Democracy in the Times of the Energy Crisis

Erasmo Calzadilla

Gains of corn. Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

The Facts

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?

16 thoughts on “Democracy in the Times of the Energy Crisis

  • Cubans are good at pretending to be happy and gregarious. This is what you have witnessed. However, on the contrary, they are among the saddest people I have ever met. Generally lacking an ‘authentic’ sense of hope. As a result, what you see as happy-go-lucky is the face of “might as well smile, nothing’s gonna change anyway”

  • Where did you read that ?
    If it is meant to make some sort of connection between anarchy and the chaos of the hell depicted by ancient artists, then you’re just displaying your cartoonish thinking about anarchism which is understandable .
    Had you read any of the anarchist writers like Prudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin, you ‘d never have posted what you did and reveal your deep ignorance which at this point in the game is quite apparently WILLFUL ignorance.

  • Sorry, I am not a Stalinist nor a Leninist, nor a Maoist nor a totalitarian like you at all .
    I am not a Marxist either and I have explained this at least twice .
    I am an anarchist : one who believes in direct democracy .
    Do you have a learning disability or short-term memory problems ?

  • No other government has copied Cuba’s uniquely Cuban systems other than in small parts like the Literacy Brigades.
    The U.S and other propagandists ( liars) who work for the U.S. G. have long claimed that the Cubans were trying to export revolution but NEVER came up with any evidence of it .
    I have cited Fidel on this several times in the past.
    When asked by a Western reporter about those allegations of Cuban export of revolution he said (paraphrased)
    “It is impossible to foment revolution if the conditions for a revolution are not already in existence and likewise, once a revolution is in motion, it is nearly impossible to stop.”
    Moses you’re a stone imperialist .
    “We can’t let them be” ?????
    Who TF are you to say that any nation has to bow to the immoral wishes of the United States ? .
    The people of Cuba want the system they have and not what YOU want .

  • A superb post.
    I certainly couldn’t have said it better .
    The fact that some 95% of eligible Cubans cast ballots in every election when they can just stay home shows that they overwhelmingly support their government and , as you indicated, know that the everyday things that plague the society under the U.S. . counter-revolutionary economic war are not the fault of their ( admittedly) undemocratic government.
    This is something Moses and the other imperialists can’t seem to grasp or perhaps…. don’t WANT to acknowledge.

  • Funny, Cubans I know (and I know a LOT) don’t live in the kind of fear you describe. Generally they don’t fear the police and certainly they love and trust their own family. And one of the most steady constants amongst Cubans I know is the universal despise for people that rat out in others.

    Get caught once and you are going to be called a “chiva” for life, ostracized by anyone who knows you.

    Also your picture of Cubans is beyond wrong and in the realm of insanity. They are definitively NOT isolated or distrustful of each other, in my experience is hard to find a more gregarious bunch.. and compared to you Canadians? You are a polite lot, but there is always a barrier between you and strangers that is VERY hard to overcome that seems inexistent for them; strangers meet each other in the silliest places and talk without inhibition and after a few minutes is impossible to tell they just met for the first time five minutes ago.

    No way you can do that if they are as distrustful and isolated from their peers as you claim.

  • The only sort of professional help your ilk has traditionally provided to those who believe in God is the gulag. For the Marxist, the only omnipotent power is the State. All others are the enemy.

  • Cubans I have spoken to have specifically mentioned fear. The people fear the police and informers who could be your neighbours, family, co-workers, teachers or classmates. They learn from a very young age not to fully trust anybody. The State controls all media and the State controls all social organizations. The constant barrage of propaganda every Cuban is subjected to from cradle to grave has shaped the public discourse to reflect only the language of the Party.

    The result of all this is a nation consisting of atomized, isolated persons, utterly alone and powerless before the omnipotent State.

    Put a leash on a puppy, beat it when it misbehaves and feed it only enough to keep it alive. By the time it’s a full grown dog, you can take the leash off it’s neck but the dog will never run away because the leash will always be in its mind. Psychologists call this condition, “learned helplessness”. Another term which could equally apply is “battered wife syndrome”.

  • I have read that Hell is an anarchist’s paradise. Let me know once you get there, won’t you?

  • I agree that what looks like cowardice may really be complacency. I mean, after 55 years, most Cubans have simply accepted that nothing can or will ever change. Plus, if it gets too much to bear, most Cubans opt to leave rather than risk everything trying to change the system. My mother had no choice but to fight her oppressor. She had no wet foot/dry foot policy as a safety valve. Since 1959, the Castros have been hell bent on exporting their venomous style of depravity elsewhere. Today its Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Tormorrow, who knows? So as a result, we simply can’t “let them be”.

  • Yes, all nice and dandy, but still reinforce the position that Cubans don’t feel themselves that oppressed by the Cuban government.

    Cubans don’t tremble to the thought of standing by themselves, compared to other migration demographics they are statistically very good at standing by themselves outside of Cuba, so thats not likely an issue.

    The problem is that they don’t care enough about the current government to topple it at any (personal) cost. Probably because as far as bad governments go, theirs is not that bad and because there is no viable alternative in the horizon.

    Yes, they are poor, and yes, they made an awful *lot* of bad decisions over the past 50 years, but people in the streets see those bad decisions as unintentional mistakes and at the very least they made for the well being of the population as a whole and not for their personal gain.

    And thats the Cuban reality: they don’t feel particularly oppressed and they don’t think that the current administration is doing terribly bad for them, so they are not as desperate as your mother was ergo they keep the status quo.

    Their country, their business, so let them be.

  • If you talk to God, it is considered praying.
    If God talks to you , you’re a paranoid schizophrenic and/or hallucinating and in need of professional help.
    “Since humankind appeared on the planet some 100,000 years ago , we have had well over 1000 different gods.
    We are now down to one…. which brings us ever closer to the actual number.” :
    Christopher Hitchens

  • AC, consider my perspective as an African-American. Against a government far more powerful and hateful than the Castro tinpot dictatorship, 50 years ago my 100 lb. mother faced off against firehoses, dogs, redneck police and hood-wearing thugs to protest for her civil rights. She knew it could cost her her life but she was, as famed civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer stated, “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. The Castro thugs in Cuba are Boy Scouts in comparison to the Klan in Alabama and Mississippi. Yet Cubans tremble at the thought of standing up for themselves. Cowardice or not, the Castros only have the power that the Cuban people let them steal.

  • Sooo, if they are not doing that already it means that either they are a bunch of cowards or they don’t really have that big of an issue with the government. And risking death in a flimsy raft in open sea requires some sort of bravery.. a pair as you put it, particularly taking in account that they are known to risk the life of their children as well.

    So do you mean they need an even bigger pair than risking death for yourself and your loved ones? Particularly taking in account that the Cuban government is not known for torturing or killing dissidents or their families ala Batista or Pinochet?

  • From your lips to God’s ears…

  • ….or Cubans could grow a pair and fight for democracy the old-fashioned way: Organize a protest march in Plaza de Revolucion. Keep at it, day after day, month after month. The Castros have neither the time nor the will to resist the people forever. Run those guys out of town!

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