Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dos amigos cubanos cruzan palabras: Miriam Celaya & Antonio Rodiles

Over the past week an important debate has surfaced among two of the most eloquent (and sharp-tounged!) dissidents in Cuba's diverse opposition:

Miriam Celaya and Antonio Rodiles.
(pictured together to the left)

Why is this important? Well, to the extent that Cuba's dissidents and civil society leaders will have any influence upon the pace and scope of the US-Cuba engagement, what those dissidents think, how they express themselves, and interact with one another will impact the diplomatic opening.

Also important - as we saw during the Congressional hearings last week - is how various US business groups, members of Congress, and pro-engagement and pro-embargo lobbies position themselves vis-a-vis the dissident community on the island.

Remember that the Cuban activists invited to speak or share statements at the hearings (Rosa María Payá, Miriam Leiva, Berta Soler, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Dagoberto Valdés, and Antonio Rodiles) did not speak with a single voice, and their competing comments, criticisms, and praises of U.S. policy were later highlighted by US lobbying groups to justify and reinforce their own positions: See #Cuba_Now and Capitol Hill Cubans for two examples.

The Rodiles-Celaya debate dates back to late December when two different groups of dissidents issued two very similar statements (Espacio Abierto de la Sociedad Civil - here; and Foro por los Derechos y Libertades - here), weighing in on the Obama-Castro deténte.

Among other things, this back-and-forth is about whether Cuba's opposition can properly be described as having become "divided" into two opposing poles following "D-17" (the new Cuban term for the shift in U.S. policy from isolation to engagement). Also important is the question of whether (and which) Cuban dissidents and civil society leaders will be included in future diplomatic negotiations.

Rodiles outlines what he sees as a split in the dissident community.  On one side are those who see Obama's move as an "abandonment" or "betrayal" of the Cuban opposition, and providing diplomatic legitimacy and a much-needed economic lifeline to the Cuban government.

According to him, on the other side are those who see Washington's move as a (golden?) opportunity for the dissident movement to occupy new space and engage more directly with the mass of the population, now that it won't be so easy for the government to dismiss them as "mercenaries."

His first statement is at Diario de Cuba: "Hablar con la misma voz." He thinks that this split is not a good one as it dilutes the message of the dissident community, which should speak "with a single, unified voice."

He does grant that it's to be expected that the dissident community sound like a "jazz combo" (where clashing, discordant views are enriching), but he also insists that the differences among them be clearly laid out making the implications of those differences transparent as well.  He gives a very clear (though perhaps debatable) point-by-point listing of those differences.

However, where Rodiles sees a split, Celaya sees a rich and healthy diversity of opinion. Her first response to Rodiles is at 14ymedio: "Una confrontación esteril." She also argues that what Washington does is much less important than what Cubans themselves do with this changing and challenging scenario.

Rodiles response to her is here: "Notas sobre una polémica," and Celaya's response to him is on her blog, A pie y descalzos: "Réquiem por un debate."

Interestingly, Rodiles also recently challenged Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Dagoberto Valdés (who seem to share Celaya's point of view) to join the debate.

Both 14ymedio and Estado de Sats have catalogued this developing polémica at their sites.

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