Brazilian Soap Promotes ‘Anarchism’ in Cuba

Dmitri Prieto  

From Ciudad Paraiso.

Recently an unsuspected medium appeared in Cuba for explaining the meaning of anarchism and its organizational principles.  That does indeed take some explaining since little is known about this “exotic” theme here on the island (*).

In any case, this medium to which I’m referring is the current Brazilian soap opera, which is being broadcast three times a week on Cuban television’s most popular channel in primetime hours.

It’s interesting how that station — usually considered “alienating,” especially by “intellectuals”— has been offered for the promotion of something as controversial as anarchism.  And it’s occurring in this epoch of social change taking place all around us.

Ciudad Paraiso” (Paradise City) is a Globo network telenovela that is now coming to its end.  Its conservative utopianism, previously discussed in another post, has demonstrated to Cuban families the potential of popular self-organization.

First, in a city far from “civilization,” surrounded by cattle ranches but with a municipal budget practically at zero, it becomes a laboratory for social experimentation.  One of the ranch owners’ sons, an energetic young man who usually shares his life and labor with the impoverished farmworkers of the property, proposes the idea of a cooperative.  This is envisioned as a means of getting around the middlemen, solving their common problems collectively and preventing the ruin of the smaller ranches.

But then something unusual happens: the governing party candidate for mayor disappears in an accident and the current mayor — her former husband — concedes her position in favor of the opposing candidate (the president of the city council).  But this council president, when discovering the bleak financial state of the town, gives up both the city council presidency as well as his candidacy for mayor.

With the system disabled from the traditional government-opposition “rules of the game” of classical procedural democracy, the representatives of the two parties (the former-mayor and the ex-city council president) approach the young cooperative advocate.

Starting from that moment the cooperative assumes the administration of all community matters, even undertaking major construction projects (such as a bridge that had been destroyed for some time and an airfield).

Everything is paid for with voluntary contributions by the residents, everyone paying the same amount as the previous taxes that were paid to the central government, which Paradise City has now stopped paying in order to invest those funds directly into the town.

The young head of the cooperative takes charge of publishing in the local newspaper the weekly balance of expenses and revenues based on the people’s donations.  No one worries about going back to the old system until an “enlightened” political technologist embarks on organizing a reactionary movement.

I’m still unable to share the end of the telenovela, but it’s obvious that such a system is only operative if it’s based on a strong social fabric, one like that of the previously described conservative population of Paradise City.

What was most noteworthy was that the words “anarchism” or “anarchy” — to the best I can remember — were mentioned a couple of times in the telenovela (once by an old Italian immigrant and again by the conservative critics).

This was significant because the “idea” (as we libertarian socialists call the notion of self-organization from below) was not some ideological derivative from the musings of a few refined minds, but a product of daily coexistence and solidary between people.

The possibility of a “City Paradise” is probably the message that most Cubans got out the series.  Could it be a message that also contains an alternative for Cuba?

(*) Recently there’s been an interesting debate taking place in the Cuban Spanish-language blogosphere concerning anarchism (Respuesta al Doctor Enrique Ubieta de un anarquista del Observatorio Crítico, Ubieta responde: Quienes son los amigos de los anarquistas cubanos (y cómo defienden al pueblo)¡Fuego al Bábilon! o ¿qué significa “el nombre temido de Anarquía”?…, Quiénes son lxs amigxs de Observatorio Crítico (y cómo luchan contra los “social”-burócratas) and also Papel de la descentralización municipal en la efectiva participación ciudadana en la política).  This began with a kind of polemical attack against Havana Times blogger Erasmo Calzadilla.  Notwithstanding, most “ordinary Cubans” know little about what’s being debated since most of our fellow citizens lack access to the Internet or blogs.