Ladies in White

Rafael Rojas: “The Cuban Regime Seeks A 2018 Generational Shift Without
Democratization” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos
Posted on September 15, 2015

14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 11 September 2015 — Rafael Rojas (b.
Santa Clara, 1965) has published Historia mínima de la revolución
cubana (A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution) in Mexico, where he has
lived for the last twenty years. In fewer than 200 pages, the historian
covers the events on the island between 1952, when Fulgencio Batista’s
dictatorship was established, and 1976, the date of the Constitution
adopted by the National Assembly of Peoples Power, which
institutionalized the process of change initiated in 1959, plus a brief
introduction about Cuba since its declaration of independence.

Rojas spoke with 14ymedio, not only of Cuba’s past but also about the
island’s present and possible future.

Yaiza Santos. This book serves to demystify certain episodes magnified
by Revolutionary propaganda and to recover other episodes that were
buried. What “demystified” moments would you highlight?

Rafael Rojas. I would start with the vision of the old regime, totally
negative, which the official history has transmitted: that of a
neocolonial nation that has no sovereignty, is poor, underdeveloped,
backward, authoritarian… over a time covering almost half a century,
without distinction of periods.

The first chapter of the book is a reconstruction of Cuba prior to the
Revolution, which speaks of the high rates of economic growth; of high
social indicators, including the high rate of literacy compared with
other Latin American countries; the great development of per capita
consumption; and also the level of cultural and political
development. And, also, the Cuban State’s elements of sovereignty.

I think it is always important to emphasize the degree of autonomy it
once had in international relations. For example, the Authentic Party
government, subsequent to the Constitution of 1940, created an alliance
with Latin American governments engaged in what is called “Revolutionary
nationalism,” very much in the Mexican tradition. It was a foreign
policy that was not subordinated to the politics of the United States.

This contradicts Cuba’s current foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, when
he said in Washington that “the United States and Cuban have never had
normal relations.” He spoke there about the Platt Amendment, which he
said was imposed by a military occupation, but that is not true: the
Cuban Congress approved it in 1901. Nor did he mention, as Fidel Castro
traditionally did in his speeches, that the amendment was repealed in
1934 as a consequence of a nationalist revolution in 1933 that created a
democracy quite advanced for Latin America. I detail that: the 1940
Constitution, the 1943 Electoral Code, which is also very advanced, and
the whole social policy of the Authentic Party government, including the
first Batista government.

Yaiza Santos. In addition to the plurality of parties and the press…

Rafael Rojas. That of the media is fundamental. The Batista dictatorship
wouldn’t have fallen without the decisive intervention of the media and
public opinion. The most widely read magazine in Cuba was Bohemia, which
also circulated in Latin America. They magazine undertook a tremendous
defense of Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned on the Isle of Pines and
beyond.

Yaiza Santos. Another thing that has been forgotten: at the beginning of
the Revolution there was still free opinion.

Rafael Rojas. I would say for the first two years. At the end of the
1960s the media was nationalized, although there are some that
continued, such as EL Mundo or Revolución, until 1965, when Granma
newspaper was created and the other newspapers were eliminated.

Yaiza Santos. Something very powerful in the Cuban case is how it
managed to put itself at the center of the world.

Rafael Rojas. In the middle of the Cold War. A totally deliberate
thing. The audacity of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders in placing an island
of the Hispanic Caribbean a few miles from the United States in the
middle of the Cold War through an alliance with the socialist camp… It
was quite an operation! And it subjected Cuba to all the possible
tensions of the Cold War, with all the disastrous consequences.

Yaiza Santos. What would the whole continent have been had it not had
that bastion there, which radiated and still radiates today?

Rafael Rojas. I think that the history of Cuba would have been quite
different. It would have moved toward a regime with authoritarian
elements, like every revolution, but it would have been very difficult
to create a single party. Certainly a hegemonic party, PRI-like, but not
unique, and there would have been greater public freedoms. Not to
mention that Cuban economic development would have continued the course
that began in the 1940s.

Yaiza Santos. You’re a big supporter of the resestablishment of
relations between Cuba and the United States, and this has provoked
opinions, especially in the exile in Miami. What do you think will
happen now?

Rafael Rojas. To start, from a point of view strictly of relations with
the United States, normalization does not imply, to my way of thinking,
a reinforcement or uncritical legitimization–without tensions, without
conflicts–of the Cuban regime. I believe that what it will imply is that
the traditional policy of the United States toward Cuba changes
directions, methods, without losing certain basic premises, such as the
defense of democracy, the rejection of violations of human rights or the
rejection of repression.

I don’t think that the United States will discard these premises of its
foreign policy. That doesn’t mean that with the opening of embassies a
transition to democracy will automatically be achieved. I think that is
a slightly magnified view.

With regards to the economic question, the reestablishment of relations
with the United States reinforces the elements of state capitalism that
have been created in Cuba and will consolidate a new economic class
which, as we know, is very interwoven with the military sectors. Of that
I have no doubt: this military corporate caste is strengthened with the
reestablishment of relations.

But there could also be an element that encourages the emergence of
small and medium private business with national capital that is not
totally subordinated to the military corporate caste. At the same time,
I think that this reestablishment of relations and the integration of
Cuba into the international community will greatly activate the civil
society on the island.

Yaiza Santos. And on the part of the Government? Will there be people in
the Communist Party who are already thinking about what will happen next?

Rafael Rojas. In fact the official political agenda already provides for
the idea of a succession of powers in February 2018. Raul has said many
times: he will leave the presidency then, and he has said that the
succession would favor the new generations. That would mean a
generational transfer of the Chief of State, without democratizing the
political system. The regime will remain the same from the institutional
point of view: a single party, control of the media, control of civil
society, penalization of the opposition – it is this status of
illegitimacy of the opposition that justifies, through the laws and the
penal code, all the beatings, repudiations, abuses, short-term
detentions… Everything we see on the weekends.

But that’s where other actors get involved: there is a real opposition
in Cuba, there is a civil society that can gain autonomy and there is an
international community that does not ignore the violation of human
rights. Starting with the US State Department itself: in its latest
global report on human rights the criticisms of Cuba are harsh, and in
the diplomatic notes that have been exchanged between the two
governments throughout the negotiation, they have almost always
mentioned the cases of repression, from the beating of Antonio Rodiles
to the harassment of the Ladies in White, and the situation of El Sexto.
This isn’t going to go away; the State Department will be in better
shape to negotiate with its allies a more effective policy on human
rights in Cuba.

Yaiza Santos. Is there a figure within the Cuban government who can lead
a transition to democracy?

Rafael Rojas. Right now, I don’t see one, but it’s clear that there are
sectors of the government, the State and the Party that have had
relationships with reformist intellectuals in recent years and who have
shown sympathy for some of the reform projects. For example, one reform
that leads to a new law of associations, that permits greater
development of non-governmental organizations or of autonomous
organizations, which I believe would favor the opposition. Or a new
electoral law that eliminates the candidate fees and that would allow
truly independent candidates, outside State institutions, to present
themselves for election and achieve a place in the National Assembly.

Clearly, there are not figures who define themselves from an openly
reformist position, because political reform continues to be largely
taboo within the regime and it is something that we can say is
deliberately delayed by Raul Castro’s government.

Now, I think we will see a diversification of the ruling political
class, especially after 2018.

Yaiza Santos. How will the exile be integrated into this process of
normalization?

Rafael Rojas. It is very difficult to respond to that question. There is
a sector of the exile, that which has been more integrated with the
associations and political institutions of the United States, which
feels betrayed by the Obama administration. While there are other
sectors who don’t follow this line. Very probably we will also see a
diversification within the exile.

My main criticism is that in my judgment, unfortunately, a sector of the
internal opposition is frequently subordinates itself to this agenda of
resistance to the reestablishment of relations. And then I do think,
unlike my colleagues in Miami, that the opposition is a minority.

The vast majority of the Cuban people in effect has elements of
disenchantment with the official positions of the Cuban government, and
for the most part looks forward to a greater connection to the world.
The Bendixen poll is impressive in this regard: 97% of Cubans support
reestablishment of relations and Barack Obama got a 80% approval rating
compared to 47% for Raul and 44% for Fidel. But I would also say that
the Cuban government’s smear campaign against the opposition has been
successful. We see it in the lack of solidarity with Tania Bruguera, in
the constant support for acts of repudiation, and in the beatings. I
think the stigmatization of the opposition permeates a part of the
population.

Source: Rafael Rojas: “The Cuban Regime Seeks A 2018 Generational Shift
Without Democratization” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos | Translating Cuba –
http://translatingcuba.com/rafael-rojas-yaiza-santos/

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