Leading Cuban Dissident’s ‘Moments of Optimism’ About Political Change

“We are suffering more arrests. They [state security forces] are beating us hard,” dissident Antonio Rodiles tells The Guardian’s Naomi Larson:

It seems he has become desensitised to this violence. If you search Antonio Rodiles online, you will find an image of him with reddened eyes wearing a bloody shirt, his face almost fully covered by a bandage on his nose which was broken, along with his eardrum, in a brutal beating by security agents last year. He says he was on his way to the Sunday protest organised by opposition movement Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) in July 2015 when he was attacked – the protest he still attends every week. “The opposition movement needs to show people you can’t be afraid. That’s the main goal.”

In a political sense there may be no change. “The regime is more legitimate after the change in relations with the US,” he says. In his view, the growing rapprochement, which began in December 2014, has given the Castro government greater international credit, legitimising a regime that continues to repress dissent. “Economic changes won’t bring political changes; now human rights and the promotion of democracy are not the priority of the discussion.”

But for ordinary Cubans and their understanding of their rights, Rodiles is more hopeful, Larson adds:

“People are more frustrated, more tired, and so they are more engaged. It is like there’s a small hole [in the power of the regime] and as that hole increases things move faster.”

He moves to show me a YouTube video by Estado de SATS of a recent demonstration in central Havana. A couple of activists walk down a busy street throwing pro-democracy flyers in the air, shouting “Libertad!” (freedom). After a few moments they are taken away in police cars, but this is when Rodiles gets excited. “Look, look at the people pick up the papers. They are taking papers and reading. For us, this is amazing. People are feeling less afraid.”