Defending Our Spaces

By Armando Chaguaceda

Outside the gates for 'Temas' Forum.
Outside the gates at 'Temas' Forum.

Upon returning home on a recent night, a spine-chilling call from a colleague compelled me to write.  I’ve spent the last several days itinerantly following the development of debates and actions around two recent events in Cuba’s public sphere: the “Último Jueves” (“Last Thursday of the Month”) forum on the Internet, sponsored by “Temas” magazine, and the March for Nonviolence held on November 6.

In both cases -beyond any suspicion of media manipulation- the blocking of access to opposition bloggers has been interpreted as an unjustifiable use of violence and a distortion of the purposes of both actions.

All this did was produce what was hoped would be avoided: adding wind to the sails of the international right wing and their domestic counterparts.  This lent to a critical situation that, in malicious hands, could damage future forums and efforts for dialogue, as well as advancement within the socialist tradition.

I will not add my voice to the facile and perverse accusations against the supposed “pro-government complicity” of Temas and its hard-working staff, whose work transcends the persona(lity)of director Rafael Hernandez and his controversial writings.

This is because, in my own experience, numerous critical voices in Cuba (who emerge not only on the basis of authorization or dissent) have appeared in the magazine’s pages and forums with action platforms; this is despite the displeasure of those who dream of eliminating them and directing the country with the authoritarianism of a militarized camp.  That’s why they deserve to be protected, while at the same time we must proceed in exchanging ideas and evaluating the consequences of these acts.

Publications (like Temas) and forums (like “Ultimo Jueves”), which are explicitly devoted to public debate, were constituted and operate based on certain minimal rules that their organizers and participants must guarantee and defend in the face of internal or external saboteurs.  This is simply because such ground rules provide the reason for their existence.

In the Cuban context and conjuncture, the mere consistent upholding of these principles is sufficient; it’s unnecessary to overstate the performance and objectives of those initiatives. The experience of the valiant but now languishing Centro Criterios -discerningly prepared for dialogue, synergy and confrontation with the various types of State behavior- in my opinion marks a standard for decency; it functions between the extremes of indentureship under forces of institutional arrogance and the estrangement of leadership.

It’s those feet-on-the-ground people who can independently guarantee the vital existence of their forums (with a necessarily delimited role) while transcending them to impact on other public forums having an inclination towards transformation.  Actions related to cultural groups carrying out street performances or those that promote the socio-environmental and cultural renewal of our neighborhoods through popular education, to cite just two examples.

In Defense of Dialogue

Settings and forums must exist in their diversity without their being fused or overlapped. Moreover, they must spread a coordinated solidarity that amplifies the isolated effects of each while defending them all (through public opinion) from institutional closings.

We can begin by standing up for small positions, like the renunciation and denunciation of acts of aggression that seek to silence the voices of others (as long as these are not explicitly the bearers of violence).  Such actions lead to the defeat of policies aimed at the physical exclusion of discussion spaces, personal slander as a substitute for debate, and the political-administrative repression of ideas and their conveyors.

Sometimes, only the mention of some names or issue of the moment turns into the object of horror for officials, and -taken to the extreme- can bring about the obstruction and closing of a discussion forum.

The winds that blow are not very complimentary, and the extremes seem to touch.

From the right, someone suddenly attacked CubaEncuentro (the liberal alternative to Temas) and became a source cited in the rebelion.org website, which recently branded the accuser with the worst epithets.  A similar assault occurred when the intolerant “defenders of freedom and democracy” attacked -with a monstrous dose of McCarthyite envy- a respectful dialogue initiated by Cuban intellectuals (socialists and liberals) in a cultural center in Barcelona.

While these incidents occurred, attacks from the “left” (the Cuban State) were made against activist islanders of the libertarian left, who were sanctioned on their jobs for marching in the name of socialism and for disseminating revolutionary debate via the Internet.  On top of this, rumors were deliberately circulated imputing they were “human rights activists.”

At the same time, young journalists who believe in Raul Castro’s calls for debate in the “proper place, form and way” did not have long to wait before facing “left” institutional pressure for their fresh perspectives, while aptly and simultaneously being accused of being “communists” by the rightwing press.  Feeling alone, and understandably experiencing the passion of their youth, some moved from utopia to disenchantment in the face of the sad call for accommodation by their aged colleagues.

Faith in the Future

The root problem is the lack of transparency in our settings for discussion, as well as the rules of the game that create an imbalance of resources, power and means of the dissemination of ideas.  While this uneven playing field is suffered by a receptive, diverse and creative population on one hand; on the other it is enjoyed by a majority of State agencies ignorant of the political and communicational logic of the 21st century.

Today, though the pluralization of the means of dissemination of ideas and growing symbolic power tend to favor the general population, we attend forums that must be precariously defended (through a combination of self-censorship and activism) by true communists and other citizens against media provocations by the Creole right – to borrow a phrase lent by friends.

What is unseen (but will be brought to light, just as the Stasi files have been today) are the dossiers on the pressure, harassment, surveillance and fascistic stigmatization -methodically planned- with which a low-intensity war has been conducted against the Cuban public sphere on the part of Stalinist thought and its ultra-right corollaries.

Certainly the challenges are enormous, but I believe that our centers and socio-cultural movements must avoid “maintaining their spaces” though devoid of any meaning.  To sustain a sterile forum does nothing but serve to legitimate authoritarianism and exclusion while embellishing the censorship of critical thought and masking what is nonexistent: plurality, respect and dialogue.

Faith in the future “rectification of those errors” by a “Revolution” able to reward certain “loyalty” has clear generational dividing lines.  To sustain them can be legitimate and honorable for politically active sixty-year-olds, who are often our exemplary teachers.  But to advise and judge the acts of youth based on them can be at least as irresponsible as driving along a ravine without looking at the edge.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

3 thoughts on “Defending Our Spaces

  • November 13, 2009 at 10:07 pm
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    Oh, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy! As Bob Dylan once crooned, “The times, they are a’changin!” Now that Pandora has been let out of the box, she is not to be stuffed back in. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, with either the older, or the up-and-coming, generations. Despite the fact that I am (chronologically) of the former, my wager is with the latter. Like a plane going through some turbulence, the ride may get a bit rough, the it unlikely that the Revolution will fall out of the air. And, when it lands it will be landing at..T3 of .THE NEW JERUSALEM!

    Reply
  • November 14, 2009 at 12:28 am
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    You talk about a lot of things of which I have no knowledge; but I do understand about state & vigilante oppression & dirty tricks. This is in large part how the imperialists stay in power after all; & it is also the excuse for stalinists to engage in their own version of exactly the same. & long experience of stalinism — even if it does not acquire state power — tells you that they remain very much as was so famously put regards the Bourbon monarchies: learning nothing — and forgetting nothing. This has very much to do with unaccountable power (or at least serving it from afar); & of course, true socialism is every bit about the free & dialectical interchange of ideas thru dialog & praxis. The problem, of course, is the bad faith subversion & sabotage of an adversary which only cynically pretends to dialog. So what to do.

    I can only suggest that the cuban bureaucracy back off — or the military needs of the state will swallow what is socialist about Cuba.

    Reply
  • November 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm
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    Those of us outside of Cuba don’t really know what happened at the events referred to. It is possible to guess, but knowledge is better, and one or two lines would be enough to give us context.

    Reply

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