Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana, December 2014 — Raúl Castro has just finished his address to the so-called Cuban “parliament” this morning, Dec. 20, 2014. For those who are familiar with the logic of the Castro brothers throughout this more than half-century since they installed themselves in power, his words do not produce the least surprise. They have been like the Second Declaration of Havana and a reaffirmation of his “socialist character.”
President Barack Obama’s enthusiasm, his excess of emotion and assuredness, convinced as he is of acting in the Cuban people’s best interests and, of course, most significantly and above all else, in the most beneficial way for the United States (for many reasons that we are not going to explain in this post) — for the Cuban regime, it is nothing more than a power play, a show of arrogance and contempt. Obama’s words insulted and frightened the Communists, who therefore demanded a forceful response. I can picture Fidel Castro’s aggravation upon hearing it, the insults that he must have spewed upon interpreting Obama’s remarks as insolence.
Simply put, the words of the dictator quash the dreams of Obama, who enjoys the unique and unprecedented opportunity given him, and which barely hours later, already confirm for him that about which some in the dissident movement have warned him: that the more the Castros gain strength, the more they will double down on human rights violations – because a totalitarian system is diametrically opposed to independent, individual thought.
In his speech, if General Castro broached the subject of the opposition, it was to label us as “mercenaries at the beck and call of the United States.” To call me that, who have never entered the U.S. Interests Section building, save for the year 2000 when I went to the common area on the ground floor to collect my visa, for my first cultural trip to the north, is effrontery of the first order.
Since then, I have been given a visa without appearing in-person. Similarly, never have I received money or instruction of a political nature. I have never been face to face with a representative of the United States government. If I have had two faults since joining the dissidence, they are the suffering caused to my loved ones, and the financial drain on my sister, Mary, and my closest friends. Nonetheless, I am accused of being a “mercenary” — I who gave up receiving the government’s handouts which, because of literary prominence, others with less, live like princes attached to the dictator’s teat.
There is no need to be confused. If in his first speech announcing the prisoner exchange, Raúl Castro said that “we should learn the art of coexisting, in a civilized manner, with our differences,” these are manipulative words, uttered only so that President Obama will take ownership of them. The mind of the Castros is focused on “big ideas” about projects at the U.S. and Cuba government level — never on the “ordinary understanding” with which we long for our divergent thinking to be accepted, at least on principle.
The great gift in Castro’s response is that we now find ourselves at the beginning, and negotiations with the Castros are not now, nor will ever be, of any use. Would that this causes Obama to pay attention to and trust the opposition.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison