In 1990, I asked Adolfo Suárez for help. At the time, I had made a political calculation that the former prime minister could be useful to Cuba’s democratization and was a generous person.
In Spain, his political flow had been exhausted but he had gained immense international prestige because he successfully engineered Spain’s peaceful transformation in barely four years.
Not long before, the Berlin Wall had been brought down and Europe’s communist dictatorships collapsed, while Marxism was relegated to the ridiculous category of a dusty theoretical absurdity.
On the other hand, Suárez headed the Liberal International, one of the world’s great ideological federations, an organization that brought together some 80 parties of that political family, including the Cuban Liberal Union that we had founded. I was led into his office by Prof. Raúl Morodo, his strategist and a great political manager in the Liberal International. Morodo had been extremely supportive of the Cuban democrats.
In summer of 1990, we liberals, along with other exiles associated with the Christian Democratic and Social Democratic movements, forged in Madrid the Cuban Democratic Platform. We were trying to start in Cuba a political transition to freedom and democracy similar to the one Spain went through under Suárez’s extraordinary guidance.
We thought, no doubt naively, that Fidel Castro would admit the uselessness of sustaining a failed, collectivist, one-party dictatorship against the sense of history and would seek a way to peacefully bury his bloody experiment, creating the conditions for his supporters to evolve toward other forms of militancy, as had happened in the so-called Eastern Bloc.
Common sense told us that Castro and his entourage would feel safer if the dismantling of their tyranny were done at a table guaranteed by a rainbow of major democratic political formations from all over the world.
The procedure would be similar to Spain’s: Go “from law to law.” Change the rules of the single party, release the political prisoners, respect the right to free expression of people’s thoughts and broaden the margins of electoral participation so Cubans might bury communism in a democratic ballot box, as the Spaniards had done with Francoism.
What better guarantee of an operation of that nature, I told Suárez, than having as referee the man who built the Spanish transition?
If Castro were the least interested in finding an honorable way out for the dictatorship, we could land in Havana 90 days later with 100 or so political and economic leaders from the free world, with the promise of abundant aid from Europe and the United States so that Cuba’s transformation could be swift and painless.
We called it “the shock of hope.”
Suárez listened to us with great interest and offered us his support, but appeared skeptical about the results. He was grateful to Castro, he told us, for taking in some ETA activists [Basque separatists] that he wanted out of Spain.
Although he sympathized with our ideas, he said, his intention was not to serve the opposition or the power but to extend a hand to all Cubans, so they might overcome the communist dictatorship.
But when Suárez and Morodo went to Havana and spoke with Fidel, they ran into a man indifferent to reality who repeated two colossal barbarities as if they were mantras.
First, that “Cuba would sink into the sea before it abandoned Marxism-Leninism.” Second, that the island would remain as a kind of vivarium, a Marxist-Leninist Jurassic Park. Once mankind regained reason and returned to the communist essence, it would have a practical model to organize societies in accordance with the Cuban experience.
Almost a quarter of a century later, Fidel is a mad old man who bequeathed a destroyed nation to his brother Raúl. The heir, faithful to the legacy, futilely tries to create a hybrid and impossible totalitarian system that exhibits the worst of both worlds — socialism without subsidies and capitalism that prohibits growth and the accumulation of capital.
If Fidel had not been dogmatic and inflexible, and if he had gone along with Suárez, Cuba would have made its transition in time and today would be at the head of Latin America. There was enough human and economic capital to accomplish that.
In a criminal way, we have lost another 25 years.
Carlos Alberto Montaner, a former university professor, he is an acclaimed writer and journalist.