Opposition Marchers Should Change Their Strategy / Ivan Garcia
Posted on January 17, 2016
Ivan Garcia, 13 January 2016 — There were more than seven thousand
arrests of dissidents in 2015, with most detentions lasting several
hours. Beatings, harassment, acts of repudiation and degrading treatment
by police are common in Cuba. Political reforms are not part of General
Raúl Castro’s agenda.
Despite the repression in Havana there is one city block where democracy
is respected. It was not a gift from the regime. It was a victory
achieved by the Ladies in White in the spring of 2010. In this area you
can protest and march without being brutally assaulted.
It is located in the Miramar district in the western part of the city. A
procession takes place from Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, where St. Rita
of Casia Church is located, to a park located on Fifth Avenue between
22nd and 24th streets, a spot formerly known as Prado Park in honor of
the Peruvian dignitary Mariano Ignacio Prado and now known as Mahatma
After the march a brawl breaks out. Every Sunday at eleven o’clock for
eight months State Security has been mounting an intense sting operation
in the streets adjoining Fifth Avenue.
Dozens of boorish officers on Suzuki motorcycles from a squad known as
Section 21 — a group conditioned to strike first and ask questions later
— wait for the demonstrators at intersections or at a bus stop located
at 28th Street and Third Avenue.
Every Sunday three or four buses are commandeered from the decrepit
public transport system to forcibly transfer the Ladies in White and
other dissidents to jail. A phalanx of police cars, an ambulance and
cameramen from special services, who are there to film the uproar, round
out the scene.
Among those mobilized are civilians from the so-called Rapid Response
Brigade, a varied battalion made up of retired veterans, members of the
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and guys inclined towards
It is not unusual for the regime to employ an enraged mob to deal with
what it considers to be “provocations.” The atmosphere on Sundays in
this peaceful neighborhood in Miramar is similar to the chaos caused by
radical baton-wielding hooligans at soccer matches in Argentina.
The basest instincts come into play. Sticks, metal rods and stones are
used to assault compatriots simply because they think differently. The
methods are violence, humiliation and verbal lynching. The festival of
derision is repeated on subsequent Sundays.
The slogans of these paramilitary groups should strike a palpable fear
in anyone who hears them. “Machete them; there aren’t many,” goes one.
“Ready, aim, fire” and “mercenaries” are some of the other choruses
sprinkled with crude expletives. You can disagree with a political
organization’s stategy, but coarseness and intimidation should not be
Civilized governments put a premium on dialogue and respect. Clearly
that is not the case here. On a list published by Reporters Without
Borders, the island ranks 169th out of 180 countries in terms of press
Cuba is the only country in the Western world where all political
parties, other than the Communist party, are prohibited. And when it
comes to human rights, the regime approves only of those by which it abides.
For the military-run government human rights consist of universal public
health and eduction, and access to culture and sports. No one would
argue that these are not inalienable rights.
But lawful political participation, freedom of expression and freedom of
association are rights too. It is a question of whether one perceives
the glass as being half full or half empty.
As justification, Castro supporters claim to be under siege, stalked by
the United States and choked off by an economic embargo. I don’t buy it.
The conduct of the rulers and their henchmen, handing out punches and
imprisoning dissidents, is the result of a genetically predisposed
hostility towards democracy. Transparency, dialogue and respect for
differences are not part of the political strategies of the Castro
Nearly forty Sundays after the Ladies in White and the Forum for Rights
and Liberties — headed respectively by Berta Soler and Antonio Rodiles —
began their marches and petitions, the regime’s stance remains unchanged.
The dissident community itself is divided over how to proceed. Some
believe that Soler and Rodiles should not be directly challenging the
irrational ferocity of the special services and so they do not join in.
The international press barely covers the Sunday beatings and the
Western democratic community is concerned with issues that it considers
more important. At best, a spokesperson for the White House or the State
Department might issue an inconsequential press release.
The problem is not whether the demands by the Ladies or the Forum are
reasonable or excessive. They have a right to peacefully protest without
being harassed, and not just in a “democratic block” on Fifth Avenue in
In my opinion, the dissident movement should consider other strategies.
The news media loses interest when routine repression begins to seem
Unfortunately, the world of mass communication is now driven by excess.
For example, if a headline appears in a Swiss newspaper, it is because a
dictator or mafia chieftain has opened accounts in the country’s banks,
not because its democratic system functions like a Swiss watch.
If there are no dead or wounded, or if an event involves fewer than ten
thousand people, the world’s leading broadcasters and major news
organizations will continue to ignore attacks against a hundred or so
women and men marching peacefully in protest along a stretch of Fifth
Avenue to Gandhi Park.
Rather than increasing the number of participants in their marches, the
Ladies in White and the Forum for Liberties should take up causes of a
populist nature about issues that affect everyone, such as demanding
food at reasonable prices and reducing prices in hard currency stores.
Or improving the quality of life, constructing and repairing housing,
finding a solution for the more than 130,000 flood victims who now live
in makeshift shelters and guaranteeing an efficient public transport system.
Or raising laughably low wages, unifying the dual currency system,
initiating a national debate on unchecked migration; launching a
campaign against domestic and gender violence, and demanding the repeal
of Law 217, which prevents our compatriots from other provinces from
moving to Havana.
Petitioning the government to include Cubans under the new Foreign
Investment Law and urging it to draft a law allowing Cubans living
overseas to participate in national political life. Also, reducing taxes
on private businesses, among other concessions.
The list goes on. The Ladies in White could be the spokesperson for
those citizens who are now sitting on the sidelines. Changing the focus
of their petitions could change the rules of the game.
What would be the government’s reaction? Presumably another spiral of
violence. But with broader social demands they would gain supporters
among Cubans who only have black coffee for breakfast.
Source: Opposition Marchers Should Change Their Strategy / Ivan Garcia |
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