HAVANA TIMES, April 4 — The charismatic Chilean student-protest leader Camila Vallejo traveled to Cuba to participate in the events marking the anniversary of the island’s Young Communist League. This young woman is a case — rare in these times — that combines intelligence, perseverance and social commitment.
To these must be added her being the face (an entrancingly beautiful one, like that of an actress) of the most creative, combative and respected post-Pinochet social mobilization in Chile, one in which students are demanding the right to education.
In the prelude to her most recent visit in Cuba, Camilla made some statements that were picked up by several web forums.
Alarm was raised concerning her remark comparing repression in Cuba and Chile, where — without denying its existence here on the island — the young Chilean recalled the violent means in which her fellow demonstrators have been attacked during social protest actions in her country. This doesn’t mean that she is unaware of the violent acts committed by agents of the Cuban government; it merely speaks of her real and personal experience and knowledge.
Here, perhaps one might might add to Camilla’s assessment by saying that the substantial difference between the two contexts and populations is the existence in her country of a public sphere — the media, laws and institutions — in which people can express their dissent against official policy without censorship or the suppression (though there is indeed repression) of the right to protest.
Likewise, the Chilean citizenry — despite the anesthetic effect of the military dictatorship and neoliberal consumerism — is in a qualitatively superior position for dealing with fear and in their capacity for mobilization as compared to the Cuban population.
What few critics recognize in Camila’s words is that — unlike many “friends of Cuba” who visit us — she didn’t keep her critical opinions to herself. As true friends do, Camilla said:
“With these words, I don’t wish to conceal the legitimate discontent felt by certain sectors of Cuban society with regard to its political and social system. We were able to hear criticisms about these during our visit to the island” (referring to a previous visit in 2009).
And to make clear the absence of mimicry or dogma in the fight that she helps lead, she concluded:
“Cuba is not a perfect society and Chile does not have to follow its path. Chileans must develop their own path to overcoming inequality.” Although the progressive sectors of that country value the Cuban experience, she recalled, “We have aimed to place Chile on a path of broad social and political convergence within a multiparty system.”
Therefore I don’t think that this experienced student leader is either an accomplice of repression or naively uninformed. She speaks from the position of a new generation and with a new political vision, the same one that has led her — overcoming the admiration held by many of the world’s leftists for caudillos or the fierce xenophobia that exists in her own country — to prefer coca-growing leader Evo Morales over the brash former soldier Hugo Chavez.
Hers is a generation that has the challenge of overcoming the neo-liberal legacy of dictatorship while advocating education as a public good and right in the face of justifications issuing from all of Chile’s established political parties – including the Socialists.
We can perhaps assist Camila by giving testimonies about the experiences here, that — without denying her claims — could provide her with new arguments for better seeing “the other Cuba.”
We can point to what doesn’t reside in the lush foreign-guest facilities at El Laguito or in organized visits to model schools with diligent pioneers. We could show her experiences where the idolatry of the market and order are advancing while the emblematic social programs of the revolution are being cut back in an agenda similar to that of the military coup leaders and their US-trained advisers from the Chicago School.
We can testify to experiences in which average people are seeing their living standards fall without these citizens having mechanisms for expressing their concerns or raising protests. Where college students who tried, in the past decade, to discuss the thinking of Che Guevara, or to organize a protest march against the war in Iraq or who resisted the imposition of spurious leaders over their student organizations were punished for thinking and acting with their own minds and hearts.
We could point to where those who today discuss the experiences of the Chilean students or the Spanish “Outraged” are monitored by police agencies and defamed with impunity as “members of the services of enemy intelligence.”
All these testimonies exist and their central figures certainly have much to tell this courageous leader and her brave companions. This is not to turn her visit into a “wailing wall,” but to give a contribution to the pluralistic and fresh vision — concerning Cuba and the world — that is being forged by a new generation of social activists.
This is because you don’t pour new wine into old wineskins and because the birth of this new radical and democratic, anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian politics is the best tribute that can be made to the heroic legacy of those who died in La Moneda that fateful day in September 1973. The youth, despite everything, are living up to that legacy.