THE AGENDA OF THE POLITICAL DEBATE IN CUBA
Jesus Arboleya August 2021 (Original Spanish follows)
What is being discussed in Cuba today?
As is probably the case in almost the whole world, the central theme of popular debate in Cuba is related to the health crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, its terrible economic consequences and the social restrictions imposed by its treatment. Inthe case of Cuba, this situation, which is aggravated by the intensification of the UNITED STATES embargo, which has given rise to a perverse combination, which has deprived the country of its main sources of income and placed at its limits the solution of the consumption needs of the population.
Of course, social discontent increases under these conditions and dissatisfaction with government management, justified or not, tends to spread in people. It could be said that the complaint about the prevailing situation was the main driver of the protest demonstrations that took place in various parts of the country on 11 and 12 July, although they also had the encouragement of counterrevolutionary forces, mostly established abroad, which acted through social networks and other mechanisms of internal mobilization, often to encourage the most violent expressions.
Although the actual volume and social composition prevailing among the demonstrators remains to be specified, about which there is much speculation, it could be said that this is a fairly heterogeneous group of people, mostly devoid of a political project to guide their participation in these events. However, we should highlight the presence of dissident sectors, which have been expressing themselves for some time through various acts of civil disobedience, much promoted outside Cuba. Although minority, and also diverse in their composition and objectives, these sectors provided a certain political characterization to the event and a more exploitable image in the eyes of international public opinion.
The phenomenon that occurred, quite unusual in the history of the Revolution, has had different readings. On the one hand, the apocalyptic ones, which once again predict the end of the Cuban revolutionary process and urge the US Government to act to speed it up, including through military aggression, under the pretext of humanitarian intervention. Around this logic are grouped the most aggressive counterrevolutionary forces, advocating chaos in the country, which have considerable external support, capable of establishing a media matrix that prevails in social networks and the large media.
So far, U.S. government policy seems to be determined by this current, given its supposed electoral impact on Florida. Millions of millionaires are destined to stimulate it, the sanctions against Cuba are increased and the story of the Cuban-American extreme right is imposed in the official discourse of the country, as well as in the US debate on the Cuban reality.
With this current there is no dialogue possible, so perhaps more important for the articulation of a national debate, are the people who, whether or not they have participated in the demonstrations, do not join the US plans, but have been critical, both of the government management, as well as of alleged excesses committed by the public force in the confrontation with the demonstrators, arbitrariness in the legal treatment of the detainees and the communicational conduct of the event by the government. The clarification of these problems, the search for solutions to differences and the establishment of clear rules to regulate this type of event for the future, is an important step to alleviate the tensions generated by the demonstrations.
Also encouraged by the current situation, but long-standing in the agenda of the national debate, the discussions related to the conception and functioning of Cuban socialism have gained more relevance. Here they are framed from sectors very committed to the revolutionary process, whose main demand is to improve government management and that the reforms approved years ago by the party and the State be carried out, after broad popular consultations, to others who more or less oppose socialism or perceive it associated with Christian Democrat formulas, social democrats and liberals, which they assume can be applied to sin Cuba.
The agenda of these groups or individuals is as diverse as it is sometimes imprecise in their plans and solutions. They focus more on criticism of what exists than on specifying the proposals that may serve as an alternative. It highlights issues such as the design of the socialist model, the democratization of its functioning, the role of the communist party, private property and commercial relations, the application of the economic order, the problems of equity and poverty, discrimination in its various manifestations, emigration, ecology, animal care and many others, each with more or less amplified repercussions in Cuban society.
Despite the diversity of concerns and opinions, these tendencies find a common place in the criticism of bureaucratism, corruption and other vices associated with government management, things that the official discourse itself also rejects and combats, as well as in the confrontation with positions that they consider conservative and refractory to changes, which they place in certain structures of the party and the State, as well as in intellectuals whom they accuse of being dogmatic, although these ors are not recognized in this definition.
The particularity of the Cuban case is that all these tendencies, whatever their ideological sign, are crossed by a constant that, whether they like it or not, defines them from the patriotic point of view, say the role of the United States in the life of the nation.
Since the origins of the Cuban anti-colonial struggles, the issue of relations with the United States appears as a defining factor of the patriotic scale. The annexationist currents, which early seemed an alternative,on the understanding of joining that country on equal terms once independence was achieved, were diluted or quickly as a patriotic option, when it became clear that this was not the American plan. José Martí was the one who best warned about the danger of U.S. pretensions and set as the main objective of the national struggles: "to prevent in time with the independence of Cuba that the United States spread through the Antilles and fall, with that force more, on our lands of America. "
It was not possible and that "more force" inaugurated the neocolonial model in Cuba. Andthe anti-imperialism, as a basic condition for the independence and sovereignty of the country, then became the common factor of the patriotic struggles tos Cubans from the advent of the Republic to the present day. Ignoring this factor or placing it in the background limits the ability to understand the Cuban problem and places people on swampy ground, with the risk of becoming functional to the objectives of US policy against the island, although that is not their intention.
It is not enough to mention the US blockade "on the fly" in order to concentrate on domestic problems, which supposedly have a solution by ignoring the impact of US policy on them. If we do not understand the integrality of US policy, we cannot understand the Cuban dilemma or that of the rest of the world. We are in the presence of a global hegemonic system, which penetrates through all the pores of the social fabric and, as former President George W. Bush said, is with him or against him. A truth that is more than evident in the case of Cuba, although that confrontation may have different degrees and nuances.
It is true that the fear of "giving weapons to the enemy" and the practice of blaming imperialism for all the difficulties, equally limits the comprehensive approach to problems, has restricted democratic spaces and served as an excuse for dogmatism in many cases, but the solution is not reverse reductionism, but the promotion of political culture and the dialogue that serves as its sustenance. The good news is that, both inside and outside the country, cubans have the cultural capital that requires this effort, a knowledge that is installed in academic and intellectual spaces, even in popular wisdom, and that has also increased its presence on social networks. The issue is to know how to take advantage of it.
LA AGENDA DEL DEBATE POLÍTICO EN CUBA
Jesús Arboleya. Progreso Semanal. Agosto 2021
¿Qué se discute en Cuba actualmente?
Como probablemente ocurre en casi todo el mundo, el tema central del debate popular en Cuba es lo relacionado con la crisis sanitaria generada por la pandemia de la COVID-19, sus terribles consecuencias económicas y las restricciones sociales que impone su tratamiento. En el caso cubano, esta situación que se ve agravada por el recrudecimiento del bloqueo norteamericano, lo que ha dado lugar a una combinación perversa, que ha privado al país de sus principales fuentes de ingreso y colocado en sus límites la solución de las necesidades de consumo de la población.
Como es lógico, el descontento social aumenta en estas condiciones y la insatisfacción con la gestión gubernamental, justificada o no, tiende a extenderse en las personas. Pudiera afirmarse que la queja ante la situación imperante fue el principal motor de las manifestaciones de protesta ocurridas en diversos puntos del país los días 11 y 12 del pasado mes de julio, aunque también contaron con el estímulo de fuerzas contrarrevolucionarias, en su mayoría establecidas en el exterior, que actuaron mediante las redes sociales y otros mecanismos de movilización interna, muchas veces para alentar las expresiones más violentas.
Aunque falta por precisar el volumen real y la composición social predominante entre los manifestantes, sobre lo cual existen muchas especulaciones, pudiera afirmarse que se trata de un grupo bastante heterogéneo de personas, en su mayoría desprovistas de un proyecto político que orientara su participación en estos eventos. No obstante, habría que destacar la presencia de sectores disidentes, que hace rato se vienen expresando mediante diversos actos de desobediencia civil, muy promocionados fuera de Cuba. Aunque minoritarios, y también diversos en su composición y objetivos, estos sectores aportaron cierta caracterización política al acontecimiento y una imagen más explotable de cara a la opinión pública internacional.
El fenómeno ocurrido, bastante inusual en la historia de la Revolución, ha tenido diversas lecturas. Por un lado, las apocalípticas, que otra vez pronostican el fin del proceso revolucionario cubano e instan al gobierno norteamericano a actuar para acelerarlo, incluso mediante agresiones militares, bajo la excusa de la intervención humanitaria. Alrededor de esta lógica se agrupan las fuerzas contrarrevolucionarias más agresivas, propugnadoras del caos en el país, las cuales cuentan con un considerable apoyo externo, capaz de establecer una matriz mediática que impera en las redes sociales y los grandes medios de información.
Hasta ahora, la política del gobierno de Estados Unidos parece estar determinada por esta corriente, dado su supuesto impacto electoral en la Florida. Fondos millonarios se destinan a estimularla, se incrementan las sanciones contra Cuba y el relato de la extrema derecha cubanoamericana se impone en el discurso oficial del país, así como en el debate estadounidense sobre la realidad cubana.
Con esta corriente no hay diálogo posible, por lo que quizás más importante para la articulación de un debate nacional, son las personas que, hayan o no participado en las manifestaciones, no se suman a los planes norteamericanos, pero han sido críticas, tanto de la gestión gubernamental, como de alegados excesos cometidos por la fuerza pública en el enfrentamiento a los manifestantes, arbitrariedades en el tratamiento legal de los detenidos y la conducción comunicacional del acontecimiento por parte del gobierno. El esclarecimiento de estos problemas, la búsqueda de soluciones a las diferencias y el establecimiento de normas claras que regulen este tipo de eventos de cara al futuro, constituye un paso importante para aliviar las tensiones generadas por las manifestaciones.
También alentadas por la actual coyuntura, pero de larga data en la agenda del debate nacional, han ganado más relevancia las discusiones referidas a la concepción y el funcionamiento del socialismo cubano. Aquí se encuadran desde sectores muy comprometidos con el proceso revolucionario, cuya principal exigencia es mejorar la gestión gubernamental y que se lleven a cabo las reformas hace años aprobadas por el partido y el Estado, después de amplias consultas populares, hasta otros que más o menos se oponen al socialismo o lo perciben asociado con fórmulas democratacristianas, socialdemócratas y liberales, que asumen pueden ser aplicadas en Cuba.
La agenda de estos grupos o personas es tan diversa como, a veces, imprecisa en sus planes y soluciones. Más se concentran en la crítica a lo existente, que en precisar las propuestas que puedan servirle como alternativa. Se destacan temas como el diseño del modelo socialista, la democratización de su funcionamiento, el papel del partido comunista, la propiedad privada y las relaciones mercantiles, la aplicación del ordenamiento económico, los problemas de la equidad y la pobreza, la discriminación en sus diversas manifestaciones, la emigración, la ecología, el cuidado de los animales y muchos otros, cada cual con repercusiones más o menos amplificadas en la sociedad cubana.
A pesar de la diversidad de preocupaciones y opiniones, estas tendencias encuentran un lugar común en la crítica al burocratismo, la corrupción y otros vicios asociados a la gestión gubernamental, cosas que el propio discurso oficial también rechaza y combate, así como en la confrontación con posiciones que consideran conservadoras y refractarias a los cambios, las que ubican en ciertas estructuras del partido y el Estado, así como en intelectuales a los que acusan de dogmáticos, aunque éstos no se reconozcan en esta definición.
La particularidad del caso cubano es que todas estas tendencias, cualquiera sea su signo ideológico, aparecen traspasadas por una constante que, quieran o no, las define desde el punto de vista patriótico, dígase el papel de Estados Unidos en la vida de la nación.
Desde los orígenes de las luchas anticoloniales cubanas, el tema de las relaciones con Estados Unidos aparece como un factor definitorio de la escala patriótica. Las corrientes anexionistas, que tempranamente parecieron una alternativa, en el entendido de unirse a ese país en condiciones de igualdad una vez alcanzada la independencia, se diluyó rápidamente como opción patriótica, cuando resultó evidente que ese no era el plan norteamericano. José Martí fue quien mejor alertó sobre el peligro de las pretensiones estadounidenses y fijó como objetivo principal de las luchas nacionales: “impedir a tiempo con la independencia de Cuba que se extiendan por las Antillas los Estados Unidos y caigan, con esa fuerza más, sobre nuestras tierras de América.”
No fue posible y esa “fuerza más” inauguró en Cuba el modelo neocolonial. El antimperialismo, como condición básica para la independencia y la soberanía del país, devino entonces el factor común de las luchas patrióticas cubanas desde el advenimiento de la República hasta nuestros días. Desconocer este factor o colocarlo en segundo orden, limita la capacidad de comprender la problemática cubana y sitúa a las personas en un terreno pantanoso, con riesgo de convertirse en funcionales a los objetivos de la política norteamericana contra la Isla, aunque esa no sea su intención.
No basta con mencionar “al vuelo” el bloqueo norteamericano, para concentrarse en problemas domésticos, que supuestamente tienen solución obviando el impacto de la política norteamericana sobre los mismos. Si no entendemos la integralidad de la política norteamericana, no podemos comprender el dilema cubano ni tampoco el del resto del mundo. Estamos en presencia de un sistema hegemónico mundial, que penetra por todos los poros del tejido social y, como dijo el expresidente George W. Bush, se está con él o en su contra. Una verdad más que evidente en el caso de Cuba, aunque esa confrontación pueda tener diversos grados y matices.
Es cierto que el temor a “darle armas al enemigo” y la práctica de culpar al imperialismo de todas las dificultades, igual limita el abordaje integral de los problemas, ha restringido los espacios democráticos y servido de excusa al dogmatismo en muchos casos, pero la solución no es el reduccionismo inverso, sino la promoción de la cultura política y el diálogo que le sirve de sustento. La buena noticia es que, tanto dentro como fuera del país, se cuenta entre los cubanos con el capital cultural que requiere este empeño, un conocimiento que está instalado en los espacios académicos e intelectuales, incluso en la sabiduría popular, y que también ha incrementado su presencia en las redes sociales. El asunto es saber aprovecharlo.
A political x-ray for possible dialogue in Cuba
By Jesús Arboleya On Jul 28, 2021 Progresso Weekly
Protests that occurred on July 11 in Cuba have reinforced the idea of the need for a national dialogue in order to articulate a new consensus and expand existing democratic mechanisms. As it is difficult to specify an agenda and identify its possible actors, it is worth trying to discern the political currents existing in the country and their broader interests.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuban political life has been so intense and all-encompassing that very few have been able to avoid placing themselves in one of the great conglomerates in dispute — those who support the socialist system and/or its adversaries. Let us analyze the balance of these forces and their possible disposition to the dialogue that is proposed.
Defeated initially on the Island, the hard core counterrevolutionaries settled abroad, especially in Miami. For the most extreme sectors of this group, dialogue is a bad word and there have been many disparagingly called “dialoguers (dialogueros)” who have been harassed, attacked and even killed, for defending this position. Beyond the fanaticism that characterizes these groups, there are objective factors that explain this behavior: those who adhere to a hostility encouraged, protected and very well remunerated by the U.S. government.
They are promoters of chaos and U.S. intervention in Cuba. Their ultimate goal is to return to the neocolonial regime that previously existed in the country. This is not a gratuitous accusation inspired by left-wing fundamentalisms; it is clearly expressed by the Helms-Burton law, a legal instrument that regulates relations between the United States and Cuba.
These forces have some supporters within the country, generally encouraged and dependent on the money they receive from abroad. In no way is this a secret. Boasting of their transparency, the U.S. government makes known the public funds allocated for subversion in Cuba — money that is received from its Miami intermediaries, extreme right groups who also profit from these funds.
Their activities in Cuba and abroad, usually violent and meant to provoke, resonate internationally due to the attention they receive via the large information consortiums and in social networks where media campaigns are articulated, and often designed using very sophisticated techniques for manipulating these media. Due to its nature and intentions, under these circumstances there are no real possibilities of dialogue, nor is it to be supposed that they would be willing to accept it, since it conspires against their own existence and privileges.
However, not all opponents of the socialist system are reluctant to establish a dialogue with the government and various sectors of Cuban civil society. For some, this responds to a strategy aimed at achieving a “regime change by other means,” as Obama’s move to establish relations with Cuba was defined. For others it simply reflects intentions for advancing their own interests — be they economic, cultural, ideological, existential, even humanitarian — without conditioning it to the overthrow of the Cuban government. This is not strange. Cuba maintains more or less harmonious relations with countless governments, institutions and people all over the world who oppose socialism.
No matter their intentions, this dialogue is convenient for Cuba because these positions are the majority within its emigration, and are based on their recognition of the State and the Cuban institutions with which they propose to negotiate with. This dialogue should attempt to satisfy matters of mutual interest while neutralizing the most aggressive options that influence policies towards Cuba of those in power in countries where they live, including that of the United States.
This tendency, which could be characterized as a peaceful opposition with a willingness to dialogue with the Cuban government and civil society, also has its proponents within Cuba, although there are no organizations that represent it. As can be inferred from the result of the 2019 constitutional referendum, it is composed of around 9 percent of the electorate, some 700,000 people, who voted against socialism, a figure that could increase if we add some abstentions and invalid votes. A significant minority position, which does not correspond to the matrix of propaganda against Cuba, that does not imply that it is fair to ignore their rights, nor is it intelligent to underestimate the importance of taking them into account for the construction of a national consensus.
Although often they can be freely expressed through the channels of the People’s Power, the open consultations that are usually carried out on various issues, through unions and other mechanisms of citizen participation, and either due to deficiencies or limitations in the functioning of these structures or as a result of the social compulsion that intolerance and misunderstanding of their positions can generate, the full satisfaction of these rights is often limited.
Given the difficulty of expressing themselves through official channels, it is common for them to manifest themselves through churches and fraternal organizations, with which the government maintains relationships, or through social networks. To increase dialogue with these sectors and expand the possibilities of their participation in multiple aspects of national life, it is enough to enforce what is established in the Constitution and that they receive maximum protection from the State and the rest of the country’s political institutions.
Paradoxically, it has become much more complex to establish the agendas and the composition of possible dialogues within the left-wing conglomerate that, from various philosophical and political approaches, declares itself in favor of socialism, although some may question the model applied in Cuba and the management of the government. Although practically all say they are willing to participate in a national dialogue, they often differ in the scope of the convening, the focus of attention and the priorities of the debate. Achieving conciliation of these positions is vital to articulate the unity of the country around the socialist project. As much as the argument has been degraded as a result of the abuse of slogans, the history of the Cuban nation bears witness to the importance of this unit for the defense of the sovereignty and independence of the country, the point of demarcation of political tendencies in Cuba.
The issues in dispute are many. They include the conceptualization of socialism and its application to the Cuban reality; the functioning of the government and the direction of the economy; the role of the market and private management; the mechanisms of democratic participation and popular control; the concept of citizenship and one’s rights; information and cultural policy; bureaucratism and dogmatism; social problems of diverse character; the role of the communist party and its methods of work; emigration and the nation’s bond with emigrants; as well as relations with the United States and the rest of the world.
These are very complex issues, traversed by fairly recent phenomena such as the collapse of the USSR and the European socialist camp, which had served as a model for the Cuban system; the tremendous economic crisis that this meant for the country, with its resulting inequalities, social problems and the deterioration of values that greatly influenced citizen behavior; the increase in emigration as a result of discontent and lack of expectations, especially among young people; as well as the death of Fidel Castro, who was a unifying factor domestically and of influence internationally, especially on the left.
Add to all of this the resurgence of the U.S. blockade in the midst of a devastating pandemic, as well as the worsening of inherited structural problems which complicates even more solutions for the current circumstances. The strange thing is not that there have been protests of social discontent, but that the system has been able to survive despite these immense inconveniences.
Under these adverse conditions, new leadership in government, which has made its own mistakes, has had to function. Which does not exempt them from assuming the maximum responsibility of channeling possible dialogues, which in fact they have promised to stimulate and have tried to do so through various official announcements. The problem is that dialogue not only consists of establishing spaces to express opinions and debate on various topics, but also in the resolution of conflicts, through the confrontation of different ideas, sometimes supposedly antagonistic.
The Cuban government has not always had the flexibility and breadth that is required for this endeavor, in part because, in the case of Cuba, the real need to be on the defensive, with no gaps, is important. One consequence of U.S. harassment has been the objective limitation of the exercise of democracy in the country. With everything that must be recognized as a right and from that condition they must be treated when they occur within the parameters established by law, protesting in Cuba does not entail the same dangers to national security as in other countries. No one has thought of a humanitarian intervention in Colombia, for example, although those killed by the police in the demonstrations in recent months number in the dozens.
“The art of the Revolution has been its ability to turn enemies into friends.’ – Fidel Castro
Revolutionary intransigence demonstrated by the Revolution has been an essential component of the capacity to resist and forms part of the tradition of Cuba’s fight for independence and national sovereignty. A possible dialogue’s problem is when this intransigence is assumed through a misunderstood radicalism, which confuses principles with conjunctures and objectives with methods to achieve them. Any student of Cuban history will recognize that Fidel Castro, the most radical of Cuban revolutionaries, was a magician of dialectics. On one occasion I heard him say, and I quote him from memory: “The art of the Revolution has been its ability to turn enemies into friends.”
The most conflictive moments of the revolutionary process, and the cause of many of the worst political consequences, has been when, protected by a distorted ‘revolutionary radicalism,’ the most extreme tendencies prevailed. Many people felt alienated by a perverse logic which unfairly mistreated them until turning them into enemies, thus justifying the original abuse. Extremism, as Lenin, another radical revolutionary par excellence, warned, is a breeding ground for opportunism, and opportunism is a cancer that corrodes revolutionary processes. One only has to look at the Soviet debacle, a disaster that hatched within the system, to perceive the magnitude that these damages can attain.
Extremism obstructs dialogue when it entrenches itself in the indefensible and, in the name of defending the Revolution, disqualifies any type of criticism, as well as violates ethical principles of socialist political conduct where the end cannot justify the means. It would not matter much if it simply reflected another current of thought which struggles to defend its truth on an equal footing with other tendencies, but it can be very harmful when, as has happened on occasions, it assumes the representation of the official line of the party and the State, monopolizes public expressions and exercises the ability to repress its adversaries.
In this way, in recent years, attempts have been made to discredit, even punish, left-wing intellectuals, mostly young people who, rightly or wrongly, take critical positions regarding certain conceptions and government policies. Also, options for dialogue with non-socialist sectors have been frustrated which, regardless of great differences, have been willing to find common ground with sectors of the left. They have even tried to silence the critical voices of revolutionary militants through pressure or by limiting their access to the official media.
It is clear that any of these expressions can serve individuals with hidden counterrevolutionary intentions. Surely, there are departments within the CIA, right-wing organizations and so-called experts in many places trying to gain ground in Cuba. Be it a non-conforming left, or followers of other ideologies or, even, among the most extreme radicals, the issue is not to make things easier for them by making enemies of those who are not and who do not want to be. Once again, respect for the Constitution and the laws is the best protection against the penetration of the enemy and the main antidote to avoid committing excesses covered by this purpose.
Although it is not possible to speak of the existence of a properly institutionalized national dialogue, many dialogues exist in Cuba and are more widespread than many suppose. They take place within the communist party itself, particularly in the nuclei, whose symbiosis with the popular bases should be listened to and exploited more closely. They happen with great intensity and breadth in academic circles, either among students and teachers, or as a result of social research that, although increasingly taken into account for the design of public policies, are not disseminated until they become a source of popular culture. It occurs between intellectuals and artists within their own organizations; it has even been seen in the commissions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, although the result of the votes always reflects an exaggerated unanimity. It exists between emigrants and the government, as well as various sectors of civil society, not to mention the streets, declared a permanent forum for political debate in the country.
Perhaps the main obstacle to the potential of these scattered dialogues to contribute to the national consensus lies in the limitations of the press and other official media to disseminate their results and integrate them into the political work of the nation. For years the government itself has criticized the deficiencies of the press to reflect the situation in the country and meet the information needs of the population. But this criticism has been focused more on pointing out the results, than analyzing their causes. The most negative consequence has been the loss of credibility of public bodies and their defenselessness in the face of the distortions that are often generated through social networks or other strange media.
This contrasts with the quality of our journalists and other information professionals, many with a high vocation for social service, trained in good schools, and aware of the most innovative techniques of the trade. They are not even problems in essence attributable to the directors of the organizations and officials who direct these activities, since their replacement would suffice to overcome the mess. It is a much deeper problem related to the conception of the role of the press in the construction of socialist hegemony and the norms for its operation, an old unsolved problem of the socialist system. Add to this a huge gap when facing the scenario created by the new information technologies. The solution, then, requires a thorough review of state and party policies, as well as their conceptions regarding the press and its democratic demands.
The phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was Bill Clinton’s campaign theme in 1992 and was considered so descriptive of the situation that some say it was decisive in his victory. The same logic applies to the current Cuban reality. No dialogue will be able to solve the impact of this objective reality in the daily life of Cubans, but violence will achieve even less. Dialogue is a way to find solutions, especially by taking advantage of the enormous human capital the country has developed, and produce the welfare that comes with social harmony and contributes to popular political culture. Therein lies its importance.
The perfect storm
By Jesús Arboleya Last updated Jul 28, 2021
Many feel that protests that occurred in Cuba on July 11 constitute the announced death of the Revolution. Although truly shocking and damaging to the image of a country that prides itself on citizen tranquility, it is not rare for the revolutionary process to have been able to overcome major confrontations.
In the early years these confrontations were expressed in the armed struggle against terrorism, rebel gangs and invasions organized by the CIA. But even after overcoming this stage in the domestic scene — more or less violent social upheavals did not end — the common factor has been the participation and encouragement of the United States government and the external counterrevolution.
What occurs at the moment does not substantially change this pattern. It is difficult to qualify as ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations that occurred in unison throughout the country. They’ve been in the planning for months and have the financing, at least indirectly, of the hundreds of millions of dollars publicly allocated by the United States for the “promotion of democracy” in Cuba.
We are in the presence of a new U.S. aggression and this constitutes the central element of the analysis, although the majority of the protesters have not received instructions from the White House and their objectives do not even correspond to the pretensions of that country in Cuba. In reality, one of the great tragedies of this type of event is that many of its participants do not even act with full awareness of what they want, although generally they do know what they do not want, nor are they able to calculate the consequences of their actions. This is the difference between revolution and chaos.
It also would be simplistic to say that these types of conflicts only respond to a “malevolent imperialist plan,” since they are a reflection of the economic, social and political problems that the country traverses. Many times they are the result of the United States’ own aggressions, especially the blockade, but also as a consequence of errors and inadequacies in the construction of socialism in Cuba, and the inevitable political struggles that a process of this nature generates.
That said, it is worth analyzing the particularities of the current protests, an expression of the perfect storm that the country is experiencing. The most important is that the political subject has changed — both of society as a whole, and of the government that should govern its destinies — without the cohesive factor that the figure of Fidel Castro represented.
‘Continuity’ can be a valid slogan when referring to the objectives of the revolutionary process, but inoperative when it comes to conducting it. The country’s own leadership has insisted on the need for institutions and political cadres to change the “mentality” and ways of operating. That leadership has also tried it in many ways. But the main criticism of its management has been the inability to generate these changes at the speed and depth required, even to carry out many of the reforms that it has designed and that enjoy a positive national consensus.
Another peculiarity has been the level of violence applied by the forces of order in certain places — without justifying attacks against the police or the vandalism of the protesters. Although there have been moments of great confrontations, the government has always been careful to establish limits to the repressive actions of the police, knowing its political consequences.
Without reaching the scale that is unfortunately quite common in other countries, we have experienced scenes of violence and police abuse which do not correspond to the traditions and practices of the Revolution. It is true that the demonstrations were not always peaceful and orderly. Just as videos demonstrate police excesses, there is plenty of evidence of the violence and vandalism in various demonstrations which justify the determined action of the police. The problem is that although repression in Cuba may be minimal compared to other countries, a single case is enough to transgress the ethics of the revolutionaries and damages the image of the country, with what this entails for the national security itself. It is also bad policy.
This violence also takes place at a time when the process of approval of a new Constitution is being consolidated, which had the support, granted by secret ballot, of more than 80 percent of the voters. Violating the postulates of this Constitution constitutes a crime for either party and there are no reasons to do so, since it affects the consensus that underpins the strategic project of the nation.
Another peculiarity is the difficulties of the revolutionary forces to confront the subversive actions channeled through social networks. This is a new scenario for Cuba, at a disadvantage in the face of enemies who have all the money and experience in the use of these instruments of social communication — whether it be to sell a pair of shoes, destabilize a country or elect a president. For sure, the profiles of the majority of Cubans already rest on servers ready to be classified and dozens of operators are in charge of manipulating them. Nobody summoned me to the July 11 demonstrations, but thousands of people, more willing than me, surely received the message.
However, beyond the problems of the use of new technologies, there is the problem of the content of the information that is distributed and the methods used to guarantee the effectiveness of the message and its credibility. The shortcomings of the press, with no solutions in sight, have been the object of constant criticism from the country’s leaders. A good part of the human capital of the intelligentsia is wasted in the media and the result of social research continues to have very limited diffusion, which affects the accuracy and depth of the analyses that are transmitted to the population. The debate from different positions, present in other settings, even in the queues outside grocery stores, is a rare animal in the Cuban press.
Many of the social problems that lack adequate attention, and which President Díaz Canel himself has pointed out among the causes of the events that occurred — namely poverty, marginalization, racism and other social differences — have been studied for years by Cuban academic centers. And the results that warn about these phenomena and their treatment have not always been duly taken into account.
Although there is a lack of research to confirm this data, Díaz Canel also defined the fundamental components that he considers were present in the demonstrations and identified three large groups: the annexationists, who act bent on the interests of the United States; people with criminal attitudes; as well as a large presence of young people. The former are easily identifiable by their political ties and attitudes, the second group by their conduct, but the last respond to a much broader and more complex definition, related to much bigger problems in the life of the country.
Although the economic blockade has not been able to overthrow the regime, as its proponents have hoped for, it has been a determining obstacle to the economic advancement of the country, as well as serving as a constant political wear and tear, conditioned to create overwhelming deficiencies for the common citizen.
The Cuban miracle has been to survive under these conditions, but to resist eternally does not satisfy the life expectancy of ordinary people, especially young people. Such a level of dissatisfaction explains the volume of emigration that exists, as well as the expressions of dissatisfaction that are observed in various settings. The cause is economic, but its consequences are political and as such must be addressed.
The resurgence of the blockade, to the point of economic suffocation as a result of Donald Trump’s policies, has been compounded by the devastating humanitarian, social and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is no coincidence that the demonstrations were called for at the worst moment of the pandemic, when the country faces record levels of infections and deaths, a situation that should improve in the coming months as a result of the application of Cuban vaccines.
Nor is it a coincidence that they occurred at a time when the Biden administration seemed ready to announce the much-studied policy toward Cuba. Since taking over as president, the Cuban-American extreme right has been articulating provocations and media campaigns to prevent the sanctions established by Donald Trump from being reversed. It seems that Biden is cornered by these pressures and that policy towards Cuba will not have significant changes in the coming months.
The only thing that depends on the Cubans is Cuba itself. May the crisis, the mother of great transformations, in a climate of dialogue and peace, allow us to evaluate everything that must be evaluated and change everything that must be changed. The future of a Revolution depends on it, a Revolution where many Cubans have poured their life, heart and soul into.