Orlando’s refusal

The death of Orlando Zapata shows up the extreme fragility of the Cuban regime. After 50 years of total control of everything in Cuba, the fact that it has to use these means of repression on a bricklayer, whose only form of resistance has been peaceful and verbal, can only mean that the regime fears its citizens as much as they fear the regime – or perhaps a little more.

Intuitions and hunches often amount to wishful thinking. But in the light of what has happened to similar regimes (think of Ceausescu’s Romania), a sudden collapse of the Cuban regime could in fact be far more likely than it might seem at first sight. If, as the Cuban government tells us, 65 dissidents can subvert with their dissident talk a regime that claims to represent a people’s revolution, what the Castro brothers are telling us is that they are perfectly aware that the heritage of 50 years would hardly last 50 hours, if the regime renounced physical coercion.

By now it is hard to question the fact that the Cuban revolution has led to a tyranny sustained by mere force. But for those who still have their doubts, the case of Orlando Zapata offers a detailed study of how a totalitarian regime bends the will of people. First, three months of prison for publicly complaining of “how bad things were;” then, three years in prison for taking part in a hunger strike; and lastly, once in prison, successive sentences of up to 36 years, and continual beatings and abuse for his refusal to be considered a common criminal. This is why the struggle between Zapata and the Cuban regime was to the death: both knew that when someone resists in this manner (peacefully and to the end), no regime can stand it.

It is true that 50 years of confrontation with the Cuban regime have only strengthened it. But dialogue with the regime, with no conditions attached, which is the other option (favoured by Spain, among others), does not seem to produce results, either. To a political scientist, it is hard to see how such an approach can constitute a “policy.” If we understand policy as the application of means to achieve ends (and the successive adjustment of these means in the light of the results obtained) this approach represents the negation of policy. We know what is required, but not how to achieve it.

The fact that Spain lacks a Cuba policy worthy of the name is due to several reasons:  firstly, Spain is so historically and emotionally entangled in Cuba that it is hard to start from zero and examine without prejudice the relative merits of all the options; secondly, the lack of internal consensus in Spain on this matter; thirdly, even if Spain had a Cuba policy, its influence on internal events would be small. Meanwhile Brazil and Venezuela, like certain Spanish leftists, still believe that you can be “a friend of the regime and of the Cubans,” in spite of the evidence of enmity between the Cubans and their regime.

All this explains why Spain’s (non) policy on Cuba simply consists of keeping open the channels for dialogue so as to have early notice of any possible will to change, to intervene occasionally in favour of an individual dissident (while shunning any contact with the opposition) and to offer the regime any available opportunities for increased openness and economic development (including an EU cooperation agreement with no political conditions attached). It is a wait-and-see attitude, and not an absurd one; but we should not use the word “policy” for what is just the sum of a few hopes tenuously threaded together.

This article was published in El País English edition on 3 March 2010.


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