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2018: Cuban Conflict Meter

Citizens' mobilization and the vulnerability of power, growing trends in the second half of 2018.


More than a few people confuse conflicts with protests. Conflicts can exist in a latent state, even when very serious. Protests, when they finally occur, are what make conflicts visible.

As the 60th anniversary of the rise of Castroismto power approaches, the tension between the public and the country's totalitarian state has been the most noteworthy trend.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Cuban civil societyin 2018 was citizens' growing tendency to make visible,with different forms of resistance and protest, the conflicts that up to now have affected them in a latent manner.

At the root of all conflicts - whether housing, transportation, the cost of living, public health deficiencies, or others - lies the violation human rights. Because when the population is denied basic political and civil liberties, whatever the names and intentions of the people that make up the government, it is impossible to meet the people's social and economic demands.

Thus, until there is a fundamental change in the system of government, Cuba's productive forces, resources and the talent of the entire population will not be fully liberated to produce wealth and promote widespread prosperity.

However, many citizens can now learn the art of organizing, pressing and winning battles against the totalitarian state in the economic, social and/or cultural spheres. Nothing is more contagious than the collective enthusiasm sparked by winning a victory against oppressors.

In the ecosystem of digital technologies that exists on the island (despite the limited connectivity to the Internet) today, the will to resistance goes viral when spread through two million cell phones, through photos and texts on the national disaster and repression.

In 2018 many citizens –the self-employed, artists, doctors suffering abuses during their missions abroad, residents who were going to be evicted and have their homes demolished, and others who united to demand, once and for all, that potholes and many others be repaired– have made visible, through their public actions, the conflicts that affect them.

Citizens' response to conflicts

In addition to groups directly involved in political opposition, it has been manifested that citizens have two ways of reacting to problems:

a) Private complains, sometimes complemented by a bureaucratic request filed with the State.
 Many people complain in their circle of family and friends, or even in places where their identity is not easily revealed, such as taxis, buses, lines, etc. Others lodge their pleas and complaints with the State.
The Government encourages this attitude, as opposed to public protest and collective demands, to appease the disgruntled without any need to repress them or solve their problems. The official slogan is: "You have the right to complain, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place and in the appropriate way."
By accepting this rule, thousands of people continue to languish in collapsing buildings and shelters while waiting for the solution to their dramatic situation to "fall from the top". Too often the first thing to fall has been the roof, with the consequent helplessness and unnecessary deaths.

b) The mobilization of citizens who organize themselves into groups to present their demands collectively and campaign publicly to advance their social, economic and /or cultural demands.
This is the trend that has grown fastest in 2018, particularly in the second half of the year. In recent months various groups have forced the State to walk back some repressive measures that had already been approved by decree. People have learned that they can fight, and win. Citizen manuals for conflict management are even circulating on the Island, with didactic summaries of how to protect their interests in the face of social, economic and/or cultural conflicts.

The vulnerability of power

State management of national conflict thus far has consisted of a combination of repressive methods (used at first against the artists protesting against Decree 349), appeasement tactics ("your complaint about the overspill has been conveyed to the corresponding authorities, and you must now wait for a response") and one-off concessions that are reversible and limited (the suspension of some of the most irksome new regulations against the self-employed sector and taxi drivers). 

What officials describe as dialogues, are almost always monologues, in reality, tactics to appease the population and postpone solutions. Meanwhile, problems worsen, disenchantment builds up, and any incident can become a real crisis.

A public that has been dormant for decades can wake up suddenly. History provides evidence of this phenomenon, again and again, in very different countries. Paraphrasing Raul Castro, one might say that a spark in the "right place, at the right time, and in the right manner" can set the meadow ablaze.

It has been seen how in other countries insubordination grew like a tumbling snowball, and repressive apparatuses were overcome. In others, the dilemma between massacring protesters or risking losing power forced the ruling elite to accept change, or even transition.

In the case of Cuba, the elite in power must remember that 90 miles from the US the Plaza de la Revolución is not Tiananmen Square.

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