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The United States, Cuba,
Democracy and Dissent

| published April 12, 2016 |

By Earl Perkins, Thursday Review contributor

The Cuban regime's state-sanctioned killings, persecutions and imprisonments have slowed in recent years, but the average family still struggles with state salaries hovering around $25 per month. It's only 90 miles from the United States physically, but light years away in numerous other respects, and President Barack Obama's recent historic visit to Havana has already stirred discontent even among Communist Party leaders, according to the Associated Press.

For centuries most Cubans were hardworking, industrious, loving, caring and generous people, but after the island nation fell under Fidel Castro's purview in 1959, Communist leadership has taken over every facet of Cuban life. Nationalization is a kinder way of saying the government just takes anything it wants—private industries, homes and land, some of it at the time owned by Americans, much of it owned by Cubans themselves.

When Obama addressed Cuba and the world, there was little mention of the disappearances, deaths, torture and political incarceration. The President instead glossed over horrid events with veiled, vague references to potential human rights violations. Massacres at sea and Fidel ordering his MIGs to shoot down Brothers to the Rescue planes are now ancient history—unless you're a Cuban exile.

The deaths and physical abuse number in the thousands, and our so-called leaders are being hoodwinked into thinking Communists will deal honestly and fairly with everyone. And the baton has already been partially passed to Raul's son, who is cut from the same cloth as Che Guevara, whom our esteemed leader seems to have an affinity for. The former Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author and guerrilla leader saw himself as a diplomat, military theorist and major figure of the Cuban Revolution, but the Castro Brothers viewed him with a jaundiced eye. After suggesting he export his counterculture rebellion elsewhere, the pair alerted Bolivian authorities that the pop culture icon was en route. One of the world's most dangerous, sadistic and racist individuals would not reach his 40th birthday.

Cubans now love Obama because his visit has stimulated the economy, much of it through a huge wave of tourism. But it is still left to Cuba’s Communist leaders to decide how much of that sudden burst in economic growth will be allowed to trickle down to the masses. One of my problems with the President's visit was the fact that by purposely associating with an oppressive regime, he implies a certain amount of acceptance or complicity.

Americans need to speak with those who previously lived in Cuba, for they can give first-hand accounts of dealing with the Castros and their brand of dictatorial governance. Crossing paths with those residing under an autocratic regime will almost certainly give an unclear picture of true interactions and their effects on citizenry. Meanwhile, facing the vagaries of life, the Cuban people have suffered through abuse and subsistence wages for generations.

There are several commonalities between Cuba and the U.S., in that citizens are upset at their leaders for intransigence and ignoring the will of the people. Americans are allowed to speak derisively concerning their government in numerous public forums. Cubans may also speak from the heart—as long as they don't mind that their family and friends might be abused and underfed for a few years.

In an unprecedented action, leaders of Cuba's Communist Party recently received harsh criticism for imposing heightened levels of secrecy concerning potential social and economic reforms. Complaints from party members have surfaced for months, but a recent lengthy front-page article in Granma—the party's official newspaper—states public dissatisfaction is "a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we're constructing."

Some party members are calling for a postponement of the upcoming Communist Party congress, allowing time for public debate concerning the government's stance on its market-oriented reforms. After more than five decades, the Pearl of the Antilles faces blowback from the populace as it attempts to govern a cynical and disenchanted people.

"The base of the party is angry, and rightly so," party member Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published prior to Obama's visit. "We've gone backward in terms of democracy in the party, because we've forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and confronting our problems on a daily basis."

Cuba's government has remained inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average citizens since its inception and they now face an uncertain future, coupled with sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalizing relations with the U.S. The Granma article appeared less than a week after Obama's call for an end to Cold War hostility, along with more political and economic freedom on the island, which brought rave reviews from many ordinary Cubans. Fidel, 89 years old and creator of Cuba's socialist system, penned his own front-page response, saying "My modest suggestion is that he (Obama) reflect and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics."

My stance is that the United States has enough financial issues at home without attempting to stick its nose in the affairs of a Communist nation that is obviously untrustworthy and not seeking help in a public forum. Numerous Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of a powerful America, and fear the loss of free health care and education they've received since 1959. Let them continue down the road they have either chosen or been forced to deal with. Thousands have died fleeing Fidel's paradise, and American money has been supporting and feeding his people for decades.

However, the Cuban government has slightly eased restrictions on dissent and attitudes differing from the party line. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and writer for a state newspaper, claims Obama's nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs are seen by many party members as "capitalist evangelizing." But Rodriguez says Obama's well-received addresses to the Cuban people increases pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party a more unified and tenable agenda for the nation's future.

"Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution," he said.

The nation's non-elected leaders maintain tight control of the party and general populace, although following months of spirited debate, the 2011 party congress made decisions that shrank the state bureaucracy and allowed the creation of a half million private-sector Cuban jobs. The latest party congress is scheduled April 16-19, but no debate has occurred and no documents have been made public. A recent Granma article claims 1,000 high-ranking party members have been reviewing documents, but many of the party's best-known members say they know nothing of Cuba's impending reforms.

"My dissatisfaction is rooted in the lack of discussion of the central documents, secret to this day, as much among the organizations of the party base as the rest of the population," Rodriguez wrote in an open letter to Raul Castro, who is also the top Communist Party leader.

The last party congress initiatives helped Cuba toward more self-employment and expanded travel options, while also allowing citizens greater abilities to sell personal cars and real estate. The Granma article claimed the lengthy debate on reforms precluded the need for a new round of public discussion, while also acknowledging that only 21 percent of the reforms were completed. It continues that the party congress "will allow us to define with greater precision the path that we must follow in order for our nation, sovereign and truly independent since Jan. 1, 1959, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism."

Rodriguez, who works closely with Castro's daughter Mariela (director of the national Center for Sexual Education), is calling for a postponement of the Seventh Party Congress. He claims the backing of numerous fellow-party members who find the Granma piece unsatisfactory and seek more time to flesh out differences. Approximately two dozen people, many identifying themselves as party members, posted lengthy comments on the paper's government-moderated website criticizing the article and secrecy surrounding the upcoming events. The congress is widely viewed as marking the transition of power from the Revolution's leaders to the younger generation.

"It is one of the last congresses directed by the historic generation," wrote one poster identifying himself as Leandro. "This is, I think, a bad precedent for future leaders, who will feel like they have the right to have party congresses without popular participation."

And whether American citizens realize it or not, decisions being made now will almost certainly effect the U.S. economy for many years to come. So If you care about the United States, Cuba and these country's future interactions, then you must understand the past. Which leads us to your book list: Cubans in America, Waiting for Snow in Havana, The Other Side of Paradise, Trading With the Enemy, The Boys From Dolores and Hemingway's Boat. Happy reading.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Cuba Relations & Baseball: Just Let 'Em Play; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; January 28, 2015.

Turning the Page: Obama and Castro Meet in Panama; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 12, 2015.