Should We Criticize Mandela?
May 15, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — A well-known episode in contemporary history is the fact that, when the government of South Africa established the apartheid regime, former South African president Nelson Mandela, then a civil rights activist, personally asked the United States to impose an economic blockade on the country in order to hasten the collapse of a government where 12.2 % of the population – the whites, or Boers, as they were also known – trampled on the most elementary rights of all other citizens with impunity.
Some days ago, we saw a heated debate about the petition that a number of renowned Cuban dissidents have made to the US government, calling for hardline measures that would bring about the economic collapse of the country and thus definitively remove the Castro brothers from power.
What supporters of the Castro government see as a blockade, detractors see as a mere embargo, for the Cuban government is able to trade with all other countries around the world and even import over a hundred products from the United States itself (provided it pay cash).
The tired debate over the lifting or preservation of the economic blockade imposed on Cuba has traditionally been the most sensitive topic handled by Cuban dissidents, where two emblematic figures – Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and blogger Yoani Sanchez – maintain diametrically opposed positions on the matter.
Soler believes the lifting the blockade would mean conceding defeat and granting an unmerited political victory to the Castro government, which would, in no way, put an end to the abuses perpetrated against the opposition.
Sanchez, on the other hand, sees the suppression of the blockade as an opportunity to deprive the Cuban government of the arguments it has long used to justify the inefficiency and dysfunctionality inherent to the system.
The repercussions that Berta Soler’s petition to the US government had in different on-line media dealing with Cuba-related issues are what have prompted me to write this post.
Soler, who asked for a “firm hand against the Castros”, met with a wide spectrum of criticisms and praise, though accusations of being an annexationist who has no political vision, is disloyal to her people and acts as a CIA agent, were the most common.
The most notable argument used against Soler is that “the Cuban people, in general, are opposed to the blockade.”
Though this point is not be taken lightly, we could say, in Soler’s defense, that the Cuban people did not think twice before supporting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, that it was responsible for vigilante-style violence in the 80s, that it accepted the establishment of the double-currency system (Cuba’s economic apartheid), without protesting, in 1993, and that, along with members of the Cuban Writers and Artists Federation (UNEAC), it stood silent while 3 young men who attempted to hijack a ferry were executed following summary trials and 75 government opponents were jailed for their activities.
If the above does not completely deprive the Cuban people of any moral authority to opine about these matters, it does, at least, invite us to exercise prudence when lending it an ear, particularly when we recall that lucidity has not been one of the more outstanding qualities the masses have shown in the course of history.
A bird’s eye view of recent history would reveal the many opportunities the Cuban government lost to help alleviate many of the hardships endured by its population today.
Today, with or without the blockade, Cubans residing abroad could be allowed to invest in the country, a measure that would help the country’s domestic economy, employing thousands of workers in enterprises that, no doubt, would also offer better salaries than those paid by the government.
Cubans residing abroad who have publicly expressed their differences with the status quo and have been banned from the island could be allowed to return to their country of origin.
All political prisoners could be released, as they do not constitute a risk to Cuba’s national security.
Successful farmers could be given ownership over new lands and expand land leases, which thus far have not reduced food shortages in the slightest. The population could also be given free and unrestricted access to the Internet.
There is a long list of such measures that the tired US blockade does not in any way impede implementing, save, perhaps, for the Castro government’s fear of losing its power. In a post-blockade Cuba, with the doors of the world’s most powerful nation flung wide open, such measures will, in my view, prove next to impossible to hold back.
The petition to impose a blockade on South Africa’s government was seen by Mandela’s compatriots (save the Boers, of course), as the consummation of his political vision.
Today, Berta Soler, asking exactly the same for a government which, in practice, imposes a very similar destiny on those who do not belong to its political “race” (the monolithic Cuban Communist Party), has to face accusations from all sides which put the legitimacy of her struggle in question, from people who, apparently, have forgotten the difficult roads the Ladies in White have traversed since 2003.
After seeing these two human rights activists make these requests with the intention of improving their country’s lot, and incurring such different reactions, I cannot help but ask myself whether we should also reprimand Mandela for demanding such measures for his own people.