Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Creating Citizens: The Birth and Growth of the Cuban Internal Pro-Democracy Movement

Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Creating Citizens: The Birth and Growth of the Cuban Internal Pro-Democracy Movement

Article excerpt

In November 1999 Cuba hosted the 10th Ibero-American Summit, in which approximately 20 Latin American Presidents and Heads of State joined together to discuss the present and future of Ibero-American relations. At the time, the meeting appeared as an ideal opportunity to improve the international image of the Castro government. Retrospectively, however, the gathering represented one of the major diplomatic blows the regime suffered in the 1990s. The pivotal role of the opposition (2), which held parallel meetings with various Presidents, was largely responsible for such a result.

Earlier that year, an organized group of dissidents known as the "Group of 4" were brought to trial after spending fifteen months in prison. They were detained in late 1997 after presenting the document La Patria Es de Todos to the international media. Their trial in March 1999 triggered a surprisingly strong condemnation from such dissimilar international actors as Madeleine Albright, Nelson Mandela, the Italian Communist Party, and the Uruguayan leftist coalition Frente Amplio. The regime opted for swallowing such diplomatic embarrassment rather than loosening its internal grip.

These two examples symbolize the increasingly significant role that internal organizations of opposition have played in Cuban political reality since the early 1990s. Today, foreign policy assessments about the island rarely exclude the role of the opposition. (3) Representatives of Western governments visiting Cuba typically include in their agenda conversations with opposition figures. Foreign correspondents on the island, in spite of the regime's obvious discomfort, (4) report profusely on the opposition's activities, International human rights organizations inform extensively on violations on the island. In fact, such reports are frequently based on information provided by independent journalists and opponents themselves. More importantly, the Cuban government has evidenced a need to react to the opposition with severe tactics that endanger ongoing efforts to attract investment to the island. The passing of Law 88 in February 1999, which severely penalizes nonofficial news reporting, is probably the most glaring example.

Despite the evident growth of organized opposition to the regime, this movement has yet to become a direct threat to Castro's hold on power. Any claim otherwise would be a misguided overstatement. Yet, the Cuban pro-democracy movement has managed to grow and consolidate in a bleak environment for independent activism. Currently, the Cuban regime lacks the power to uproot the opposition movement; in essence, the regime has no option but to "live with it." This reality might be the opposition's most important accomplishment.

This paper is an overview of the evolution of the opposition movement since its inception 25 years ago. First, the paper will reflect on a set of preliminary considerations that will help understand the context around which if revolves. The key concepts of dissidence, opposition, and regime type will be clarified. Then, the paper will outline chronologically the movement's major turning points. As a means of conclusion, the paper will identify and evaluate the trends of the process exposed.

Some Initial Considerations

Before discussing opposition movements one must distinguish between the concepts of dissidence and opposition. Although commonly used interchangeably, the two terms hold different conceptual implications. While dissent arises within a group or political party, opposition comes from actors in the periphery of political control. Moreover, dissent "is not organized and does not seek to replace the existing regime: it merely seeks to criticize, to exhort, to persuade, and to be listened to" (Schapiro 35). Opposition, in turn, implies outright confrontation on essential matters. It requires organization and seeks to "displace the present incumbents" (Schapiro 35). …

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