Why is the Island of Cuba still a Communist military dictatorship, while in nearby Puerto Rico, the duly-elected governor Ricardo Rossello decided to resign after several weeks of massive public protests? Our friend and colleague Adrian Vermeule sums up Thomas Schelling’s influential strategic model of political rebellion in this excellent essay as follows:
Imagine a silent, currently unorganized (super-)majority that is passive due to coordination problems. If all members of the (super-)majority, or some critical mass, could agree to rebel against the ruler, the rebellion would succeed by sheer force of numbers, but … if only a subgroup rebels, the ruler will prevail. The problem, in other words, is to overcome the regime’s divide-and-conquer tactics. What is necessary for this widespread coordination to occur is a salient focal point, such that it becomes common knowledge among the critical mass or (super-)majority that a trigger has been activated.
In the recent case of Puerto Rico, that focal point or triggering event was the so-called #RickyLeaks or #ChatGate scandal of July 2019–the mysterious release of a secret trove of profane text messages on a private group chat among the governor and his closest political cronies. In the Island of Cuba, by contrast, the government is quick to suppress or contain any act of rebellion, no matter how small or futile. In any case, the supreme irony of this particular Puerto Rican rebellion, however, is that the protestors did not demand to see the private text messages of all of their political leaders.