The announcements by Presidents Castro and Obama on December 17 (D17) produced a torrent of media coverage and academic analysis that, understandably, centered on diplomatic negotiations. This article examines a less discussed, but equally important, theme: reconciliation among Cubans. Looking at the processes of Cuban national reconciliation from the individual and societal levels, both within Cuba and between the island and diaspora, the article identifies likely facilitators and lingering obstacles to processes of accommodation. It complicates the conceptualization of "exile" and "island" by challenging both common stereotypes of a sharply divided nation with an intractably vengeful exile and of a unified socialist island. It also acknowledges that, while the pace of national reunification is
Reconciliation at the Individual Level: A Longstanding Phenomenon between Island and Diaspora
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter ended the travel ban imposed through the U.S. embargo in 1963,
From the other side of the Florida Straits,
Structured individual and small group reconciliation is also taking place in southern Florida as a theoretically informed practice through the pioneering work of Sister Ondina Cortés at St. Thomas University. Sr. Cortés organizes what she calls "Circles of Reconciliation," which include several weekly meetings among voluntary participants who arrived in different waves of migration. Each participant initially tells the story of his or her exit from Cuba, attempting to find forgiveness and reconciliation with themselves in the process—i.e., identifying and letting go of trauma, grudges, and rancor. The group then focuses on societal reconciliation by sharing ideas on how to heal divisions within the Cuban nation. Most participants
A variation on this process transpired between 2001 and 2003 in the Cuban National Reconciliation Task Force on Memory, Truth, and Justice, a project sponsored by the Ford Foundation and convened by
National Reconciliation at the Societal Level
At a recent conference at Florida International University, two well-known Cuba scholars asserted that the present level of alienation of Cuban citizens from their government is broad and deep. They differed sharply, however, on whether the government
Supporters of the regime point to systematic public consultations, such as the 2010 meetings held nationwide to critique President Raúl Castro's proposed economic plan, as evidence of active debate and continued civic commitment to a national social pact led by the Communist Party (Bobes 2013). They point out that the 2010 consultations resulted in 68 percent of the plan's specifics being altered, thus confirming that the consultations are effective
It is illegal in Cuba to form an organizational association without first receiving government authorization (Dupuy and
Despite being unknown to their countrymen, over the last 25 years, Cuba's unauthorized civil society has become nonviolent,
Rise of Nonviolence
Until the late 1970s, dissident groups inside Cuba continued to use the violent tactics that had characterized revolutionary armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship. Violence continued in exile into the late 1970s and early 1980s as groups advocating dialogue with the Cuban regime
Little Growth in Exile: Rising Numbers and Diversity in Cuba
Within the diaspora, political activism has not expanded
A second type includes moderates who focus their work on common goals, seeking consensus while tolerating differences and avoiding debates about issues that divide them. For example, the Proyecto
It is in Cuba that there has been an explosion of new activists and a dizzying proliferation of unauthorized NGO's. A directory prepared in 1996 listed over 360 new organizations (del Castillo,
As dissidents expanded their organizing to develop nationwide chapters and began to form coalitions of local and national groups, the government cracked down on the so-called "Black Spring of 2003," returning to a process of show trials lacking due process, which
Scandal and Sophistication
Any dissident in Cuba can count on being fired from government employment and denied permits for independent work.
In 1996, the United States
U.S. journalists eventually gained access to information on these grants, and, by 2006, concerned members of Congress forced audits showing that "
An additional outcome of these initial years is that dissident leaders traveled widely, establishing relationships with a variety of potential supporters without mediating their requests through exile organizations. Opening of Cuban travel has
Divisions within and among Groups
In 2013, as he announced the formation of a new coalition of groups including fourteen victims of the "Black Spring" roundup, Guillermo Fariñas admitted that "this marked the twelfth time he has
Coalitions seem to falter for two reasons. First, leadership struggles break up national groups and coalitions. Most recently, just a day before D17, leadership struggles among the Ladies in White (a celebrated group of women who conducted silent marches in protest against the imprisonment of their loved ones in the Black Spring of 2003) ended with an act of repudiation staged by one founder against another.
A second limiting factor is the continual division between oppositionist and moderate strategies. Groups make repeated attempts to focus on common goals, but seem inevitably to come to cross-purposes. The most conservative groups are those receiving U.S. funding. They have pledged to launch a public relations and lobbying campaign to maintain the U.S. embargo. Hence, the expansion of the D17 process and the reconciliation of U.S. and Cuban differences at the state level will
The only group that has emerged with incremental accomplishments and expanding leverage with the state is the Catholic Church. In the 1990s, the Church negotiated reopening of Caritas to deliver social services such as disaster relief, daycare programs, and feeding programs for the elderly, at exactly the same time that the Cuban social system
In 2010, the Ladies in White approached Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the Cuban Catholic Church, to attempt mediation with Raúl Castro. The process resulted in the release of
In the 1990s, Jonathan Fox introduced
The bedrock process of informal personal and small group reconciliation that has advanced within the diaspora and between
The taint of U.S. funds and manipulation is a continuing impediment that needs to
Perhaps the best that can
*Holly Ackerman is the Librarian for
Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Studies at Duke University. She is the author of The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty, which established the foundational demography and history of the 1994 Cuban raft crisis, and is an editor of the recently published collection of essays Cuba: People, Culture, History (Charles Scribner's Sons, 2011).
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By the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and the Social Science Research Council