Within Cuba itself, the organization of any attempt at liberation seemed impossible. Protected by a defensive armor of soldiers and police, and with a spy or agent within earshot of any group that expressed opposition to the regime, the Spanish oligarchy seemed to have the situation under complete control.
—Philip S. Foner on Cuba under Spanish occupation
A QUESTION THAT OFTEN ARISES DURING DISCUSSIONS OF COMMUNIST CUBA is, "If Castro’s so bad, why don’t Cubans overthrow him?" This question entails another: "With what?"
During the era of slavery in America, the master class prohibited blacks from owning firearms and established slave patrols to confiscate weapons. Assemblies were also forbidden.
There is a logic -- albeit horrible -- to these policies: In a despotic system, all means of self-determination must be precluded.
Ownership of firearms and the ability to gather and discuss issues create alternatives to despotism; slaves would be able to plan acts of liberation and have the tools to effectuate these plans. Armed slaves would not be slaves for long.
Such openness is of course antithetical to the premise of slavery, summarized by North Carolina judge Thomas Ruffin in State v. Mann (1829): "The Power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect."
Several slave rebellions nonetheless did occur, for instance the Stono rebellion in 1739 and Gabriel Prosser’s in 1800. The master class efficiently crushed such liberation efforts, though.
The absence of a rebellion on most plantations did not signify slaves’ contentment, rather the systematic terror perpetrated against the enslaved. As philosopher David Hume observes of an impressed sailor, "…a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep, and must leap into the ocean, and perish, the moment he leaves her."
The master class’s promotion of an informer mentality also undercut liberation efforts. "Many rebellions were thwarted because slaves told their masters about plots," historian Jeffrey C. Stewart notes. "Some betrayed their fellow slaves because it was one of the surest ways to obtain one’s own freedom."
In studying Communist Cuba, one finds American slavery’s practices replicated with much greater intensity and sophistication.
As is his wont, Castro denies that Cubans are disarmed and further dispossessed of their liberties. He claimed in a 1992 interview, "In our country, the people not only have the right to vote [for one party] but also have the right to bear arms: farmers, workers and students, all the people, have the right to bear arms." He might as well have claimed that Oliver Cromwell was pro-Catholic. (Castro also asserted during the interview, "Speaking calmly and objectively, I am thoroughly convinced that no country in the world has done more than Cuba to protect human rights.")
Former American diplomat in Cuba Catherine Moses notes in Real Life in Castro’s Cuba:
"Because of the sense that someone is always watching or listening, individuals are afraid to say or do anything that might be considered counterrevolutionary. Speaking out against the State can mean hunger or much worse. If individual Cubans could get past the barrier of fear and begin to organize, they would be impeded by the State because of laws against ‘illicit association.’ But perhaps more daunting would be the obstacles resulting from the culture of mistrust that has developed. Because individuals have learned to suspect others and their motivations, it would be hard for a group to develop the level of trust needed to organize effectively."
Moses’ point about "the culture of mistrust" is key to the apparatus of subjugation. Castro not only terrorizes Cubans through organs such as State Security and the Rapid Response Brigades; he attenuates their capacity for interpersonal bonds through the placement of thousands of chivatos (informers), of whom Cubans are painfully cognizant.
But this is not to say Communist Cuba has never faced internal opposition
Soon after Castro’s ascendancy, the Escambray Rebellion attempted to stop the Sovietization of Cuba. Composed overwhelmingly of peasants (the Revolution’s supposed beneficiaries), their adversary was not about to let its Bolshevik ambitions be dashed. Pascal Fontaine writes in The Black Book of Communism:
"Raul Castro sent in all the military forces at his disposal, including armored vehicles, artillery, and hundreds of infantry militia, to put down the rebellion. The families of rebel peasants were moved out of the area to eliminate popular support. Hundreds of people were forcibly moved to the tobacco plantations in Pinar del Rio Province, hundreds of kilometers away in the west of the island."
Once captured, slaughter often followed for these heroic rebels—ordained by icons of contemporary leftists like Ernesto "Che" Guevara. (For further discussion of the Escambray Rebellion, see Paul Bethel’s The Losers and Enrique Encinosa’s Cuba, the Unfinished Revolution. Encinosa’s book on the rebellion, Escambray: La Guerra Olvidada [Escambray: The Forgotten War], unfortunately hasn’t been translated.)
Philip Foner wrote of Spain’s methodical foreclosure of resistance during its hegemony over Cuba. The Castro oligarchy makes its predecessor look like a tyro at tyranny.
It’s understandable why Cubans—disarmed, systematically terrorized, barred from even critical discourse—don’t overthrow Castro. What’s not understandable is why so many freemen soft-pedal Cuba’s captivity.