Resistance to the regime is here to stay
Posted on Sunday, 09.05.10
Resistance to the regime is here to stay
BY ORLANDO GUTIERREZ-BORONAT
So Fidel Castro went back to college. Or, more precisely, to the iconic front steps of the University of Havana, where the hemisphere’s longest ruling dictator delivered his first public speech after a four-year hiatus from mass rallies and other public events occasioned by severe gastrointestinal illness.
The purported objective of the rally was to warn students about the impending threat of nuclear war in the Middle East. Castro, who began his political career on the fringes of the student movement at the University of Havana, where he acquired a reputation as a gun-toting agitator, chose not to speak about the island’s pressing issues: the abhorrent denial of civil liberties, the collapsing economy and rampant frustration as the broad reforms some Cubans expected of the younger Castro, Raúl, refuse to materialize.
The Friday speech at the front steps of the university took place on the heels of a daring protest carried out by young pro-democracy activists at the same location. Once the symbol of resistance against the dictatorships Cuba suffered during the 20th century, the University of Havana has been under tight regime control for half a century.
The protesters were expressing their solidarity with other young human-rights activists arrested in the eastern city of Baracoa who face stiff repression as they lead meetings of the Cuban Youth Forum, where Cubans have been openly discussing issues of concern to the island’s population that Fidel Castro chooses to ignore.
So the question remains, Why is the once again olive-clad elder Castro putting his health and his prestige on the line in order to counter peaceful and persecuted human-rights activists?
For the same reason that he reappeared in public precisely when unprecedented talks between Raúl and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega resulted in the progressive release and exile of many of the 75 pro-democracy activists imprisoned during the “Black Spring” of 2003. These talks took place after the regime did little to save hunger-striking prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, its violent repression of the Havana street protests of the Ladies in White, (the wives, mothers and sisters of the imprisoned 75), as well as of those in Camagüey by waves of youth activists, and dissident Guillermo Fariñas’s prolonged hunger strike. Those events, punctuated by Tamayo’s death, sparked an avalanche of international condemnation that buried the regime’s propaganda efforts aimed at improving its image after 51 years of its iron-fisted rule.
The fact is that his own megalomania and the imperative of regime survival force Castro to occupy the center stage. The world’s attention is now shifting from the dictatorship to the civic-resistance movement that increasingly articulates the overwhelming desire for change held by the vast majority of Cub-ans. Nothing better than Castro’s purported resurrection and talk of nuclear war to try to divert Cubans’ and world public opinion away from Cuba’s woes and the actions of the committed activists who have risen to advocate democratic change.
Resistance in Cuba is real. It is increasingly well-organized, as is demonstrated by the emergence of the National Civic Resistance Front, which coordinated demonstrations in different parts of the island to try to save Zapata’s life, as well as the recent one on the University of Havana steps.
The resistance will not go away, for it is born out of the pursuit of liberty that has shaped Cuba’s national identity for the past two hundred years. The activists know that through consistent, principled nonviolent action they have forced a totalitarian regime to engage with a Catholic Church it once sought to suppress and ignore, so as to avoid dealing with a resistance that it cannot afford to recognize. When a one-party tyranny is forced by a grass-roots movement to deal with other national actors, it has been forced to enter the terrain of pluralization it so fears to tread.
Eduardo Pérez Flores, one of those arrested at the University of Havana protest recently wrote in a letter he sent to his mother from his prison cell: “Tell the world that in Cuba they are releasing political prisoners on the one hand and incarcerating more on the other.” He then summarizes the ethos of the Cuban resistance: “I am not afraid of prison. We will remain firm.”
Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat is a member of the Secretariat of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance in Miami.