Waxing Moon in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

Havana sunrise. Photo: Caridad

This reflection (let’s not allow the term to be stolen from us) doesn’t come from a specialist but from someone interested in the matter who would like to share what he thinks.  If you don’t agree, don’t hesitate to mow him down– that’s how we all learn.

Why is it that the people of Cuba don’t generally fight for their rights?

I’ve asked myself this question a million times and it looks like I’ll be asking it a million times more before anything changes.

I come back to it after reading a post by the blogger Dimas Castellanos in which he analyzes, from the perspective of our times, a civic event known as the Protest of the Thirteen that occurred in 1923.  After filling us in a little regarding what happened, Dimas asks himself:  Why don’t acts of this nature normally arise in our times?  And he answers himself with two reasons:

  • “There existed at that time a resurgence of civic virtues.
  • The Constitution of 1901 with its “separation of public powers, recognition of freedom of expression, religious liberty, right of assembly, of association and of movement to enter and leave the country, the habeas corpus laws and the sanctuary of the home, permitted that type of civil manifestation.”

What goes on today

Castellanos considers that the first item is entering a positive phase: “Civic activity is experiencing a resurgence, and Cubans are beginning to convert themselves into citizens.”  It seems then that the problem lies with the second point: the Constitution is not helping. (This conclusion doesn’t appear explicitly in the mentioned post).

Dimas returns to this issue in another post titled: “Cuba and Egypt, similarities and differences.”  The writer affirms that in the land of the pyramids, following the death of “the totalitarian” Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970 “power was successively occupied by three governments. Without renouncing totalitarianism, these governments began introducing changes which would permit certain public and legal participation of important sectors of civil society, without which the current denouement would have been much more difficult, not to say impossible.”

In other words, apparently Castellanos believes that the change in these cases has been promoted by agents external to the people themselves: the Constitution, education, government measures (relatively external, that is, it’s not like they fell from a meteorite).

I don’t pretend to devaluate his work, rather I’m grateful to him.  I merely want to take advantage of the stress he places (from my point of view) on the extrinsic to underline the stress on the intrinsic as a cause of this social apathy.

Full Moon over Viñales. Photo: Caridad

I believe that in order to understand the political inertia of the Cuban people, we must see it as part of a process that is situated in a determined state of maturity, and that activism cannot flourish until the moment arises. (I suspect that by that time the Constitution will be reactionary).

Thinking of it this way, as a process that matures etc., one could wonder how such activism could have fallen off in such a radical way (to the point of lying down at the feet of a charismatic leader) after having reached such a high point in 1959. Could maturity be so reversible?

Others have experienced the same things

It seems that a similar “regression” in the political conscience occurred in Europe during the first half of the XX century with the upsurge of fascism, Nazism, the rule of Franco etc. in places which had previously been democratic republics with advanced constitutions in the defense of liberties and civil rights.  This phenomenon has been attributed by some to the entrance of “the masses” into political life.

“The masses” don’t begin to participate (more directly) in politics by becoming more elite, but by introducing more commonplace considerations such as emotions, faith etc, which leave in disarray concepts belonging to modern Political Theory (like that of civil society).

I don’t doubt that it’s important in today’s Cuba to recuperate concepts such as civil and human rights, etc. as weapons of struggle, but if we never get beyond these, the movement will remain an impoverished one.

Haven’t some positive things occurred in the political soil of the old continent after the totalitarianism extremes?  Are the citizens freer?  That is – can we hold out some hope? I want to believe that, yes, we can, although I suspect that the advance of capitalism is working against this.

Returning to Cuba

It’s true that there was a first rate civic culture in Cuba in 1959, but I imagine that it was restricted to an elite, because only a people still very much in diapers could let themselves become immersed so quickly and completely into populism.

The political occurrences of that time also seem to me typical of the people’s drawing closer into political life.  Logic would indicate (and I believe it has happened this way) that after the first skirmishes the learning process would continue irremediably with each new occurrence (and especially with each new stumble) despite any efforts from above to impede it.  Of course, a nation doesn’t evolve at the same velocity nor in the same direction (nor is it desirable that it should) as the elite does.

In other words, I prefer to think that it’s not the Constitution holding back the flowering of civic behavior, nor do I believe that we’re in need of a “liberal” caudillo (leader) who can loosen the reins little by little until we get used to freedom.  What we need is to grow as a people.

We’ve already done so a little, and in time, if fear continues to dissipate as a result of audacity and we manage to maintain the large powers at a distance, we are surely going to make another leap.  But we must be prepared for it, and above all we must deserve it.