By Juan O. Tamayo, jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
Cuban security officers are studying post-communist changes in Russia — and being nicer to dissidents — in preparation for a possible transition away from the island’s totalitarian system, leading opposition activist Guillermo Fariñas said Tuesday.
Some of the officers fear a sudden collapse of the communist system and “don’t want to suffer the same fate as the followers of (Moamar) Kaddafi” in Libya, Fariñas said during a lengthy visit Tuesday to El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald.
They favor a slow transition that would allow them to seize ownership of state enterprises, he added, like the massive grab for public assets that the Sandinistas staged in Nicaragua as they left power in 1990 and became known as the “Piñata.”
Fariñas said he has friendly contacts with a half-dozen lieutenant colonels or colonels because they studied together in military high schools. He also served one year in Angola with a commando unit and spent three years at a military academy in the Soviet Union.
Some of the military officers told him they have been attending weekly lectures on the transitions in Russia and Belarus that they refer to as “Putinismo,” he said, in an apparent reference to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian yet capitalist rule.
They also told him that some of ruler Raúl Castro’s advisers have suggested that 15 to 25 dissidents should be allowed into the national parliament, Fariñas added. Castro replied that he agreed, but that brother Fidel would never allow it.
Some of the Interior Ministry officers in charge of monitoring and repressing dissidents also are “taking care not to get blood on the hands,” the activist said, to avoid punishments later in case Cuba shifts significantly toward democracy at some point.
State Security officials used to boast in the 1990s that the island’s communist system would never change. But now they tell him that they are only following orders, said Fariñas, who has staged more than 20 hunger strikes during his 21years as a dissident.
One State Security agent now politely asks Fariñas’ mother to put together the dissident’s daily medicines before taking him for questioning from his home in the central city of Santa Clara, the dissident said.
And one of the harshest State Security officers in the city, a 28-year-old who turned out to be the son of a bus driver at Farinas’ military school, now tells the dissident when other government opponents confront him, the activist said.
Fariñas said the officer tells him that he is sometimes forced to get tough when dissidents spit at him, swear at him and his mother or jeer him as “nalgón” – big butt.
Those and other Fariñas comments could not be independently confirmed, but other dissidents in Cuba, including human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, have previously said that he does have access to old friends in the security forces.
Fariñas said that he in fact ran into Miguel Diaz Canel — a fellow Santa Clara native and classmate in the military high school — six weeks before his promotion to First Vice President of the Council of State, No. 2 behind Raúl Castro.
Fariñas said he was walking by the home of Diaz Canel’s parents on Jan. 4 when he spotted the old friend parking his car, one of the Chinese-made Geely vehicles used by high government officials.
Diaz Canel shook his hand warmly and asked about his health as they spoke for about 15 minutes, the dissident said, largely about the 135-day hunger strike in 2010 that put him in the hospital several times.
The vice president noted in the chat that Fariñas refused to speak to several government envoys during the strike, the dissident said, and asked if Farinas would talk to him in case of another hunger strike.
Fariñas said he told Diaz Canel that they could indeed speak, and the government official replied that “he would keep that in mind.” But he added that he would have to report the conversation to his superiors in Havana.
Fariñas also said he would oppose an unconditional lifting of the U.S. embargo and added that while he respects the Catholic Church and its bishops, he has been “disappointed” with Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
If the Cuban government ever agrees to talks with the opposition, he added, Ortega should not be part of the negotiations.
Fariñas said he expects to go to Puerto Rico and later to Belgium, to pick up the $60,000 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience awarded to him by the European Parliament in 2010, before he returns to Havana around mid-July.