By Helen Yaffe. First published June 2012 in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227
When Cuba’s tiny opposition protests against the socialist government it is reported in the international media. In April 2012, however, when members of this same opposition, in ‘exile’ in Spain, protested against the Spanish government’s decision to stop subsidising them, they barely received mention. The move has given them a taste of the capitalist free market, where accommodation, health care and education are bought and not provided, and where labour is sold as a commodity.
The complainants were among the 115 Cubans released from prison and taken to Spain since July 2010 under an amnesty agreed between Raul Castro, the Spanish church and the then Spanish president Zapatero. Among them are 52 of the 75 ‘dissidents’ imprisoned in spring 2003 for breaking Cuban laws in receiving money from US-based agencies as part of a programme to destroy the Cuban Revolution. However, they also include petty and violent criminals who aligned themselves with the opposition once in prison to claim the status of ‘political prisoners’.
The ex-prisoners were joined in Spain by 647 family members. The Spanish government guaranteed to provide the Cubans monthly with up to €700 for accommodation, €180 maintenance for each family member, medical cover and transport costs, for up to one and a half years. By April 2012, this support had been stopped for 83 of the ex-prisoners and their families (32 ex-prisoners had left Spain for the United States). On 12 April, around 30 Cubans set up a camp outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the centre of Madrid. The following day ten ex-prisoners declared a hunger strike. Four of the protesters were arrested at the end of May.
Prior to that, on 4 April, ex-prisoner Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández committed suicide. As a so-called ‘independent’ journalist, Du Bouchet had been well rewarded in Cuba by US-based agencies. In exile, however, he was unable even to pay his rent.
In Cuba ‘the “dissidents” were supported materially and politically, welcomed as important personalities by diplomats who invited them to dinners and receptions, even though most of them were known to have previous convictions for common crimes and to lack ideology, but have more than enough interest in the money they received from Miami and from some European allies’ (Arthur Gonzalez Tomado, Heraldo Cubano blog).
Within a few months in Spain they learned the real value of Cuba’s socialist welfare provision. One of them posted an appeal for help on a blog: ‘I can’t find work, I have health problems... I don’t have medicines nor food for me or my son... I only wish there was a way for me to return to my country which I should never have left...’ Most of the ex-prisoners and their families are unemployed. Not surprising in a country where the unemployment rate is nearly 25% and 50% among the youth.
Their stay in Spain has been full of confrontation and conflict. The Cubans have complained about being treated ‘like mere immigrants’ and being put up in hotels in working class areas, about shared accommodation, collective toilets, no air-conditioning and low quality food. They have repeated the mantra that their human rights were being violated – a slogan which earned them privileges when levied against the Cuban government.
One group was expelled from their residence for violence and possessing alcohol and weapons. When such anti-social behaviour got them into trouble in Cuba, the mainstream media claimed they were being persecuted by the Cuban government.
In early May, the secretary of international relations for Spain’s Partido Popular told the Cuban ‘dissidents’ not to give up the struggle for democracy and respect for human rights on the island. At the same time, the Spanish government rejected a request for €2.5 million for the Cuban ex-prisoners – who are now seeing that they are merely pawns of the imperialist attack on the socialist revolution.