HAVANA – A newly revealed U.S. diplomatic cable describes Cuban dissidents as old, riven by petty rivalries and hopelessly out of touch, with leaders so focused on funding their operations they have little time to mount any serious opposition to the government.
The April 2009 cable, which was marked "confidential" and apparently written by America's top diplomat on the island, advises Washington to put more effort into supporting a younger generation of opponents of the Castro government, including artists, musicians and the blogger Yoani Sanchez.
That the Cuban opposition is small and isolated is not major news, but the fact that Washington has so little faith in the dissidents is surprising. America and Cuba are longtime enemies, and U.S. policy advocates supporting democratic and political change on the island, ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.
The cables, which were made available Friday by WikiLeaks, show Washington is under no illusions that the opposition is ready or able to accomplish that.
"Without some true epiphany among the opposition leadership and a lessening in official repression of its activities, the traditional dissident movement is not likely to supplant the Cuban government," reads the April cable, which is signed by Jonathan Farrar, the top diplomat at the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy. "We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans."
Farrar names leading opposition figures like Francisco Chaviano, Rene Gomez Manzano and Oswaldo Paya, and others whose names are redacted, who are already in their 50s and 60s, describing them as "comparatively old."
"They have little contact with younger Cubans and, to the extent they have a message that is getting out, it does not appeal to that segment of society," the cable says, adding that while the longtime dissidents were focused on human rights and getting their colleagues out of jail, most young Cubans are "more concerned about having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably."
The cable also complains that the dissidents are disorganized and at each others throats, obsessed with money and with undercutting rivals.
"With seeking resources as a primary concern (of dissident groups), the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources," the cable complains.
Farrar adds that before the opposition can hope to win support among Cubans "they must first begin to achieve some level of unity of purpose as an opposition, or at least stop spending so much energy trying to undercut one another."
The cable describes one group called the "Agenda for the Transition," whose only achievement before disintegrating in a power struggle was to bestow an award on the graphic designer who designed its logo.
Cuba's government dismisses opponents as American stooges bankrolled by Washington to undermine the revolution, but the cables' only reference to financial support depicts dissident groups making unmet requests.
Farrar sounds exasperated in describing a visit he received from leaders of a group who came to the U.S. Interests Section and "quite openly and frankly" presented him with a budget for salaries in hopes American diplomats would pay it.
In the cable, Farrar advises giving more attention to a new generation, mentioning Yoani Sanchez by name. The young blogger has won international acclaim for her searing social commentaries, often on topics that are not overtly political.
But Farrar acknowledges that those young Cubans opposed to the government have little interest in calling themselves dissidents.
"Younger individuals, including bloggers, musicians, and performing and plastic artists do not belong to identifiable organizations, though they are much better at taking 'rebellious' stands with greater popular appeal," the cable says.
"However, these individuals are still tightly controlled by the GOC (Government of Cuba), eschew the label of 'dissident'" and do not seem to aspire to any leadership role."