Friday, December 17, 2010

U.S. gov't bets on non-traditional dissidents, mid-level officials

This April 2009 cable says the future leaders of Cuba aren't likely to come from the country's traditional dissident groups.
Jonathan Farrar, chief of the U.S. Interests Section, writes:
We believe it is the younger generation of "non-traditional dissidents," such as Yoanny Sanchez, that is likely to have a greater long term impact on post-Castro Cuba. However, the most likely immediate successors to the Castro regime will probably come from within the middle ranks of the government itself.
Working as a dissident in Cuba is "enormously difficult," writes Farrar, who credits dissidents with holding the Cuban government "accountable for its violations of basic human and civil rights."
But that doesn't mean any of the traditional dissidents will become political leaders in the post-Castro era, he writes.
...there are few if any dissidents who have a political vision that could be applied to future governance. Though the dissidents will not acknowledge it, they are not widely known in Cuba outside the foreign diplomatic and press corps.

ID: 202438
Date: 2009-04-15 13:33:00
Origin: 09HAVANA221
Source: US Interests Section Havana
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Destination: VZCZCXYZ0001

DE RUEHUB #0221/01 1051333
P 151333Z APR 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L HAVANA 000221


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/08/2019

Classified By: COM Jonathan Farrar for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: As the Raul Castro government of Cuba
(GOC) appears to have settled into a position of undisputed
authority internally, it is worth asking what the Cuban
political opposition is doing and the role it may play in the
future. Two recent op-ed pieces in the international press
that have infuriated dissident leaders argue that the answers
are: not much and none. Though the op-ed pieces do not
mention it, this assessment should carry the caveat that part
of the reason for the relative inaction of the opposition is
that the GOC is taking active steps to undermine it. Many
opposition groups are prone to dominance by individuals with
strong egos who do not work well together and are therefore
easy targets for manipulation by the Cuban security services.
The Agenda para la Transicion, which was launched with much
promise one year ago, is on the verge of breaking apart.
Oswaldo Paya's Dialogo Nacional has picked up some stray
dissidents, but has not taken any significant action in
months. Though dissidents have reacted very negatively to
the articles in the international press, the fact is that
they contain more than a grain of truth and it would have
been better if the criticism had been taken as a wake-up call.

2. (C) Without some true epiphany among the opposition
leadership and a lessening in official repression of its
activities, the traditional dissident movement is not likely
to supplant the Cuban government. The dissidents have, and
will continue to perform, a key role in acting as the
conscience of Cuba and deserve our support in that role. But
we will need to look elsewhere, including within the
government itself, to spot the most likely successors to the
Castro regime. End Summary.

Public Criticism Touches a Nerve in the Dissident Community
--------------------------------------------- --------------

3. (C) Two recent op-ed pieces that ran in the Miami press,
one by Ivette Leyva Martinez entitled "the Wall of
Dissidence," and the other by Fernando Ravsberg entitled
"Cuba, the Dissidents and the World," argued that the
dissident movement in Cuba has become as old and as out of
touch with the lives of ordinary Cubans as the regime itself.
The articles represented comprehensive and fairly balanced
critiques of the dissident movement, and appeared at a time
when the dissidents are under more pressure than ever from
the Cuban government. As such, they might have generated a
reform debate among the dissident leaders, but instead they
simply focused dissident frustration with the Cuban exile

4. (C) In general, we would make the same criticisms of most
of the official dissident movement that we have contact with
in Havana. In fairness to the dissidents we would add--as
the op-ed pieces did not--that being an anti-GOC activist in
Cuba is enormously difficult, and that any effort to move
beyond small meetings in private homes would almost certainly
be quickly and firmly repressed by the security services.
That said, we see very little evidence that the mainline
dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary
Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and
refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of
dissident personalities or agendas. Judging from the
reactions we have heard from our dissident contacts, the most
painful accusation made by the commentators was that the
dissidents are old and out of touch. Many of the leaders of
the dissident movement are indeed comparatively old.
Long-time dissidents XXXXXXXXXXXX are in their 60s.
Others such as Francisco Chaviano and wife Ana Aguililla,
Rene Gomez Manzano and Oswaldo Paya are well into their 50s.
They have little contact with younger Cubans and, to the
extent they have a message that is getting out, it does not
appeal to that segment of society. Their very valid focus on
the plight of friends and relatives being held as prisoners
of conscience, and on the government's failure to uphold
basic human rights, does not address the interests of Cubans
who are more concerned about having greater opportunities to
travel freely and live comfortably.

Dissident Movement Not a Coherent Whole

5. (C) Whether or not the opposition organizations have
agendas that can be made to appeal to a broad range of
interests on the island, they must first begin to achieve
some level of unity of purpose as an opposition, or at least
stop spending so much energy trying to undercut one another.
Despite claims that they represent "thousands of Cubans," we
see little evidence of such support, at least from the
admittedly limited vantage point we have in Havana. When we
question opposition leaders about their programs, we do not
see platforms designed to appeal to a broad cross section of
Cuban society. Rather, the greatest effort is directed at
obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers
and their key supporters living from day to day. One
political party organization told the COM quite openly and
frankly that it needed resources to pay salaries and
presented him with a budget in the hope that USINT would be
able to cover it. With seeking resources as a primary
concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit
or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus
preserving power and access to scarce resources.

6. (C) Younger individuals, including bloggers, musicians,
and performing and plastic artists do not belong to
identifiable organizations, though they are much better at
taking "rebellious" stands with greater popular appeal.
However, these individuals are still tightly controlled by
the GOC, eschew the label of "dissident," and do not seem to
aspire to any leadership role. The international fame gained
by a few, such has blogger Yoanny Sanchez, fuels further
jealousy among the traditional dissident organizations and
prevents them from working with the incipient networks that
the younger generations are beginning to form.

Internal Divisions and Limited View Hamper Activity
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (C) The current feud among the leadership of the Agenda
para la Transicion is a case in point. When the organization
was founded one year ago, it was ground breaking in that it
brought together an unusually broad array of dissidents. The
only significant groups missing were those of Oswaldo Paya,
who was invited to join but refused, and XXXXXXXXXXXX,
a group that is considered by
other dissidents to be a "tame" opposition organization that
is controlled by the GOC. However, after only a year in
which its signal accomplishment was presenting a prize to a
young graphic artist for designing a logo for the
organization, the Agenda para la Transicion seems close to
flying apart. The crux of the dispute appears to be a power
struggle XXXXXXXXXXXX and several followers on one side and XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX and some of
their followers on the other. But the main problem lies in
the fact that, while the concept of unifying the opposition
under one umbrella organization has a great deal of merit,
the members have not been able to overcome the challenge of
keeping several very strong and uncompromising personalities
working together. The splits that would be natural among the
members of such a group are aggravated by active measures
being taken by Cuban state security, which works to coopt
certain members and infiltrate the organization with its own
agents whose job it is to stoke any discord that exists.

8. (C) Oswaldo Paya and his supporters, who now include
dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, continue to be a
very sober and serious force. Paya has outlined great plans
to organize his "National Dialogue" in the same way he did
the Varela Project in the late 1990s with grassroots support
throughout the island, but there is little activity apparent.
The fact that 41 of the 54 prisoners of conscience arrested
in the Black Spring of 2003 and still being held are Varela
Project volunteers clearly weighs heavily on Paya.
Therefore, much of his focus has been on defense of human
rights and demands for the release of political prisoners.
While these are laudable goals that must be pressed forward,
as noted above, they have little resonance within Cuban
society and do not offer a political alternative to the
government of Cuba.

Incipient Political Parties in Cuba

9. (C) The COM met on March 31 with the leaders of several
self-professed political parties, most of them in some way
claiming to be a successor to the old Cuban Liberal Party.
These individuals at least claim to have political
objectives. Each of the groups presented a platform, all of
which were very similar. But they were also quite
impressive, attacking tough issues like constitutional
reform, the status of the armed forces and security forces,
and domestic and international economic policy. However,
when the COM asked representatives of each group to explain
how they would appeal to the Cuban public at large if there
were open national elections tomorrow, none had a good
answer, and it was apparent that they had not given a great
deal of thought to that possibility. The groups expressed
their thanks to USINT for bringing them together in such a
forum, and seemed prepared to contemplate the function of
grassroots politics in their planning. There is as yet no
indication that there is any general movement in that
direction, however.

Relations with the Exile Community

10. (C) A consistent problem, and one that is becoming more
acute as the eventual end of the Castro brothers' regime
comes into sight, is the relationship between the on-island
opposition and the exile community. Even though much of
their resources continues to come from exile groups,
opposition members of all stripes complain that the intention
of the exiles is to undercut local opposition groups so that
they can move into power when the Castros leave. The
islanders accuse Miami and Madrid-based exiles of trying to
orchestrate their activities from afar, and of
misrepresenting their views to policy makers in Washington.
Ironically, the "exile community" in many cases includes
former dissidents who only just recently were able to get off
the island. Their closeness to the remaining dissidents on
the island does not appear to keep them in the latter's good
graces. Instead, they are almost immediately lumped into the
"them" that defines the exile community for the on-island


11. (C) COMMENT: Various dissident leaders have maintained
their focus on specific issues like treatment of political
prisoners, and such work is valuable and worthwhile. This is
especially true of groups like the Damas de Blanco, whose
very narrow focus on the plight of their imprisoned family
members has made it one of the most effective organizations
on the island. It is the dissident movement that holds the
GOC accountable for its violations of basic human and civil
rights. From our standpoint, however, there are few if any
dissidents who have a political vision that could be applied
to future governance. Though the dissidents will not
acknowledge it, they are not widely known in Cuba outside the
foreign diplomatic and press corps. A key factor that
contributes to this is the GOC's focused effort to keep
dissidents divided and unable to reach out to ordinary
Cubans. We have no doubt that, as alleged, the dissident
movement is heavily penetrated by state security. This
penetration allows the government to play on the egos and
personal feuds that are normal in any society, and exacerbate
the divisions that would exist naturally among the
dissidents. Unless the GOC relaxes its suppression of
opposition organizations, and the dissidents themselves
become more capable of cooperative behavior, it is unlikely
that they will play any significant role in whatever
government succeeds the Castro brothers. Nevertheless, we
should continue to support the good work being done by the
dissident movement in promoting observation of
internationally recognized human rights and making public the
plight of political prisoners.

12. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: We believe it is the younger
generation of "non-traditional dissidents," such as Yoanny
Sanchez, that is likely to have a greater long term impact on
post-Castro Cuba. However, the most likely immediate
successors to the Castro regime will probably come from
within the middle ranks of the government itself. We do not
know yet who might eventually rise to leadership positions in
place of the old guard from within the government. The recent
purge of younger officials like former Vice President Lage
and former Foreign Minister Perez Roque must have given pause
to any in that cadre who had considered thinking out loud
about the future. Still, we believe we must try to expand
our contacts within Cuban society on leadership and democracy
initiatives as broadly as possible. We also must continue to
open up Cuba to the information age through measures such as
those announced on April 13, to facilitate and encourage the
younger generations of Cubans seeking greater freedom and
opportunity. End Comment

Note: This cable was first published in El Pais.

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