Cuban blogger and democracy advocate, Miriam Celaya, wrote the following about the Council of the Americas' proposal in Cubanet (courtesy of Translating Cuba):

"[E]ven for some of us who have declared ourselves opponents of the embargo as obsolete and retrograde politics, its unilateral and unconditional relaxation could be more harmful than beneficial at this juncture, given the regime’s ability to maneuver advantageously in critical situations. A negotiation, to be effective, requires certain conditions.

On the other hand, a tightening of the embargo would only lead to further hardship for Cubans, an increase in violence in Cuba, exodus and the possibility of social chaos of unpredictable consequences. No opposition leader would be able to control such a scenario.

As we can see, it's not a simple problem.

Internally, among members of the Cuban opposition, a climate of concern prevails about the efficacy of a 'negotiating' proposal that has not been clearly defined. Thus, in the absence of formulas that will allow solid advantages for Cubans or the attainment of long coveted democratic gains, all optimism becomes intangible.

If the embargo is unconditionally adjusted, the Cuban government would be gaining momentum and consolidating its economic power. As a result, we would run the risk of 'going forward' in reverse, towards capitalism with the Castro elite at the helm. A grim scenario.

A successful negotiation would need to consist of a strategy so clever and innovative that it would allow for the benefits of trade and investment derived from any 'easing' to effectively reach Cubans, and for these to 'gain autonomy' and be able to advance their rights, within a time period that the parties might consider reasonable. Because no discreet economic benefit should justify the absence of political and civil rights.

The opposition's fears are not unfounded. Certain personalities conveniently interpret the effect of Raúl’s reforms, magnifying them, which is even more alarming when the opinion comes from an experienced politician like Arturo Valenzuela -- one of the signers of the letter to Obama -- who considers the increase in 'exchanges with Cuba' as a way to 'give power to Cuban citizens (…) the best way to empower the people.' Valenzuela speaks about 'a Cuba that’s significantly changing' (interview published by the BBC/Mundo, May 19th, 2014). And he isn't lying: Cuba is changing, but not exactly for the benefit of Cubans, as shown by the deterioration of the economy six-years after 'updating of the model,' the growing exodus and the increase in repression against dissidents.

It should be understood that Valenzuela isn’t necessarily interested in the issue of Cuban civil liberties. After all, he is a politician from a foreign country and, as such, he defends other interests, not ours. However, his claims border on insult by stating that 'there is a policy change in Cuba that encourages citizens to develop their business potential. At this time, about half a million entrepreneurs are beginning to rewrite the history of their country by starting their own businesses, creating jobs for their families and communities.' Valenzuela is obviously referring, in such pompous terms, to the proto-entrepreneurs of small shops -- like owners of small restaurants, rolling carts, taxis, trinket stands, and the whole gamut labeled under the insignia 'small business owners' -- out of which only a tiny minority would qualify as 'entrepreneur' under the standards of a half decent country. In fact, Cuban 'civil society' does not even have the right to freely associate.

Moreover, it seems counterproductive that these proposals which advocate for 'the support of Cuban civil society' do not even include a representative from civil society within their pro-democracy plans. Apparently, none of those aspiring to be mediator-negotiator sees a modicum of talent or legitimacy among us."