Repression, persecution, intimidation and a timid signal of the regime’s “goodwill” in an attempt to alleviate the daily economic pressures weighing on Cubans. This is how Miguel Díaz-Canel reacts to the demonstrations of July 11, which surprised the Castro authorities and reminded the world that the island is ruled by a brutal dictatorship.
The Freedom Marches represented a crack in the structure of Communist power. However, the road to a democratic transition promises to be long. International pressure, better organized opposition and dissent among regime authorities are some of the factors highlighted by analysts interviewed by Gazeta do Povo for the success of the pro-freedom and pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
How does the Cuban regime maintain power?
Unlike the former Soviet republics, the Castros kept communism alive in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union, which until the late 1990s was a staunch supporter of the Cuban regime.
After the initial economic downturn, the Castro dictatorship sought other sources of income, which were mainly found in tourism; in military assistance to Venezuela, which in turn provided fuel; and send Cuban dollars abroad to family members on the island.
Also, one of Havana’s main sources of income is the export of health services, through programs like Mais Médicos – criticized by international organizations like Human Rights Watch, for violating the human rights of professionals sent to provide services outside of parents.
In the 60 years that it has been in power, the dictatorship has improved its methods of social control, making it impossible for an opposition to exist. The Cuban one-party system does not allow political dissent and acts to suppress movements against the regime.
The Cuban state security apparatus has a significant number of informants, ordinary citizens who monitor the activities of neighbors and report illegal actions, such as black market purchases, disobedience to Communist Party orders or participation in opposition movements.
The dictatorship also relies on the secret police for this control. The proportion of secret police officers in the Cuban population is estimated to be higher than that of the infamous Stasi, which operated in East Berlin.
“Cuba has developed, in 60 years, very powerful methods of espionage between peers”, explains Carmen Beatriz Fernández, political and academic consultant and professor at the University of Navarre (Spain). “It’s a mechanism inherited from the Soviet Union and East Germany. In Cuba, you couldn’t move a fly without a government official knowing.”
This model of social control “is likely to shield the Cuban regime from any form of impending collapse,” says Ryan C. Berg, a researcher at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington, DC. -United).
Prior to the July 11 protests, the social control system was very effective in curbing dissent before it became a “problem.” If anyone conspires or plans a protest, the regime’s intelligence services will know it long beforehand.
However, Carmen Fernández says the regime was surprised by the July 11 protests, which the social control apparatus could not control. The protests, being spontaneous, broke this system of domination, she said.
Can protests bring change?
Experts interviewed by Gazeta do Povo are cautious in their assessment of the possibility of changing the Cuban regime in the wake of the recent protests.
Despite the discontent of the population and the audacity of those who have taken to the streets, it is still too early to say whether there will be any political change in Cuba.
“Yes [os protestos] are the start of a diet change, I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone knows that, ”says Carlos Malamud, senior analyst for Latin America at the Elcano Royal Institute, a research group based in Madrid, Spain.
What is missing for the regime to fall?
For Malamud, the change will depend “on the capacity of the regime to maintain its ranks without major upheavals, without major internal contradictions”.
“As internal dissent begins to emerge, a different situation could begin”, explains the expert.
Instances of dissent within the Cuban government structure have been rare for 60 years, and so far there have been no major signs of dissent following recent protests.
The press first reported that Deputy Interior Minister Jesús Manuel Burón Tabit, who oversees police and security forces, resigned on July 14 due to excessive use of force against protesters. But soon after, the information was denied by the regime.
Although the resignation from the authority of the Interior Ministry was refused, internal dissensions were reported between the younger and older generations of the armed forces, sources told the Spanish daily ABC. But these cracks are unlikely to be enough to threaten the regime’s security, according to CSIS researchers.
In addition, the chances of change will also depend on the way in which the opposition manages to articulate itself in a movement more organized than the current one.
The Cuban opposition, in addition to being fragmented and decentralized, is also infiltrated by security forces and intelligence services, says Malamud. “This obviously makes it difficult to build a more coordinated movement in the future.”
Rafael Cox Alomar, professor of law at Harvard University, agrees: “Political opposition in Cuba appears to be largely fragmented, with no visible strategy or leadership – essential elements for long-term success,” Alomar said. at Harvard Law Today.
International pressure could also be a key factor for a democratic transition on the island. Although many Cubans living abroad are calling for US military intervention on the island, there is no political will for this to happen, as Democrat Bob Menéndez, president of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, there are other forms of international pressure, advocated by Cubans in exile, which could weaken the dictatorship. They cite the severing of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the end of the regime’s funding – mainly through agreements with companies controlled by the military -, aid to dissidents and those who fight for democracy, as well as the guarantee that Cubans on the island can access Internet and telephone services.
“The greatest international pressure has to do mainly with the economic question,” said Carmen Fernández, citing that unless a country comes to the aid of the regime, Cuba would be forced to open its economy.
Experts interviewed by Gazeta do Povo believe that it is very difficult for China, despite its support for Díaz-Canel, to act as the regime’s financier for geopolitical reasons, the presence of the Asian giant in Latin America being much more guided by company.
In the absence of a foreign “godfather” and possible sanctions against the regime and relations with the military, the economic figures in Cuba could increase popular outrage, leading the authorities to choose between a negotiated transition or a increased repression.
Finally, Fernández recalls that one of the factors that should most influence the future of the island is the way in which the people around the government, who benefit from the status quo – those who witnessed acts of support for the dictatorship, summoned to do so, will act in front of the demonstrations.
“They will ask themselves: what will happen to me, to my family. Whether the answer is imprisonment or death, they tend to side with the regime. This is why it is important that these people feel that there may be incentives for a transition. “, Concluded the Spanish analyst.