Contesting national identity, the case of the Cuban opposition in Facebook. A quantitative content analysis
Author: Vania Lopez Diaz Student number: 13999303
Graduate School of Communication
Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme in Journalism, Media and Globalization Supervisor: Dr. C.D.R.O. (Christopher) Starke
Date of completion: June 24, 2022 Word count: 7486
This study examines the construction of bottom-up discourses about national identity in the movement Archipielago in Cuba as a means to build resistance counter-narratives that seeks the mobilization of the people. With the aim to contribute to the studies about national identity in authoritarian regimes, it combines measurements of national identity applied in previous studies and international surveys, with the theory of identity
framing. Through quantitative content analysis of Facebook posts (n=26) and comments (n=1338), the research dives into the reinterpretation of national symbols as a resource through which national identity has been debated and discussed on social media. The study reveals that the use of the common historical past overlaps in the construction of national identity in the opposition and the official discourse by using recurrent heroes of past wars and their values, it also brings light to the reproduction of a gender bias when priming the values of male over female figures and found that in spite of the efforts of the opposition to detach from the notions of national identity promoted by the
government, there are some prevailing ones in their discourse, mainly when addressing loyalty to the nation, expressed through the utmost sacrifice and martyrdom of the most representative figures.
Studies have shown how revolutions around the world make use of the reinterpretation of historical symbols that represented the power they aim at fighting (Hancock and Gurung, 2018; Ruijgrok, 2017) as a resource to mobilize people and build counter- narratives to discredit the governments. For more than a year now, that has been the case in Cuba, a Caribbean island under the ruling of a single-party system that has endured over six decades, a country that scores very low in both political rights and civil liberties worldwide (Freedom House, 2022).
Fox and Miller-Idriss (2008) claim that ‘nationhood’ is produced and reproduced in everyday life into four main features which are, how the nation as a discursive construct is constituted and legitimated; how nationhood frames the choices people make; the everyday meanings of national symbols; and how ‘ordinary people’ ‘consume the nation’. I make a particular interest in the discursive construction of the nation and the articulation of national identity through the use of national symbols, as they are
representative forms of a common past and an important constituency in the construction of the nation itself.
Over the official discourse, “being Cuban has been articulated through an appeal to historically rooted nationalist and populist discourses, in which the Cuban people are presented as continuing a legacy of heroic revolutionary victories” (Garcia Santamaria, 2017, p.4). Cuban national identity has been therefore approached from the scope of uncontested militancy and loyalty to the state, the communist party, and its leaders. This has led to an intrinsic division between the loyal and the traitors that were reflected in the statement of the Cuban president Miguel Diaz Canel Bermudez after the popular uprisings of July 2021, when stated that “the streets are for the revolutionaries” and the order for combat is already given (to fight the protesters)” (Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 2021).
Being the case of Cuba one where there is a monopoly of the communication channels and the internet service by the state, so as laws that punish the expression of divergent ideas from the ones defended by the government, the discussion of topics around national identity presents itself as a challenge to the status quo and a different path to follow by the opposition.
It is in this scenario that, on August 2021, some activists created the social movement Archipielago, in Facebook, as “a platform for civic and peaceful action, with no
affiliation to a political party, no leader, political program or ideological definition, that fostered citizen empowerment through the creation of spaces for citizen’s participation to fight discrimination, conquest fundamental human rights and promote civic
consultations” (Archipielago. Facebook, 2021). In addition, they intended to convene a civic march for the change that would make the government not only reconsider the dialogue with the opposition and the restoration of lost liberties but also would possibly imply the resignation of the current government.
The strong activism deployed within Archipielago was remarkable because the interests of the movement were not presented as sectarian, concerning only an intellectual group within society asking for a change, but the voices of thousands of users from inside and outside the country, identifying themselves with the opposition.
This group has currently over 38 000 members engaged in the debate about societal and political issues, including national identity, grounding on its most symbolic
representations as it concerns Cuban identity. Precisely one of the discursive resources used by the members of the movement is the reinterpretation of identitarian symbols in the form of a semiotic guerrilla as described by Eco (1986); a means to invoke
sentiments of revelry and detachment from the current notion of national identity that the communist project has defended since 1959, which is directly linked to blind loyalty to the state. This phenomenon leads to the main research question in this study: In what ways has Cuban national identity been redefined and debated on opposition social media, through the reinterpretation of identitarian national symbols?
In the Cuban scenario, three characteristics make this, a relevant and challenging academic study in political communication related to national identities. These are, the fact that the indoctrination process has fused all the identity elements of the past in the foundational values of the Cuban revolution of 1959; the fact that never before the civil society played such a role in constructing bottom-up democratic alternative discourses to approach the Cuban roots and at last, the fact that the communicational strategies of the government and the opposition movement overlap, while invoking the heartland, in what it seems to be two confrontational ways of populism: authoritarian and
On the appropriation of national identity to undermine the power of the state, Hancock and Gurung (2018) argue that “when the national identity is contested, nonviolent movements have the opportunity to sever the regime’s power and make a credible case for their movement’s own success” (p.5)’; while regarding the importance of this construct in the creation of nation-states KhosraviNik and Zia (2015) pointed at it at the core of the political processes; where nation is conceptualized as an imagined and cultural community (Anderson, 1983), “that is shaped and conveyed both through top- down discourses (e.g. mass media, education, politics) and bottom-up social language- in-use through the (re)telling of national narratives by members” (KhosraviNik and Zia, 2015, p.5) (re)producing and reflecting social relations and practices.
By no means, this study aims at putting the discussion on national identity at the center of the opposition movement in Cuba or giving it a causal weight over the contextual, whether political or economic causes, for the popular uprisings in 2021. Instead, it is
considered an instrument that drives the strategic communication and deliberation on social media, specifically at the heart of the social movement Archipielago. It aims at contributing to the study of the construction of national identity in authoritarian regimes and analyzing the construction of bottom-up discourses in refuting the functionalist perspective from which national identity has been constructed by the Cuban
November 2020 marked the beginning of a new period in Cuba, when a group of young artists stood for their rights to freedom of expression. This was the first step to a
succession of actions in opposition to the government that endures for almost two years now. From the very beginning, the protests were loaded with deep symbolism, as the participants read pieces of the national hero in a loud voice, made street performances with the flag, and evoked heroic stories from the past, that are formative of the national identity to vindicate the rights of the people.
In order to understand the Cuban context, it is necessary to know that currently, the country is going through a deep economic crisis resulting from failed economic policies, the high rate of inflation, and the pandemic effects that have ranked it the number one position of the Hanke’s Annual Misery Index (HAMI) 2021.
Regarding the political situation, the government has passed legal resources to prevent people from expressing themselves freely such as the Law Decree 370 from 2019 which establishes as a contravention “the diffusion of information, through public networks for the transmission of data, against the social interest, the morality, the good customs and the integrity of people” (Decreto-Ley No.370, 2019). Given such vague criteria and taking into account that the internet service is a monopoly of a single state-owned company, there is plenty of room for any form of expression to be considered punishable by the law.
In the aftermath of the first attempts of protest by the artists, there was still no open public support for their cause. To delegitimize the activism they made, the government made efforts to dismantle their discourse and link them to the US government, a long- used strategy to allege that the intentions of the opposition are not genuine and faithful to the interests of the people, instead they serve a foreign government and are
considered mercenaries in the official discourse. At an early stage, the insurgent movement formed by artists might have led these efforts to have a sectarian character, isolating the concerns and actions only to the interest of an intellectual group, not the people in general; until July 11, 2021.
On this date, the tensions reached their highest peak when people massively took to the streets across different provinces in the country. It was the first time in over six decades that the people as a whole asked for the vindication of their rights. What came next was a wave of violence and repressive actions against the participants (Al Jazeera, 2021;
Barría, 2021; Corrales, 2021; DeYoung, 2021; European Parliament, 2021; Faiola &
Herrero, 2021; Human Rights Watch, 2021; Reuters, 2021) that has been sustained against the representatives of Archipielago.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Defining national identity
National identity has been approached by scholars through different disciplines like sociology, anthropology, psychology, and politics. This concept has been very often targeted “in the intertwin of debates on nationalism and nation and as a by-product of these discussions that can be situated as the underdeveloped offspring of these two relatives” (McCrone and Bechhofer, 2015, p.5) as well as it could be considered as
“virtually absent in scholarly discussions of democratic revolutions and breakthroughs, as these studies have continued a commonplace practice of focusing on institutional, democratic and economic factors” (Kuzio, 2012, p. 7).
For the purpose of this study national identity will be considered as defined by Herb (2004, p. 3): a form of ‘‘collective memory”, (…) “a representation of the process of negotiation and exchange that allows a reconciliation of contradictory memories and conflicting identities that coexist in a nation”; through the selection of elements of the past that are core to the cultural knowledge, tradition, and singularity shared by the members of the nation.
From the functionalist perspective, national identity was identified as twofold, the mean through which the nation nurtures its own existence and that through which individuals avoid alienation to become part of the social and political construct (Smith, 2008).
Away from this notion that presents people as passive agents assuming the normative elements of national identity in order to belong, this study considers national identity, not as static but a dynamically discussed and constructed concept, “based on a historical narration of material events, beliefs and values” (KhosraviNik and Zia, 2015, p. 4) that is shaped in people’s everyday life (Fox and Miller-Idriss, 2008) in the form of ‘a daily plebiscite’ (Renan, 1990).
Regarding the origin of national identities, Helbling et al. (2016) point to three mechanisms that I group here into two categories, considering whether the influence they exert come from internal or external factors. As internal it could be considered the
“political socialization whereas via both education and social interaction, national- identity is transmitted through long-term exposure to a society’s norms with respect to who qualifies as part of the national ‘we’” (p.4), while the external sources would be related to global trends like “socio-economic deprivation, and cultural modernization to link ‘ethnic’/ ascriptive national identity to various measures of socially ‘traditionalist’
values” (p.4). Political socialization, by means of a centralized media and education system, has been the mechanism through which the process of indoctrination and systematization of national identity values has been carried out in Cuba.
As a tool for comparative studies on the role of national identity in political engagement (Rupar et al., 2021) and participation (Miller & Ali, 2014), the scholarly has divided the nature of national identity into dichotomic categories that distinguish between ethnic and civic components (Fabrykant, 2018; Helbling et al., 2016; Miller and Ali, 2014).
These studies point at the former with an emphasis on shared traditional culture, language, and biological ancestry; while the latter makes references to a shared loyalty to the state, its institutions, and its goals. As approached by Fabrykant (2018),
whichever of these two came first “determines which is going to play a more important role in a fully-fledged nation” (p.4).
Building Cuban national identity
In the case of Cuba, the discursive construction of the Cuban nation goes side by side with the building of the state that arose from the revolutionary process led by Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959. Therefore, the discussions and historical approach around national identity in Cuba have been around its civic component more than a
cultural one. From 1959 on, uncontested loyalty to the ‘Cuban Revolution’ and its political ideology became the cornerstone upon which the values of the Cuban people, as seen by their leaders, were built.
This line has had an explicitly exclusionary character that is recognized by Stoner (2003) as the sacredness of national identity that is used both, to humiliate foreign enemies and to exclude Cubans who expressed no commitment to the same cause. The highest exponent of this claim was Castro’s statement in 1961 in his speech ‘Words to the Intellectuals’ when he said “Inside the Revolution, everything; against the
Revolution, nothing” (Castro Ruz, 1961).
The Cuban Revolution of 1959 came to be ‘the materialization of people’s will’ and Castro, the representation of an extraordinary leader and a ‘national hero’ (Garcia Santamaria, 2017), the embodiment of the male virtue of past fighters who conquered what seemed lost in over ninety years of war against the colonial power of Spain and the postcolonial republic dominated by the United States. Cuban history has been written privileging the male role (Sóñora, 2011) and priming the honor of those leaders (Stoner, 2003) to be examples to follow. The Cuban nation and national identity have been defined then, in terms of unity, resilient spirit against an enemy that threatens the sovereignty (US), and uncontested militancy.
In order to ground the roots of a durable system, Castro used a populist-in-nature communication strategy that aimed at “constructing, and reminding his followers of the new collective identity” (Garcia Santamaria, 2017, p. 43), while building unity based on
“a culture of secrecy, the assumption that divergent opinions could divide, create resentment and offer a weak image of the revolutionary consensus”, as pointed by the Cuban scholar Rafael Hernandez (2003, p. 22).
As it is presumable, this kind of remark on what being truly Cuban means stands as a paradigm to construct the ‘we’ and ‘them’ from the civic dimension of national identity more than a cultural one and it sets the stage for also ascribing the nation in terms of geographical borders, claiming for long that those who left the island were traitors (Stoner, 2003) and scum of society, a notion that has evolved into less radically expressions, although people is still socially and legally punished, out of dissent with the government.
For the purpose of this study, I will focus on civic and cultural understandings of national identity in Cuba, assuming as hypotheses that:
H1: “The discussion around national identity in opposition social media in Cuba seeks to defend the historical grassroots traits upon which this imaginary is constructed”.
H1a: “The historical values defended by both men and women in the opposition discourse are addressed through a gender bias that primes the courage of past heroes”.
H2: “The discussion around national identity in opposition social media in Cuba takes a criticist stance when performing a civic argument towards the political system and its economic performance”.
National identity has been framed by the Cuban government from a functionalist perspective, as settled, rooted, and immutable, just like the system that has used the communist propaganda, the education system, and the media as “institutions involved in the discursive construction and maintenance of this (collective memory) and other dimensions of national identity” (Rutten et al., 2013, p. 85). With a state monopoly of all the institutions, authoritarian regimes like Cuba have made it “extremely difficult for social movements and activists to find a space removed from government control in which to meet like-minded people and to mobilize for collective action” (Ruijgrok, 2017, p. 7).
If pointing to the concretion of any form of political activism from the opposition and the civil society in Cuba, it is necessary to say that the advent of the Internet as
accessible for everybody, in 2017, is very relevant to the topic, and this study. Although it cannot be stated that the mere fact of accessing this resource is sufficient to collapse state power (Wylie and Glidden, 2013), as shown by research on the Arab Spring, it certainly contributes to “both the democratization of the mediated identities and the erosion of the national framework for their reproduction” (Rutten et al., 2013, p. 86); so as it fosters the development of civil society, and widens and deepens public discourse and deliberation (Kania-Lundholm and Lindgren, 2017; Ruijgrok, 2017; Stoycheff et al., 2020).
According to the report from the site Statista on the internet penetration for the period 2010-2019, 61.84 percent of the population was connected (Statista, 2022).
Furthermore, “in 2020, Facebook accounted for 76.11 percent of all social media site visits in Cuba” (Statista, 2022a) and has been the platform for mobilization used by the social movement under study.
Although the role of the internet and the use of social media for participation and mobilization has been highly contested by the scholarly on their potential for democratization, taking into account that “the new affordances do not necessarily
trigger radical new social and political engagements per se” (Khosravinik and Zia, 2015, p. 4); research on contexts with a long history of a limited public sphere due to state control, has shown that digital technologies are associated with progress and a chance for developing democracy (Hoctor, 2007; Ruijgrok, 2017).
About the importance of social media as a space for individuals and groups to actively express and ‘create identities’, Aghapouri (2020) argued its importance “in that while they can transmit shared symbols they shape a sense of national community” (p.1).
Through the appropriation of the past by common users, who prioritize a non- professional, “bottom-up knowledge of history these communities address
mythologized events and chosen traumas of the past linked with their topical political value” (Rutten et al., 2013, p. 27) and have the potential to become crucial players in political activism by taking political stances, which is “the primary discursive
mechanism by which identity is realized” (Sarkhoh and KhosraviNik, 2020, p. 3), out of their particular political agenda.
Within the community that forms Archipielago, the construction of national identity as a strategic element has been made through the functionalities of the platform that allow a horizontal communication practice through active actions like joining group/page, liking, following, sharing, tagging, and hyperlinking; as well as the members have made used of classic meaning-making resources, as presented by Sarkhoh and KhosraviNik, (2020) “such as linguistic (or multimodal) content production through discussions, commentaries, and posts” (p.3). In light of these practices, this study examines how national identity has been discussed and debated in the opposition movement Archipielago in Cuba, through the reinterpretation of national symbols; and aims at testing its third and last hypothesis:
H3: “The frames and topics used to refer to the Cuban nation change over time in accordance with landmark events within the movement”.
This study was conducted on Cuban social media, specifically, Facebook where the emergence of a movement opposing the government since August 2021, provides the scenario to measure the changes introduced through the bottom-up discourse of the opposition, in what has been historically understood as the Cuban national identity.
For the purpose of this research, the chosen units of analysis were Facebook posts, regarding the construction of national identity; as well as the subsequent discussion performed by the users in the form of comments. The posts were selected by using Facebook search bar in Archipielago and a criteria of more than 50 comments minimum in response to each of them, within the time frame between August and December 2021 that corresponds to major events within the group: its creation, the failure of the march for the change intended on November 15, 2021, and the posterior voluntary exile of the main representative of the group. Some of the terms indexed in the search were
‘Patria’(fatherland), ‘history’, ‘flag’, ‘national anthem, ‘national hero’, ‘revolution’, and
The sampling technique was random sampling, which according to Neuendorf (2002, p.
8) is the most suitable for a “content analysis to be generalizable to some population of messages”. Furthermore, regarding representativeness, Bryman (2012) argues that this is the main way to generate a representative sample of the population under analysis, as every unit of analysis (Facebook posts in this case), has the same chance of being chosen.
Regarding the comments, they were scrapped through the site
www.exportcomments.com, a tool that only extracts comments made by public profiles for which it provides identifying details including the profile name and a link to the user’s account. To ensure the privacy of the user, it was assigned each a number and the
1 ‘Mambises’ were the Cuban soldiers who fought against Spain in the Ten Years' War (1868–78) and Cuban War of Independence (1895–98)
profile names and ids were eliminated from the dataset, after completing the information about the gender.
The users who repeated themselves in interventions were filtered out manually to avoid outliers in the data and to actually show representativeness, this way, the most active users were only considered once in the dataset. The comments were manually checked for relevance, eliminating those only containing stickers or expressions that didn’t add relevance to the discussion of national identity.
The chosen method was quantitative content analysis, which is suitable to answer the question the study is built upon, in that it aims to show generalizable patterns in the target population and the further replication of the results (Reinard, 2006). In order to ground the research on a solid basis and taking into account that one of the main criticisms of quantitative research points at “the spurious sense of accuracy” (Bryman, 2012, p. 178) in the measurement process, the study uses an already tested scale of four dimensions used on previous studies (Miller and Ali, 2014; Rupar et al., 2021) about national identity, as well as international surveys like the International Social Survey Programme and the World Values Survey. These four dimensions are national attachment, national pride, critical vs. uncritical patriotism, and civic vs. cultural conceptions of identity.
Cuban national identity is operationalized in this research by analyzing national
attachment in how strongly a person identifies as a Cuban. It was coded in terms of the presence/ absence of expressions that refer to closeness to the Cuban historical symbols presented in the posts. The expressions may be explicit or implicit as shown in the examples provided in the codebook (See Appendix II).
National pride, is coded through proud, not proud, or not present and refers to the discoursive indicators that address pride or shame regarding specific national
achievements such as economic performance or statements related to a certain degree of criticism about core decisions that the government made in the past like the repression of the religious and gay community or sending young boys to foreign wars in Africa.
Regarding critical vs. uncritical patriotism, the research design looks at this dimension as to whether a person’s attitude towards the nation is one of uncritical support, or whether he/she is willing to distance himself from some of its actions and accept that
one can be a loyal dissenter (Miller and Ali, 2014). The coding stated three categories:
critical patriotism, uncritical patriotism, and not present. It is worth noting that in the Cuban context, where uncontested militancy and loyalty to the government is the set standard for a good citizen true to the national values, being a patriot means being on the government’s side while critiquing it is considered disloyal.
As for Civic vs Cultural conceptions of national identity, this dimension was measured into civic national identity, cultural national identity, and not present. It concerns the way in which the nation itself is understood whether in terms of common ancestry, language, and place of birth or in terms of place of residence and respect for institutions and laws. The expressions concerning cultural conceptions might refer to the nation in statements like ‘our history will never divide us’ or bringing up terms of the popular imaginary like Cuba being an ‘ajiaco’(mixed soup), a mixture of ethnic and cultural identities from its colonial past. Those referring to civic conceptions that defy the political system could be #PatriayVida or #NosotrosNoDamosOrdenesDeCombate.
On the other hand, the study grounds on the theory of national identity frames by Lichtenstein and Eilders (2019) to analyze the construction of national identity not as static but as a dynamically discussed and constructed concept on social media. An identity frame establishes an understanding of a certain kind of community that is indicated by statements on general objectives, norms and/or historic aspects (Lichtenstein and Eilders, 2019).
The coded frames ground on different studies that have approached aspects of the Cuban nation: Cuba as a mixture of cultures (Ortiz, 1940), Cuba as a politically united nation (Azicri and Moreno, 1981), Cuba as a divided nation (Duong, 2021), Cuba as a nation is aligned with the project of the Cuban Revolution (Huberman and Sweezy, 1969), Cuba as a nation needs to create a new Revolution (Sarmiento, 2021), Cuba as a nation is delimited within its borders (Herrera, 2012) and Cuba as a nation comprises all Cubans, inside and abroad (Herrera, 2012). An open code category was included for topics and sub-topics that emerged from the analysis of the content the users shared.
One last category was coded, regarding the values defended in the comments, which was coded into four categories related to expressions that explicitly or implicitly
referred to Values of the Cuban Revolution, Values of past heroes, Values of past heroines, Not present, and Cultural values.
In light of reliability challenges, another trained coder who was not involved in
developing the coding scheme (Wimmer and Dominick, 2013) independently coded the posts and comments to run an intercoder reliability test on the results. Codes were entered into Microsoft Excel, and reliability was analyzed using SPSS. To ensure reliability, the coder was trained on the coding scheme and independently coded a subsample of the same articles representing 5% of the population.
After coding 1338 comments derived from 26 Facebook posts that entailed discussions about national identity through the reinterpretation of national symbols, it was found that 89.5 % of the users, explicitly or implicitly stated to feel nationally attached (M=.92, SD=.26); 74.4 % expressed not being proud (M=.44, SD=.82) and 74.7 % stated critical patriotism (M=1.19, SD=.44). Furthermore, the most debated conception of national identity was civic national identity (M=.89, SD=.45) with 75.7 % of users addressing these conceptions; while when framing the Cuban nation, the most used frame, by 57.8% of the commenters, was that referring that ‘Cuba needs a new
revolution’ (M=4.67, SD=1.88). Regarding the different values explicitly present in the comments, the overall references were made to the courage of ancient male heroes (M=1.89, SD=.71), with 25.5 % of the sample addressing this, as shown in Table 1.
The measure of agreement for intercoder reliability was determined by the use of
Krippendorff’s α through macro code in IBM SPSS 22 (Hayes and Krippendorff, 2007).
The coefficients of agreement based on Krippendorff’s α represented the following:
1.00 for national attachment, 1.00 for national pride, .40 for critical vs uncritical patriotism, .37 for cultural vs civic conceptions of national identity, and .29 for historical values defended in statements.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics of the different categories measured in the codebook
While testing hypothesis 1 that refers to the defense of the historical traits upon which national identity has been built, the data showed that most of the users feel nationally attached, and defended the values of male heroes from past wars that are foundational to the building of national identity in Cuba. They also made use of past anecdotes and historical texts while debating about national identity.
When performing the crosstabulation of the data corresponding to the male (n=784) and female (n=457) population regarding the defense of values while addressing national identity, for hypothesis 1a, it was found that the most addressed values by both sexes were those that highlight the courage and actions of the ancient heroes. A highly statistically significant relationship between the variables gender and historical values was also found, when performing a Chi-square test of independence (df=8, p<.001), rejecting the null hypothesis, as shown in Table 2. Men were more likely than women to defend the values of male figures.
Table 2. Results of Pearson Chi-Square test of independence to examine the relation between gender and the defense of values
The testing of hypothesis 2, that addressed the criticist stance of users when performing a civic argument towards the political system and its economic performance, showed a consistent pattern of people feeling less proud and being critical patriots (both
categories related to criticism towards decisions of the nation), who engaged more in discussions about civic conceptions of identity than cultural conceptions.
On the other hand, for hypothesis 3, concerning changes in time of the frames and topics debated in Archipielago, it was found that 23,2 % of the comments stated to be completely in accordance with the statements of the posts they were derived from, for which they did not raise any new topic or frame, by means of creation of original content. During the coding, it was found a change in time of both frames and topics, corresponding to or around different landmark events within the analyzed timeframe, as shown in Graph 1.
Graph 1. Correspondence of frames variation in time (August 2021 to December 2021)
The topics, as an open code, were grouped by the elements related to the national identity they made reference to. Among those raised from the content of the posts, considered in this study the primary points of debate due to the Facebook dynamics that comments follow the threat of posts, there were identified the following six main topics, from which there were derived several subtopics over the course of the discussion (See Annexe I):
● Cubans need the courage of their heroes to claim their right to freedom of expression in their country;
● Cubans need to restore the Constitution of 1940 to grant the lost rights;
● Cuban history and its representative figures have been distorted in the name of the construction of the Cuban Revolution;
● Cuban identity comes from different religious and cultural roots, but the state promotes African over European origins;
● The true Cuban heroes and patriots are those who sacrifice their individuality for the good of the whole nation;
● Cubans in the exile and Cubans inside the island need to reconcile their differences for the sake of national unity and the common cause of freedom from authoritarianism
Findings reveal the use of narratives contesting the interpretation of national symbols as a resource to express that the members of Archipielago feel entitled, as Cubans, to promote a change using national identity elements, the same way it happened during the Arab Spring (Hancock and Gurung, 2018). By means of appropriation of history, the users have taken political stances (Rutten et al., 2013) and made statements of principles regarding the identity values they think their struggle must be grounded upon.
The reliability test showed low scores in at least three categories of analysis that constituted the most interpretive ones. Time constraints in the training of the second coder might have had an influence on the results, so as the fact of not being equally knowledgeable about historical references that might be implicit. It is also valid to point out that paired intercoder reliability is not advised (De Swert, 2012) due to the
potentially conflictual results.
On the appropriation of historical grassroots values
On the analysis around hypothesis 1, the study showed that indeed the most defended historical values when debating national identity were those referring to the courage of ancient heroes over those of the most recent history that corresponds to the fights for the Cuban revolution of 1959. This pattern is consistent with the aim of the movement itself which seeks to undermine the ‘corrupted power’ of the current project that raises figures like Fidel and Raul Castro and their values as examples for new generations. It is worth mentioning that although at some point the use of heroes from ancient wars coincides in recurrent characters used by the propaganda, they differ in intention when being used on social media by the opposition at promoting detachment from the Cuban revolution and its principles.
To defend the very historical grassroots traits upon which national identity has been built in Cuba, they not only make statements that differ in political leaning when stating shame, criticism, or detachment from the decisions of the government but also share texts from Jose Marti, the National Hero, that have been omitted from textbooks for criticizing the Marxist doctrine, foundational of the struggles of the 1959 Cuban revolution. Marti’s political thoughts and other past figures have been placed in line with the values that serve as the basement for the construction of the Cuban revolution (Stoner, 2003) and using them to critique the government is a clear indication of the bottom-up construction of national identity from Archipielago.
The defense of these foundational values corresponds to the built-in and concretion of the fighting spirit of the Cuban people in male figures (Sóñora, 2011) like the ‘father of all Cubans’, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes or Jose Marti himself. When addressing hypothesis 1a, the overwhelming presence of references to the courage of male heroes in consonance with the absence of any references to the role of women in the liberation wars can be seen. The most prominent leaders throughout the history of the Cuban fight against oppressive colonial and republican powers have been male figures, giving the female ones a place backstage as exemplars and sacrificed mothers, sisters, or wives of those patriots.
In spite of the efforts of the republican and revolutionary governments for redeeming the role of women (Stoner, 2003), the narratives around Cuban history still recognize the role of men as stronger players in the conquest of independence. The recurrent use of these male figures to embody the “exemplary sacrifice, combat readiness, and exceptional fighting ability” (Stoner, 2003, p. 5) of the Cuban people has driven a gender bias in conceptions regarding the main characters in Cuban history, that is also present in the construction of national identity values in the opposition movement. As a result, when making distinctions between the position of men and women regarding values, it can be perceived a similar behavior of standing for male heroes over heroines.
A strong relationship is shown due to the scope of the hypothesis that seeks across both sexes, although the main difference can be set between the female and male users in the sample is regarding the superior presence of men who engage in the use of male figures.
Performing civic arguments and framing the nation
Regarding the national pride and critical vs uncritical patriotism dimensions with respect to civic identity conceptions, the results of the study show agreement with the statement of hypothesis 2, while showing that the dimension of national pride is driven by criticism on the economic and political decisions of the government and patriotism is expressed through statements that refer the contested right to dissent and still feel attached to the nation and its grassroots foundational values. The term patriot in Cuba, as pointed in previous sections of this study, has been determined by the use of the discourse of politicians and national media when referring to worthy patriots as those committed to the cause of the Revolution and as traitors to anyone who dares raising criticism about it.
The results of the study, while obtained from the analysis of discursive resources at the heart of an opposition movement, show more incidence of not proud and critical patriots
addressing civic arguments when referring to national identity, than there is the presence of users expressing pride and complete support for the government. At this point of the discussion, it is also important to note that in light of threats, trolling and harassment to the members of Archipielago, initially a public group, the moderators decided to make it private; and this might have created a gap in opinion trends among the users, prevailing criticist stances over supportive ones regarding the government.
Over the course of the organization of this movement, from August to December 2021 there were several landmark events that influenced the discussion of frames on the Cuban nation and topics related to these events. Among them it can be mentioned the creation of the group itself, the call for the civic march for the change on November 15, 2021; the subsequent decision of the government to militarize the country in an annual exercise of national defense on that same date; and the exile of the main identified figure of the movement.
As shown in the results corresponding to the testing of hypothesis 3, the most used frame to refer to the Cuban nation was that related to the need for a new revolution, which coincided not only with the aim of the group in general principles (Archipielago.
Facebook, 2021) but also corresponded in time with its creation, the call for the march and the declarations of the government. This increasing activism followed the natural course of motivation and excitement that came after the uprisings of July 2021 and also stood as a popular response to the position of the government of not approving the march while denying the text of the current Cuban constitution in its article 56 that states the right to gather and make peaceful manifestations (Constitucion de la Republica de Cuba, 2019). As a consequence, there were topics that arose from the discussions (See Appendix I) like the restoration of the constitution from 1940, considered by the users as the last democratic one in Cuban history, and the need to stand like the Cuban ‘mambises’ for the right to have rights in their own country.
Furthermore, Graph 1 also shows the presence of a debate on the notion of Cuba as a mixture of cultures. Although as represented in the figure, it was an important debate in this period with a lot of activity regarding national identity, all the data collected around this frame and its related topics, belong to only three posts, one addressing the contested origin of the cultural and religious roots of the Cuban nation and the other two making reference to prayers for the success of the fight of the people, to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the ‘mambisa’ virgin that was carried by Cuban soldiers to the battlefields during the wars in the XIX century (Stoner, 2003).
What is most interesting in these comments is that they stay focused on discussing national identity throughout the debate while in the comments referring to other frames, there is a mixture of topics that comes up and turn into arguments around societal problems, not precisely related to national identity itself. This can be interpreted
through the high level of politicization that civic national identity topics have held for a long time in Cuba, where any action against the governmental interests, which are translated into the interests of the nation, entails a subversive and anticuban connotation.
Precisely grounded on the historical unidirectional construction of national identity values and patterns, by the Cuban government and its ideological apparatus (Helbling et al., 2016), the discussion around Cuba as a nation within its borders came across the fact that the most recognized voice of the movement chose exile over political
persecution. By the time this happened in mid-November, the debate within the group turned from the need for a new revolution and national unity into the discussion of whether Cuban movements should be led from within or outside the island.
From the moment the terms hero and traitor were searched in the search tab, there were mixed results on the figure of this character, showing how controversial and
overlapping these conceptions might be in the imaginary of Cubans and how rooted the sacrifice and martyrdom are, as values of national identity that identify the ideal of the male leader in Cuba.
This study was carried out on Cuban social media with the aim of responding to the question about the ways in which national identity has been discussed and debated on social media through the reinterpretation of national symbols. Through quantitative content analysis for the presence of key dimensions to measure national identity, the study examined how the members of the movement Archipielago articulated a narrative in which the use of these elements had two main discoursive intentions: mobilization and engagement with the cause against authoritarianism.
Pursuing this objective, the users appealed to the use of phrases, figures, episodes, and images that involved key characters of the past wars, as a means of appropriation of history (Rutten et al., 2013) and looked for further identification of the community with the movement’s political agenda (Sarkhoh and KhosraviNik, 2020). Precisely these values referred to the most rooted ones in Cuban national identity, which in general terms represented resistance, sacrifice, and fighting spirit against oppression. In this
sense, the commenters and authors of the posts made use of the grassroots traits upon which national identity has been built for centuries and those that were as well foundational in the construction of the Cuban revolution of 1959 (Stoner, 2003).
The use of these values overlaps then, in the opposition and official discourse, regarding the construction of this imaginary around founder fathers; however, they differ when pointing at the power they want to fight against, in while the government uses these examples to point to an external enemy, the members of Archipielago point at the government as the source of political oppression and economic failure.
It also differs when taking opposite stances towards uncontested militancy and loyalty to the Cuban ruling elite. This way, the members of the movement recognize the common roots of Cubans and attachment to the foundational values to make
reinterpretations of the national symbols when performing criticism and expressing detachment from governmental decisions.
There are however patterns in the opposition discourse that persist from the national identity notions that have been constructed by the media and the official discourse, which prove to be rooted in the construction of the ‘Cubanness’. Notions like what it is to be a traitor or a hero still persist and judgments are present on those who leave the country for their own safety, out of repression. In this line, also the gender bias when addressing the heroic past is present as the results show when examining the use of male figures over females while defending core values to reach freedom.
At last, the results showed a change in time corresponding to landmark events that occurred at the heart of the movement, that provoked a fluctuation regarding the use of frames and most important reflected the negative incidence of the exile of the leader of Archipielago on November 16, 2021, by increasing the discussion of the topics around Cuba defined within its borders; and its freedom and fights, being necessarily carried by the Cubans from within.
It is important to acknowledge that the results of this study must be interpreted in light of methodological limitations. First, it makes use of categories like national attachment, national pride, critical vs uncritical patriotism, and civic vs cultural conceptions of national identity for the purpose of content analysis, which implies a certain level of abstraction and interpretation from the coders; while in previous uses of this scale (Miller and Ali, 2014; Rupar et al., 2021), these categories draw on straightforward responses from survey participants to come to conclusions. Second, although adequacies were made to some of these categories like patriotism to adapt it to the
contextual connotation it has in Cuba, the original categories were addressed and constructed to be applied in surveys in developed democracies. And third, even when the results point to a gender bias in the defense of grassroots historical values, the descriptive nature of the analysis leaves room for further experimental research on the individual causes that lead Cubans to adopt this position and the implications it might have on their political engagement.
Nevertheless, it can be recognized as a strength that the study represents a step forward in the academic approach to the construction of bottom-up discourses of national identity in authoritarianism and constitutes a critique of the functionalist perspective that is held by authorities in Cuba on the notions of national identity. It also has a societal value in that it brings some light to the struggles for the appropriation of history as a resource in revolutions in undemocratic systems, and could set the stage for future research on the casual weight that the use of this communicational strategy in
opposition movements might have in the political engagement and mobilization in undemocratic societies.
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30 Appendix I
The figure shows the debated topics to the left and the subtopics to the right
Cubans need the courage of their heroes to claim their right to freedom of expression in their country
(against law decree 35)
Cubans need to restore the Constitution of 1940 to
grant the lost rights
Cuban history and its representative figures have been distorted in the name of the construction of the Cuban Revolution;
Cuban identity comes from different religious and cultural roots, but the state
promotes African over European origins
The true Cuban heroes and patriots are those who sacrifice their individuality
for the good of the whole nation
Cubans in the exile and Cubans inside the island need to reconcile their differences for the sake of national unity and the common cause of freedom from authoritarianism
The essence of the Cuban as a heroic people, The need of national unity,
The use of the symbols against the regime
How to best construct the future of Cuba as a free nation from authoritarianism
Jose Marti’s thoughts on Marxism were omitted from the volumes of his work at the convenience of the government
history has been manipulated,
On the quest of redeeming the abuses of slavery,
There has been a biased articulation of the origin of our costumes, there is intrinsic racism among Cubans
A true leader must sacrifice for the people, those who run from the country are traitors to the cause,
Cubans inside and outside believe in the cause of freedom but those living in Cuba are able to really promote the change August, 2021
31 Appendix II
Codebook for user comments
- The unit of analysis will be individual comments that will be anonymized for the purpose of preserving the identity of the users. Instead, a number will be assigned to each of them to list them in a dataset.
NOTE: Only text should be coded. Any images or stickers in the comments should be ignored.
General coding instructions 1. Read the text of the comment
2. Identify the dimensions of national identity that are present in the texts 3. Identify how the Cuba nation has been framed
4. Identify the values defended in the texts
5. Write the topics and subtopics that are discussed about 2 . Identify the dimensions of national identity
2.1 National attachment (NA): Reflects how strongly a person identifies as a Cuban, and how much that identity matters to them. It will be coded in terms of presence/
absence of expressions that refer closeness to the Cuban historical symbols presented in the posts.
Note: The expressions may be explicit like reciting the lines of the national anthem in the comments or implicit in the form of expressions like ‘we are all Cubans’ or ’this is the true spirit of the Cuban people’.
2.2 National pride (NP): This is measured by inviting comparisons with other countries for example, either suggesting that other countries should follow the
example of Cuba or on the contrary, Cuba should look and learn from other countries. Another way to present it would be to take pride (or not) in specific national achievements such as economic performance. It will be coded in terms of proud/not proud/not present.
Note: The expressions may be explicit like stating how proud or ashamed a person is of his/her country or they can be implicit in the discourse like the repression of
religious and gay people or sending young boys to foreign wars in Africa.
Proud=1 Not Proud=0 Not present=2
2.3 Critical vs uncritical patriotism (P): This dimension has to do with whether a person’s attitude towards the nation is one of uncritical support, or whether he/she is willing to distance himself from some of its actions and accept that one can be a loyal dissenter.
Note: The expressions may be explicit like mentioning that ‘the true revolutionaries are the ones who promote the change’ or on the contrary, those who assume the status quo;
or that the government are the ‘fat cats’ living wealthy lives at the expense of the people. It can also be implicit when referencing past heroic events and characters to arise a sentiment of detachment/attachment from the values that the government defends.
Critical patriotism=1 Uncritical patriotism=0 Not present=2
2.4 Civic vs. Cultural conceptions of identity (CC): This dimension concerns the way in which the nation itself is understood whether in terms of common ancestry, language and place of birth or in terms of place of residence and respect for
institutions and laws. Another way of introducing this dimension is to use the national pride issue and distinguish between taking pride in a society’s political
system and its economic performance, say – call this civic national pride – and pride in a country’s history and its achievements in the arts and sciences – cultural
Note: The expressions concerning cultural conceptions might refer to the nation in expressions like ‘our history will never divide us’ or bringing up terms of the popular imaginary like Cuba being an ‘ajiaco’(mixed soup). Those referring to civic conceptions that defy the political system like using #PatriayVida or
Civic national identity =1 Cultural national identity =0 Not present=2
3. Framing Cuba as a nation: An identity frame establishes an understanding of certain kind of community, in the case of this study is Cuba. This is indicated by statements on general objectives, norms and/or historic aspects. Please select one or more frames that you could identify as being referenced in the comments.
-Cuba as a mixture of cultures=1 (e.g ‘Cubans come from African and European roots’) -Cuba as a politically united nation=2 (e.g ‘All Cubans are united in the construction of the socialist model’)
-Cuba as a divided nation=3 (e.g ‘Cubans need to reconcile the political differences that divide them’)
-Cuba as a nation is aligned with the project of the Cuba Revolution=4 (e.g ‘Cubans are continuity of the legacy of the Revolution’)
-Cuba as a nation needs to create a new Revolution=5 (e.g ‘Cuba needs to conquest freedom for the people’)
-Cuba as a nation is delimited within its borders=6 (e.g ‘Cubans who suffer in the regime are to fight the true war for the freedom of Cuba’)
-Cuba as a nation comprises all Cubans, inside and abroad=7 (e.g ‘The role of the exile in past wars needs to be played to win Cuba’s freedom from authoritarianism’)
4. Values: The values defended in a comment should make reference to grassroots historical traits that are constitutive of the Cuban national identity like a sacrifice, willingness to fight, or martyrdom (in male or female characters of the Cuban history);
they could also refer to the cultural Cuban roots, whether in terms of race, language, music or religion; it could be expressed in defense of values of the Cuban Revolution when referring to conquests of their representative figures or gratitude to the process; or it could be neither of the aforementioned and not address any value.
Values of the Revolution = 0 Values of male heroes = 1 Not present = 2
Cultural values = 3 Values of heroines = 4
5. Topics and subtopics (open code): Please indicate the topic debated in the post and the subtopics that come up in the discussion of the comments.
Tables used for the analysis