Is the Cuba that just entered 2022 the same that entered 2021? Is it, as the government would like Cubans to believe, a country from which “you better leave because no one can change it”?
The ruling elite will sing the praises of 2021 as a year of victories because it managed to stay in power after facing the greatest challenge in their history, an unprecedented common-citizen uprising on a national scale. Still, they are very much aware that they only bailed out by unleashing a brutal repression against Cuban men, women, and children that the whole world witnessed for the first time on their TVs; then imposing on the protestors, via Stalinist-style trials, sentences of up to 30 years in prison.
Feeling threatened, this privileged caste had a visceral repressive reaction that teared down once and for all the veil of the revolution’s romantic mythology, so that it could be seen for what it is: an obscene, brutal dictatorship.
Yes, the regime managed to contain the massive protests, but to accomplish this goal it had to stretch itself to the point of a military takeover of towns and cities, something unprecedented in Cuba. Nonetheless, they are pretty much aware that what they got was just a break before the next round.
In the face of the power elite’s apathy and immobility vis-a-vis the daily conundrum of ordinary Cubans ─including the Covid-19 pandemic─ Cuba is changing from below, one citizen at a time. This has been confirmed by the upward trend of public protests since September 2020 verified by the Cuban Conflict Observatory; it is also confirmed by the epic popular outbreak of 11J, as well as by the 3,300 rebellious acts recorded by the OCC throughout 2021, including 243 in December, at the height of the wave of State terrorism.
Despite the repression, Cuban citizens continue to express their insubordination through complaints, statements, letters, petitions, videos, posters, paintings, and even tattoos related to 11J. These protests are staged by individuals or small groups ─ seeking to reduce risk as much as possible─ a trend that might increase in coming months. As the Wall Street Journal commented this week, “this Genie is not going back in the bottle”.
It is obvious that 2021 marked a watershed in the struggle for freedom in Cuba. Today the people know their strengths and the oligarchy knows its weaknesses. After 11J and dealing with a call for a peaceful national civil march in November, the regime combined the sticks of repression and a bunch of carrots, specific and cosmetic changes designed to create the illusion that everything was going to change.
Cubans are already aware, however, of their Gatopardian creed of changing only what must be changed so that everything remains the same. For there to be profound changes on the island, it is imperative to keep up the people’s pressure, even if it means creatively transforming the strategies and tactics of the civil society in the face of the power elite.
Changes in international perception
Also in the international arena, the Cuban mafia dictatorship enters 2022 much weaker. The notion of Cubans as a transnational people grew stronger during the year we just left behind. A growing number of those residing outside the island are mobilizing to boycott the rackets of the military-business octopus GAESA, which only benefit the power elite and contribute to finance the repression; on the other hand, protests on the island are increasingly coordinated with Cubans living abroad.
Around the world, leftist groups and personalities, including Hollywood celebrities, stood up to the acts of repression recorded by Cubans on their mobile phones. The European Parliament issued two strong resolutions that condemned State violence and put into question the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Havana. Those images, as well as others showing thousands of Cubans shouting “Libertad” and “Patria y Vida” in the streets, also led the Biden administration to keep Donald Trump’s strict Cuba policy almost intact.
The Wall Street Journal notes that such a “pariah status is costly for the regime because Cuba has trouble attracting investment and, if you don’t count human beings, it doesn’t export much of anything. In fact ─we should note─ in 2020 their trafficking-in-doctors business totaled barely a third of the revenue it yielded in 2011-2015.
But, as the independent newspaper 14ymedio points out from Havana, “rather than preparing a program of flexibilities, decreeing an amnesty for political prisoners and launching a program to unblock the island’s productive forces, they are entrenching themselves”.
So, is it time to leave Cuba or is it time to help it get rid once and for all of this useless, abusive, obsolete system and scourge?
“Se acabó: tú 5-9, yo doble dos” (“It’s over: you 5-9, I double-two”) repeats the chorus of “Patria y Vida”, the Grammy-winner song that became an anthem for Cuba’s civil society protests in 2021. Too many are already asking themselves whether this “double-two” (2022) that we just entered will be the last year of Castroism in power.