"Use truth as your anvil, nonviolence as your hammer, and anything that does not stand the test when it is brought to the anvil of truth and hammered with nonviolence, reject it." - Mohandas Gandhi
|Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on day six of hunger strike in Cuba |
Today in Cuba there are thousands of Cubans jailed for their nonviolent demand for an end to the Castro dictatorship expressed during the mid July 2021 protests. Hundreds have been identified that were jailed or disappeared. It is known that some have resorted to going on hunger strike to protest their unjust imprisonment. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is on a hunger strike that he began on September 27, 2021 and is still weak from a bout of COVID-19, and prior hunger strikes. This is part of the movement's repertoire of nonviolent tactics to resist the Castro regime.
Over the past few months some voices emerged in the diaspora calling for: a military response from external powers, the diaspora to arm themselves and invade Cuba or Cubans on the island to rise up violently against the dictatorship. The men and women in Cuba who have led protests on the island have maintained their non-violent posture, continue to call for civic resistance as the method to challenge the dictatorship, and are asking for active nonviolent solidarity from abroad.
On July 27, 2021 the Christian Liberation Movement tweeted: "For solidarity with the freedom of Cubans. Eleven specific actions to isolate the regime. Christian Liberation Movement."
Por la solidaridad con la libertad de los cubanos. Once acciones concretas de aislamiento al régimen. Movimiento Cristiano Liberación https://t.co/upvduDXpZu— MCL (@oswaldopaya) July 27, 2021
They said that although statements criticizing the dictatorship are welcome and needed that now is also the time for actions to isolate the Castro regime internationally, and sanction both the dictatorship collectively, and individual bad actors in the regime. These too are part of nonviolence, and requires international solidarity. Please share and support this campaign.
On August 25, 2021 the San Isidro Movement tweeted: "Help Civil Society - Look at the manual for non-violent struggle" and provided a link to their documents on strategic nonviolence, and how people of good will can help.
This is a moment in which many that have not been following the resistance movement on the island may believe that a quick violent action can remove this entrenched dictatorship. The opposition that has taken to the streets in Cuba does not advocate this, but are asking for supporters to be non-violent.
The rest of this essay seeks to provide an overview of the opposition's decision to opt for nonviolence, and how adopting violent resistance plays into the hands of the Castro regime.
The opposition in Cuba violently resisted the Castro dictatorship from 1959 to 1966. In April of 1961 an expedition covertly supported by the United States was not provided sufficient air cover and support leading to their defeat, and the consolidation of communist rule in the island. Many of the Cubans who had fought alongside Castro, but felt betrayed when he installed a new dictatorship instead of restoring the democratic order, took up arms and went back into the hills. They were defeated by the regime and its Soviet allies that sent counter insurgency forces to battle the Cuban resistance in the Escambray after years of struggle in 1967.
|Eusebio Peñalver with machine gun and Joaquin Membibre, with M-1 carbine|
Eusebio Peñalver (pictured above) opposed the Batista regime and fought with the rebel army to restore Cuba's constitutional democracy. Mary O'Grady wrote about him in 2013 and quoted the Cuban warrior.
"But when Castro hijacked the revolution for himself, Peñalver broke ranks rather than 'sell my soul to the same devil that here on earth is Castro and communism.'" He took up arms against Castro's military in the Escambray Mountains, he was captured in October 1960. He spent 28 years in Cuban prisons and was banished from the island upon his release in 1988. "From exile in Los Angeles he wrote about the 'naked brutality' and round-the-clock beating and harassment that he had endured: 'They made the men eat grass, they submerged them in sewage, they beat them hard with bayonets and they hit them with fence posts until their bones rattled.'
Total number of dead in this phase of the resistance remains unknown, but tens of thousands were jailed for decades. On January 28, 1976, within the Cuban prisons, dissidents and former members of the resistance came together to found the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. This initiative to document human rights abuses in Cuba, and report them to the international community marked the start of a non-violent resistance to the Castro regime.
Many movements would emerge over the next 45 years. It would be impossible to list them all. However, it would be worthwhile to highlight some that still exist today on the island. The Christian Liberation Movement was founded in 1988, and in May 2002 with the Varela Project that thousands of Cubans signed onto forced the regime to change the constitution to counter it, and brought international attention to Cuba's democratic opposition.
|Oswaldo Payá Antonio Diaz, and Regis Iglesias turn in petition|
In 1991 the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement came into existence calling for free thought in Cuban education, and a return to university autonomy. In 1997 the Lawton Foundation was founded by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and sought to educate Cubans on human rights and strategic non-violence, explicitly embracing the legacies of Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.
|Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet|
In 2003 following a major crackdown on the opposition due to the Varela Project initiative and overall growth in the democratic resistance the Ladies in White came into existence and through non-violent actions challenged the Castro regime to free their loved ones and to change the totalitarian penal code that creates prisoners of conscience. In 2011 following his release from eight years in prison, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia founded the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).
In 2018, following the announcement that the Cuban dictatorship would further restrict artistic freedoms with Decree 349, a collective of artists formed the San Isidro Movement to campaign against the repressive law.
What they all have in common is the decision to use nonviolent means and strategies to challenge the Castro dictatorship.
Human action is a powerful force that must not to be underestimated, but to maximized it requires knowledge, strategic planning and courage. It also requires an understanding of the real nature of political power.
Professor Gene Sharp, a nonviolent theoretician who passed away on January 28, 2018, in his book, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, recognized that political power is "the totality of influences and pressures available for use to implement, change, or oppose official policies for a society." This means that political power "may be wielded by the institutions of government, or in opposition to the government by dissident groups and organizations."
According to Gene Sharp the sources of political power include "authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and sanctions."
If we look at Cuba, the communist dictatorship there uses propaganda claims, both internally and internationally, to assert that the regime has achieved successes in education and health care. These are pillars of legitimacy and authority for the Castro regime. The dictatorship has also trained and staffed a massive intelligence apparatus to monitor and surveil the populace in Cuba trained by the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB with 62 years of experience.
There is a large military that is heavily embedded in the Cuban economy, including tourism. In the area of skill and knowledge there is a dictatorship with 62 years of experience of imposing itself through violent means on the populace in Cuba, and overseas in places such as Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. They have had experience in carrying out mass killings that rise to the level of genocide to assist client regimes. These first generation leaders are dying out, but many remain, including Raul Castro that have this knowledge and expertise in repression and terror.
One must consider the best course of action with the greatest likelihood of success while taking into account conditions on the ground.
Conservative activist Morton Blackwell explained a truth often
ignored by activists of all ideological stripes in a talk titled "The
Real Nature of Politics," which is required reading and offers three conclusions.
"1. Being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win. You don't win just because your heart is pure, even if you can prove logically that you are right.
2. The winner in a political contest over time is determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective sides.
3. The number and effectiveness of the activists and leaders on a given side in a political contest is determined by the political technology used by that side."
These conclusions work both in a political struggle within a democratic order, and in confronting a dictatorship that does not play by democratic rules.
These three ideas need to be present when planning resistance to the dictatorship in Cuba.
The decision to confront with a violent strategy a regime with 62 years of expertise in exercising violence as an instrument of control with overseas experience in carrying out mass killings that rise to the level of genocide is a brave but foolish stand with little if any chance for success.
University academics and nonviolent theoreticians Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.
Even the 26% figure needs to be looked at in the Cuban context.
The above mentioned Stephan, Chenoweth study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.” This depends on the nonviolent opposition movement having a strategic vision and maintaining its non-violent posture even under the worse repression. However, according to Stephan and Chenoweth, the more brutal the regime the better the results with nonviolent resistance and the worse the outcomes with violent resistance.
|Long time Castro ally Bashar Hafez al-Assad with Raul Castro|
This can be seen in Syria with long time Castro ally Bashar Hafez al-Assad. The uprising against Assad in 2011 was initially nonviolent and despite brutal repression by the Syrian regime the nonviolent opposition registered great victories. However, when elements of the Syrian military defected and the resistance abandoned its nonviolent posture in the belief that violent resistance would achieve change faster. The end result, rather than undermine the Assad regime, changed the entire dynamic of the struggle to a terrain favorable to Bashar Hafez al-Assad. The body count of the opposition skyrocketed, popular mobilization evaporated, Al Qaeda inflitrated the ranks of the opposition leading to international support drying up, and the Syrian dictatorship consolidated its rule.
Considering that the Cuban opposition in the island over the past 45 years decided to resist the Castro dictatorship using nonviolent means, that the democratic resistance today as evidenced by the start of the July 11, 2021 uprising did so non-violently, and that concrete calls for help from the island are asking for nonviolent solidarity both inside and outside of Cuba now is the time to step up with the support requested, and not resort to the siren call of violence that has failed in the past against this regime.
Today, October 2nd is the international day of nonviolence and the 152nd birth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi. On this day let us remember our nonviolent icons in Cuba and share their message with the world, and continue to carry out concrete actions to restore democracy, the rule of law, and accountability for those engaged in human rights violations."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’." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas
“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba, so be it.” - Laura Pollán