It is tricky to measure Cuban public opinion. Foreigners do not conduct survey research in Cuba based on large random samples, and if this were done on sensitive political topics its results might not be accurate.
Yet visitors to the island are regularly struck by the lack of expressions of support for U.S. policy, even among Cubans who, in both private and public settings, criticize their government.
The following are statements on this and other subjects from Cuban citizens and institutions that are independent of the government.
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In July 2001, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to end the ban on American travel to Cuba. The first two statements below comment on that vote.
“The passage [of the House amendment to end the travel ban] reflects a public opinion… that every day understands more clearly that the effort to isolate [Cuba] has only increased the suffering of the Cuban people and strengthened the positions of the most recalcitrant elements of the Havana regime… Experience demonstrates that isolation breathes life into totalitarianism. It helps it exercise control over citizens subjected to its power and to reinforce its monopoly over their minds. On the other hand, contact between peoples free individuals from falsehoods and from the lives without dignity they are obliged to lead.”
Excerpt from “Some Welcome Common Sense,” essay by independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe carried on the Cubanet on-line service, Havana, August 2, 2001
“[What two owners of a successful private restaurant] most appreciate about their decision to work independently is the opportunity to learn more about the realities of the world through their foreign customers, gaining what the United Nations calls ‘access to information flows.’ For them the vote to allow greater numbers of Americans to visit Cuba represents a chance for Cubans to become better informed, and as a result to think. ‘If they want democracy for Cuba, the first step is to show it to Cubans,’ said Nilda [one of the owners].
Excerpt from “Travel, Remittances, and Information Flows,” essay by independent journalist Manuel David Orrio, Cubanet, Havana, August 1, 2001
“If we have a million Americans walking on the streets of Havana, you will have something like the Pope’s visit multiplied by ten.”
Independent journalist Manuel David Orrio, quoted in “Ryan has harsh words for Castro,” by Laurie Goering and Rick Pearson, The Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1999
Aid to dissidents
In 2001, Senators Helms and Lieberman introduced a bill that includes a provision to channel $100 million in assistance to dissidents and others in Cuba. Comments on the legislation follow.
“[The Helms-Lieberman bill is] political clumsiness. You don’t bring freedom to any people with money. And in the second place, until now that proposal has only given the totalitarian regime excuses to increase the political repression against us.”
Dissident leader Elizardo Sanchez, director of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, quoted in “Will there be ‘Castroism without Castro’ in Cuba?” by Andres Oppenheimer, El Nuevo Herald, June 28, 2001. Sanchez is pre-eminent among Cuban dissidents and has spent nine years in jail.
“I believe those funds will help the Cuban people very much. If they helped in Poland, they can help to end this crisis. [However,] there is a series of restrictions that makes the initiative hardly viable. I don’t even believe [that the Congressional sponsors] know how those funds will be distributed.”
Marta Beatriz Roque, dissident economist, quoted in “Dissidents Suspicious of Solidarity Bill,” by Rui Ferreira, El Nuevo Herald, May 18, 2001
“No one should doubt that if the bill is approved, what will be law in the United States will be illegal in Cuba. Hence what Senator Helms’ legislation would surely achieve is to distance even more the dissidents from the rest of Cuban society, making the opposition appear to the people – who pay attention to official propaganda – as a group supported from abroad… While lifting the embargo would effectively help all the Cuban people, Senator Helms’ current proposal would be a step backwards from supporting the internal dissidents…”
“Helms vs. the Dissidents,” commentary by independent journalist Lázaro Raúl González, Cubanet, Pinar del Rio, May 30, 2001
The embargo and U.S.-Cuba relations
“Total embargoes which affect essential products for the people, including the food and medicines which are essential for the population, are ethically unacceptable, generally violate the principles of international law, and are always contrary to the precepts of the Gospel.
“The political use of an embargo to show disagreement or disapproval of a government directly affects the people who suffer the consequences in hunger and illness. If what is intended by this approach is to destabilize the government by using hunger and want to pressure civic society to revolt, then the strategy is also cruel.”
Statement of Cuba’s Catholic Bishops
October 2, 1992
“I’m against the embargo. I would like the embargo to be lifted because I believe Cuban society needs contact with North American society. We need to be in touch with capitalism.”
Marta Beatriz Roque, dissident economist, interviewed on PBS NewsHour, July 18, 2001
“…America should lift its embargo on sales of food and medicine to Cuba, a prohibition that violates international law and hurts the people, not the regime. Denying medicine to innocent citizens is an odd way of demonstrating support for human rights.
“[Cubans] must begin reforms that offer hope to all. But less rigidity on the part of the United States would do a lot to help that change begin.”
Excerpt from a New York Times op-ed column by Elizardo Sanchez, April 22, 1997.
“The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, in all its expressions, goes against the will and the needs of Cubans, and for that reason it should end. So if it is a question of solidarity, that solidarity cannot lead to measures that increase the difficulties of the population. Solidarity implies looking to the people of Cuba and taking steps that contribute to overcoming the tensions between the two countries…
“We request that you take a first step, above all for justice and also in good faith toward the people of Cuba by lifting, unconditionally, the embargo against Cuba in food and medicines.”
Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, in the Movement’s “Message to the Government and Congress of the United States of America,” November 23, 1996
“For several years everyone has talked about the double blockade to which the [Cuban] people have been subjected. One blockade has been a strange political philosophy of the United States to combat the Cuban government’s political alliance with Soviet strategies of the past. Since the 1960’s different White House administrations have developed a policy against the island’s government that, instead of weakening the Cuban revolution, all it has accomplished is to strengthen it…. The second blockade is the one of the Cuban government against its citizens….”
Ramon Diaz Marzo, independent journalist in Havana, Cubanet, January 1999
“The United States erected… a complex policy of unilateral pressure with new and controversial instruments that has demonstrated, through the years, its inability to attain its objectives…. [The embargo has] allowed the Cuban government to present itself as the only defender of the interests of a threatened nation.”
Statement of the Democratic Socialist Current dissident group, reported by the Associated Press, April 13, 1994
“Leaders of various dissident groups in this region declared themselves in favor of the sale of medicines and food from the United States to Cuba. Santiago Torres González, executive of the José Martí National Human Rights Commission; Margarito Broche Espinosa, President of the Balseros Peace, Democracy, and Freedom Association of Caibarién; and Rolando Cabello Carba, delegate in Camajuaní of the Democratic Solidarity Party, issued this statement for the organizations they represent.
“The dissidents consider that lifting these U.S. restrictions would benefit the Cuban people, who are tired of the [Cuban] government justification that the trade embargo is to blame for [Cuba’s] political and economic crisis.”
“Dissidents support trade with United States,” by independent journalist Juan Carlos Recio Martínez, Cubanet, Villa Clara, January 12, 2000
“The oppositionist Oswaldo Payá called Thursday for a popular referendum to show the true wishes of the Cuban people and asked for the ‘de-Americanizing’ and ‘de-Fidelizing’ [“desnorteamericanizar” and “desfidelizar”] of thinking about the future of the island. Payá, president of the illegal but tolerated Christian Liberation Movement said, ‘It does not fall to the United States to solve the Cuban problem, much less to design its transition.’ In this regard, he rejected the transition program outlined in the American Helms-Burton law that strengthens the embargo against Cuba and which ‘should be repealed,’ he said.”
Excerpt from “Dissident Asks to ‘De-Americanize’ and ‘De-Fidelize’ the Cuba Issue,” Agence France-Presse, Havana, August 17, 2000
“A special meeting of dissidents took place June 27 in the province of Havana with the participation of members of the Committee for Alternative Studies and the Havana Human Rights Committee… In this meeting, leaders of both groups signed a statement supporting the easing of the United States government’s economic, commercial, and trade embargo against the government of Fidel Castro.”
Excerpt from “Dissidents support end of the embargo against the Cuban government,” by the Committee for Alternative Studies, Cubanet, Havana, July 4, 2000
“Four Cuban opposition groups today called for the governments of Cuba and the United States to undertake ‘a voluntary and deliberate effort’ to improve relations and promote contacts between both peoples.
“‘Relations between Cuba and the United States can and should be an example of mutual respect and neighborly relations between large and small countries,’ said a document signed Monday by the illegal Roundtable of the Moderate Opposition. The Social Democratic Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Socialist Democratic Current, and Cuban Democratic Project formed a committee to promote normalization of relations, inaugurated today.
“They said that the two countries ‘need to begin the necessary process of building closer political, economic, cultural, and social ties… to forge a fluid, positive, and mutually beneficial relationship.'”
Excerpt from “Dissidents Call for Improved Havana-Washington Relations,” Notimex, Havana, July 10, 2000
–Philip Peters, a State Department official during the Reagan and Bush administrations, is vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.
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