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Story Publication logo July 27, 2010

Cuban Dissidents: United, They Aren't



Cuban dissidents are divided over the role the U.S. government ought to play in Cuba's transition to the post-Castro era. Vladimiro Roca's suggestion? "Ignore the Cuban government. That's the only thing that the Cuban government would not be able to stand."

Roca, a former fighter pilot and son of a leader of Cuba's Popular Socialist Party, believes that Cuban officials use America's economic embargo as a scapegoat for the country's problems. Hardline U.S. policies toward Cuba help the socialist government keep up "the game of David versus Goliath," he claimed. End the embargo and Cuban officials will have no one to blame for the country's ragged economy and other ills.

Héctor Palacios, a dissident leader and former political prisoner, agreed. "The Cuban government wouldn't be able to survive if the embargo were lifted. Lift the embargo and the revolution will collapse five days later."

Yet government supporters vehemently disagree with that view. Even some dissidents doubt that lifting the embargo and allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba will trigger a Western-style democracy on the island. Oswaldo Payá, a dissident who leads a petition drive aimed at creating greater political and economic freedom on the island, argued that the American people are friends of Cuba. And the proximity of the U.S. ensures it will remain "part of the Cuban reality." Payá does not believe, however, that it is the duty of tourists, the U.S. government or American businesses to bring change to Cuba. Tourists drinking daiquiris in Havana aren't going to create change; it is incumbent upon Cubans, themselves, to solve their problems push for greater economic freedom.

Elizardo Sanchez, who leads a human rights organization in Havana, believes the U.S. ought to start acting as if it had normal relations with Cuba in order to ensure that it has some influence in the future. But he's not so sure that spending millions of dollars on pro-democracy programs will help. "You don't win the freedom of a people with money," he said. "The destiny of that money is a great mystery to me."

Martha Beatriz Roque, a dissident leader for the past 21 years, asserted that financial aid from abroad is precisely what is needed. Many dissidents who lose their jobs with state-run employers due to their political beliefs need economic support, Roque said. "One must eat. People can't live on politics alone."

Getting together and writing documents calling for political change won't convince others "that freedom is necessary," Roque said. Dissidents need to act. They need to get out and spread the work of their cause. And that takes money.
A simple trip to Santa Clara, 170 miles southeast of Havana, costs 200 Cuban pesos, or about $250. "The opposition needs money to move around the country. Everything here is very expensive."

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