‘Argentine left refuses to see the problem of democracy in Cuba’
Born: Havana, Cuba
When: December 31, 1962
Children: One child
Favourite music: Snoop Dog, R. Kelly, classical music
Favourite Books: Giovanni Sartori, Parties and Party Systems
Education: History degree
Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa, the leader of the Progressive Spectrum organization, has been arrested 12 times for his political activism with the aim of promoting democratic change in the Carribean nation. In 2014, he was banned from leaving Cuba after organizing a parallel conference to the one hosted by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Earlier this year, Cuesta Morúa visited Argentina to spread awareness about the democratic and human rights challenges the island is facing.
The Herald interviewed him at the Centre for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL) offices while he was in Argentina, and spoke to him again last week to see how the political situation was evolving since US President Barack Obama’s historic visit.
How does Argentine society view the Cuban government?
There is a certain sector of the left-wing that is resistant to the idea that democracy is a problem in Cuba. But there are also people who want to know and understand. Groups that in the past were in favour of Fidel Castro, such as university professors, have slowly turned away from supporting the regime. The dichotomy over whether you are a supporter of the Cuban revolution or an anti-Castro group in Miami has begun to change.
But isn’t it still relevant?
It used to be the central issue in Cuban politics but little by little there has been a rebirth of human rights on the island. And as the movement grows in strength, Miami is losing its force. The Cuban revolutionaries and Cubans that fled to Miami are passing away, and it’s giving way to a more rational political class.
How does the Cuban government not respect human rights?
They don’t respect our right to information, the participation and diversity in politics, the right to protest — our basic rights.
Do you support the opening of Cuba’s market?
Yes, but in a different way. It isn’t the same to open yourself to the international community and capital forces in a weak condition than when you are in a position of strength. A new sphere of influence is being created, but will it be a hierarchy governed by the party and military? If this is the case, than this isn’t a sustainable development scheme.
But didn’t it work for China? Under the Chinese communist party’s administration, a large middle class grew after it opened up its markets...
But that is not happening in Cuba. China opened its economy for the Chinese. The Cuban government is controlling foreign investment without permitting other sectors to receive a part of it. The key difference is that China has a huge domestic market and Cuba doesn’t. Its economy is small and it doesn’t have as many natural resources.
Have you been arrested for expressing your opinions about the Cuban government?
Not over the previous issue, but yes — I’ve been arrested many times for participating in political organizations. I’ve been arrested 12 times. I was first arrested in 1996 for a few days. They charged with me with simple crimes, and put me in a normal jail cell. This is how they hide political repression.
How many people are a part of your political group?
There are around 200 people that are politically active, while some 1,000 people support our party. It is a social democratic party.
How is the Cuban government acting now in terms of political repression?
They are stricter than before, as they have less control over society. There are now more people in favour of change, before there were only a few politically active. There is a lot more repression because they are in transition and they are afraid.
What was former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s relationship with the Cuban government?
They had a very close and open relation. But there was a moment when former president Néstor Kirchner’s government was sensitive to the human rights issue in Cuba. This is when they supported doctor Hilda Molina, which caused a small rupture in their relations. Overall, they had good relations based on their mutual support for CELAC, in hopes it would replace the OAS.
Will President Mauricio Macri’s administration change Argentina’s relations with Cuba? The White House has praised him for being a regional leader in human rights...
If you judge Macri on what he proposes, it’s obvious he will be a protagonist in human rights.
Macri, in opposition to Kirchnerism, is taking a different position in human rights. The previous government wasn’t critical of Venezuela in solidarity. Macri appears to represent the institution of democracy, the separation of powers and the protection of political activists rights.
Some experts argue that the US is recognizing Macri as a human rights leader only because he is aligning the country with the US’s regional foreign policy interests. What is your opinion?
Well, the United States hasn’t been completely consistent like it should be on the human rights issue. There were periods when they protected the worst dictators and spoke of fundamental rights. The US presidents tried to find a perfect equilibrium between balance of power and the defence of human rights. This especially happened in former president Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama’s administration. I think there needs to be coherence, but political realities sometimes impose themselves.
How do you interpret Obama’s visit to Cuba and Argentina, was there any meaning behind the two visits?
It represented the return of those countries to the inter-american arena and institutions. It is a process of “recovering” the two countries. Argentina had an important economic factor in terms of the conflict with the “vulture” funds.
What affect will Obama’s trip have on Cuba?
It had a big impact, there was a before and after that trip. It forever changed the population’s perception on the United States, and its possibilities.
Has anything concretely changed since then?
The government is starting to have a more regressive stance, while only subtle changes have happened. People from the United States are coming, such as artists, and Hollywood is filming The Fast and the Furious movie. That Cuba is opening itself up to Hollywood is a symbol of the culture influence that the US will start to have.
What did you think of Fidel and Raúl Castro’s speech in the Communist Party’s assembly earlier this month?
I think it was a goodbye speech, but also a warning. It was a mechanism of defense after Obama’s visit. The old guard may retire, but the assembly stressed that the Communist party will endure in power.