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Political Centrism in Cuba: A Historical Perspective

June 23, 2017

As one of the strategies that the United States employed for subverting the socialist model of Cuba, the idea of ‘political centrism’ has been developed and propagated, especially through digital media, for remedying the resounding failures and disparagement of the so-called ‘Cuban counter-revolution’. One of the encrypted messages, revealed by Wikileaks in 2010, showed how Jonathan Farrar, then chief of the US Interests Section in Havana, informed the State Department, on 15 April 2009, that the ‘opposition’ was split from Cuban reality and had no influence over the youth, which was more interested in money than diffusing its ideas to wider public.

In its origin, political centrism is a concept of geometric connotation: it is the point equidistant from all extremes. Supposedly, it is a political position that would be placed between the Left and the Right, between socialism and capitalism, a third way that reconciles two extreme ends, which is, by nature, against each type of radicalism. Lenin called this position ‘treacherous utopianism,’ ‘a product of bourgeois reformism’. These so-called third-ways, or centres, have never been a revolutionary option; they instead served as strategies to install, save, recompose, modernise, or restore capitalism.

When we consider the moderation that is imposed on the radicalism of Cuban Revolution—which was never an extremism— it is inevitable to find certain analogies between this centrism that is now articulated for Cuba and the nineteenth century autonomism. Autonomism, as a political current that started to be influential from the first half of the nineteenth century, determined the direction of a Cuban political party in 1878, as a result of the revolution that took place in 1868 (I). It was a current that emerged at the same historical moment as independence, integrism, and annexationism. It was the current of moderation par excellence, which was the enemy of Cuban independistas.

Centrists assumed an ‘equidistant’ position between integrism—the defence of status quo—and independence; however, in critical moments of history, they closed the ranks with integrism for halting and attacking the revolution, which they considered as the worst of evils. Some celebrated figures of autonomism ended up sharing the annexationist ideas when the US intervention-occupation took place in Cuba. The leaders of autonomism shone with their intellectual gifts, they were excellent orators, with a thought rooted in elitism, essentially bourgeois; hence, they could never drag behind the Cuban masses. The least Cuban people needed at that time was laboratory ideas, when the new independence movement kicked off in 1895, the autonomist party died out before the new national reality.

Autonomism defended a moderate nationalism that excluded the great majority of people, whose fundamental aspirations were not to break the link with ‘the Spanish motherland’ and to restore the Spanish domination of the Island. It is not surprising that patriotic avant-garde, headed by Jose Marti, fought against these autonomist ideas. On 31 January 1893, in one of his extraordinary speeches, Marti described autonomists as ’solely retrograde, who maintained, against the people formed in the revolution, the solutions that were pre-revolutionary.’

Despite the failure of autonomism in 1890s, the idea of supporting in Cuba a centre, moderate third force, as a third way, gained strength in the foreign policy of the United States in order to prevent the march of July 26 movement to power, something that became an obsession for the Eisenhower administration in 1950s (II). This strategy aimed at creating an equidistant position between Batista and Fidel Castro, which was to be strengthened both militarily and politically. The local CIA bureau of Havana was tasked with propagating and executing this third way strategy. This involvement was confirmed by a CIA officer, David Atlee Philips, in his autobiography, The Night Watch, when he notes that James Noel, then head of the CIA bureau of Havana, had informed him, during one of meetings, that the United States secretly supports a third way in Cuba, ‘a group between Castro on the left and Batista on the right.’

On February 1958, US intelligence agent William Morgan joined the Second National Front of Escambray, which was led by Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo. His mission was to become the second chief of this guerrilla group. He accomplished this mission by becoming, in a short time, a commandant of the movement. Morgan was not the only US spy who infiltrated in various Cuban movements with the hope of establishing a third force capable of fighting against Fidel Castro’s forces in Sierra Maestra. The United States also involved in other plots, through which it targeted to elevate the names of other figures capable of taking from Fidel Castro’s hands a revolutionary triumph: amongst them were lbay Ramón Barquín, Justo Carrillo, the leader of Montecristi movement and former prime minister Manuel Antonio ‘Tony’ de Varona. Even at a date like 23 December 1958, which immediately preceded the Socialist Revolution, Eisenhower, at a meeting of National Security Council, expressed his hope for emergence, growth, and strength of a ‘third force’ in Cuba.

The formation of a ‘third way’ was not only promoted by the United States, but also by certain politicians who advocated it in the interior. ‘The third way’ says Jorge Ibarra Guitart, ‘was a movement of the private institutions that represented the petite bourgeoisie, which aimed at reconciling with the regime. The patron of this movement was Jose Miro Cardona, who, through his Society of Friends of the Republic, had already planned the strategy for mobilising bourgeois formations in order to force the regime for reaching an agreement. Noticing that revolutionary organisations were rapidly gaining ground, the bourgeoisie, alarmed by the danger posed to its economic and political interests by a civil war, considered it timely to implement this strategy.’

As it proved impossible for the United States to prevent the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the seizure of power by the forces of July 26, in the first months of 1959, in order to prevent the Revolution from deepening its social reach, the fundamental objective of Washington consisted in supporting and helping the figures who were considered as ‘centrist moderates’ against what they saw as ‘extremists.’

Fernando Martinez Heredja, when pointing out to the existence of a ‘historical accumulation’ as a reference for a right-wing nationalism, which, in today’s Cuba, poses itself as a centre, mentions about a nationalism that is the inheritor, in the political sphere, of a long history of autonomism. What he mentions is the same tendency with the one accepted by the republic during the bourgeois neo-colonialism, which is utilised by the United States itself for keeping the structures of capitalist domination in Cuba under consensus and for preventing the rise of revolutionary forces. Today, we see that this same right-wing nationalism, stimulated by those who oppose us under the deceptive cover of centrism, has no other purpose than the desperate attempt to restore capitalism in Cuba. Once again, as in the past, this attempt will be a failed one, bound to disappointment. This current, as before, will fail to anchor its ideas in Cuba. Cuban people, who, for the most part, have embraced, throughout history, the values of independence, patriotism, revolution, and anti-imperialism have never ceded to the ideas of autonomism, annexationism, and right-wing nationalism.


(I) Cuban War of Independence from Spain
(II) The Movement of 26 July was formed, during the summer of 1955, by Fidel Castro for regrouping the survivors of a failed attack on 26 July 1953.

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