Friday, July 26, 2013

Cuba's Dueling Legacies: December 10, 1948 and July 26, 1953

"Violence sometimes 'works,' that is, forces a particular change, but in the long run leads to more misery and disorder." - Michael N. Nagler, Six Principles of Nonviolence  

Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba

In the early morning hours of July 26, 1953 a group of young Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 pro-government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial.  This incident turned Fidel Castro into a national figure. He would go on to name his movement, the July 26th Movement. Although the image of Che Guevara is used in the propaganda, he hadn't met Fidel Castro yet and would not get involved in the July 26th Movement until 1955 when he met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico.

Contrast this with what Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas did. In the midst of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship were all media are controlled by the government along with economic life he managed to lead a movement that persuaded more than 24,000 Cubans to identify themselves and demand democratic reforms and the restoration of human rights knowing that the Varela Project petition they were signing could lead to losing their jobs, having their children denied access to higher education and in the worse case prison.

The images of the movement, unlike the Castro regime's are nonviolent and inclusive and focus on liberation and reconciliation not violence and killing. They are profoundly anti-Castro precisely because they aren't anti-anyone. They do not succeed to destroy or slander anyone but to free a people.

Oswaldo rejected hatred and violence. He never killed anyone and offered a path to a nonviolent transition. Oswaldo's nonviolent legacy has continued beyond him and is a positive legacy for Cuba. His nonviolent struggle followed two of the basic principles outlined by nonviolence practitioner Michael N. Nagler: "We are not against other people, only what they are doing. Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence." Oswaldo explained his position before an international audience in December of 2002:
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.

Regime celebrates with parties anniversary of Cubans killing Cubans

Sixty years after the tragic events of July 26, 1953 the Castro regime celebrates this shedding of blood between Cubans as "the victory of ideas," but in reality it was the triumph of brute violence and terror in the short term by Batista's forces on that day and in 1959 by Castro's forces. In Cuba the government has turned it into a day of drinking, parties, parades, speeches and the colors red and black prominently displayed.  This all occurs with prominent military displays and propaganda images worshiping violent revolution.

Cubans have been poorly served by the events of July 26, 1953. The Moncada Barracks attack laid groundwork to undermine dialogue and negotiation in favor of armed struggle. Secondly, this armed struggle that promised to liberate Cubans from dictatorship imposed a new dictatorship that continues in power 60 years later.  

Weapons, violence and militarism are promoted throughout the culture
Ten years ago on July 26, 2003 in an essay titled Nonviolent activists writing Castro's last chapter that profiled some of the men who fought alongside Castro for a democratic restoration only to be betrayed by the establishment of a new and more brutal dictatorship. Some took up arms again and paid a terrible price while others were imprisoned solely for verbally dissenting. The past decade has provided time to gain both a deeper understanding of Cuban history and of the men who abandoned violence and embraced a nonviolent struggle for change in Cuba.

Gustavo Arcos

One of these men, Gustavo Arcos, shot in the back during the Moncada attack on July 26, 1953 leaving him lame in the right leg was imprisoned with Castro in 1953 and imprisoned by Castro in 1966. Gustavo Arcos's criticism of the authoritarian nature of the regime led to his imprisonment which in turn led to his brother, Sebastian's disenchantment with the new regime. Both men, in 1981 would join the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, one of the earliest dissident movements founded in 1976 by Ricardo Bofill. They advocated nonviolent means to denounce human rights violations to the international community and call for a national dialogue to negotiate a democratic transition. The regime's response was repression and prison. When Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, passed away in 2006 the parallel between him and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was made in one of the articles remembering the old rebel turned nonviolent human rights defender.

Follow the festivities of July 26 on the social networks
 The assault on the Moncada Barracks is a  failure not only in the short term defeat suffered by Castro's forces but in the long term degradation of Cuban society and the abandonment of dialogue, moral and ethical restraints in favor of a cult of violence nurtured by a dictatorship now in its 54th year in power. Even the men responsible for doing this now complain about the society their revolution has created.They blame Cubans for their poor behavior and customs. Of course men and women with sound moral groundings who speak clearly what they believe and defend human dignity and freedom have an unfortunate tendency to die under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.

Government slogan: "Dissidence is Treason"

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the dictatorship's. The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba's nonviolent civic resistance movement.

Peoples Path is a nonviolent alternative of liberation for all
These civic activists were courteous, and respected the dignity of all Cubans. Some were feminists who obtained the right of Cuban women to vote in the old Republic and went on to defend the rights of poor women to a decent education and better opportunities. They nonviolently resisted the imposition of Castro's totalitarian regime and either went into exile, prison, were killed, or despite great odds are still struggling for Cuban freedom on the streets of Cuba today.

Ten years later and it remains clear that the future belongs to the nonviolent resistance. The dictatorship may have killed two of its great nonviolent leaders, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, but in doing so exposed its own brutal nature and undermined its own legitimacy. At the same time Laura's amd Oswaldo's nonviolent legacies will continue to bear fruit and in the long term and will be an important factor in Cuba's democratic transition. Nagler in his studies on nonviolence observed that "Nonviolence sometimes 'works' and always works" put another way "in nonviolence, you can lose all the battles but still go on to win the war!"  A coherent strategic nonviolent vision is necessary to achieve success, but practicing nonviolence over the long term does generate positive results in the same way that violence generates negative ones.

Liberation with nonviolence is Cuba's future
If Cuba is to survive as a nation then it will be freed from this violent regime and July 26, 1953 will be viewed as the tragic day, that it is, when Cubans killed Cubans and January 1st will only be celebrated for the New Year. Castroism due to its violent nature can only end in failure. Either it will destroy Cuba as a nation or it will implode and a democratic transition take place. The existence of people such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and others willing to risk all for restoring a democratic Cuba using nonviolent means is a sign that Cuba will not be destroyed by the violence of Castroism. The only questions are when and how will Cuba achieve its nonviolent democratic transition.

May 10, 2002, a day to celebrate

What this post-Castro Cuba will look like can already be intimated. May 10, 2002 will be a day of celebration in Cuba commemorating the day that the first 11,020 signatures of the Varela Project were presented to the National Assembly demanding human rights and democratic reforms. At the same time International Human Rights Day will be a day to celebrate and observe human rights in Cuba and not a day of repression. Oswaldo, Harold, Laura, Orlando, and many others have done the ground work and their good works will bear fruit. The Cuban Republic's human rights legacy that is tied to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and December 10, 1948 will be restored and Castroism will be a sad and cautionary chapter in Cuban history.


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