Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Detente plans divide Cuba’s dissidents

Detente plans divide Cuba's dissidents
Hardliners say U.S. plan won't bring change
Associated Press Article Last Updated: Monday, December 29, 2014 10:37pm

HAVANA – President Barack Obama told the world this month that engaging
Cuba is the best way to strengthen people pushing for greater freedom on
the island.

Less than two weeks after it was announced, the U.S.-Cuba detente is
upending the civil society Obama hopes to strengthen. The prospect of
engagement between the two Cold War antagonists seems to be undercutting
the island's hard-line dissidents while boosting more moderate reformers
who want to push President Raul Castro gradually toward granting
citizens more liberties.

The traditional dissidents say they feel betrayed by a new U.S. policy
of negotiation with a government that Washington and the U.S.-backed
opponents worked for decades to undermine. They say they fear that
detente serves the Castro administration's aspiration of following China
and Vietnam by improving the economy without conceding citizens
significantly greater freedoms.

"I think President Obama made a mistake," said Berta Soler, head of the
Ladies in White, Cuba's best-known dissident group. "Cuba won't change
while the Castros are around. There will be positive changes for the
government of Cuba, but not for the Cuban people."

Moderates say the new balance of power inside the small, fractious world
of Cuba's opposition will produce political change by offering Castro a
type of engagement that's harder to reject: a negotiated, more
controlled opening meant to avoid the sort of disorderly transition that
scarred the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the countries of the
Arab Spring.

"Destabilization, disorder, anarchy, that's never been on the agenda in
the minds of Cubans, and whoever has this agenda isn't going to be able
to find space," said Eliezer Avila, a 29-year-old computer engineer who
leads We Are More, a small, year-old opposition group pushing for
economic reform and political pluralism.

What's unknown is whether the Cuban government will engage with the
newly energized, more moderate members of civil society or continue to
sharply limit free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of
association as threats to the country's single-party system. Raul Castro
told Cuba's National Assembly Dec. 20 that warmer relations with the
U.S. would not change the system.

A major test will come during April's Summit of the Americas in Panama,
a gathering of Western Hemispheric leaders where Obama and Raul Castro
are expected to meet. A forum including figures from civil society
inside Cuba is to be organized on the sidelines, and seems likely to
spawn debate between the U.S. and Cuba, and among reformers from the island.

"There will be some negotiations or discussions behind the scenes as to
who gets invited, I would imagine," said Richard Feinberg, a specialist
in U.S.-Cuban relations at the University of California, San Diego.

The detente "has disoriented the hardliners and empowered the
moderates," said Feinberg. "The moderates have the opportunity to become
the face of Cuban civil society in Cuba and to the world."

Cuba's government has long narrowly defined the bounds of acceptable
speech, accusing many dissidents of being agents of the U.S. government
or right-wing exile groups, and subjecting them to surveillance,
temporary detention and harassment. Advocates of a softer line usually
receive less harsh treatment.

Reform-minded Cubans have already begun testing the boundaries of free
speech and association under the new relationship. Expatriate artist
Tania Bruguera returned to Cuba Friday to organize a pro-reform
performance piece Tuesday in the Plaza of the Revolution, the symbolic
center of the Cuban government.

Bruguera was meeting with government officials Monday to request
permission for the event. But Bruguera has said she will go ahead even
without it, setting up a potential confrontation between young backers
of the event and government supporters who consider it an affront to
revolutionary values.

Pro-government bloggers have been attacking Bruguera on blogs and
Twitter since her arrival. Around midday Monday, Cuban cellphones
received mysterious messages from a Florida area code offering cheap
beer to those at the plaza around the time of Bruguera's event, which
will feature an open microphone for anyone wanting to discuss their
complaints and aspirations for Cuba's future.

The widening post-detente split inside Cuba's political opposition
mirrors the two main factions' alliances with supporters overseas. Many
hard-line dissidents have had tight, decades-long relationships with
Cuban-Americans and American politicians who want the Castros out of power.

The more moderate strain has forged ties with a blend of European
non-government organizations, Washington think tanks and groups of young
Cuban-Americans advocating better relations with the island.

"It seems to me that some of the people who have advised Obama and some
of the ideas that they're proposing, outside Cuba and among the
opposition here, simplify the real situation that we're living," said
Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de SATS, an opposition group that argues
for swift and deep change in the country. "I hope the Obama
administration makes a course correction in the process that it's begun.
If it doesn't, I think it's going to run into rejection from a great
part of the opposition in Cuba and among Cuban exiles."

But moderate members of Cuban civil society say that the future belongs
to those favoring dialogue.

"It will be very hard for sectors that bet on the overthrow of the
government to reposition themselves in the current situation," said
Lenier Gonzalez, one of the founders of Cuba Posible, a group dedicated
to creating forums for moderate discussion of changes in Cuba.

"There are other independent civil society groups that don't want to
overthrow the government," he continued. "This sector is in a better
situation in the current reality."

Source: The Durango Herald 12/29/2014 | Detente plans divide Cuba's
dissidents -

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