Aid civil society for a ‘Cuba without shackles’

cuba - civil rightsOver the past 30 to 40 years, Latin America has experienced a series of political transitions to governments chosen by the people, open to information, and to democracy. This has since been the policy of the United States toward Latin America, says Jaime Suchlicki, Director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

The United States’ strategy toward Cuba is the same it employed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Cuba is an enemy state; it supports terrorism, traffics in humans disguised as humanitarian programs that send reluctant doctors, nurses and workers overseas. Cuba is a friend of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, and, of course, Venezuela.

To assume that the United States will change its policies without first obtaining concessions from Cuba shows a lack of understanding of international relations. For the U.S. to change its Cuba policy, Cuba has to change too…..The issue at hand is that the Cuban regime refuses to provide concrete and real concessions. But then again, no totalitarian government is willing to offer concessions that lead to their demise such as uncensored Internet access, open political processes, or free elections.

For example, in Chile General Pinochet was willing to carry out a popular referendum which he lost and as a consequence opened the democratic process. General Raul Castro’s government is not willing to do so……

What does the Cuban government want? Raul Castro’s government wants:

  1. The unilateral ending of all travel restrictions.
  2. Access to more credits to purchase products in the U.S. and in other countries.

Yet Cuba has not repaid credits provided by Venezuela, France, Spain, and even the former Soviet Union, among other countries. Cuba is not willing to open the political process, allow uncensored Internet access, or change the political system in exchange for these concessions.

Cuba is not isolated; instead it has partnered all over the world with its allies Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran. The Castro brothers do not want the U.S. involved in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Let’s take a look at the efforts from outside of Cuba to promote real change. We have to begin by remembering during the Cold War, the U.S. promoted several activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union:

  1. Radio Free Europe
  2. Smuggling information inside Russia, and Eastern Europe
  3. Support for Poland’s Solidarity movement
  4. Support for Poland’s Catholic Church.

In fact, I do not recall any Eastern European exile saying, “I want all restrictions lifted so I can invest in Poland,” or “I want to send more packages there,” or “I want more tourists to travel to Poland because they are going to change the system.”

To those who think American tourism is going to change Cuba, I propose to open a travel agency to send tourists to North Korea. No one thinks that tourists will make a difference there so why would they make a difference in Cuba?……

Another important topic that should be discussed and publicized is the exploitation of the Cuban worker by the State and by foreign companies. Cubans are modern day slaves of foreign investors and the Castro government. Foreign companies pay the Cuban government in hard currency and the government pays the workers in convertible pesos, keeping 90% of the foreign payments.

Why doesn’t the United Nations or the American government condemn this practice? Why don’t they point out that only fair skinned Cubans are hired by foreign companies? Or that white, not black, Cubans receive most of the Cuban-American remittances? Or where are the programs that are supposed to help black Cubans?

We should use our resources to help Cubans inside the island, to help the civil society, penetrate the political systems and provide information. …I find it ironic that some Cuban-American entrepreneurs that have made money in the U.S., and benefited from a free society, rule of law and democracy, are embracing insignificant economic changes in Cuba, in the hope that it will lead to a political change; even when it means engaging with the current system.

Cubans have to have control over their businesses and freely choose their government. It is the people that should choose their own representatives, in free elections, Cuba’s future political system. We must have a vision of a democratic Cuba. It does not matter if it takes 10 or 20 more years. I may not see it but my children will.

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This excerpt is taken from Professor Jaime Suchlicki’s presentation during the “Acciones y Opciones para el Empoderamiento de la Sociedad Civil en Cuba” Forum.  This event was hosted by the Foro de Promoción Democrática Continental (FPDC) on June 28, 2014 at Florida International University’s College of Law.

Note: to watch videos of the forum in Spanish visit the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) website at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/main.htm, and click on “New/Relevant.”

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of PAN, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.

Why autocrats should fear protest-led revolts more than ever

carapicoNew research investigating the fall of dictators has uncovered some interesting data: in the past decade, autocratic leaders have become more vulnerable to popular revolt and less so to insider-led coups, the most common way dictators have exited power in recent history, says the International Republican Institute’s Brian Braun.

A number of academic studies have identified the downward trend in coups since their height in the 1960s and 70s, but academics have only recently begun to investigate the modes of exit that have replaced them, he writes for Muftah.org.

The research, authored by Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, not only presents insightful data on the prospects for democracy in post-autocratic societies, but also offers democracy assistance implementers new ways of thinking about how to best support reform-minded activists living in authoritarian societies.

Adapted from a study conducted by Milan Svolik, the authors’ research examines whether revolts that overthrow dictators are short-term exceptions to conventional wisdom that autocrats are most susceptible to coups. The data reveals that, while regime insiders forced out the majority of autocrats from the 1950s to the present, uprisings against autocratic regimes now remove a greater proportion of dictators than coups. Astonishingly, the percentage of autocrats ousted by revolts has tripled from four to twelve percent since the end of the Cold War and accounts for a quarter of all overthrows between 2010 and 2012.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz’s research not only found that protest-led exits are more likely to result in democratization than exits resulting from civil wars, coups, resignations, term limitations, or deaths in office, but also that popular uprisings are more likely to sweep away the institutional structures of autocratic regimes, which, if left intact, are likely to lead to new dictatorships. Other research (Debs and H.E. Goemans) offers similarly insightful data: the less violent the fall of a regime, the more likely democracy will follow. Where dictators believe they are likely to be killed or imprisoned, they are more likely to respond to popular protests with violence (think Ceaușescu in Romania, Qaddafi in Libya, and Assad in Syria), thereby decreasing the chances of democracy taking root.

Together this research offers democracy assistance practitioners sage advice at a time when the number of reform-minded activists standing up against corrupt and abusive governments seems too many to count. As autocrats find clever new ways to suppress dissent and prolong their regimes, the democracy assistance community can employ this knowledge as it helps local activists promote transparency and accountability in their own governments.

Investing in open-source and data collection platforms is one of the most promising avenues to equip activists living under authoritarian systems with the tools to engage their governments in open and public dialogue on matters of civic and private life. Twitter and Facebook, both social media sites, were key forums for public discourse and important tools that helped to mobilize the masses that brought down long-time autocrats Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and helped coordinate the mass demonstrations against the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Other online platforms are equally important. By developing and promoting free crowd and open-source software like Ushahidi, which promotes transparency and raises public accountability by performing functions like mapping polling places and documenting institutional corruption, democracy assistance implementers can provide activists with accessible, low-cost tools designed to hold governments accountable. The FixMyStreet website, which uses similar interactive mapping software to report potholes and broken street lights to make municipal governments responsible for repairs, is one of many innovative and popular ways for cell phone users across the globe to monitor the activities of city administrators.

Since violence is likely to hamper the transition to democracy, international implementers should also prioritize conflict mediation programs that help mitigate the likelihood acts of violence will thwart the path toward a peaceful and democratic transition. Search for Common Ground, one organization that focuses on conflict resolution programming, works with political and religious leaders, civil society organizations, militaries, media, and minorities on conflict sensitivity, reconciliation, and mediation issues to cooperatively resolve sometimes deadly disputes in conflict-prone countries. This approach has been successfully applied to volatile regions such as Sudan, Yemen, and Timor-Leste. In countries where different camps within a protest movement seek divergent outcomes (think Egypt), it can help ensure that competing parties work together instead of against one another after an autocrat is overthrown.

Finally, democracy assistance practitioners should be committed and prepared to work with democrats abroad long after autocratic regimes have been overthrown. Although Kendal-Taylor and Frantz suggest a brighter prospect for democratic movements in the future, implementers must also be aware that protest movements that succeed in replacing autocratic regimes with democratic systems are still highly susceptible to undemocratic relapses. Even after a revolt has led to democratization, the country is still vulnerable to autocratic backsliding. Democracy assistance implementers must, therefore, maintain a strong and supportive relationship with activists well past the transition to help realize the dream of establishing a stable and democratic society.

Brian Braun is a program assistant with the International Republican Institute’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Russia shuts down Siberian autonomy web page

RUSSIA SIBERIACampaigners who want more autonomy for resources-rich Siberia have had their pages blocked on Russia’s most-popular social network, the BBC reports:

The prosecutor-general’s office ordered the Vkontakte site to block the March to Federate Siberia page, which now carries a message saying: “Access is limited on the orders of the law-enforcement agencies.” The page was shut down after discussion of the campaign began to build online, with some people comparing it to protests in Kiev that brought down Ukraine’s pro-Russian government earlier this year.

The Vkontakte page called Enough of Feeding Moscow! says it wants to create a Siberian Republic with its own government that “can stand up for the region’s interests” in Moscow. The campaign, which has been endorsed by writer and artist Artur Solomonov, says more of the money from Siberia’s enormous oil, gas and mineral resources should be be spent for the benefit of local people – especially those who live in harsh Arctic and tundra conditions.

It calls for a march in Novosibirsk, Siberia’s informal capital, on 17 August, the TJournal media website reports. Nearly 2,000 people have agreed to join the march so far.

Online media in Russia and Ukraine picked up the story, and soon politicians joined the debate. Opposition MP Ilya Ponomarev – the only politician to vote against Russia’s annexation of Crimea – tweeted in favour of the march, declaring “Siberia is Ours”. Other supporters, such as artist Artem Loskutov, are drawing parallels with the separatists in eastern Ukraine – who enjoy the encouragement of the Russian government and media.

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Despite political turmoil, emerging consensus in Ukraine

ukrainesolidarnoscGlobal attention remains focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, especially in the wake of the tragic downing of the Malaysian commercial airliner MH17, David Klion writes for World Politics Review.

But in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the ongoing war with Russia is only one of several competing priorities. Attempts to restructure and reform Ukraine’s troubled economy have led to a series of political earthquakes. Two weeks ago, the governing coalition, which had been assembled after the Maidan protests drove former President Viktor Yanukovych from power, was dissolved, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered his resignation. Then last week, Yatsenyuk’s resignation was rejected by Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. At first glance, the infamously dysfunctional Rada appears to be as chaotic as ever, even as Ukraine struggles to maintain control of its eastern regions.

But the situation in Kiev may be more stable than it seems. The backdrop for the Rada’s shakeup is a promise made by Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko to hold new parliamentary elections. The public has been demanding a new government ever since Yanukovych fled Ukraine with single-digit approval ratings, but according to Ukraine’s constitution, Poroshenko cannot dissolve the Rada and call for elections unless the ruling coalition collapses. This means the major parties that make up the post-Maidan coalition—former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR and the far-right Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda—have to part ways and compete against each other in elections, likely to take place in October, with the expectation that their cumulative support will grow vis-a-vis Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

Joanna Rohozinska, senior program officer for Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, predicts that UDAR and Svoboda stand to gain the most from new elections.

“These two parties have captured the populist mood of the Maidan,” she says. By contrast, Batkivschina is losing support because Tymoshenko “hasn’t been playing a particularly constructive role. Many people see her as out of touch with political reality since leaving prison. She’s considered a member of the old order.”

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Why Russia can’t replace West with China

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinRussia and China share similar interests and positions when it comes to energy, military, diplomacy and ideology but that doesn’t provide a foundation for a strong Moscow-Beijing alliance? says Yale University’s Christopher Miller.

“Both countries share ideological goals that are crucial to the maintenance of their domestic political systems,” he writes for the Moscow Times:

Both believe that autocracy is a legitimate form of governance and that talk of human rights threatens stability. Both insist that democracy — or “Western-style democracy,” as they often put it — is only fit for some societies and is not a universal aspiration. And both governments are deeply committed to countering attempts by the U.S., European countries and NGOs to promote political liberalization in other countries.

But the most important cause for skepticism about a stronger Chinese-Russian entente is that neither country is in a position to play a primary role in helping the other accomplish its core goals, he writes:

China’s main aims are to safeguard economic growth at home and expand its influence in the Asia-Pacific region. In both areas, Russia can play a role, but only a minor one. The U.S., Europe and Asian countries will be far more important to China’s economic development than Russia will. Moscow, meanwhile, is currently focused on its western frontier. Yet China has little interest in Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, and is unlikely to get seriously involved.

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