The vast majority of Cubans inside and outside the country responded with jubilation to the simultaneous announcements by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro on 17 December 2014 about a thaw in US-Cuba relations. Obama’s speech acknowledged that US policy towards Cuba has failed. On 20th January the countries began a round of official talks aimed at re-establishing diplomatic relations, which create the possibility of an end of the US blockade of Cuba which has been imposed for over half a century. Already President Obama has authorised the lifting of some travel, trade and financial restrictions, but the blockade remains codified in law. Since its onset, the blockade was designed to strangle Cuba, causing its entire population to suffer hunger and desperation. Although it failed to lead to the overthrow of the government, the effects have indeed been devastating in all aspects of social, material and cultural life.
This explains the positive reaction the announcements have generated inside and outside of Cuba. Surveys show that most US citizens support the Obama administrations initiative towards Cuba, including the majority of Cubans who live in the US. However, there remain the so-called ‘dissident’ sector who stick stubbornly to the old Cold War discourse and have decided to boycott the chance for peace and the benefits that dialogue and rapprochement between the two countries could bring.
Who are the ‘dissidents’ and whose interests do they represent?
One of the most known groups, the Ladies in White, is financed by extreme right-wing Cuban exile groups in Miami which have financed acts of terrorism against Cuba and carried out provocations designed to provide the US which a pretext to intervene militarily in Cuba. Among them is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), headed by Jorge Mas Santos and the terrorist Francisco José (Pepe) Hernández. The CANF receives large sums of money from the US government through agencies such as the NED and USAID. The US invests $20 million of taxpayers money annually to ‘promote democracy’ in Cuba. Much of this money has been a source of income and enrichment for the Cuban-American elite who let some crumbs fall into the hands of Cuban mercenaries on the island – the so-called dissidents.
An article published by Percy Francisco, ‘The CANF and the plot against Berta Soler’, clearly shows the crisis among the ‘dissidence’ and the declining fortunes of the lucrative mercenary business. The splits and internal conflicts within this organisation are well known: members’ resignations, accusations of corruption, and so on. Most of these conflicts are related to how the money is shared out.
Members of the Ladies in White have complained about intimidation by Soler and expressed their discontent about receiving ‘only’ US$15 for each protest against the government they attend.
Percy is a journalist and writer, but he is also a former Cuban state security agent who infiltrated CANF and its paramilitary wing in South Florida during the 1990s. He was trained and sent by terrorists Posada Carriles and Pepe Hernandez to put C4 explosives in Cuban tourist installations, and other venues. In this article, Percy publishes a message sent by Laura Maria Pollan Labrada, daughter of Ladies in White founder Laura Pollan, to Jorge Mas Santos, head of CANF:
‘where she questioned Berta Soler, her transparency in the management of funds, her leadership ability, her excessive authoritarianism and, above all, her direct responsibility for the loss of image of this organization.’
Percy says that Mas Santos y Hernandez met with Soler to discuss the complaints and accusations of corruption. They considered Soler to be an impediment and intended to restructure the group. However, Soler responded with such outrage that only the promise of giving her money to buy a luxurious house in Cuba could calm her down. Soler in turn reaffirmed her unconditional support for the extreme right-wing exiles in the US, and committed to continue criticising Obama’s move towards rapprochement with Cuba.
In 2010, Bruno Rodriguez said to the UN General Assembly during the vote against the US blockade:
‘The pretexts used to apply the blockade have been changing. First it was our alleged participation in the Sino-Soviet axis; then the so-called export of the Revolution to Latin America; then the presence of Cuban troops in Africa that were to contribute to defeat the Apartheid regime, preserve the independence of Angola and attain the independence of Namibia. Afterwards there was a manipulation of the human rights issue. But the blockade is a brutal violation of the human rights of Cubans. We are ready to discuss human rights violations. We could begin speaking about the concentration camp in Guantanamo, where inmates are submitted to tortures and there is no habeas corpus.’
The theme of human rights has been used as a political strategy of the ‘dissidence’ and its sponsors to condemn Cuba. But they are losing credibility every day, as shown by the decision of the Obama administration to enter a thaw with Cuba without their participation.
Cuba guarantees its citizens’ fundamental human rights: the right to health, food, education, housing, and security, access to culture and sport, to highlight a few. Cuba has shown that an alternative development model is possible and can meet the needs of the population, even in an underdeveloped and blockaded country. What’s more, the revolutionary government extends those benefits to people around the world through its medical and educational internationalism. Most recently, hundreds of Cuban medics have gone to fight the spread of the deadly Ebola disease in Africa. Cuba’s steadfastness and resistance has earned it respect around the world. It has not ceded principles, ideas or sovereignty. The five Cuban heroes, recently reunited with their families and their people, are an example of this resistance.