HAVANA TIMES — In this post, I will assume two things:
1) No democracy exists in Cuba. Individuals, acting independently or as groups, have absolutely no means of influencing or modifying the decisions of those who hold the reins of the nation. It is not, to be sure, a typical, bloody dictatorship, but rather one based on the annihilation of civil society.
2) The depletion of natural resources and the destruction of the environment spell the decline of industrial civilization. The growth and progressive development to which the second half of the twentieth century accustomed us are today a utopian dream.
The interesting part is that these are not isolated phenomena: democracy and the crisis of civilization condition each other mutually. In this post, I will try to work out what will happen with the former as the latter begins to take root.
Democracy is one of the top achievements of humanity. Without it, we would be reduced to cruel, power-hungry creatures. The limited democracy that some peoples have enjoyed at certain points in history has been made possible by the confluence of a number of factors I will try to summarize: the fulfillment of certain basic needs, relative autonomy of the micro and the local with respect to the macro, the flexibility of religious dogma and, most importantly, the predominance of a culture that upholds justice, fraternity, virtue and the dignity of individuals.
Democracy reached its highest expression during the second half of the past century. However, as the Western world grew richer, thanks (among other things) to the treasure that issued from the subsoil, nature and tenets of democracy began to change radically.
Virtue, for instance, ceased to be an indispensable condition for democracy. Today, a nation can be made up of a majority of alienated and consumerist idiots (in the ancient sense of the word) who choose not to participate in public affairs, and still be considered “free and democratic.” It suffices for this nation be prosperous, well-armed and connected somehow to hegemonic culture. Let no one be deceived: it is the decline of the original project of democracy.
In keeping with the above, many of those who long and work for the “restoration” of democracy in Cuba believe that this process is necessarily conditioned by economic development and greater contact with the outside world. The thinking goes that when individuals begin to travel freely, connect to the Internet without restrictions and enjoy the advantages and comforts of modern life, they will no longer put up with a provincial-minded, petty tyrant that whips them into action when he wishes.
New comforts will sway the hard-headed who still believe in the generosity of the regime. Employment and decent salaries will help contain the pernicious vulgarity that destroys Cuban culture and alienates the young. The Internet will sweep away the foundations of the dictatorship more resolutely and radically than all aggression by imperialism and its lackeys.
The only tiny little problem is that all of the above is achieved by making the GDP grow, and this is not possible in the times of the energy crisis.
It is already too late. The crisis is around the corner and the possibility of overthrowing the regime using Facebook or showing people the good life it is missing is decreasing minute after minute. But do not despair, for the end of cheap oil could spell an opportunity for democracy.
The dictatorship that began in 1959 has been able to survive thanks to its monopoly over healthcare services, education, the media and the means of production. Such tight control over things is possible only when one has abundant oil at one’s disposal – the day the oil pipeline spits out mud, the party’s over. One needn’t be a prophet to see this coming: we already experienced it during the Special Period.
The crash will be announced by the horsemen of the apocalypsis, but the good news is that these same demons will break the chains that bind individuals and communities to the totalitarian and paternalistic State.
As the Center weakens, the local, the communal, horizontal relationships among people and a whole series of related virtues (without which a true democracy cannot be built) will be favored. The problem is that vices will come along with the virtues.
Democracy could well be within hand’s reach in a future marked by the energy crisis, the only “inconvenience” is that we will have to fight for it old-school: wielding a machete, in exile or prison with a quill and some ink, through guerrilla warfare up in the mountains or clandestine cells in the city. Will we have what it takes?