The awakening of Cuba's resistance movement
BY OTTO J. REICH AND
In Guantánamo, Cuba, an important eastern city near the eponymous Naval
Base, the streets recently reverberated with shouts of "Down with Fidel!
Down with Raúl!" and "The streets belong to the people!" as dozens
marched in open defiance of the iron-fisted rule of the Castro brothers.
Even the physical attacks hurled by the regime's paid thugs did not
prevent the march from continuing.
Over the past few months similar protests have taken place across cities
and towns throughout the island. What do they portend?
To most people, popular uprisings against dictatorships appear
spontaneous because they capture our attention at their moment of
fruition, when massive crowds in public plazas attract television
cameras. In truth, uprisings are the result of many years of individuals
struggling to overcome personal fear, and of tenacious organizational
work by small groups.
Resistance networks that grow through repressed societies act like
arteries that arouse a subjugated people, a key event or moment serving
as the critical spark, the catalyst for the awakening. The death last
year of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Afro-Cuban
bricklayer, perpetrated by the authorities' denial of water for 18 days
in an attempt to force him to stop a hunger strike, set off a wave of
street protests and hunger strikes. International condemnation forced
the dictatorship to release hundreds of political prisoners. Many of
those released were pressured into exile, but a hard core of political
prisoners chose to remain on the island, their leadership qualities
thereby growing exponentially in the eyes of the population.
The Castro dictatorship is once more trying to stem the growth of such
resistance in Cuba through persecution and brutality because popular
demonstrations, unprecedented in number and message, have erupted
throughout the island, among them:
• On March 24, citizens in the central city of Santa Clara blocked
traffic to protest the arbitrary arrests of peaceful activists.
• On March 28, resistance members demonstrated at Havana's historic
capitol building for the release of all political prisoners, an action
timed to coincide with a visit by former President Jimmy Carter.
• Demonstrations again took place in Central Cuba during the run-up to
the Communist Party Congress in April, despite heightened surveillance.
• May saw a 13 day-long "Boitel and Zapata Live!" memorial, a series of
nonviolent actions commemorating martyrs in the anti-communist
resistance struggle. It started with nationwide pots and pans protests
and continued with marches and meetings.
The resistance also responded to the murder of activist Juan Wilfredo
Soto García by joining the Guantánamo march and demonstrating in the
central city of Placetas, where in a separate action, women activists
carried out a sit-in in the lobby of the government-controlled radio
station demanding to state their perspective on the murder of Soto García.
Scores of people turned Soto García's funeral in the streets of the
central province capital of Santa Clara into a demonstration calling for
the end of the Castro regime and freedom for all Cubans.
The protesters are young, many of them black, most of them poor and from
the provinces. Coalesced in the Cuban National Civic Resistance Front,
the island's new resistance movement rises from a marginalized
population that derives strength from the social bonds of family and
friendship harnessed under the duress of decades of economic
exploitation, criminal persecution, political imprisonment and
ideological discrimination by its own government. These brave Cubans
have nothing to lose — not freedom nor material goods, for there is
neither on the island. They fight for liberty and for restored natural
The struggle of Cuba's democratic resistance is lonely and hard. Not
only do they face a vicious regime's police brutality, but an
indifferent world and a Catholic hierarchy too close to the regime (as
information revealed on Wikileaks corroborated). Leftist international
leaders — typified by Spain's Prime Minster José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
and Brazil's former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who put
ideological predilection and commercial interests above human rights,
and shamelessly coddle Castro's decrepit tyranny, prolong the repression.
But the Cubans will regain their freedom. And when Cuba's plazas are
filled with crowds clamoring for, or celebrating, the removal of the
dictatorship, no one should be surprised and say they were not warned as
to when the awakening began.
Otto J. Reich, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, is a former U.S.
assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Venezuela. Orlando
Gutierrez-Boronat is a member of the Secretariat of the Assembly of the