Sunday, December 30, 2018

CUBA: The Lost Cause?

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.” - Mohandas Gandhi

Cubans in Havana in August of 1994 chant "Liberty" in an uprising known as the Maleconazo
Over the past six decades Cubans fought for a lost Cause. Their rewards were summary executions, decades suffering torture under inhumane prison conditions, or exile from the land of their birth. This sacrifice was made for the Cause. What is this Cause? It is the return of the republic and the rule of law to Cuba. Cubans fought and died for independence and a republican democracy throughout the second half of the 19th century. This struggle became primarily a political struggle throughout the first half of the 20th century culminating in the Constitution of 1940 and the election of the opposition figure Ramon Grau San Martin in 1944. On March 10, 1952 Fulgencio Batista plunged Cuba back into the anarchy and chaos of dictatorship and the lack of rule of law. This opened the way for violence to triumph and become institutionalized on January 1, 1959 by the Castroite terror. 

Cubans have suffered sixty seven years without democracy and sixty years under a totalitarian communist dictatorship ruled by the Castro brothers. Fidel Castro died two years ago, but his brother Raul Castro remains the head of the Cuban Communist Party, and firmly in control of the dictatorship. There is cause for despair, and the communists have also sought to educate generations of Cubans in the doctrine of despair with the knowledge that it breeds both inaction and acceptance. They have sought to rewrite Cuban history with numerous myths and lies to justify their continued rule.

Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas understood this and rejected the counsel of despair with his Christian faith. He also wrote with admiration how the Polish people, under even more dire circumstances, succeeded in not only rejecting despair, but embracing solidarity and obtaining their freedom. In this September 16, 2005 essay titled "From the battle of Poland to that of Cuba: The path of liberation in the face of totalitarianism," Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas gave a warning to those liberated from communism while at the same time calling to task the double standard of many in the world with regards to Cuba.
With Solidarity, the Polish people carried out a liberation movement because it awoke the hope that renewed the life of the peoples subjected by lies and fear.

Hopefully the youth will know how to tell the true history, hopefully they will not lose their memory, because conquered liberty is not preserved spontaneously; it can be lost if the people lose the faith and the values ​​that sustain liberty.

Cuba still suffers this regime based on fear and lies; not because our people have less value or less values, but because over Cuba has fallen, to summarize, a complete and very complex compilation of the conflicts of humanity and it has been expressed and nurtured the lie of which many of the victims, including even those who live in democracy; and many of those who suffered this same regime, but who perhaps think that our people do not deserve the solidarity that Solidarity had.
Totalitarian regimes are difficult to dislodge from power and they are brutal. The Soviet Union took 74 years to bring to an end in Russia. Communist China has remained in power since 1949 and today poises a threat to the international democratic order.

Oswaldo's warning that conquered liberty required keeping the faith and values to sustain it was proven true in Russia and Nicaragua.  The Soviet Union was peacefully dissolved on Christmas Day in 1991 and for eight years Russia had an imperfect democracy and was no longer totalitarian but wracked with many troubles. In 2000 a former KGB officer Vladimir Putin was democratically elected by a frustrated Russian populace and over the next decade and a half restored totalitarianism to Russia.  In Nicaragua, a corrupt political bargain, altered the constitution, and returned Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas to power in 2007. Over the next decade they would rig elections and dismantle democratic institutions rebuilding their dictatorship.

The Western world cheered the liberation of Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 declaring the end of history and triumph of democracy and free markets. They thought Cuba was no longer a threat and sought to legitimize and reach an accommodation with the dictatorship while loosening sanctions. This strengthened the Castro regime's ability to project power in the region to the detriment of the Venezuelan people. This triumphalism ignored the wise counsel of the past.

This caution can be summed up in the words of the great English poet T.S. Eliott: "If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors' victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph."

Over the past sixty seven years in Cuba there has been a resistance to dictatorship, with or without international backing. Cubans fought against both the dictatorships of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement successfully lobbied Washington to impose an arms embargo on Batista on March 14, 1958, and the old dictator seeing that Washington was siding with the enemy  made the calculated decision to flee on December 31, 1958 and boarded a plane in the early morning hours of January 1, 1959 an fled Cuba.

Castro had to lie and tell Cubans that the 1959 revolution sought to restore the old democratic order. At the same time the Castro brothers proclaimed themselves Jeffersonian democrats, they erected, with the help of the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi, the totalitarian apparatus that would imprison the Cuban people for six decades and counting.

On December 2, 1961 after consolidating totalitarian control,  Fidel Castro explained the reason for claiming that he was not a communist: "If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains."  Communism and the communist party were deeply unpopular in Cuba because of its links to the prior dictatorship.


 Millions of Cubans fled the communist dictatorship over the decades that followed and live scattered around the world. An unknown number died fighting in the hills of the Escambray between 1960 and 1966. Hundreds of Soviet counter insurgency experts assisted their Cuban counterparts in wiping them out. Thousands of Cubans were executed by firing squad for resisting the regime, many shouting "Long live Christ King" before the volley of bullets took their lives. Following the collapse of the violent resistance, a non-violent opposition emerged in 1976 and proliferated across the island in the decades that followed.

Tens of thousands of political prisoners would spend decades behind bars. There are still political prisoners in Cuba today and opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas have been murdered by the secret police. Cubans are still killed for trying to leave the island. Cuban Americans were shot out of the sky by Cuban MiGs while searching for rafters in the Florida Straits.

This history demonstrates that Cubans want to be free and have not surrendered despite all the betrayals, lack of solidarity, and brutality of the communist dictatorship on the island over the past six decades.  This is why today they are saying "not one more year."  This is why earlier this year Oswaldo's book, "The night shall not be eternal" was released posthumously defying the dictatorship. This is why his successor Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, has spent over two years in prison for criticizing the legacy of Fidel Castro and the communist dictatorship.

We have entire generations of Cubans who are ignorant of their own history. This has generated apathy and a sense of hopelessness and loss. This serves the interests of the Castro regime and runs counter to the interests of the democratic opposition. Robert A. Nisbit states it succinctly that, "a sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future. ... Hence the relentless effort by totalitarian governments to destroy memory. And hence the ingenious techniques for abolishing the social allegiances within which individual memory is given strength and power of resistance." If the struggle of the opposition over the past six decades is to be continued and honored, then it must be taught in context along with the rest of Cuban history (which is the collective memory of a nation).

This also includes remembering that thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana on August 5, 1994 in protests chanting "Liberty", that Castro's secret police fired on these protesting Cubans, and this led to a rafter exodus of tens of thousands of Cubans.

Christian Liberation Movement activists turn in petitions in 2002
This also includes remembering that eight years later between 2002 and 2003 over 25,000 Cubans signed the Varela Project petition giving their names, home addresses and identity numbers demanding reforms that would bring Cuba's laws into line with international human rights standards.

The Castro regime responded to this legal initiative declaring the constitution unchangeable and locking up the organizers of the initiative in a March 2003 crackdown called the Black Spring. Ten years later on July 22, 2012, the leader of the initiative, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, was killed by the secret police along with a youth leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Harold Cepero.

Cubans want to be free and continue to struggle for their freedom and have paid and continue to pay a high price in their pursuit of freedom. The free world should be in solidarity with them and not their oppressors.

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