The spark of disobedience

The Miami Herald Editorial

An extraordinary event occurred in Havana last week. Four women staged a brief protest against the Castro regime on the steps of the Capitol building — unusual in itself — and a host of onlookers quickly gathered. The surprise came when police showed up to arrest the protesters, members of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, and the crowd suddenly erupted with taunts and jeers against the security agents.

Suéltalas, carajo! (Let them go, damn it!), yelled an angry bystander. Others called the police shameless ( descarados) and hurled epithets. The crowd did not try to stop the detentions, but they had no qualms about calling Castro’s thugs by the names they richly deserved — bullies and abusers.

This is something new in Cuba. By the standards of, say, the Arab Spring, the event may not seem like a lot. But by the standards of Cuba, where tension and discontent with a half-century of dictatorship have been unable to find a powerful voice, it represents a daring show of defiance, all the more so because it was a spontaneous reaction from average Cubans.

It is virtually unprecedented for a random group of Cubans to take sides with protesters, openly and fearlessly, when the police make a show of force. The only acceptable role for the people in the Castro playbook is to support the regime, do as they’re told, and otherwise be quiet. No defiance is tolerated.

Everyone in Cuba knows that departing from this script can bring the state’s wrath down on them and their loved ones.

Precisely because Castro’s agents have perfected the police-state tactic of nipping protest in the bud, dousing the spark of protest before it turns into a flame, any open manifestation usually comes to nothing. The regime’s durability is a testament to the effectiveness of the brutal police state.

But if the onlookers this time were unwilling to join the protesters’ repeated cries of “liberty,” they were quick to jump into the fray verbally to support the women’s right to express themselves.

Most Cubans may be hesitant to join a protest, but they understand intuitively that everyone has civil rights the state can’t deny, including the all-powerful right to voice their ideas openly. In Cuba, where the communist government has robbed people of all their rights, this development is something for the regime to fear.

Also important: The video shows many in the crowd holding up cell phones to record the protest and arrests. As it has done on so many fronts, the regime has been effective in limiting access to the Internet and other technology, but it can’t stop progress.

That’s the reason that American Alan Gross, who was delivering satellite phone technology to the tiny Jewish community in Cuba, sits in a Cuban jail. Technology is a threat to the dictatorship because it serves as a venue for communication, and the state finds it impossible to impose rigid control. What a nightmare for Fidel and Raúl, because you know what happens when people start talking to each other without Big Brother listening in. Pretty soon they start getting wild notions about freedom and next thing you know . . .

Cuba may be a long way from there. This was just one small event in Havana. Or not. Maybe, more than 10 years after Pope John Paul II told Cubans not to be afraid, they are finally finding their voice.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/08/28/v-print/2376700/the-spark-of-disobedience.html#ixzz1WQLLRdlI