Archive for July, 2011

(Article originally published in the digital magazine Convivencia, Issue No. 21)

In just five years, Cubans have been witnessing an extremely aggravating process in the socioeconomic and political crisis, steeped in what constitutes an exceedingly complex national and international juncture. Though just a few years ago it would have been possible to alleviate the hardship and mitigate potential conflicts by the reasonable application of some economic measures, with strategies to achieve positive outcomes in the medium term, the current situation requires a much deeper intervention than the few reforms enacted from the halls of power and consecrated during the celebration — similarly late — of the Sixth Congress of the only legal party. Those reforms, in addition, fall shy and insufficient of the effects of said economy.

The Cuban structural crisis today encompasses as much of our economy — in a true bankrupt state — as society as a whole and politics, this last category including both the policies of the government — demonstrably unable to meet current demands or to propose a viable model — such as the opposition’s alternative proposals, given the lack of coordination by the latter; of comprehensive and inclusive coherent programs, able to move decisively a sufficient number of stakeholders. It is fair to say at this point that the opposition action sprung from the early 90’s of the last century had the responsibility (and credit) to break the myth of “unanimity” politics in Cuba and forced the government to admit the existence of dissident sectors. Their modest gains are not negligible in terms of totalitarianism, in an extremely hostile frame against an opponent that, even in the absence of arguments, owns all the media and repressive instruments needed to prevent the strengthening of demonstrations by the internal dissent.

The problem of unity

One of the most recurring themes about the limitations that have threatened the progress of the opposition in Cuba in the last ten years focuses on what many have called a “lack of unity”, meaning the inability of opposition parties to create common projects with sufficient convoking power to denote a political wager of any importance against the government. The government, meanwhile, points to “the absence of social roots” of the movements and opposition parties as a clear sign of popular support for the revolution, as if the existence of a totalitarian regime — with all its concentration of power and its implications — and not, by itself, as a solid obstacle to building bridges of communication between Cuban with alternatives proposals to the system.

The Island’s reality, however, after the experience of a half century of failures by a demonstrably ineffective system, and after many years of the existence of opposition groups, which, though they have offered an example of civic resistance and have survived in adverse conditions, have not been established as an option to be taken into account by the government or society, has come to a climax that imposes challenges to all Cubans equally. Change today is not an option but an imperative that contains within itself the key to the survival of the nation and not just the permanence of a system, or the success of a party or ideological proposals or policies of any trend.

At the current juncture, the analysis of various factors specific to an eventual process of change for Cuba is absolutely necessary. Without intending to be “the solution” to our circumstances, this analysis could contribute in building a consensus that might lead to the inclusion of interests of all social sectors and not just a portion thereof; i.e., the thrust of the action is to develop through the unification of Cubans around proposals essentially civic, without ideological or purely political overtones, taking into account that ideologies constitute breakpoints of the basic consensus, essential for offering the government a solid social alternative.

It is obvious that a reality as complex and critical as that of Cuba forces us to part from a from an appreciation point as objective as possible, ignoring both the sectarian passions and troublesome exclusions that, sooner or later, tend to cause strife and extreme radicalism of unpredictable consequences. The “Cuban problem”, if we might call it that, is systemic, multiple-component and cumulative, due to causes of various kinds, and although the roots of our current ills are secured in the essence of a totalitarian regime, that regime alone could not constitute the only element responsible for the cause of the general crisis now choking us. Unlike enjoying the “benefits” in a country divided and distributed as booty among the small but powerful ruling caste, the responsibility for the current situation is ours to a certain extent, and we should all answer the call to reverse it.

Then there is the lack of properly organized social forces, even within the ranks of the opposition. Successive attempts at “unity” from various opposition parties have resulted in resounding failures, proving that comprehensive and effective alliances cannot be achieved based on ideology. Cases of pacts or collective projects have had a fleeting and precarious existence to collapsing in the end without achieving consistency. It is axiomatic that Cuban society is not ready to assume the challenge of choosing ideology, but may instead join in the general interest of building a democracy with the limited space of freedom we have, that might, gradually and naturally, lead to the emergence of political parties and other associations. Only after this initial metamorphosis from slaves to citizens will Cubans be ready to devote ourselves to politics by defining our ideological preferences.

It is appropriate in this regard to remember how much individual and social responsibility corresponds to the people, to attain a stable and lasting political equilibrium, economic welfare and a climate of social peace, such issues as, at the moment, neither the government is able to guarantee us — with the final crisis provoked by the failure of the system — nor by the opposition parties, with the with the wear and tear of two decades of damaged existence, the insufficiency of alliances or agreements, and the numerous and sustained emigration of many of its members due to political persecution and other causes.

The problem of leadership

Complications of the general collapse of the system, in turn, require systemic and also complex solutions. Our historical tradition of leader worship — whose tendency to leave important decisions in the hands of a leader maintains a dogged persistence to date — has planted in the collective mind the idea of the exaltation of figures above the relevance and quality of thought and even the law. This is one of the features that has made possible not only unhealthy political egotism, extreme voluntarism and a whole saga of violence, coups and other violations of constitutional order, but also the existence and the actual survival of a dictatorship that has lasted for more than half a century against the grain of the advances of regional democracies in the whole of the XXI century.

The Cuban experience should have made us understand, at least, than when there are no corresponding civic parties in a society, the leader becomes dictator. However, amid the overall worst general crisis of the last century, those called to “unite” around new ideological or group leaders, in what appears to be a sort of political tribalism where individuals — like attachments to a regional sports team — seem to group motivated by the personal devotion that the “leader” awakens in them and not by a clear awareness of the programs and interests that they represent and the commitments they are undertaking. Moreover, the members of parties (including the official PCC) that dominate the theoretical and philosophical ideologies that support them are in the minority. Faith in the leader seems to be enough support at the time of taking sides and cheering decisions, often without consultation or without subscribing documents.

The government’s ideological entrenchment is also repeated in the essential features of leaders of not a few opposition groups, each one of whom, at times, has believed himself to be able to offer the best solution, the philosopher’s stone or the most appropriate and sufficient Midas touch to overcome the national crisis, thus establishing the impossibility of alliances and consensus, even among groups of same or similar trends.

Another danger amid opposition alternatives with respect to leadership is the marked propensity for the establishment of “permanent positions”, so much so that some groups or parties are identified more by the figure who heads it than by the proposals they offer. Generally, they a referred to as “whose” group rather than as “which” group, suggesting a lack of maturity and of political consolidation, in addition to reflecting a lack of democratic practices within them.

What has been discussed here does not aim to deny the importance of the emergence of leaders, quite the contrary. Leaders with social recognition, prestige, with a high sense of ethics, public service-minded and innovative ideas are always key players in mobilizing goodwill. Any process of social transformation has brought the presence of leaders who have often had decisive influence on events. History is full of examples. The agglutinating capacity of the leaders, then, could be an essential component for promoting a transition in Cuba, as long as they combine the necessary set of virtues necessary to overcome the vices of the current society and, in turn, be able to put national civic interests above pettiness and personal ambitions; leaders, after all, who give preference to the rights and the development of this essential component of democracy which in Cuba is a true rarity: the people.

The problem of the single party

What would be ideal, in the Cuban case, would be the growth of opinion leaders that would help prepare for tomorrow’s citizens today, a task that must renounce the temptations of immediacy and improvisation — specific characteristics of the Cuban identity — and cannot concentrate in the hands of a leader with messianic tendencies in the narrow machinations of a party. Without neglecting or excluding any element in the dissidence spectrum that has developed its work up to the present, from political parties to independent civic groups and alternative journalism in all its forms, citizenship education is a previous, unavoidable step if we wish to succeed in a process of change and democratic transition. This does not suggest proposing a “wait” involving delaying the process, but to simultaneously shape the people with positive actions to encourage the expansion of independent civic spaces and social interest in alternative programs, whether or not they are policy proposals. Assuming democracy in a broader sense, the concept of “citizen” is not only its essential foundation, but greatly exceeds the narrow ideological framework.

It is known that a political party, whether the official one or any in opposition, cannot represent, by itself, the wide diversity of interests and nuances of society as a whole. Ergo, any political party which is deemed elected representative of Cubans or synthesis of the national democracy is guilty of committing a flagrant violation of civil and political rights of those who, in principal, he meant to represent.

In fact, in the face of a process of change, the presumption of ownership by any party would be so crazy as the fraudulent and unreasonable assumption that the communist party is the ideal heir and follower of the ideals of Martí or follower of the unifying task of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, a lie with which the government seeks to justify the absurd one-party rule. The ideological scam has been so magnified and repeated that almost all Cubans ignore that the party founded by the Apostle to organize and conduct the final War of Independence was not based on or contain in its objectives any ideological element beyond the separatist aspirations of its leaders, much less did it assume the intention to become a “single party” for Cubans once independence was achieved.

The recent Sixth Congress of the Communist Party did not offer solutions expected by the most optimistic, however, it clearly demonstrated the government’s interest in retaining power at all cost and at whatever price the nation will have to pay. This government has nothing to offer towards our future, except to pay off its non-ending debt of frustrations contracted against Cubans. Its time has finally come and gone; it is the people’s hour. The real challenge in today’s Cuba, then, is to forge strategic connections based not on purely political or ideological programs, leaders or figures, but on general interests capable of mobilizing the opinions and actions of broad social sectors. Common sense dictates that the solution to our problems today is not about replacing one leader or one party with another, but in finding a broad, common, inclusive, and comprehensive consensus without ideology, and  complete, capable of gradually overcoming the acute and irreversible systemic crisis. To do this, we must foster partnerships based on essential civic principles, with a deep ethical commitment and public service as their essential premises. This is a truly daunting task in a society so divided and morally bankrupt, but the surest way for an effective transition and permanent social peace.

July 18 2011

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Perverse Capital

(Article originally published in the Diario de Cuba on July 8, 2011)

The recently published interview granted by Cuban-American businessman Carlos Saladrigas to Orlando Márquez, editor of the magazine Palabra Nueva of the Cuban archbishopric, has provoked numerous reactions on both sides–Cuba and Florida–although, of course, the official Island media have not even mentioned the matter. As expected, when the topic is about proposals of reconciliation and of Cuban expatriates’ capital investments, dynamite-charged intensification is expected, ready to blow up bridges or to place obstacles, though conciliatory opinions trying to find a middle ground do emerge, a peaceful balance between offers and opinions of the debating parties, though, as is often the case, these mediations are usually too restrained when they occur from within Cuba, since they  remain frozen at the midpoint between the problem and their possible solutions.

The work I am using here as reference, in addition to the mentioned interview of Mr. Saladrigas–whose proposals I consider very attractive–are Vicente Escobal’s article (“Mr. Saladrigas, Don’t Count Me In”) recently published by Cubanet: the debate between Jesús Arboleya Cervera and Ramón de la Cruz Ochoa published in Espacio Laical Digital Supplement No. 137/July 2011, and González Mederos Leinier’s  article (“Saladrigas Arboleya and the Debate on the Future of Cuba”), published in Digital Supplement No. 138/July Digital 2011 of the same venue.  All texts consulted are just a sample of how complex and necessary the topic of the Cuban reality, the reconciliation, and the role of the different social actors on the future of the nation are, as well as the schism created by the tremors that have encouraged the Island’s government for over 50 years.

Vicente P. Escobal, in his personal interpretation of the proposal, criticizes Saladrigas for the project of reconciliation between Cubans (he refers to “Cuba and its Diaspora: the Challenge of Facilitating a Reunion” published in the “Espacio Laical” Digital Supplement of the Archdiocesan Laity Council of the Archdiocese of Havana), for considering it as an apology to the Cuban government, and he concludes that “If our aspirations are to “perfect” communism, to hand the executioners of the Cuban people a statement of “forgive and forget” and to betray the memory of our beloved martyrs, then, Mr. Saladrigas, don’t count me in”.

For his part, Jesus Arboleya, a political analyst associated with the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and the official academic sector, attacks Saladriga’s proposal due to his not being completely convinced of “his appreciation about the virtues of the market”; not only because they don’t harmonize with the socialist aspiration and vocation that he–by virtue of certain capricious and unknown statistics–considers generalized in the Cuban people, but because “the world is upside down and it’s the market’s fault, socialist ideas have never before been more alive in Latin America, and State intervention has even been necessary in the US in order to resolve the wrongs brought about by neoliberalism.

As for Leinier González, we will need to thank the conciliatory spirit that animates him–something that’s always timely when it comes to resolving tensions–and some notes about the objective reality of Cuba today, though at times his focus may be somewhat dreamy and not entirely in tune with Cuban conditions, and though he might have felt obligated to throw the occasional soft dart against the dissidence, when–referring to the work of Arboleya–he states: “I dare say that an intellectual effort has not existed from the Cuban  opposition party (neither inside or outside Cuba) that has managed to equal, in quality and reach, the narrative defended by Jesús Arboleya”. As if Cuban intellectuals who oppose the government in Cuba were able to make use of the same editorial possibilities as that man, or if the many academic émigrés did not have their work solidly published outside Cuba.  Naïveté, fear, ignorance or opportunism are impulses that, on more than one occasion, have clouded the best of intentions of the forums, and it is for that reason that I prefer to attribute this minor cluelessness of Leinier González instead of the rush that guided him at the time he partook in a debate so very important as to stop at trifles of this nature.

However, my intention now is not to analyze the ever-challenging issue of dialogue among Cubans, nor the obvious advantages or disadvantages of alleged Cuban-American businessmen’s investments in Cuba, but to insist on jumping the sharp contradictions of the official budget, including the brilliant arguments of the outstanding analyst Jesús Arboleya. And this is because when the market relations are so demonized that they would ultimately defeat a nonexistent socialism in Cuba, the defenders of the system are forgetting to make some proposal to inform us how prosperity and development may be achieved outside the market.  At the same time, the selective amnesia of thinkers like this individual omits the existence of a strong middle class in Cuba, represented by sectors effectively linked to foreign capital and strongly correlated to the power strata.  The same memory illness does not allow the analyst to include in the category of “dangerous” foreign capital business investment from Spanish, French and Brazilian investors, and even from the Chinese government,  among others, operating since long ago in our territory, from which only the Cuban government draws profits, its narrow circle entrenched in solid interests and its foreign partners. Is this not about the demonic “concentration of capital”? Isn’t the combination of capital and absolute power the worst the worst monster created by the so-called “socialism”?

The Cuban-American dollars are, without a doubt, the “perverse capital”, though in reality they constitute one of the largest sources of foreign capital income on the Island and the financial support to tens of thousands of Cuban families. Cuban-American dollars and not “socialism” have achieved the survival and even the economic welfare of their relations in Cuba.  Mr. Arboleya and the top leadership which he serves are well aware that Carlos Saladrigas’s proposals not only contribute to legitimate a source of prosperity essentially Cuban that would turn into a dangerous beginning of autonomy for many individuals in the country, but that it will eventually foster the growth of independent cells in civil society. Florida’s Cuban entrepreneurs’ capital and not just market capital would result in, at the end of so much detouring, the vehicle for that huge “perversion” known as Freedom.

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Collateral Effects

Photo taken from the Internet

The saga filling space on the news–note that I do not call it “information”–this season is the discovery of the mortal nature of that other Latin American caudillo, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, as a result of what constituted a surgical conspiracy led by his decrepit mentor, Fidel Castro.

The brief chapters offered by Cuban and foreign media–beyond the bad luck of the cancer running riot on humanity to which it turns out not even the anointed are immune–recall the schmaltzy tastes of our people and also explain the success, among us, of television soap operas. But when Cuban TV channels chained themselves, not once but twice in a matter of minutes, to broadcasting from Havana the messianic speech loaded with parables of a president not their own, it also evidenced how many and how strong are the commitments that have been woven between the ruling elites of Cuba and Venezuela. I don’t believe it necessary to comment with respect to that.

However, beyond the inevitable surprise that an excess of haughtiness always provokes in me, I have been meditating on the collateral effects that would ensue from an eventual disappearance of the Castros’ South American ally; not in the fundamental economics of the matter–which by itself would have a cataclysmic magnitude for the so vaunted as well as illusory regional socialist project of the XXI century–but on the seemingly minute human detail of the tens of thousands of Cubans who offer their services in Venezuela. And it is those Cubans who, despite the limitations of living in a foreign land, the low salaries they receive compared to their colleagues from other countries, and the pressures and controls exercised over them, have reaped material benefits they never before enjoyed in Cuba, and who have been able to substantially improve the living standards of their families as compared to their compatriots on the Island who have not worked as collaborators in the amazing programs and “missions” of the so-called ALBA.

The end of Chavismo would not necessarily mean, in absolute terms, the massive “desertion” of all those Cubans, but it could involve, on the one hand, a new breach of our emigrants who would opt to stay in the post-Chavez Venezuela, or perhaps choose to escape to other countries, rather than return home to the eternal cycle of poverty in Cuba; while, on the other hand, it would also mean the return to the country of an important nucleus of non-conformists who would choose to return to the family bosom but would bring a new conscience of the need for changes in Cuba, making many of them a potential source of social tensions. In fact, it is already possible to draw a line, not always very subtle, in the thinking of Cuban collaborators before and after their missionary experience.

In this sense, one has to conclude that the Cuban-Venezuelan adventure of Chavismo, more than a temporary economic advantage that breathes artificial life into the broken Cuban model, implicitly brings a high political cost which, sooner rather than later, will end up taking a toll on the Castro system. Of that I have no doubt.

8 July 2011

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The Age of Reptiles

The times are propitious for the unveiling of the proverbial national fickleness. The blurring of the mythical figure of the supposedly invincible commander within the Cuban panorama–his disappearance from the Roundtable talk show and from the public eye in general–has unleashed a wave of criticism of the earlier period of this same process called the “Cuban Revolution,” which occurred during the absolute reign of Castro I.

With the inevitable (and forced) accession of Castro II, we have witnessed a spectacle which is as depraved as it is unexpected: like pilot fish who abandon the shark in disgrace, the servants, who until recently revered the patriarch of disaster and had only praise for his work, have changed masters and are hurrying to catch up with the discursive tone of the “pragmatic reformer” (every little king requires his own label), whose first step has been to harshly question the evils generated by bureaucracy, excessive state control, centralization and corruption, stemming from the “erroneous interpretation” of socialism. The General, of course, doesn’t throw the darts directly at his mentor, but the disquisition is clear considering that for half a century his brother was the absolute master of the helm, and monopoly of power leads inevitably to monopoly of responsibility.

Thus, until now, most reformist we’ve seen in Cuba in the last five decades is the official discourse, rapidly adopted by a choir in which we hear more or less the same voices, although they occupy different positions and tones on the stage. The same ones who yesterday deliriously applauded the caudillo, today criticize the evils unleashed under this government, as if they had been produced by spontaneous generation and without regard of the good intentions and purity of the leader. In fact, many avoid even mentioning the absent one.

The list of neo-reformists of the word would be so extensive and its composition so varied that I prefer to dispense with it. And they are not necessarily “young,” rather they swell the entire age spectrum of society. By way of example, let suffice the recent declarations of Alfredo Guevara, a stalwart of the regime, when he asserted to a group of university students that Cuba is producing a “ridiculous transition to a socialist society,” thanks to the reforms of Raul Castro. Guevara now says that it is necessary “to destroy this huge apparatus that has seized society.” In a display of criticism, the man who was the founder and president of the Cuban Institute of the Art and Industry of Cinematography (ICAIC), said that “today” dogmatic ideas don’t prevail in the high echelons of power, as they did for years, when they trained leadership cadres who studied Marxism “like a Stalinist catechism.” A word to the wise…

There is no need to dwell on the details, nor do they require much comment. One can only wonder what made this and the so many other functionaries and lackeys of the system avoid or warn of “the nonsense,” what and who says that the institution of which he was the top leadership was free of bureaucracy and of dogmatic ideas that mutilated, in small or large measure, creativity, and why he and his associates seem to consider themselves morally superior to the fundamental architects of the collapse.

But let’s not fail to consider a good sign. Undoubtedly, we are witnesses to the process of political mimicry that has characterized all the transitions of the old socialist countries, by virtue of which the most astute attendants of the dying regime remodel their discourse, re-accommodate themselves, and adapt to new trends to try to survive in the times ahead. Among them there will be no lack of the businessmen and politicians of the future, perhaps by then with an harangue completely opposed to what they hold forth about today, we shall see. It is, therefore, a sign of the process of decay itself that I prefer to view it with optimism, even though it stinks. It’s true that Alfredo Guevara–an octogenarian intellectual with a full life and relatively large body of work–whose eventual episodes of false rebellion have been mysteriously tolerated by a government never given to pardoning stupidities, means little in view of a period of changes that at some point on the road they will begin to hasten; but we know that we can count on the appearance of many more chameleons like this one. And it will be logical. They are the small lizards who try to survive the extinction of the dinosaurs. In short, we have to prepare ourselves to pass to a new stage that–despite everything–signals times of change. Meanwhile, everything indicates that we will still continue for some time in the age of the reptiles.

July 5 2011

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A Sui Generis Walk

LGTB Walk through Havana. Photo courtesy of Dimas Castellanos

On Tuesday the 28th, at three in the afternoon, the first LGTB (Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals) Observatory Walk took place in Havana, along the middle of the central street of the Prado, starting from the corner of Neptune and continuing to the sea. The date selected recalls the massive gay pride march celebrated in New York in 1970 that marked an important victory for these minorities. The parade, of small numbers but peaceful was not interrupted or repressed by the uniformed police force, or by civil agents of the political police who, however, were abundant in the sites adjacent to the popular avenue.

Around twenty members of the independent organization marched down the center of the old Paseo del Prado, waving their multicolored flags and proclaiming the right to freely choose their sexual preferences and opposing discrimination against different minorities. A march of this nature, led by an organization not attached to the official CENESEX led by Mariela Castro, has no antecedents in Cuba, so the small representation achieved in this first edition does not discount its significance, and perhaps in future years it will be exceeded. Surely the fear that dominates vulnerable sectors of society faced with the repressive forces, coupled with a strong social prejudice aimed at these groups, was a decisive factor in the number of witnesses who crowded into the area and the silent multitude formed by both curious homosexuals and heterosexuals unaccustomed to such boldness in our streets, who accompanied the demonstrators from a certain distance and from nearby sites, without openly joining in with the walk. We can not forget that, until recently, homosexuality was fiercely persecuted and harassed by the powers-that-be, that its members continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against in various ways and that, in general, society tends to marginalize those who are different.

The small number of determined demonstrators, however, could congratulate themselves on the importance of the event, given that this is the first unofficial public demonstration of an eminently civic character that has occurred in Cuba without having been prohibited or repressed by the authorities. Unable to anticipate, until this moment, what would be the reaction of the usual repressors, one has to respect the bravery of the organizers of the small event who intended to peacefully claim their own public space. It was established, by a decision of its members, that each June 28 there will be a LGTB Walk in the same place.

On the other hand, the official institution headed by Mrs. Castro Espin does not accommodate the LGTB Observatory. The desire for official control does not allow the existence of independent civil society organizations, not even those that relate to an element so personal as the free choice of sexuality of individuals and their right to exercise it. That is, homosexuals do not escape the primary classification of “revolutionaries” or “not revolutionaries.”

I must admit that I was pleased to see that the LGTB Walk was free of political signs, of slogans for or against the system or of the discourse of the barricades. Nor was there praise for the representatives of the government, nor a display of supportive images of the five State Security fighters imprisoned in the United States, as usually occurs in the demonstrations called by CENESEX. No ideological disorder contaminated the civic scene of the Tuesday march. It remains to be seen whether the strained tolerance exhibited by the authorities this Tuesday will continue, or if this is a preamble that, in some ways, convenes a broader civic participation of citizens who represent various interests that include the entire complex spectrum of Cuban society.

July 1 2011

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