Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 11 December 2015 — Seven years have passed since the signing of two United Nations’ covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and exactly one week from the first anniversary of the announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. Now at the threshold of 2016, it would be worth reminding ourselves how we got here.
In the past year some have advocated lifting the tools of political pressure to which the Cuban government is still subject. Basically these are understood to be the US embargo and the European Union’s common position. However, the alleged reforms undertaken by Raul Castro in recent years are still a frequent source of argument.
If we accept the premise that since 1959 Cuba has been a one-party state — and evidence indicates that the presidency of Raul Castro is in essence a continuation of the presidency of Fidel Castro — we can also assume with a high degree of certainty that the psychology of the regime is exactly the same as it has always been. This logically leads to the following question: Is there reason to hope that, if the sanctions were lifted, the military oligarchs would finally grant the Cuban people the rights outlined in the above-mentioned UN conventions, whose ratification and implementation by Cuba have been pending since February 2008?
Optimists would point to the reforms initiated by Raul, but anyone who takes a closer look at the so-called “transformations” would see that very few of them led to a practical, beneficial or immediate turnaround in the lives of Cubans inside or outside the country.
But if we approach this in good faith, we would have to acknowledge that some measures represent a more drastic and positive turnaround than others. Among them are the restoration of the right to travel overseas and authorization for private individuals to buy and sell their homes.
We cannot forget, however, that the 2013 emigration law stipulates that some professionals may not travel freely “in light of regulations aimed at preserving a qualified work force.”
Nor can we dismiss the fact that the Cuban government may also prevent persons from entering the country who have been accused of “organizing, encouraging, carrying out or participating in actions hostile to the Cuban state… when reasons of defense and national security so suggest;” or that the government may “bar entry into the country to those who have been declared undesirable or who have been expelled.” This makes clear just how wide a margin this delicious tool of coercion gives the repressors to maneuver.
In terms of the authorization to buy and sell houses, let us remember that this law is saddled with a series of burdensome regulations pertaining to sale prices that allow the government to meddle in something in which it has no business, a reminder that here nothing good ever lasts for very long.
However, a glance at the rest of the package does reveal a curious mindset in these so-called reforms. It is extremely difficult to accept the sincerity of the “authorization” to buy used cars when they are set at stratospheric prices; or the corrupt approach by the managements of new cooperative businesses when they remain subordinate to inefficient state enterprises; or the imposition of exorbitant taxes on private businesses when they are deprived of a wholesale commodity market; or all the limitations that have led to an obviously failed agricultural policy, to name a few
But more serious than these economic trifles is the persistence of repressive policies that continue to promote the duet between the Communist Party and State Security. From the offices of what is still the only legally recognized political party, they are still drafting tactics and strategies that will later be put into practice in the street by the political police’s henchmen.
Arbitrary arrests and the weakest of legal protections are persistent problems in Cuba in 2015. They are the bastard offspring that result when there is no separation of powers. Physical assaults and acts of repudiation are still being perpetrated with impunity while no one in authority can be bothered to intervene.
Government henchmen are ordered to stab opposition leaders and harass in broad daylight women who are carrying no weapons other than white gladiolas. An iron-fisted and absolute censorship of dissident thought persists while the regime continues to exercise a tight monopoly on the media and the press.
It still vetoes easy access to the internet, something now well-advanced in the second decade of the 21st century. We can therefore conclude that the changes that have been introduced in Cuba up to this point are insubstantial and of a purely cosmetic nature.
These military oddballs are no longer capable of offering up anything new, so it is only logical to question their good intentions for the future and their ability to conceive a plan for real prosperity, especially if the formula requires any change of course.
It remains to be seen whether these reforms reflect a sincere desire to open the door to a globalized economy for the Cuban people. It is more reasonable to assume that they amount an endless series of delaying tactics by the same old oligarchs to hold onto power.
But in the event that the international community, the Cuban people and the Cuban opposition decide to give them a vote of confidence, would this guarantee that the above-mentioned UN conventions would be ratified and implemented, and that this would result in a turn towards democracy?
In the light of psychological mindset thus far exhibited by the regime, logical reasoning would lead to the undeniable and unmistakable conclusion that this would never happen, that it would only result in a sudden transfusion to all the repressive resources of the regime and its receiving unwarranted international recognition.
There is no chance the Cuban government will become any more economically efficient, only that it can rely on having more resources to squander and more millions in its overseas accounts to feed its delusions of grandeur. Once a beast has tasted blood, nothing else will do.
And once liberated from these instruments of political pressure — and with the tacit international approval that this implies — an autocratic government like that of the Castros will never ratify the UN conventions. On the contrary, it will become even more vicious, as has already been made clear by its repression of dissidents from a comfortable and relaxed position.
History has definitively shown us that some people never change. Three decades of marriage to the Soviet Union demonstrated that the Cuban people were never the intended recipients of all that wealth. If it was not the case then, why would we suppose it would be any different now, especially after so many years of corrupt and lethargic governance?
Clearly, freedom in Cuba is not dependent on the actions of any foreign government. Instead, it depends on the courage and wisdom demonstrated by its people. But unconditionally accepting every international condition without the island’s people having to suffer, struggle or expect anything would not seem to necessarily be helpful.
2015 ends without there being the slightest indication of accommodation regarding our civil rights or of even something as basic as ratification of the aforementioned human rights conventions. In this context, making unconditional concessions to the totalitarian regime in Havana, just as Caracas is teetering on the brink, would be a strategic disaster for my people and would delay by several decades the arrival of democracy, for which as the Cuban nation has waited so long.