La oposición en Cuba mantiene su apuesta por la cultura y la no violencia

The civil service examination in Cuba maintains its commitment to culture and nonviolence.


28 | 12 | 2021


From exile, some voices warn, with little echo, that popular pressure alone will not be enough for political change on the island.

In the picture

Artist-led rally at the gates of the Cuban Ministry of Culture in November 2020 [Movimiento San Isidro].

As mass demonstrations against the regime have made their appearance in Cuba, the question arises as to whether such popular pressure will be enough to bring about a change in political model . This has not been the case in Venezuela, where there have been many mass marches in recent years, without the regime ceasing to exert its iron grip on society. The usual voices in Venezuela calling for an armed solution, pushed by the United States, have begun to be heard in the Cuban case, although only from exile in Florida: on the island, the effervescent opposition movements are committed to art and culture, and above all to non-violence.

The Cuban civil service examination has become more strategic, creative and empowered than ever. However, there are many who believe that their peaceful protests will not be enough to put an end to the Castro dictatorship once and for all.

This disagreement has been observed recently in the 'Miami Herald' (and its Spanish version, 'El Nuevo Herald'), the leading newspaper in South Florida, where the main nucleus of Cuban exiles resides. The paper published two very different opinion pieces in a period of four days. In one article published on 26 November, Cuban-American academic Jaime Suchlicki, Professor Emeritus of Maimi University and director of the think-tank Cuban Studies Institute, argued that the US military should arm, train and support the Cuban civil service examination , since Cuba "is not India" and the Castro regime "is not England". According to Suchlicki, the recent successes of the peaceful protests of the civil service examination in Cuba cannot be sustained over time without the financial aid military action, as in his view the Cuban population is less patient and less prepared than Gandhi's Indian followers to endure a prolonged period of sacrifice and suffering.

This commitment to violence was quickly countered by another opinion piece in the same newspaper, article, written by two leaders of the peaceful civil service examination in Cuba, Regis Iglesias Ramírez, of the Christian Liberation Movement, and John Suárez, of the Centre for a Free Cuba. This article highlighted the historic success of peaceful protests in Cuba, of which the best example is perhaps the Ladies in White, who managed through eight years of peaceful protests in white to free their relatives who were imprisoned in 2003 during the Black Spring. Iglesias Ramírez and Suárez argued that the peaceful activism they practice is generally more effective in breaking down violent and oppressive dictatorships.

This discussion, of undoubted relevance for the future of the Cuban nation, can best be understood by looking at the recent trajectory of the Cuban civil service examination . On 11 July 2021, thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest the severe economic status , which had been intensified by the pandemic. The protesters were not yet openly demanding freedom, but rather medicine and food. However, the artistic and religious communities have been peacefully protesting for years for political change on the island. 

The Christian Liberation Movement to which Iglesias Ramirez belongs has been advocating for the democratisation of the country since 1988. The aforementioned Ladies in White are still active today, demonstrating peacefully for human rights in Cuba, going to mass dressed in white "carrying photos of their relatives with the issue of years they were sentenced to prison" and organising "literary teas". In 2018, the San Isidro Movement was established to protest against Decree 349, which restricts freedom of artistic expression. The movement is composed of young academics, painters, authors, journalists, actors, musicians and poets. The Movimiento San Isidro's website currently features several manuals on peaceful struggle, political communication, training civic, human rights and 'infoactivism'. A three-minute video the movement posted online on 6 October declares that "Art is not guilty" and follows the current imprisonment of its leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, whose sentence could be extended to five years. The video's audio chants "Patria y Vida" (Homeland and Life), a slogan that is repeated in the hashtag.

The song "Patria y Vida", by the duo Gente de Zona and four other Cuban artists, was released on 17 February 2021. The song has surpassed ten million plays on YouTube and has received two Latin Grammys. "Patria y Vida" is intensely political, full of current and historical references, and also addresses economic issues such as de facto dollarisation. It also mentions the San Isidro Movement explicitly in its lyrics. In the song, Descemer Bueno sings: "We are artists, we are sensitivity". Bueno's part is calmer and more peaceful compared to the rest of the song, which adopts a more aggressive style. However, the most well-known lyric of the song is "Ya no gramos Patria o Muerte sino Patria y Vida" (We no longer shout 'Patria o Muerte' but 'Patria y Vida'). The slogan 'Fatherland or Death' was a famous cry of Fidel Castro in his political speeches from 1990 onwards, when the island was in extreme hardship following the collapse of the USSR, which had been its benefactor for decades. It could be said that, to a certain extent, the contrast in tone between Bueno's part and the rest of the viral song reflects the same tensions alluded to above about the strategy to be taken to overcome the dictatorship: will the struggle of the Cuban civil service examination continue to be peaceful, or will it become more violent? Rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, better known as Maykel Osorbo, who co-authored the song, is currently imprisoned, like so many activists on the island.

An estimated 1,000 people were arrested by the government during the July protests and just over half of them are still in prison. The imprisonment of peaceful protesters and activist artists, academics and journalists on civil service examination has been thoroughly investigated and reported in detail by the international human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch high school .

On 15 November, mass protests were revived in Cuba, albeit in a non-traditional way. They were called by the Archipiélago platform, which claims to be a "democratic horizontal platform of citizen action [without] a political programme [or] ideological definition". The protests were peaceful, as the platform itself recalled on its Facebook account on 15 November. The recommended methods of protest were: dressing in white to take to the streets ("a beautiful colour that represents the purity of our national ideals"); hanging white cloths and sheets on patios, terraces and balconies; clapping at 3pm for the political prisoners of 11 July, and participating in the "cacerolazo" at 8pm by ringing "your metal cauldron [...] to demonstrate from your home the popular support that exists for the workshop Cívica por el Cambio". On the same day, Archipiélago posted a video on the internet showing how Cuban citizens, following the government's instructions, prevented activist Yunior García Aguilera from taking to the streets to demonstrate by blocking his door with their "act of repudiation".

García Aguilera is currently in Spain with his wife Dayana Prieto as asylum seekers, "alive, healthy and with their ideas intact", as he himself published on 17 November. García Aguilera, apart from being an activist, is a playwright and actor, and Prieto is a film producer. They advocate peaceful activism and follow the example of African-American activist Rosa Parks.

It is worth noting that the Cuban government is also using Cuban culture as a political weapon, notably through the publication of opinion articles in 'Granma', the regime's main press organ. The creative protests of the civil service examination use, among other symbols, white roses, reference letter to the well-known poem by José San Martí, "Cultivo una rosa blanca" (I grow a white rose). The 'Granma' published an opinion piece article on 12 November graduate "Ni rosas ni sábanas blancas en venta", in which journalist Pedro de la Hoz writes: "It is too much to ask that the doomsayers of system change in Cuba read Martí deeply and instructively [...] The Marti rose sings of unity, harmony, honesty, sincerity and transparency. It sings of friendship, spiritual growth and not letting rancour devour the soul. His ethical commitment has nothing to do with pretence or surrender". Other articles in 'Granma' and other media aligned with the Cuban government insist on defaming García Aguilera, accusing him of being a political puppet of the United States, among other things.

It is clear that the Cuban government has joined the cultural and artistic war, even though it has not abandoned its more traditional methods of repression such as imprisonment. The creative evolution of the current political struggle in Cuba and the existing dialogue between the government and civil service examination makes it more likely that the possible transition of power will eventually take place peacefully.