Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I’m from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

The Cuba We’re Being Sold

Armando Chaguaceda

Obama US Cuba(3)
Miami billionaire Jorge Perez speaks with president Obama at a business form held in Havana on Monday. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP-Miami Herald

HAVANA TIMES — Obama’s trip – its behind-the-scenes incidents and echoes – is hastening the birth of a new Cuba. Hours before the Boeing 747 had landed in Rancho Boyeros, two separate, well-connected and reliable sources informed me that certain magnates and Cuban-American and US lobbyists met with members of the president’s staff to try and temper the tone of Obama’s speech on the island dealing with the support for democracy and human rights.

We are talking about people with lots of money, contacts, patience and stealth, of ancient lineage and bicentennial surnames. I know two decent people among them, those who believe, in a sincere and Christian fashion, that, in the long term and through patience, the market brings us civil liberties. Others, however, are nothing other but heartless exploiters, the heirs of the American landowners and Cuban sugar barons, the same sort of people who protracted the end of slavery and gave their support to Machado and Batista. These friends of “order and good manners” stand nothing to gain from a country of empowered run-away slaves or big-mouthed carriage-drivers. They quite simply want to reign over an authoritarian form of capitalism, without combative trade unions or watchful NGOs. They need consumers and employees, not active citizens.

This group of people – and their organic intellectuals – have joined in the rhetoric of the Cuban government in one form or another, the government that seeks to uproot all demands for democratic change on the island. The discourse that sustains this condemns all concerns about the undermining of liberties in Cuba, expressed by international actors, as attempts at subverting and changing the existing regime. In view of such blatant falsehoods, it is worthwhile to clarify a number of things. A regime change is a misguided policy, often impelled by the US government through unilateral and violent methods, that brings about terrible consequences. We have the case of Bush and Kissinger, Chile and Iraq to remind us of this. We have no need of marines disembarking at Havana’s ocean drive or proconsuls at the Capitolio.

The defense of democratic values and standards, however, is another thing altogether: it is a moral imperative for governments, societies and free, decent people. Helping people live with guarantees, express opinions, become organized, exercise their rights and practice their beliefs without suffering repression, be it in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Russia, is not foreign interference. Someone should “explain” to Cuban officials – and their new friends – that they should stop saying the “Cuban people made their choice in 1959,” that they only need order, investment and – for the most privileged – consumer products.

Countries are neither homogenous entities nor talking stomachs, and no government can fully and perpetually embody the people’s will, particularly when this government hasn’t been ratified in open, free and fair elections. But, in order to prevent a leap into savage capitalism, we must build a formal framework of rights and real mechanisms to enforce these – particularly for those below.

Cuba doesn’t only need to take the step towards a 21st-century economy and the official acknowledgement of its multi-racial and transnational character. The main anomaly, at least in this hemisphere, is the persistence of a one-party system that manages this economy, controls this society and curtails all dissent, even among its more sincere followers, who seek to reform the system to address the demands of the people and increase its efficiency.

The pace of the transition seems to hasten after Raul Castro demonstrated the utter obsolescence of his leadership at the joint conference with Obama. I do not believe that the transition to democracy is something inevitable and that, at most, it will come about around 2018. The change underway in the Cuban nation and in Cuban society stems from a combination of exogenous geopolitical and cultural forces and the agency of its political actors, especially those who wield power today. We could well see a transition from a State-command, post-totalitarian system to a form of authoritarian market economy, under the auspices of the worst elements in the neighboring empire.

During the meetings with Obama, Raul Castro has been accompanied by his older son, an intelligence official of dubious background. If these images broadcast today say anything about the reality of tomorrow, a change in command will soon take place within the governing family, as when Michael Corleone replaced a sick Vito. Now, a younger and more ambitious predator seems to step onto the stage, something that is anything but good news for the other species of the island’s socio-political ecosystem.

The (one) good thing about all of this is that the fissures and alliances of the Cuba we are being sold begin to define themselves. I use the term “sell” in its two senses, as deceit and transaction. On the one hand, a military-industrial bloc begins to consolidate on the island, with the blessing of the Church and the endorsement of conservative US elites. At the other end, without much organization, money, means or lobbyists, there’s us, those who believe, from democratic-liberal to socialist stances, in a free and fair nation, with rights for everyone. It is well worthwhile, therefore, to acknowledge our disadvantage, to acknowledge each other and, without effacing our differences, do something to change the fate of the Cuba that’s coming.

  • John Goodrich

    A historical whitewashing or otherwise willful omission of the quite obvious effects of the U.S. trade embargo of the past 54 years , does little to clearly evaluate Cuba’s chances for democratic change.
    and rather muddies the historic context.
    As long as there is open U.S. hostility, as is the imperial way of enforcing neo-liberal capitalism upon a weaker world for nearly a century, all talk of the evolution of a democratic society ( economic and governmental ) is talk of something that is not possible at this point .
    Let the Congress of the United Snakes call off their imperial war on the people of Cuba , normalize relations with perhaps the only (weaker) state capitalist nation in history that they did not invade or overthrow and THEN we can see how Cuba progresses with its autochthonous state capitalist system and if not that, then perhaps we shall see how they make the transition to a democratic workplace as befits any system that would call itself socialist.

  • Olgasintamales

    Free elections with multiple political parties that is what WE CUBANS NEEDS. Not a Canadian updated leftist telling the congress of the USA what to do.

    • Pablo Holguin

      What does that mean? Doesn’t Canada have multiparty elections?

      • Olgasintamales

        Yes, Canada has multiple Parties Elecrions and everyone can run for office. But I was trying to reply to Mr John Goodrich that always is defending the Castros brother regime and the way the cuba Junta administrated the Castros ranch. He is a Canadian by the way

  • Cesar A. Gonzalez R.

    Los patriotas cubanos que ahora aspiran a us sistema multi partidista, democratico y representativo necesita leer, ya con canas en las sienes, lo que escribe Lenin y aplicar las leyes de la Historia.

    • Informed Consent

      Los patriotas Cubano estan buscando algo nuevo, algo que funcione, un símbolo nuevo. Y Lenen? Lo butaron a la basura.

  • Griffin

    A very interesting essay, Armando. It echoes what I have been writing in my comments here at HT: that the Castro regime is determined to manage the transition of Cuba toward the “Chinese model” of authoritarian state capitalism, or Fascism by another name. To achieve this transition, the Castro regime will require the diplomatic support and financial investment of US capitalists.

    President Obama may be sincere when he claims that his new Cuba policy is the best way to help the Cuban people. But the strange bedfellows rushing in behind him certainly have no illusions about or desire for democracy and human rights in Cuba. The see cheap labour and big profits.

    Caveat emptor.

    PS: To Olgasintamales, According to his own comments, John Goodrich is American & lives in Florida