No one knows for certain, but many experts speculate that radical changes are approaching in Cuba faster than anytime since 1959. In 2006 Fidel Castro, the “historic leader of the Revolution,” stepped down and offered his position as head of the state to his brother Raul Castro. I remember watching in Havana what the Cuban state television described as “hysterical Miami mafia” jumping up and down in the streets of Miami full of joy with signs reading: “No Castro No problem.”
It has been seven years since then and as Cubans like to say “a lot of water has flown under the bridge.” Perhaps the main cause of the prolonged regime is the divide between Cubans living in exile and those still living in Cuba – a divide that has perpetuated the status quo for five decades.
This week Cuba held national elections where only members of the Communist Party could run for a parliamentary office. As expected, Raul Castro was reelected president of the Council of States. However, in his inauguration speech, Castro left the nation and the exile community wondering about the future of Cuba.
According to Raul Castro, he will step down in 2018, thus allowing for the first time since 1959 a non-Castro born after the Revolution to succeed him as president. For many inside Cuba this is something incomprehensible and even frightening. The “revolutionary culture” has taught Cubans to rely on their politicians until they die or suffer a severe illness while on their posts. It has also taught Cubans that seniority is more important than performance. Somehow, all these announced changes contradict the official message they have been listening to for years.
Constitutional term limits to government positions is not the only change coming. According to Castro, the constitution will be amended and re-written in order to reflect “the will of the people.” As expected of a totalitarian state, no one knows what “the will of the people is” and therefore, no one knows what the new constitution will look like. He did not say when this national referendum would take place, just like he did not say when the internet optic fiber cable connecting Venezuela’s cyberspace to Cuba’s would become widely available in a country where less than 1% of the population have limited and censured access to the web.
The government defended the decision not to release any date or details by blaming the “enemy” that is “closely watching our steps and ready to attack.”
The enemy refers to the United States and more specifically the “Miami Mafia” or Cuban Americans. However, one thing was clear in his speech: “Capitalism will not return to Cuba, I was elected to defend, keep, preserve, enhance and perfect Socialism in Cuba, not to destroy it.”
On January 13 many Cubans inside the country experienced a taste of freedom when the government eliminated the exit permit requirement imposed since 1961, which restricted freedom of movement and kept many from leaving.
Yoani Sanchez, a renown Cuban dissident blogger listed by Time Magazine in 2010 as one of the world’s 100th most influential people, took advantage of the changes and went on a trip to eight countries to denounce the lack of freedoms she and most Cubans experience.
Cubans are now also able to sell and trade their goods and some small-scale businesses are allowed and even encouraged by the Communist government.
There is no question that some changes are under way. The issue is that changes are coming “Chinese style” or in other words with no major political reform pointing to regime change. Cubans are by nature -and this is my personal opinion- non-conciliatory and stubborn people who have not yet learned to compromise.
The day after the announcement, Cuban American groups sent a warning to Washington asking policymakers and the organizations involved with Cuban foreign policy to remain firm and tough and not to make serious changes. The embargo still enjoys popularity, although new generations of Cuban Americans and recent arrivals are moving towards a more conciliatory and pragmatic position.
Those of us living on the other side of the Straits of Florida see the embargo and sanctions as our only tool left to make the world know we exist and resist. We know the embargo has not brought the expected results and we also know that the elite is untouched by economic scarcity and those suffering are our compatriots. However, the symbolic meaning of the embargo as an indication of our resistance has unified the exile community. For many of us, lifting the embargo simply means the same as a defeat and makes us wonder what the future of the community will look like without the only thing that gathered universal consensus all these past years.
Since 1961 Cuba was split into two different people who separated and radicalized their differing ideologies. Miami Cubans and islanders war over the nation’s destiny and neither side seems to give up on their visions.
Cuban Americans have grown disconnected from the reality on the island and we have failed at building bridges to communicate our message to islanders and refute the regime’s propaganda blaming us for their failures. It is not until we come to terms with our history, reconnect with one another and learn to see each other as one people without putting aside our convictions, that political change will come with space for everyone’s views and opinions.
I think the time has come for Cubans from within and out to break the wall of silence and distrust, which has prevailed all these years and has kept us from fighting oppression together.