A small taste of Arab spring in Cuba
Posted: 08/31/2011 1:00 AM
AN extraordinary event occurred in Havana last week. Four women staged a
brief protest against the Castro regime on the steps of the Capitol
building and a host of onlookers quickly gathered. The surprise came
when police showed up to arrest the protesters, members of the Rosa
Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, and the crowd suddenly erupted
with taunts and jeers.
Sueltalas, carajo! (Let them go, damn it!), yelled an angry bystander.
Others called the police shameless (descarados) and hurled epithets. The
crowd did not try to stop the detentions, but they had no qualms about
calling Castro's thugs by the names they richly deserved — bullies and
This is something new in Cuba. By the standards of, say, the Arab
Spring, the event may not seem like a lot. But by the standards of Cuba,
where tension and discontent with a half-century of dictatorship have
been unable to find a powerful voice, it represents a daring show of
defiance, all the more so because it was spontaneous.
It is virtually unprecedented for a random group of Cubans to take sides
with protesters, openly and fearlessly, when the police make a show of
force. The only acceptable role for the people in the Castro playbook is
to support the regime, do as they're told, and otherwise be quiet. No
defiance is tolerated.
Everyone in Cuba knows that departing from this script can bring the
state's wrath down on them.
Precisely because Castro's agents have perfected the police-state tactic
of nipping protest in the bud, any open manifestation usually comes to
nothing. The regime's durability is a testament to the effectiveness of
But if the onlookers this time were unwilling to join the protesters'
repeated cries of "liberty," they were quick to jump in verbally to
support the women's right to express themselves.
Most Cubans may be hesitant to join a protest, but they understand
intuitively that everyone has civil rights the state can't deny,
including the all-powerful right to voice their ideas openly. In Cuba,
where the communist government has robbed people of all their rights,
this development is something for the regime to fear.
Also important: The video shows many in the crowd holding up cellphones
to record the protest and arrests. As it has done on so many fronts, the
regime has been effective in limiting access to the Internet and other
technology, but it can't stop progress.
That's the reason American Alan Gross, who was delivering satellite
phone technology to the tiny Jewish community in Cuba, sits in a Cuban
jail. Technology is a threat to the dictatorship because it serves as a
venue for communication, and the state finds it impossible to impose
rigid control. What a nightmare for Fidel and Raul, because you know
what happens when people start talking to each other without Big Brother
listening in. Pretty soon they start getting wild notions about freedom
Cuba may be a long way from there. But maybe, 10 years after Pope John
Paul II told Cubans not to be afraid; they are finally finding their voice.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2011 A13