Cuba: Pressure for Change

  • Author: Marian Marshrons
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    1 September 1993


Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a number of Cuba analysts have predicted the fall of the present Government of Cuba. However, while the economic situation in Cuba has seriously deteriorated over the past two years, there are few signs that the government is under immediate threat from either within or without. Though prepared to initiate what could be far-reaching economic reforms, the government is unwilling to make radical transformations on the political front which could bring about change from within. At present, President Fidel Castro continues to appear to be in complete control. One analyst regards the President as the "principal obstacle to democratic political change in Cuba" [1]

What would happen if for some reason President Castro was no longer in charge? What possible scenarios might initiate his departure and what effect would this have on the potential movement of peoples?


President Castro at only 67 years of age, has often been at the centre of rumours that his health is deteriorating. There are, however, no visible signs of this being the case. If in fact his health were to deteriorat rapidly and there were no major upheaval, in all likelihood at present it would be his brother, Raúl Castro, who is currently First Vice-President of the Council of State and Minister of the Armed Forces, who would replace Fidel Castro. Alternatively, he could step down either in favour of some carefully-groomed successor or as the result of some form of democratic elections (though this seems unlikely). He could also be removed in a coup or in the course of civil strife, possibly involving the participation of outside forces.

Dr. Clifford Griffin, Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University, writing just before the demise of the Soviet Union, believed that a popular uprising in Cuba is unlikely given the extent of control exercised by the state security apparatus[2] He considers, however, that a military coup remains a possibility given lingering displeasure over the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa S nchez in 1990. He believes that the course of action followed in 1991 [and still apparently being followed in 1993] - i.e. attempting to marry socialism and capitalism in a relationship in which the Cuban state remains all powerful and maintains tight political control -will result in the eventual transition to a mixed economy and that "once the aging revolutionary departs the scene, the transition process will generate its own momentum"[3]

Many, however, fear a violent upheaval, whether President Castro remains as Head of State or not. Some dissidents inside Cuba are anxious to avoid such an outcome and see dialogue between the opposition and the government as the only way to avoid it. Leading Havana-based dissident Elizardo S nchez said last year that the great majority of Cuban people want a change to a more open political system but they do not want to see any bloodshed. "There is only one way the transition can begin without bloodshed, and that is if Fidel Castro initiates it. Those who say they want to see peaceful reform in Cuba without Mr Castro are ignoring harsh reality"[4] The Archbishop of Havana, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes has pointed out that most Cuban families include government supporters, opponents and exiles, and asked rhetorically, "how could these people possibly wish for a violent outcome?"[5] However, Le Monde Diplomatique in its February 1993 edition pointed to the inclusion of a new article in the revised 1992 Constitution which has received little attention. Article 3 states that all citizens have the right to fight by any means, including, if there is no other recourse, armed struggle, against anyone who tries to overthrow the political, social and economic order established by [the] Constitution. The author believes this new measure to be highly significant and predicts that, whatever reforms or concessions are made necessary by the extreme gravity of the economic crisis, there can be no mistake: Cuba is no Nicaragua and there will be no "velvet revolution"[6]

US Government officials have also expressed concern that the outcome might be bloody. A State Department official, speaking in October 1992, said that it seemed inevitable that change would come in Cuba in a relatively short time. "It may not be days or weeks or months but it is coming. And we are really concerned about the prospect of a violent end which would be in nobody's interest and could create serious regional problems." He added that President Castro still presided over an efficient police state. The security system has been purged and streamlined in the past two years and "people are loath to get out of line because the consequences may be severe"[7] While some Cuban exiles would still like to see direct armed intervention by the US, this does not seem a likely course of action in present circumstances. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher recently assured Cubans that they need not fear an invasion[8] There can be no doubt, however, that any change in US Government policy towards Cuba could be crucial in influencing future developments. In February 1993, Raúl Castro accused the United States of trying to strangle Cuba through hunger and said that the US Government aim was to create the conditions for a humanitarian military intervention. In an apparent reference to the US Government's military attacks against Iraq, he warned that Cuba would resist US or UN troops at bayonet point if they ever dared to intervene in Cuba[9] This may prove to be correct if the New York Times correct in its assertion that "over the years the Cuban Government has distributed millions of arms to the people's militia and defence forces; if resentments spill over, the island will plunge into chaos"[10]

Whether the threat comes from within Cuba or from outside, through Cuban exiles or through direct US Government's intervention, the present Cuban Government - certainly as long as Fidel Castro remains President - is unlikely to give up without a struggle.


3.1 The Present Government

Cuba analysts tend to divide the present administration into two or three different groups. Andrés Oppenheimer, in "Castro's Final Hour", defines them as either reformers or hardliners. Jean-François Fogel and Bertrand Rosenthal in their book "Fin de Siglo en La Habana" ("The End of the Century in Havana") make three classifications: the "Old Guard", the "raulistas" and the "new generations"[11]

Saul Landau, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and a frequent visitor to Cuba over the last three decades, visited Cuba in mid-1992. He found loyal government supporters frustrated with the situation and divided in their attitude to President Castro. One loyal supporter expressed his concern by saying that "a privileged military caste without political imagination, led by Raúl Castro... waits in the wings. With them are the apparatchiks and technocrats who form the loyal crowds at speeches, the cadres willing to undertake the new tasks so as to better their careers. Unlike the guerrilla warriors from the Sierra days, the new crowd has never known suffering or sacrifice. They are similar to the opportunists of Eastern Europe who one day were communists and the next business entrepreneurs." However, he also pointed out that there are many thousands of dedicated communists who did not take advantage of their powerful positions to aggrandize themselves[12]

3.1.1 The Military

Raúl Castro, who is five years younger than his brother, has always been seen as a hardliner and many of the most important figures within the régime are his protégés, such as General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, appointed as Minister of the Interior after the execution of General Ochoa Sanchez and recently made a Vice-President of the Council of State, and two members of the "Old Guard", José Ramón Machado Ventura, one of the leaders of the Communist Party and a Vice-President of the Council of State, and José Ramón Balaguer, former Cuban Ambassador in Moscow and now responsible for ideology and international affairs in the Communist Party. Foreign observers see the "raulistas" as a power broker within the ranks of the Revolution.

According to Andrés Oppenheimer, prior to the General Ochoa Sanchez's execution, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), headed by Raúl Castro, and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), then headed by José Abrantes, had been rival services, whose functions overlapped and whose employees were deeply suspicious of each other. Raúl Castro was said to have become increasingly jealous of the growing power of MININT, which he considered to be corrupt and to have been infiltrated by US intelligence, and he repeatedly asked President Castro to put it in its place. In 1989, MINFAR, which includes the army, navy and air force, had 300,000 members while MININT, which is in charge of the National Police, the Department of State Security, the Special Troops, the Frontier Guard Service and the fire brigade, had 83,000 members. The armed forces were responsible for protecting the country from threats from abroad while the Interior Ministry was in charge of law enforcement within the country and counter-espionage. Over the years the police and intelligence branches of MININT had become a parallel army shrouded in secrecy. They had close contacts abroad and were able to travel extensively, thus enabling them to accumulate dollars. The armed forces, on the other hand, did not on the whole have such access to foreign travel or dollars and Raúl Castro was unable to equal Abrantes' generosity with his people[13]

Oppenheimer's analysis of the events leading up to the execution in 1989 of four senior government officials, two from MININT and two from MINFAR, including "Heroe of the Revolution" General Arnaldo Ochoa S nchez, all of whom were labeled as traitors, ostensibly for their involvement in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, attributes the real motives for this action to the desire of Raúl Castro to put MININT in their place and to stifle criticism of his brother within both MININT and MINFAR, as well as to eliminate General Ochoa whom he and others saw as a threat to President Castro[14] In a separate trial later that year, General Abrantes and several other senior MININT officials were also found guilty of corruption (Abrantes died in detention in January 1991). As a result of this purge, Raúl Castro was able to gain effective control of MININT by installing MINFAR General Colomé Ibarra as Minister of the Interior[15] In 1990 and 1991, a large number of officers from the Ejército Occidental, said to be Cuba's most powerful military force and amongst whom General Ochoa enjoyed tremendous popularity, were retired. An internal review of "general problems of military discipline in the armed forces" was also made. Dr Griffin believes it conceivable that this was an attempt to extirpate those most likely to initiate a putsch during the Ochoa crisis[16]

While admitting that Raúl Castro is unlikely to participate in a coup against his own brother, at least one observer believes that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that other military commanders are fed up, especially since General Ochoa's execution. According to this source, the slogan that went round the barracks at that time was "to save the revolution it is necessary to sacrifice Fidel and Raúl", apparently based on the belief that the great successes of the revolution - health and education - ran the risk of President disappearing because of Castro's insistence on maintaining a system incapable of generating the necessary wealth to keep them going. Their justification for eliminating the Castro brothers would be that they were getting rid of those who are standing in the way of the people's happiness[17] In a subsequent newspaper article, the same author, reiterated his belief that President Castro could be removed by force by his own military if he does not initiate democratic change. If this happened, he thought that the process of change would still take place but in very tense and confused circumstances[18]

3.1.2 The "New Generations"

The "New Generations" are headed by Carlos Lage D vila (41), in charge of the economy and possibly "the most important man in Cuba after Fidel [Castro] and his brother Raúl"[19]19, and Roberto Robaína Gonz lez (36), recently made Minister of Foreign Affairs, both very much seen as "Fidel's men"[20] Also influential are Felipe Pérez Roque (28), who serves as President Castro's informal chief of staff, and Abel Prieto (42), member of the Council of State and, among others, head of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union. According to Time magazine, if asked outright if they are Marxists, they admit that the definition is undergoing refinement. "They embrace a kind of fuzzy "New Age Marxism". The word communism has disappeared from their vocabulary, but the idea of profit-making capitalist bosses is still repugnant to them. They are nationalist first, ideologues second"[21] A Communist Party insider described Robaina and Lage as Castro's natural inheritors. "They realize they will have to open Cuba, but they want to be in power before they negotiate an opening." A Havana businessman said that the new generations, described by Time as yummies (young upwardly mobile Marxists), were "Marxists now, but they'll be big capitalists when the time comes"[22]

Andrés Oppenheimer believes that the new generation of Communist Party leaders, such as Lage, Robaina and Prieto, are intelligent and observant people who do not live in an ivory tower[23] They are known to have supported plans to separate the powers of government, bring back the free peasant markets and give greater freedom to the media[24] Part of the reason they prefer to stick with Fidel Castro is, in Oppenheimer's view, their almost blind admiration for the man who, they remind him, has proven to be right when many around him disagreed. Maybe his political instinct will save them from this, the worst crisis so far. They also share the general fear that the death of F.Castro will lead to a bloodbath. They believe that if they leave the government, the hierarchy will remain dominated by the hardliners of President Castro's generation and that Machado Ventura's administrative apparatus would remain in sole charge of the Party. This would mean that the transition would be more traumatic and bloody. Oppenheimer claims that some of the young leaders he spoke to confided to him in private that they would like a political opening that would turn Cuba into a Mexico-style system, based on a strong left party, but respecting civil liberties and opening up to private initiative. They believe that Fidel Castro's health and education programmes, as well as his heroic defence of nationalist values, have promoted sufficient support for the revolution to give them the necessary votes to change into a viable political party within a free society. They had hoped that the Fourth Party Congress in October 1991 was going to lead to a small political opening which would have permitted an orderly transition process but instead F.Castro turned, in the moment of crisis, to a personality cult, and according to some, lost touch with reality[25]

Since then, they alleged, no one had dared to contradict him. According to Oppenheimer, unless President Castro makes major reforms soon, the Cuban Revolution has little chance of surviving him. He could still appeal to reformers within the party and moderate human rights leaders, such as Gustavo Arcos and Elizardo S nchez, to help carry out a peaceful transition to democratic socialism but time is running out. He believes that Fidel Castro can still prolong his final hour for a few months or years but that his socialist dream is condemned. He has shut the door to a transition that would have kept alive the gains of the revolution and instead opened the way for a radical reaction against everything he has stood for.[26]

Following the 1993 elections, more than half of the 31 members of the Council of State were changed. Several of the "historical figures" of the Revolution who had been around since the beginning were retired while a new generation of "under-45s" was reaffirmed. Although only 10 per cent of the Cuban population are members of the Communist Party, all important political leaders are members though that is not the case for all members of the National Assembly of Popular Power. The weakness of the Parliament is evident in the face of the power of the party. The election of Ricardo Alarcón as President of the Assembly is seen by some as an attempt to try to balance the situation and give it more teeth. There are also said to be plans of discussing legislation to give the organs of Popular Power a stronger role (Proceso, 22 March 1993).

3.2 The Internal Opposition

On 13 January 1993, The New York Times stated that

"Mr. Castro has reduced the opposition to an array of small and mostly timid groups that struggle with one another almost as much as they do with the Government. One of their main problems, dissidents say, is that their sympathizers are so occupied trying to survive that they have little energy left for politics. More than ever, perhaps, Mr Castro also benefits from the fact that his most ardent opponents are in exile. It is a reflection of the sense of powerlessness that has taken hold of many Cubans that some have begun looking to the eventual death of Mr Castro... as one of the most likely prospects for political change"[27]

According to Amnesty International, there are a number of small unofficial groupings of varying tendencies, some overtly advocating general political change and others concerned more specifically with respect for religious, trade union or general human rights. None have received official recognition from the Cuban authorities, despite having requested such recognition. As of the end of 1991, according to government figures, there were approximately 50 such groups in the country, comprising some 1,000 members. The activities of such groups have so far been largely peaceful and most have consistently stressed their ooposition to the use of violence to bring about their aims. Despite this, many members of such groups are serving or have served prison sentences for offences such as "enemy propaganda", "disrespect", "illegal association", "clandestine printing" and "rebellion"[28]

Freedom House, a New York-based human rights organization, reports that there could be as many as one hundred human rights and dissident groups in Cuba. Many of the groups have only a handful of members, and some dissidents belong to several groups. The factions do not always get along. Their political orientations range from left to far right, and their strategies for bringing change to Cuba vary. Analysts say that, despite their small membership and occasional rivalry, what is noteworthy about these groups is the simple existence of diverse voices competing to be heard and to take part in shaping Cuba's future. Most have a relatively small membership, some because of fears of government reprisals and some by choice, because they fear being infiltrated by security agents. Several "activists" have already revealed themselves as government infiltrators. Cracks have appeared in a few dissident organizations as exile groups tried to commandeer political debate. Others are splitting as their leaders try to position themselves to become political players in a transition to a post-Castro regime [29]

There are generally two tendencies among the opposition groups: those who are prepared to negotiate with the Castro government and those who are not. The four most well-known groups are probably: the Corriente Socialista Democr tica, the Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos and the Movimiento Cristiano "Liberación", who are in the first camp, and the Coalición Democr tica Cubana, who are in the second. As regards personalities within the internal dissident movement who might be in a position to lead opposition to Fidel Castro and/or the government controlled by the Communist party, the most well-known, at least abroad, are Gustavo Arcos Bergnes and Elizardo S nchez Santa Cruz of whom details are provided below.

i)          Corriente Socialista Democr tica (CSD)
Founded in late 1991, the CSD (Democratic Socialist Current) is a small group of 23 people, ranging from construction workers to intellectuals, whose goals are first to establish democracy in Cuba and then institute a socialist government [30] Their programme calls, among other things, for the setting up of a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; an amnesty for all those imprisoned for crimes against the State; free and direct elections; and a mixed economy[31]

Among its most prominent members are Vladimiro Roca, a former government official until January 1992 and son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, and Elizardo S nchez Santa Cruz, the President of the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and a former political prisoner. During 1992 and early 1993, several members of the CSD were beaten up and/or detained for short periods. However, very unusually for known dissidents, in mid-1993 both S nchez and the CSD's president, former university professor Rolando Prats, were allowed to travel outside of Cuba for several months and have not held back from criticizing the Cuban government and putting forward their own ideas while at the same time strongly condemning the US Government embargo. In an interview with a French journalist, Prats emphasized the necessity to get beyond the present polarisation that exists between the pro-Castro and anti-Castro camps, and for the latter to admit that those who define themselves as socialists and who do not want to become a US dependency should have a place in the Cuban society of the future. He believes that a peaceful transition accompanied by a lifting of the US embargo is the only remaining gentle way out for Fidel Castro. The alternative would be the bloodbath dreaded by all the dissident groups in Havana [32] S nchez believes that "if Fidel Castro can be persuaded to start the transition process, in time it would take on a momentum of its own and he would become obsolete". He goes on to say that by lifting the embargo and improving Cuba's living standard, "the US could be instrumental in creating a political climate more conducive to gradual democratization" [33]

ii) Movimiento Cristiano "Liberación"
The Movimiento Cristiano "Liberación" (Christian "Liberation" Movement) is headed by Osvaldo Pay Sardiñas. Over the past three years he has been collecting signatures for a petition to the National Assembly calling for a plebiscite on constitutional reform. According to Cuban law, 10,000 signatures are required before the National Assembly can consider such a request. As a result of these activities, he and other members of the group have regularly suffered harassment from the authorities, including short-term arrest and, in at least three cases, conviction on charges of "enemy propaganda" [34] In July 1993, he presented a programme for peaceful transition to the National Assembly following which he and other members of the group were warned to stop their activities. In a recent statement, he announced his intention to continue collecting signatures for the petition. He said that peaceful change was possible and called on all Cubans to ask for it without violence or confrontations [35]

iii) Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos (CCPDH)
The Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos (CCPDH), or Cuban Committee for Human Rights, was set up by Ricardo Bofill Pagés in 1976, now President in-exile in Miami, while he was imprisoned. It is led inside Cuba by Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, Secretary-General of the group, who supported the Cuban Revolution and was a member of the Castro administration in the early years, eventually becoming Ambassador to Belgium. He subsequently broke with the government and served two prison terms, one for political reasons and one for trying to leave the country illegally. The CCPDH has consistently dissociated the group from the use of violence to achieve political change in Cuba and has called for dialogue with the authorities[36] The CCPDH has branches in many parts of the country and is active within the prisons. Numerous CCPDH members, including Arcos' brother, Sebasti n Arcos Bergnes, Vice-President of the group, were arrested during 1992, many of whom are currently serving prison sentences, mainly for "enemy propaganda"[37]

iv) Coalición Democrática Cubana
The Coalición Democr tica Cubana, or Cuban Democratic Coalition, headed by Angela Herrera, is a coalition of 34 unofficial groups, including three led by her and two of her children, who have strong links with the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) in Miami. They are opposed to dialogue with the Cuban Government[38] Several members of groups associated with the Coalition are currently serving prison sentences for "enemy propaganda" and other non-violent offences[39] Although the Cuban authorities allege that because of their links with CANF, they are intent on the overthrow of the government by any means, there is little evidence that such groups have engaged so far in other than propaganda activities against the government. None of the leading members of these groups are as well-known either inside or outside Cuba are the leaders of the moderate opposition.

3.3 The Exiled Cuban Community

There are over a million Cuban exiles living in the United States, the majority in Florida. According to Envío, the immense majority, while united by a visceral anti-communism and a desire for the Cuban government to fall, would do nothing to make it happen and, if it did, would probably not go back "because their roots are sunk so deeply in US soil". There are a large number of Cuban exile organizations, some of whom are limited only [40] (Jan.-Febr.1992) to apolitical areas of concern, believing that those inside Cuba are the ones who should resolve the political problem. However, there are a number of other groups who try to influence developments from outside. Furthest to the right, and economically and politically the most powerful, is the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), headed by Jorge Mas Canosa. Others include Cuba Independiente y Democr tica (CID), headed by Hubert Matos, and the Plataforma Democr tica Cubana, an alliance of liberals, christian democrats and social democrats, whose main spokesperson is Carlos Alberto Montaner, who lives in Spain. All three groups have supporters inside Cuba[41]

There are also at least two US-based groups, Alpha 66 and the Commandos L, who overtly advocate military intervention. Although they have mounted occasional small-scale attacks on the island over the years, they do not appear to have widespread support, even in Miami. It seems unlikely that they would play a significant role in future developments in Cuba but it is always possible that some dramatic action perpetrated by them could have further repercussions within the island and could serve as justification on the part of the authorities for increased repression, as happened, for example, with the execution of Eduardo Díaz Betancourt in January 1992. He and two other alleged members of the Commandos L were captured entering Cuba illegally with the apparent intention of carrying out sabotage attacks and terrorist actions[42]

i) Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF)
CANF was set up in 1980 and its initial objective was to exercise control over the dissident community of Miami, both politically and economically, which it has succeeded in doing [43] The Foundation's position is essentially that any pressure is valid to bring down the present government and that there can be no deal with President Castro. A violent overthrow of the revolution is not a price the Foundation is unwilling to pay. CANF's President, Jorge Mas Canosa, has called on foreign investors to put no money into Cuba and threatened to confiscate all enterprises with foreign capital "when the Castro government falls"[44]

There are several reports that document the atmosphere of violence and political repression in the city of Miami in recent years. According to Vladimir Ramírez, Director of the Florida Centre of Latin-American Studies, "the total control that Mas Canosa's Foundation has of 'legal' spaces, has done away with the need to silence or control those who do not agree with its ideas and opinions by assassinating them. Instead, it uses threats, coercion, economic strangulation and the law as mechanisms to prevent groups with different positions from springing up"[45] But this does not mean that murder and physical violence are not resorted to if necessary, as they were in earlier years. In 1990, a New York weekly published what was said to be a secret document signed by Jorge Mas Canosa. The document contained plans for the control of the exile population in the lead-up to the fall of Castro. The plans were said to include the elimination of rightwing Cuban exiles, including Huber Matos, if they did not support the Foundation[46] A 1992 report by Americas Watch also documents numerous incidents of intimidation of dissenting viewpoints within the Miami exile community[47]

CANF has founded Misión Martí, its version of the Peace Corps, with missionaries trained on how to manage post-Castro Cuba for capitalism. Mas Canosa is also collecting $25,000 each from businesspeople who want to be on the first ship to Havana "after the fall of Castro"[48]

Mas Canosa has denied that he is running for President of Cuba but says he is not going to give up his right to run. However, former friend and co-creator of the Foundation, Raul Masvidal, who left as a result of a leadership dispute several years ago, warns that Mas Canosa has always had a well-established agenda of his own. "He is on a quest to become the future dictator of Cuba. He is a monster in the making"[49] Oppenheimer says in his book that the majority of the Foundation leaders he spoke to talked as if the group was a government in exile preparing to take over the reins of the country once President Castro is no longer in power and that some influential North Americans were encouraging them to act in that way (1992, 332) Within Cuba, Oppenheimer found that most people he spoke to, including many leading dissidents, viewed the Foundation with apprehension and considered them too right-wing and too pro-American[50]

Following the election of Bill Clinton, CANF successfully campaigned against the nomination of Afro-Cuban Mario Baeza to be responsible for Latin-American affairs. This caused New York Democratic Representative Charles Rangel to urge President Clinton "to send a clear message that right-wing, racist tactics will not be allowed to determine whom the President chooses to advise him on a vital area of foreign and economic policy"[51] This incident and others, together with the Cuban exile community's mounting concern for the plight of their relatives suffering the effects of the US embargo, do appear to be leading to a decline in CANF's support. "A recent surge in anti-Foundation groups headed by other Cuban-Americans is a clear sign that many are not satisfied with Mas Canosa's policy"[52] One such new group is called Cambio Cubano, or Cuban Change, and is led by Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, a former guerrilla commander and Cuban political prisoner, who favours dialogue with Havana and opposes tightening the economic embargo[53]

ii) Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID)
CID, which, according to the Envío article, can be positioned between CANF and the Platform, has its own radio station "La Voz del CID" which can be picked up in Cuba. It advocates neither armed struggle nor negotiating with Fidel Castro, favouring instead, according to Americas Watch, "popular revolt backed by reformist elements in the armed forces"[54] Its leader, Hubert Matos, fought in the Cuban Revolution and was initially head of the army in Camagüey after the Revolution. In 1959, he resigned from his post over what he saw as communist infiltration. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and accused of conspiring to overthrow the government[55] He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment[56] He is well known in Cuba and still seen as a hero by some.

iii) Plataforma Democrática Cubana
Set up in 1990, the Cuban Democratic Platform holds that Cuba's problems must be resolved with strong pressures leading to negotiations, and would even talk with Fidel Castro if he was willing to do so. It insists on "pluralist and supervised elections" and "democratic changes"[57] An alliance of liberals, Christian democrats and social democrats, it is supported inside the country by groups belonging to the Concertación Democr tica Cubana[58]58, as well as by the Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos[59] In December 1992, Carlos Alberto Montaner, President of the Unión Liberal Cubana, Cuban Liberal Union, one of the groups that make up the Platform, advocated dialogue between Fidel Castro and the internal opposition, saying that it was not the time to overthrow the government by violent means since the government is much stronger than the opposition. If Fidel Castro continued to refuse dialogue with the opposition, he would be inviting violence. In his opinion, a civil war in Cuba would convert the island into another Iraq and lead to possible intervention by not only the USA but the whole international community[60]

3.4 The Cuban People

The Envío article from January 1992 claimed that at that time the immense majority of Cubans perceived the "special period [in time of peace]" and the current crisis not as a "failure of socialism" but as a moment in which everything bad done up to then had to be rectified, in particular the bureaucracy, waste and apathetic work styles. No one criticized the essence of the system, which is "national sovereignty and equality and social justice for all". There was a very generalized sense among Cubans of their own responsibility in the crisis and that the ball was in their court. They wanted to run with it, rather than having someone else do it for them. Some 50% of the population are less than 30 years old and have therefore only known post-revolutionary Cuba. "A sector of the youth quite ingenuously believes that the changes they want and expect for Cuba 'so that this functions better' are also what the United States and other countries want for Cuba. A largely isolated island and socialism, with its quota of inherent paternalism, have generated this dangerous political ingenuousness[61]

The same article points out that to open up real political debate in the "special period" would be risky. "The social control necessary to confront the period successfully could be lost, not so much because irreconcilable disagreements about essential issues could surface but because of inexperience in debating. But the risk of backing off of it, of postponing it, is just as great and for the same reason: the crisis could be faced unsuccessfully. The current maturity of the Cuban people and their revolutionary process is the best possible basis for taking the risk with confidence"[62]

In mid-1993, it looks as though the point at which this might have been done successfully is probably past. There are increasing signs that the dire economic situation has pushed the patience of the Cuban people to a limit. Power cuts of up to twelve hours in Havana and up to twenty hours elsewhere are paralyzing the country and many incidents of social unrest, including small and apparently spontaneous anti-government protests, were reported in July and August [63] There is, however, so far little evidence that such expressions of discontent are other than spontaneous. The authorities have responded by urging official citizens' vigilante groups, known as Rapid Reaction Detachments (or Rapid Response Brigades), to move firmly against criminals and delinquents who are "the roots of counter-revolution"[64] In late 1991 and early 1992, such brigades were responsible for numerous incidents of serious harassment of human rights activists and dissidents[65]

3.5 Other Governments

Several foreign governments could play a key role in influencing the future direction of Cuba. First and foremost there is the United States which, despite its continued public hardline position, has its own reasons for wanting to avoid a violent change in Cuba, not least the likelihood of a further influx of refugees into Florida. Although the US administration seems increasingly willing to negotiate matters of mutual concern, such as immigration issues and telephone links, it is uncertain how far the US Government is prepared to go without further concessions, particularly of a political nature, from the Cuban Government. The Cuban Government, on the other hand, is so desperate to find a way out of the current crisis that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Robaina, said recently that "his government is willing to have a dialogue with the United States and to initiate a process that could lead to the normalization of relations before Washington lifts the blockade imposed on the island 32 years ago"[66] A bill is at present before the US Congress calling on the US Government to promote financial, educational and humanitarian assistance to a transitional government which excludes Fidel and Raúl Castro and their subordinates, which frees political prisoners, and organizes elections to be carried out under international supervision[67] While in the past it appeared as though successive US administrations would support Jorge Mas Canosa as a future leader of Cuba, it is no longer apparent that such support is unconditional or that it would necessarily have the approval of even the exiled Cuban community or the Cuban public at large.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro has turned increasingly to Latin American and Spanish political leaders for support. Although they have criticized him and urged both political and economic change in Cuba, he has developed close links particularly with President Felipe Gonz lez of Spain and President César Gaviria of Colombia. Although there are signs that Fidel Castro may be willing to follow some of their advice on economic issues, they so far appear to have had little success in persuading him to institute any political reforms. However, Le Monde, quoting US secret service sources, alleged that Spain had proposed to Fidel Castro the creation of a "Committee for Change" composed of, among others, Gustavo Arcos, Elizardo S nchez and Osvaldo Pay (dissidents) and Carlos Alberto Montaner, Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo and Ignacio Rasco (exiles). Castro is said to have responded that he alone is in a position to direct change and avoid a civil war[68] Spanish diplomatic sources subsequently denied that Spain had made any such proposal[69]


Any predictions regarding possible changes in Cuba remain highly speculative. Fidel Castro has the ability and resources to hold on to power as long as he has the backing of the party and the army, though it is becoming increasingly doubtful whether he retains popular support. As long as he remains head of state and there is no political opening or improvement in the economic situation, the flow of refugees from the island is unlikely to stop; indeed if the economic situation continues to deteriorate, as appears likely, and increasingly repressive political measures are adopted, to contain the crisis that flow is likely to increase, still following the pattern that has emerged until now, i.e. illegal escapes by sea to the USA or other Caribbean countries or via the US Naval Base at Guant namo. More defections of Cubans who are able to travel are also likely, as well as attempts to enter foreign embassies in Havana, though these are heavily guarded. At present, the tendency appears for the authorities to allow many of those who want to leave to do so as long as they have visas for other countries. Some political prisoners are also being offered their freedom as long as they agree to leave the country.

Many people would probably continue to flee, at least initially, even if Fidel Castro were replaced by someone from within the administration or military, especially if any of the "hardliners" came to power. On the other hand, if the "new generations" were to take over, it is possible that this would lead to quite a swift political opening. However, such an event would probably lead to a period of instability during which many, no matter what side of the political spectrum they represent, might still consider it wise to flee.

If President Castro and/or the whole of the present administration were threatened by a popular uprising, military coup or intervention from abroad, we would be likely to see fierce resistance and severe represssion, at least at first. If the regime looked to be in serious danger, government officials, members of the military and senior Communist Party cadres would probably feel it necessary to flee. Those unable to leave before such an event occurs are unlikely to go to the United States, to which the majority of current refugees flee. The most likely destinations for such people in present circumstances would seem to be Spain and Colombia, as well as other Latin American and possibly Caribbean countries, if they are willing to take them.

If the Cuban administration agreed to some kind of temporary power-sharing arrangement with one or more members of the moderate internal opposition such as Gustavo Arcos or Elizardo S nchez, or if the latter somehow found themselves in power alone, the position of both of them has consistently been one of national reconciliation, even with the exiled community. In order for the moderates to oversee the transitional period peacefully, they would need the consent of the more radical opposition, particularly those in exile, who would unlikely want to participate in any power-sharing arrangement which included members of the present administration, however temporary. There would have to be the promise of a multiparty state and free elections within a short time span. Otherwise, the extreme right would likely try to subvert the process, which they may well try to do anyway. The present administration may not remain monolithic whether or not Fidel Castro is in the end forced to agree to participate in a transition process. Indeed, some party veterans will probably feel betrayed if he does so. Once the possibilities for dialogue are there, and especially once the exiled community gets the opportunity to return to Cuba with all the resources and political and business experience they have at their disposal, the more rightwing elements of the opposition will be well-placed to exploit the situation and influence the outcome. Judging from his record in Miami, the prospects for the human rights situation to improve if CANF President Jorge Mas Canosa achieves power in Cuba are not bright. As described earlier, CANF has frequently been accused of threatening and even physically attacking members of the moderate opposition for being prepared to negotiate with Castro. Consequently, if CANF supporters gained positions of power, not only members and supporters of the present government but also members of the moderate opposition may be at risk and may feel it necessary to flee.

Although the majority of Cubans, both in Cuba and in exile, almost certainly want whatever happens next to take place with as little violence as possible, it looks increasingly as though it will be those at the two opposing ends of the political spectrum who are likely to influence future developments in more ways than one unless the international community is able to except pressure on all those concerned to make compromises in order to avoid the disintegration of Cuban society.


Against the Current,

"Guevaraism or Democratic Revolutionary Socialism? Cuba and the Left Today - Review of Janette Habel's 'Cuba. The Revolution in Peril' (Verso, 1991)", Samuel Farber, June 1993 [GREENNET]


"Las 'recetas democr ticas' del exilio cubano", Florencio Campana, 11 December 1992 (unofficial translation)

Americas Watch,

"Cuba - 'Perfecting' the System of Control -Human Rights Violations in Castro's 34th Year - January 1992-February 1993", Vol. 5, No. 1, 25 February 1993

Americas Watch/The Fund for Free Expression,

"Dangerous Dialogue - Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami's Cuban Exile Community", Vol. 4, Issue 7, August 1992

Amnesty International,

"Cuba: The Human Rights Situation", AMR 25/07/90, December 1990


"Cuba: Silencing the Voices of Dissent", AMR 25/26/92, December 1992

Associated Press,

"US Congress dreams up laws to help Cuba 'after Castro's gone'", 28 July 1993 [GREENNET]

Caribbean Affairs,

January-March 1992, "Cuba: The Domino that refuses to fall. Can Castro survive the 'Special Period'?", Clifford E. Griffin


"Spain denies having proposed transition plan for Cuba", 23 August 1993 [GREENNET]

El Diario/La Prensa (New York City),

"Cuban Exile asks Fidel to Dialogue", 11 January 1993 [GREENNET]


"Spain proposes changes", 20 August 1993 [GREENNET]

El País,

"Cuba: Modelo para una posible transición pacífica", Carlos Alberto Montaner, 1 February 1993 (unofficial translation)


"Cuba dispuesta a negociar con EE UU antes de que acabe el bloqueo", 23 August 1993 (unofficial translation)


"Verano Negro en La Habana", Mauricio Vicent, 27 August 1993 (unofficial translation)


"Cuba: A Country Without", author not named, January-February 1992

Franqui, Carlos,

"Vida, aventuras y desastres de un hombre llamado Castro", Editorial Planeta, Barcelona, 1988 (unofficial translation)

Information Bureau for Human Rights Movements in Cuba,

"Reafirma el Movimiento Liberación la vía pacífica de lucha", Oswaldo Pay Sardiñas, 25 August 1993 (unofficial translation)

InterPress Service,

"Cuba: Once powerful Cuban Foundation faces decline", Sylvia Figueroa, 12 July 1993 [GREENNET]

Irish Times,

"Cuba - where the ice of the cold war has never thawed", David Shanks, 2 July 1993

Le Monde,

"Cuba et le "modèle chinois", 30 June 1993 (unofficial translation)


"La Troisième Voie de Rolando Prats", Martine Jacot, 2 July 1993 (unofficial translation)

Le Monde Diplomatique,

"Cuba, forteresse assiégée", Janette Habel, February 1993 (unofficial translation)

Montaner, Carlos Alberto,

"Víspera del Final (Fidel Castro y la Revolución Cubana)", Marymar Ediciones, Buenos Aires, 1993

Oppenheimer, Andrés,

"La Hora Final de Castro", Javier Vergara Editor S.A., Buenos Aires, 1992 (translated by Aníbal Leal, originally published in English as "Castro's Final Hour" by Simon & Schuster Inc)(unofficial translation)


"Quiénes son y dónde est n 'los hombres de Fidel'", Homero Campa, Mexico, 22 March 1993 (unofficial translation)

Proyecto de Programa Socialista Democr tica,

Consejo ad hoc de Redacción, Baguer and others, Havana, December 1991 - January 1993 (unofficial translation)


"US says Castro doomed, fears bloody overthrow", Alan Elsner, 18 October 1992


"Cuba would resist US or UN forces, Raúl Castro says", 2 February 1993


"Cuban authorities alert vigilante groups over crime", Pascal Fletcher, 29 August 1993

The Miami Herald,

"Cuba's woes embolden Castro foes - Rights groups' numbers surging", Mimi Whitefield, 29 August 1993

The New York Times,

"'Down with Fidel!' is heard in Cuba, but there is no sign yet of his fall", Tim Golden, 13 January 1993


"Let Castro lead the way", Elizardo S nchez, 26 August 1993

The Progressive,

"Is Fidel Washed Up?", Saul Landau, August 1992


"The Man who would oust Castro", Cathy Booth, 26 October 1992


"Here come the Yummies", Cathy Booth, 21 June 1993


[1] Against the Current, June 1993.

[2] Caribbean Affairs, January-March 1992

[3] Ibid.

[4] New York Times, 26 August 1993

[5] Le Monde, 30 June 1993.

[6] Le Monde Diplomatique, February 1993)

[7] Reuters, 18 October 1993

[8] Irish Times, 2 July 1993

[9] Reuters, 2 February 1993

[10] New York Times, 26 August 1993

[11] Proceso, 22 March 1993

[12] The Progressive, August 199 2

[13] Oppenheimer, 1992, 60-61

[14] Ibid., 71

[15] Ibid., 120



[17] Montaner, 1993, 223

[18] El País, 1 February 1993

[19] Time, 21 June 1993

[20] Proceso, 22 March 1993


[22] Ibid.

[23] Oppenheimer, 1992, 409.

[24] Ibid., 416.

[25] Ibid., 410-411.

[26] Ibid., 429-430.

[27] New York Times, 13 January 1993.

[28] Amnesty International, December 1992, 4.

[29] Miami Herald, 29 August 1993.

[30] Miami Herald, 29 August 1993.

[31] Proyecto de Programa Socialista Democr tica, 1991/92)

[32] Le Monde, 2 July 1993.


[34] Amnesty International, December 1992, 43.

[35] Information Bureau for Human Rights Movements in Cuba, 25 August 1993.

[36] Amnesty International, December 1990.


[38] Miami Herald, 29 August 1993.

[39] Americas Watch, February 1993, 14-15.



[42] Amnesty International, December 1992, 56.

[43] ALAI, 11 December 1992


[45] ALAI, 11 December 1992.




[49] Time, 26 October 1992.

[50] Ibid., 331.


[52] InterPress Service, 12 July 1993.

[53] Ibid..

[54] Americas Watch, August 1992, 16.

[55] Franqui, 1988, 147-148.

[56] Ibid., 157.

[57] Envío, Jan.-Feb. 1992.

[58] The Concertación Democr tica Cubana, Cuban Democratic Convergence, originally consisted of a number of organizations loosely grouped around Elizardo S nchez. However, it seems that leadership of the Convergence later got into the hands of CANF supporters. It is not clear whether it still exists as such at the time of writing. The El País article is believed to refer to the group as it was originally constituted.

[59] El País, 1 February 1993.

[60] El Diario/La Prensa, 11 January 1993.


[62] Ibid.

[63] El País, 27 August 1993.

[64] Reuters, 29 August 1993.


[66] El País, 23 August 1993.

[67] Associated Press, 28 July 1993.


[69] EFE, 23 August 1993.


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