Is there any human capital for change in Cuba?

30/09/2015

In order to carry out any creative work, be it a company, a sports team, humanitarian work, scientific research or a political struggle, you will absolutely always need people ready to play out the specific roles of the project. Normally there are two ways to access the appropriate human capital. One is to choose the people who have the necessary knowledge. The second is to look for some basic conditions, such as health, talent, youth, and from there, invest in the training of the future leaders of the task.

In the case of the consolidation of the human capital needed to achieve a political change in Cuba, through a serious, responsible, competitive and credible Opposition, the search on both tracks is full of obstacles.

In this analysis I will try to outline at least an introductory look of the various factors involved when assessing the human factor in this completely unequal competition that is being waged in my country.

The first thing to establish is that we are talking about politics and therefore about people with skills to function in this field. For which we could summarize, at least mentally, the features we are looking for in a person who seeks to transform society through political participation. Incidentally, I would like to stress that I do not know of any other effective and nonviolent way to achieve this change.

In Cuba, no university programs offer a career that focuses on political science. Nor has there been, in over half a century, a visible practice of democratic action that allows, intuitively at least, some involvement in the codes and skills that characterize multiparty environments, featuring constant debates and the presentation of ideas and programs. So, above all, young people lack references in this matter.

With this I mean young people who want to carry out independent and alternative politics, different from the guidelines of the Communist Party, the sole legal party in the country. Because those who choose to portray the same model, offering their new faces to the defence of old ideas, have everything they may need to thrive in the art of manipulating, lying and censoring in the most elegant and polite possible manner, as only the Cuban government knows how to do.

That is why they have dozens of schools, at all levels, specialized in the ‘training of leaders.’ One of the most emblematic ones, due to its national and international character, is the famous ‘Ñico López,’ where it is said that several Latin American populist leaders, including the current President of Venezuela, studied.

Indeed, the Cuban Communist Party, since its inception, has given vital importance to the ‘training’ of its people. Especially those who represent the country anywhere in the world, no wonder they have been so successful in their international influence. And the miracle is to have achieved such influence with speeches that in no way whatsoever resemble the reality that is being lived deep in a country that few foreigners bother to visit.

On the other hand, whenever a college student expresses ideas that differ from the system's slogans, that student will be dishonourably expelled from school. The result of this discriminatory practice of young opponents is that many of them have no chance in the island to develop and acquire the political experience they need to compete on an equal footing with government representatives. A fact that the communist press constantly uses to show them as marginal, uneducated people, without principles or ideas, paid by foreign powers to ‘tarnish the image of Cuba.’ This generates a look from citizens that is halfway between rejection and shame.

The arrival of new technologies, though long overdue and still incipient in their impact in the country, has meant that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have seen and heard, without intermediaries, dissenting voices. So far, always through clandestine videos or texts spreading across the island from hand to hand. Thus beginning a process of empathy and monitoring that not only represents an opportunity but above all, a huge responsibility. Because every minute spent talking to a Cuban family is something exceptional where we must tear down 24 hours of daily and adverse propaganda in the official press, radio and television. This challenge implies the need for a very high commitment to constant improvement and updating.

While technology enabled a boost in this regard, the immigration reform implemented under President Raul Castro was the main driver enabling this learning process. Since February 2011, several international actors have been able to implement exchange programs, scholarships of solidarity and support to civil society and to the political opposition in Cuba, invisible until then, with few exceptions.

During the past four years, probably hundreds of Cuban citizens have benefitted from various exchange projects with academics, journalists, activists and politicians from different countries. However, several internal and external factors are probably responsible for the fact that this access to new knowledge and experience have not fully translated into greater influence within the country.

Internally, we can mention the instability and the weak organizational structure that characterizes the Opposition groups. A normal feature when they are forced to cope amid lawlessness and constant persecution, conditions that complicate the management of civic or political projects that require the active participation of citizens.

The Opposition cannot escape the phenomenon of emigration either, mainly to the US. Many participants in the courses or events organised abroad do not return to Cuba. Something which is extremely difficult to predict, the same thing happens with athletes, scientists, doctors, etc. . . So both the Opposition and the Government are constantly facing this crisis, the difference is that the ruling party has its own systems to continue educating the replacement of their active force.

From an external point of view, the vast majority of NGOs running the training programs of Cubans abroad are unable to operate in Cuba because the government denies them entry accusing them of ‘promoting subversion.’ Therefore, they cannot properly screen the people that will participate in the courses, and are thus forced to rely on the judgment of the leaders of the organizations known and trusted by operators. And very often indeed, the people sent by these leaders do not meet any of the skills needed to play a certain role, such as independent journalism, alternative audio-visual production, or political leadership. Having already invested a significant amount of resources, there's no choice but continue with the program, but the truth is that some managers end up losing a little respect for both the leaders and the members of certain groups and assume attitudes that they are not entitled to, designing and controlling (leading) practical strategies and actions of the organizations within Cuba. To the extent that in some cases, people who should carry out solidarity training programs, end up taking almost full control of the internal organizations.

This role distorts and rarefies even more the representative and connecting abilities of the opposition with the people, as all the communication carried out to coordinate every move is recorded by the Cuban State Security and fully exploited to produce all kinds of multimedia materials to feed the perennial campaign to discredit the opposition. This closes a vicious circle that has been tipping the balance in favour of the Government for over half a century.

Fortunately, some people who have received some kind of training, are doing a commendable job in Cuba through thick and thin, increasingly gaining more support and credibility, casting themselves as drivers of a new civil and political technology age. This fuels hope and demonstrates that progress is possible even in the worst circumstances, if commitment and knowledge manage to be successfully combined. I will mention three of these successful social enterprises just as an example, as there are several more that deserve to be recognized. One is the newspaper 14ymedio.com, run by Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar; also noteworthy is the video-reporting agency ‘En Caliente Prensa Libre’ headed by young Ignacio González; and the recently opened Centro de Estudios Convivencia, the first Cuban think tank, led by Dagoberto Valdes.

A deep and comprehensive analysis of this issue is vital so that all actors involved manage to improve their effectiveness and finally get the expected effect on the growth and professionalism of the civil society and the Opposition in Cuba. Essential issues to address the current context, marked by the progressive normalization of diplomatic relations between the Governments of the United States and Cuba, and the probable integration of the Cuban government to regional policy mechanisms like the OAS, and the advancement of dialogue with the European Union to end an already shaky Common Position.