Cuba Will Change To the Degree That We Cubans Change / Dimas Castellanos
Dimas Castellanos, 3 July 2015 — The leaders of Cuba and the United States have just announced the first and most important result of the process of normalizing relations between the two countries: the reopening of their embassies in Washington and Havana.
The 196 days elapsed between 17 December 2014 and 1 July 2015 is 100 times less than what passed between that 3rd of January of 1961, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to break diplomatic relations with government of Cuba. Because of its significance, that brief period will remain recorded in the history of the two nations, but especially in that of Cuba, creating as it does a favorable scenario for the changes that the “Largest of the Antilles” urgently needs.
Time will tell how long it will take to recover what was destroyed in more than half a century. In that sense, the opening of the embassies is only the first step in a long and complex path, for the magnitude of the anthropological damage that has been suffered will require much time, effort and will to recover. But, without a doubt, resuming diplomatic relations will produce an inevitable impact in the medium-long term on the fundamental liberties and the reconstruction of the citizenry, which constitute the two greatest deprivations of the Cuban people.
January of 1959 burst into Cuban history brimming with hopes, but the turn towards totalitarianism, suffered by the revolutionary process insofar as civil liberties were concerned, took Cuba back to an era as remote as 1878 . This regression, which constitutes the first cause of the deplorable state of Cuban society–from its economy to its spiritual life–is a paradigmatic example of what should never have been, but whose positive aspect is that it shows us what should not and cannot be repeated in our history.
Therefore, more useful than calling out the guilty parties (although they exist) in the present and future view, is to highlight the level of responsibility of all or almost all Cubans. In the same way that not knowing the laws does not excuse the responsibility of the lawbreaker; all of us who, in one way or another, for reasons that extend from ignorance to the perversity harbored within some egos, in lesser or greater measure, are co-respondents in what has occurred. I wish, therefore, in a few lines, to highlight one of our ancestral maladies: personal responsibility transmuted into social indifference.
As to the question regarding the significance of restoring diplomatic relations, the answers comprise a spectrum ranging from those who consider the problem to be resolved, to those who believe that nothing will change here; but the most generalized aspect of the responses is the absence of the Cuban’s role as an active participant in this process–a crucial fact that cannot be ignored if one wants to understand, and transform, our reality.
Cubans, bereft of the liberties and spaces that breathe life into citizenship, lost the notion of civic responsibility. Their participation throughout more than half a century was reduced to supporting or rejecting what was induced by the powers-that-be. Those who today are older than 70 years old were only 14 back in 1959; all they have known is subordination to a totalitarian authority. Thus the generalized indifference toward current events is a logical consequence.
In the Gospel of Mark (1:14-15), the story is told of the a Christian experience that has as much validity today as 2,000 years ago. According to Mark, when Jesus returned to Galilee, he began to announce the good news of God, saying: The time has come, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Change your way of thinking and living, and believe the gospel.
From that perspective, the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States can be an important factor in the recovery of lost liberties, and of the condition of citizenship. But this factor will be for naught without a change in the Cuban people’s way of thinking and living. To paraphrase Jesus, the time has come–which must be accompanied, as He did, with actions directed, in the first place, to a change in conduct, which includes assuming some responsibility for the change.
Therefore, the historic transcendence of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US depends on the degree to which we are capable of changing to recover the condition of citizenship–which, in turn, is an unavoidable necessity for getting out of the stagnation in which we live.
The US leader’s speeches, from 17 December through today, do not demand civic liberties as a condition for reestablishing diplomatic relations. The statements contain an explicit renouncement of continuing a failed policy, and the recognition that if something is not working, we can and will change it.
With that turn, without renouncing the commitment to human rights, the Cuban government is stripped of its arguments of the “plaza under siege” and “the enemy,” which allowed it to quash all critical demonstrations within Cuba. Now, in the new scenario, the changes that Cuba really needs depends on a change of conduct, similar to that contained in the words of Jesus in Galilee.
If the package of measures announced by the White House opens a process of transformations that favor the rebirth and strengthening of civil society, the result will depend on the disposition, capability and intelligence of Cubans to take advantage of a scenario that, in the medium-long term, will remove the bases that enabled the government to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.
The foregoing lends to the renewal of diplomatic relations (even if this is only the first step of a long and difficult path) a dimension that places it as the most transcendental political event in Cuba after the 1st of January of 1959.
Without ignoring the great obstacles yet to be overcome, the reestablishment removes a way out that was threatening violence and a massive emigration to the United States–while at the same time it will remove the bases that permitted the totalitarian model to decide the fate of the country and of every one of its inhabitants.
This is why the decision is useful to US interests, useful to the Island’s government, and useful to the Cuban people, as long as we are capable of change, and of maximizing this favorable scenario to advance our empowerment.
Therefore, the success of the measures announced by the White House, and the resumption of diplomatic relations, do not depend so much on the will of the regime as of that of the Cuban people; something that neither Obama nor any outside force can supply: Cuba will change to the degree that we Cubans change.
 With the signing of the Pact of Zanjón, which brought to an end the Ten Years’ War, a set of civic and political liberties were instituted that gave rise to Cuban civil society, legally endorsed.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison