Monday, July 19, 2021

#11July: One week later and nonviolent resistance continues in Cuba

For freedom and justice.

On the streets of Cuba on July 11, 2021

One week later and the protests continue, despite the most brutal efforts of the Castro regime to silence Cubans on the island. It began on July 11, 2021 in San Antonio de los Baños, just South East of Havana when Cubans took to the streets in protest. Others saw it streaming live, and also took to the street in cities and towns across the country chanting "Freedom" and "Down with the dictatorship." 

President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on official television threatening: "They [protesters] would have to pass over our dead bodies if they want to confront the revolution, and we are willing to resort to anything."

Cuban protesters were met with extreme violence by the dictatorship, but they have continued to take to the streets to the present day. Cubans in the diaspora around the world have taken to the street in solidarity with their counterparts in the island. On July 11th,  I was outside of the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC protesting the repression of the dictatorship, and in solidarity with Cubans on the island demanding freedom.

On July 14, 2021 the Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero appeared on television and announced that the dictatorship would "temporarily lift restrictions on the quantity of food and medicine incoming travelers could bring into Cuba."

On Saturday, July 17 the regime held their official rally, and even there they could not obtain unanimity and violently dragged out an unknown protester who screamed "Freedom."

The opposition movement to the Castro regime since the founding of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1976 has been a nonviolent one, and regime brutality is an attempt to shock and outrage Cubans to embrace violence, and in turn give the regime the pretext to escalate their violence and terror against the populace.

Gene Sharp was the theoretician of nonviolent action, that thanks to Jose Basulto, in June of 1996 I was able to meet and learn from him over a series of lectures and conversations at Florida International University. This encounter marked a before and after in my life. This blog has cited him time and time again and promoted the South Florida premiere of the documentary about his life, How to Start a Revolution, back in 2011. Professor Sharp passed away on January 28, 2018 at age 90.

In 1990 at the National Conference on Nonviolent Sanctions and Defense in Boston, Gene Sharp succinctly outlined his argument.

"I say nonviolent struggle is armed struggle. And we have to take back that term from those advocates of violence who seek to justify with pretty words that kind of combat. Only with this type of struggle one fights with psychological weapons, social weapons, economic weapons and political weapons. And that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence."

These weapons can be wielded by the average citizen to great effect, but also requires strategy and tactics to be successful.

Now is the time to double down on nonviolence. The Castro regime came into existence with the secret backing of the Soviet Union, the public backing of the United States, a U.S. arms embargo on Batista, then lies, terror, and mass murder to consolidate its rule. They have used violence and terrorism as state policy for 62 years. They are experts in the application of violence. 

To abandon the strategy and tactics of nonviolence that have put the regime on the defensive is the equivalent of deciding to abandon a chess match with a boxer when you have him checked on the board to decide the battle in the boxing ring.

This happened in Syria with Assad and on February 5, 2012 Professor Sharp summed it up succinctly: "using violence is a stupid decision."

University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006 and there study finds “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”

The usual counter argument is that nonviolence would not have worked against the Nazis but history says otherwise with the successful nonviolent action of the Rosenstrasse protest carried out by German wives who successfully got their Jewish husbands back from the concentration camps in 1943. Nor does one consider the scores of violent actions that failed to dislodge the Nazi regime but only consolidated their rule despite two close calls that nearly got Adolph Hitler in 1939 and 1944.

This dictatorship, I believe, has killed many this last week, and is continuing to kill Cubans and we may never have a full accounting. Thousands have been jailed or disappeared, and the oppressors responsible need to be identified and sanctioned by the international community. The Global Magnitsky Act holds torturers and kleptocrats accountable nonviolently through targeted sanctions, and needs to be applied now in Cuba. This is one of the weapons in the nonviolent arsenal described by Professor Sharp above.

Gene Sharp provides below a holistic look at how nonviolence works:

In a great variety of situations, across centuries and cultural barriers, another technique of struggle has at times been applied.  This other technique has not been based on turning the other cheek, but on the ability to be stubborn and to resist powerful opponents powerfully. Throughout human history, in a multitude of conflicts one side has fought - not by violence, but - by psychological, social, economic, or political methods, or a combination of these.  This type of conflict has been waged not only when the issues were relatively limited and the opponents relatively decent.  Many times this alter- native form of struggle has been applied when fundamental  issues have been at stake and when ruthless opponents have been willing and able to apply extreme repression.  That repression has included executions, beatings, arrests, imprisonments, and mass slaughters. Despite such repression, when the resisters have persisted in fighting with only their chosen nonviolent weapons, they have some- times triumphed. This technique is called nonviolent action or nonviolent struggle.  This is “the other ultimate sanction.”  In acute conflicts it potentially can serve as an alternative to war and other violence.

We have witnessed it in Cuba over the years with a number if initiatives. The Cuban Committee for Human Rights and its ability to document human rights abuses in the island to expose the brutality of the regime in the 1980s and 1990s to the international community. The Christian Liberation Movement in the 1990s and 2000s that through the Varela Project non-violently petitioned the Cuban government to reform and respect international human rights standards, and gathered over 25,000 signatures of Cuban citizens in the island who knew what the cost would be to say they wanted change. The San Isidro Movement formed in 2018 by artists protesting Decree 349, a further tightening of restrictions on artistic freedom in Cuba, has carried out nonviolent campaigns that on November 27, 2020 shook the dictatorship when hundreds of artists and intellectuals engaged in a non-violent intervention outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana, Cuba.

Violent resistance to the regime was tried early on by courageous Cuban men and women, but was crushed by the Castro regime with the aid of Soviet counter-insurgency forces. Today, not only the Russians are there, but so are the Chinese. 

Non-violent resistance remains the most effective option to achieve a democratic transition in Cuba, and restore Cuba's positive human rights legacy.

The documentary "A Force More Powerful" is about non-violence, and its power to change the world over the past century. It is worth noticing that faith and belief played a major role in these movements that achieved positive and lasting change. We will need a lot of both in the days, weeks, and months to come.

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