U.S. diplomacy and Cuban dissidence
For half a century, U.S. foreign policy toward Havana, which goal is regime change, has rested on two pillars: drastic economic sanctions that affect all sectors of Cuban society and the organization and financing of internal opposition. Thus, on April 6, 1960 Lester D. Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, recalled in a memorandum to Roy R. Rubottom Jr., then Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, the objective of economic sanctions:
“The majority of Cubans support Castro […] There is no effective political opposition […]. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [from the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship […].
Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life […] denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”1
From 1959 to 1990, the program of fostering internal dissent was kept secret. But, partially declassified U.S. files confirm the existence of multiple programs to create an opposition to the government of Fidel Castro, which would serve the interests of the United States in their quest for regime change. In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the financial and logistical support to Cuban dissidents became public and was integrated into U.S. law.
Funding internal opposition
During a meeting of the National Security Council on January 14, 1960, Undersecretary Livingston Merchant stated: Our objective is to tighten all our actions with a view to accelerate the development of an opposition in Cuba […]”. Mr. Rubottom added that “the approved program [destined to overthrow the Cuban government] has authorized us to offer our help to elements that oppose Castro’s government in Cuba so that it seems as if its fall might be a result of their own mistakes”.2
Beginning in 1991, convinced that the final hour of the Revolution had come, the U.S. has not hesitated to publicly state their support for internal opposition. Section 1705 of the Torricelli Act of 1992 provides that “the United States will provide assistance to non-governmental organizations suitable for support to individuals and organizations which promote democratic and non-violent change in Cuba”.3
Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 provides that “The president [of the United States] is authorized to offer assistance and to offer all kinds of support to individuals and non-governmental independent organizations to organize forces with a view towards constructing a democracy in Cuba”.4
The first report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba plans to develop a "solid program of support which favors Cuban civil society" Among the planned measures $ 36 million are intended were earmarked to “support the democratic opposition and the strengthening of the emerging civil society”. 5
On March 3, 2005 Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Bush administration, said they had added $ 14.4 million to the $ 36 million budget contained the 2004 report. Noriega also revealed the identity of some of the Cubans in charge of developing U.S. foreign policy against Cuba, namely, Marta Beatriz Roque, the Damas de Blanco and Oswaldo Payá.6
The second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in 2006 allocated another $31 million to the internal opposition and guaranteed a continuation of at least $20 million annually “until the dictatorship ceases to exist”.7 The plan included measures to “to train and equip independent journalists of the written, radio and television press in Cuba”.8
The State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) admits to financing the Cuban opposition. According to the Agency, for fiscal year 2009, the amount of aid to Cuban dissidents reached $15.62 million. “The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of support that benefits Cubans on the island”.9
The government organization also emphasizes the following point: “We have trained hundreds of journalists over a ten year period whose work has appeared in major international news outlets.” This statement destroys the claims about the independent nature of the opposition journalists in Cuba. Trained and paid by the United States, they respond primarily to the interests of Washington whose goal is, as indicated by the official records of the Department of State, a "regime change" on the island.10
From a legal standpoint, this makes dissidents, who accept the remuneration offered by the USAID, agents in the service of a foreign power, which constitutes a serious violation of the penal code in Cuba, as it would in any country in the world. Aware of this reality, the Agency notes that “no one is required to accept or take part in any United States Government programs if they don’t want to”.11
U.S. Interests Section (SINA) in Havana has confirmed this by stating: “It is long-standing US policy to provide humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, specifically to provide assistance to families of political prisoners”.12
Laura Pollan, of the dissident group Ladies in White, admits to receiving U.S. money: “We unconditionally accept help and support from the extreme right to left.” 13 Opposition figure Vladimiro Roca confesses that the Cuban dissidents are subsidized by Washington saying that the financial aid received is “totally and completely legal.” For the dissident René Gómez, financial support from the United States “is not something you have to hide or be ashamed of.”14 Similarly, the opposition Elizardo Sanchez confirmed the existence of US funding, “The key is not who sends aid, but what is done with it.”15 Likewise, Marta Beatriz Roque said that the financial assistance received from the United States is indispensable for dissident activity.16
Agence France-Presse reported that “dissidents, meanwhile, claim and accept such financial assistance.”17 The Spanish news agency EFE refers to “opposition paid by U.S.”18 According to the British news agency Reuters, “the US government openly provides federally-funded support for dissident activities, which Cuba considers an illegal act”.19
U.S. news agency The Associated Press says that the policy of manufacturing and financing internal opposition is not new: “Over the years, the U.S. government has spent many millions of dollars to support Cuba’s opposition”. 20 It also mentions the living standards of dissidents who benefit from the gifts of Washington and while also taking advantage of the Cuban social system:
“Some American funding comes directly from the U.S. government, whose laws call for ousting Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul, Cuba's new president. USAID, which oversees governmental financial support for "democratic transition" in Cuba, budgeted more than $33 million for Cuban civil society this fiscal year ”.
Nearly all Cubans – dissidents included – have free housing, health care and education through college. Rations of rice, potatoes, soap and other basics get people through part of each month.”21
The French newspaper Libération said “Fariñas has never denied that he received 'donations' from the U.S. Interests Section to procure a computer for his activities as an 'independent journalist' on the Internet.”22
Amnesty International acknowledges that the “prisoners of conscience” “received funds and/or materials from the United States government in order to engage in activities the authorities perceived as subversive and damaging to Cuba”.23
Wayne S. Smith, former U.S. ambassador to Cuba, confirms the subversive nature of American politics. According to him, it is completely “illegal and unwise to send money to the Cuban dissidents”.24 He adds that “No one should give money to the dissidents, much less for the purpose of overthrowing the Cuban government” since “when the US declares its objective is to overthrow the government of Cuba and later admits that one of the means of achieving that goal is to provide funds to the Cuban dissidents, these dissidents finds themselves de facto in the position of agents paid by a foreign power to overthrow their own government.” 25
Dissent that lacks any popular base according to Washington
Despite all the political, economic, media and financial resources dedicated to the Cuban opposition, it has always lacked any popular base. Furthermore, it is deeply divided and aged as Jonathan D. Farrar, current head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, bitterly observed in a confidential memorandum of April 15, 2008 entitled “The U.S. and the Role of the Opposition in Cuba”, directed the State Department.26
The diplomat acknowledged that Cuban President Raul Castro is currently in “a position of undisputed authority" and the role of dissents, is “none”" because “Many opposition groups are prone to dominance by individuals with strong egos who do not work well together”. Farrar states that “the dissidents are old and out of touch”. In effect, thanks to the compensation received, the Cuban dissidents have a lifestyle that no ordinary citizen can afford.27
Farrar admits he is regularly in touch with “most of the official dissident movement in Havana”, whose members frequently visit the U.S. Interests Section. However, he states that there is “very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas”.28
Farrar explains that this is due to the age of the opponents, most between 50 and 70 and cites Francisco Chaviano, Rene Gomez Manzano and Oswaldo Payá. “They have little contact with younger Cubans and, to the extent they have a message that is getting out, it does not appeal to that segment of society”. The diplomat regretted the infighting and lack of unity within the various groups. His assessment is implacable: “Despite claims that they represent "thousands of Cubans," we see little evidence of such support, at least from the admittedly limited vantage point we have in Havana”. He adds that “they have little resonance within Cuban society and do not offer a political alternative to the government of Cuba”.29
Other European diplomats agree with this view, and expressed as much during a meeting with Farrar. “The EU representative at the meeting dismissed the dissidents in the same terms as the GOC, insisting that ‘they do not represent anyone’”.30
There is a reason for this: Cuban society is far from monolithic. Dissatisfied sectors of the population are scathing in their criticism of the authorities when it comes to exposing the contradictions, aberrations, sectarianism and injustice that the Cuban system sometimes engenders. The criticisms are bitter and uncompromising and are broadcast by the Cuban media according to Farrar who notes that "many newspaper articles are very critical of current policies." 31 However, despite the daily challenges, Cubans remain viscerally jealous of their independence and national sovereignty and cannot imagine that one of their compatriots would serve a foreign power that has always longed to regain possession of the island. This is the "anti-imperialist" political legacy left by the nation's forefathers José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Máximo Gómez, Julio Antonio Mella, Antonio Guiteras, Eduardo Chibas and Fidel Castro.
U.S. diplomat gave another reason: the persistent popularity of Fidel Castro among the Cuban people fifty years after coming to power. “It would be a mistake to underestimate […] the support the government has especially in poor communities and with some groups of University students”. 32 Farrar emphasizes the “significant personal admiration for Fidel” in Cuban society. 33
The SINA also faults the program that feeds the greed of opponents who are only interested in the revenue gained from the business of dissent. “The greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day. One political party organization told the COM quite openly and frankly that it needed resources to pay salaries and presented him with a budget in the hope that USINT would be able to cover it. With seeking resources as a primary concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources”.34
However, Farrar reiterated the importance of the opposition in achieving U.S. goals and, therefore Washington “should continue to support” them while at the same time an alternative way of stimulating the dissident movement in Cuba must be sought.35
1 Lester D. Mallory, « Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mallory) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) », April 6, 1960, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/4-660, Secret, Drafted by Mallory, in Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba : (Washington : United States Government Printing Office, 1991), p. 885.
2 Marion W. Boggs, « Memorandum of Discussion at 432d meeting of the National Security Council, Washington », January 14, 1960, Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records, Top Secret, in Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960 (Washington : United States Government Printing Office, 1991), pp. 742-743.
3 Cuban Democracy Act, Title XVII, Section 1705, 1992.
4 Helms-Burton Act, Title I, Section 109, 1996.
5 Colin L. Powell, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington : United States Department of State, May 2004. www.state.gov/documents/organization/32334.pdf (website consulted on May 7, 2004), pp. 16, 22.
6 Roger F. Noriega, « Assistant Secretary Noriega’s Statement Before the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations », Department of State, March 3, 2005.
7 Condolezza Rice & Carlos Gutierrez, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington : United States Department of State, July 2006). www.cafc.gov/documents/organization/68166.pdf (website consulted on July 12, 2006), p. 20.
8 Ibid., p. 22.
9 Along the Malecon, « Exclusive : Q & A with USAID », October 25, 2010. http://alongthemalecon.blogspot.com/2010/10/exclusive-q-with-usaid.html (website consulted on October 26, 2010).
12 The Associated Press/El Nuevo Herald, « Cuba : EEUU debe tomar ‘medidas’ contra diplomáticos », May 19, 2008.
13 El Nuevo Herald, « Disidente cubana teme que pueda ser encarcelada », May 21, 2008.
14 Patrick Bèle, « Cuba accuse Washington de payer les dissidents », Le Figaro, May 21, 2008.
15 Agence France-Presse, « Prensa estatal cubana hace inusual entrevista callejera a disidentes », May 22, 2008.
16 Tracey Eaton, « Factions Spar Over U.S. Aid for Cuba », The Houston Chronicle, December 18, 2010.
17 Agence France-Presse, « Financement de la dissidence : Cuba ‘somme’ Washington de s’expliquer », May 22, 2008.
18 EFE, « Un diputado cubano propone nuevos castigos a opositores pagados por EE UU », May 28, 2008.
19 Jeff Franks, « Top U.S. Diplomat Ferried Cash to Dissident : Cuba », Reuters, May 19, 2008.
20 Ben Feller, « Bush Touts Cuban Life After Castro », Associated Press, October 24, 2007.
21 Will Weissert, « Cuban Activists Rely On Foreign Funding », The Associated Press, August 15, 2008.
22 Félix Rousseau, « Fariñas, épine dans le pied de Raúl Castro », Libération, March 17, 2010.
23 Amnesty International, « Cuba. Five Years Too Many. New Government Must Release Jailed Dissidents », March 18, 2008. http://www.amnesty.org/fr/for-media/press-releases/cuba-five-years-too-many-new-government-must-release-jailed-dissidents-2 (website consulted on April 23, 2008).
24 Radio Habana Cuba, « Former Chief of US Interests Section in Havana Wayne Smith Says Sending Money to Mercenaries in Cuba is Illegal », May 21, 2008.
25 Wayne S. Smith, « New Cuba Commission Report : Formula for Continued Failure », Center for International Policy, July 10, 2006.
26 Jonathan D. Farrar, « The U.S. and the Role of the Opposition in Cuba », United States Interests Section, April 9, 2009, cable 09HAVANA221. http://220.127.116.11/cable/2009/04/09HAVANA221.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
30 Joaquin F. Monserrate, « GOC Signals ‘Readiness to Move Forward’ », United States Interests Section, September 25, 2009, cable 09HAVANA592, http://18.104.22.168/cable/2009/09/09HAVANA592.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
31 Jonathan D. Farrar, « Key Trading Parters See No Big Economic Reforms », United States Interests Section, February 9, 2010, cable 10HAVANA84, http://22.214.171.124/cable/2010/02/10HAVANA84.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
32 Michael E. Parmly, « Comsec Discusses Freedom and Democracy With Cubain Youth », United States Interests Section, January 18, 2008, 08HAVANA66, http://126.96.36.199/cable/2008/01/08HAVANA66.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
33 Jonathan D. Farrar, « The Speculation on Fidel’s Health », United States Interests Section, January 9, 2009, cable 09HAVANA35, http://188.8.131.52/cable/2009/01/09HAVANA35.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
34 Jonathan D. Farrar, « The U.S. and the Role of the Opposition in Cuba », United States Interests Section, April 9, 2009, op. cit.
Doctor in Iberian and Latin American Studies from the University of Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV, Salim Lamrani is a lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV and University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, as well as a French journalist, specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. Salim.Lamrani@univ-mlv.fr