Cuba Group Seeks Inclusive Public Forums

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES, April 5 — Cuba’s Critical Observatory network (OC) has just published on its blog a statement(See below in English) or “position” calling for forums of public expression that are truly pluralistic, inclusive and open to the various tendencies on the island that are struggling to be heard.

In what I would describe as almost poetic language, the statement reveals the yearning for a “world in which public space is the heritage of all people, not a minority in power,” and “where decisions affecting the whole population are not made behind the backs of the majority.”

The groups associated with the OC prefer “initiatives of residents who meet spontaneously to contribute the best they can to their communities,” and not to give priority to “profit seeking, manipulation and a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality.”

However, in my opinion the most important aspect of the statement is its implicit references to how several public spaces with tremendous potential for debate on the island have been created but are burdened by a lack of autonomy and are afflicted by old prejudices.

For the OC, it is clear that “the stimulation of diversity, alternative approaches and action around problems is what leads to opportunities for the creative enrichment of reality.” Therefore it rejects the obstruction of certain views in “scenarios that are ostensibly exploring the notion of what is public.”

This of course doesn’t mean that the groups connected through this network advocate models in a “given direction”; indeed they repudiate “any form of economic and/or political exploitation, as well as models that assume selfishness or the plundering of nature and other people as being essential.”

“We resolutely defend the right to advance our own positions, but we would be morally wrong to do so if we did not also defend the right of those who advocate views that are different from our own,” the statement reads.

The writing makes it clear that existing heterogeneities (even antagonistic ones) should not “lead to an authority banning the expression of other viewpoints a priori or arbitrarily.”

The group didn’t miss this opportunity to criticize the Cuban government, noting that the new left’s “actions as well as their means of communication and dissemination [are being] the object of ideological and law-enforcement surveillance, persecution and defamation.”

Moreover, OC reaffirms in its statement that it is an “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist” collective and concluded its position with the expression: “We condemn NATO just as much as we do UMAP,” while renouncing any possible future imperialist interference or intervention in Cuba.

The issue of “public spaces” and public expression has shaped institutional and non-institutional discussions in recent months on the island in such forums as Temas magazine, the Centro Teórico Cultural Criterios, and the Estado de Sats project.



Position of the Critical Observatory Network of Cuba

The world we envision for tomorrow, we need to begin to sow it today.
It is a world where public space belongs to all the people, not a minority in power, as it is the case today throughout the entire world, including Cuba.

It is a world where decisions affecting the whole population are not discussed or taken without the latter, practice currently found in both “authoritarian” and “democratic” regimes all over the world.

Such a world would grant the highest regard to the initiatives of the neighbors who come together spontaneously to give their best to the communities, through art, ecological actions, the memory of historical and cultural traditions, and promotion of popular education.

In this world, those who work are the real owners of their means of production.

Contrary to the dominant logic of today, wealth, manipulation and the domination of the fittest are not privileged there as would be the forms of dialogue, consultation and consensus building on the core issues of social life.

In this world of the future, which can only begin to be built in the present, all religions and consciences are respected and, ecumenically, the representatives of the various manifestations of spirituality participate on equal terms.

There is no fear for the participation of a person in an event for the simple fact that s/he disagrees with the organizers of the latter, this is what logic takes to, because even with cloning it is impossible to reproduce a mentality in an absolute homogeneous way. It is precisely the stimulation of diversity and alternative approaches to the problems and action that leads to opportunities for the creative enrichment of reality.

It can be argued, very persuasively, that in a trench on which the bombs fall from NATO planes or threaten  to do so there are no conditions for parliamentary debates or democratic formalities, but we refuse to give such ideals of freedom and democracy to NATO or similar forces, since they are the result of a historical tradition of struggle of the peoples all over the world.

The Critical Observatory of Cuba (OC) is aware that there are divisions among the people, among the ways of thinking, between the projects of life and society, within and outside our country. The OC defends models in a direction determined by solidarity, equality, freedom, commitment to social emancipation toward advanced forms of popular self-government to foster prosperity and happiness to the oppressed and dispossessed, and rejects any form of economic and/or political exploitation, as well as models that assume as necessary selfishness, the plundering of nature and others, these being alleged elements for development.

The OC network integrates, within itself, opinions of great diversity that within their scopes have always related to one another through a respectful and enriching dialogue. Outside of their frames, the heterogeneities are much larger, up to the point of seeming to be antagonistic, but this should not lead to an authority banning a priori and arbitrarily other lines of thought.

A specific opinion, however shocking it may be, should not be capable of disrupting dramatically  the progress of a group that claims to be aware of its objectives. Most of all, the space conceived as being public forces, by the very definition of public, to not erect barriers against certain expressions just because they are not liked by a sector, no matter if they are part of the majority or the minority, provided that they do not attack the rights and dignity of any person or group, or promote violent, xenophobic or other actions typical of the most widespread fascism. Public space is the heritage of the nation : of the entire nation, in all its dimension and diversity, not of a sector of it.

The OC is opposed to the fact that its actions and means of communication and information remain under, ideological and police, surveillance, persecution and defamation in an exercise of traditional censorship on the part of institutional and extra-institutional organisms that do not respect the ideals of equal rights and opportunities for all citizens. This deprives the Cuban society from the enjoyment and growth through cultural, ecological and social projects that we believe have high value.

Ideas are fought with ideas; the forced restriction to free expression and opinions in an independent and peaceful country gives the image that the ideals supposedly supported by the censors have no solid reasons backing them up. For this reason, we are concerned when censorship is put in place in the name of shared ideals, such as national independence and social justice.

We can not accept that such ideals are discredited because some officials decide unilaterally and without consulting to “protect” them by closing public spaces for those who think differently.

We are an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist collective, we do not want that censors discredit the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist thought. Nor do we accept bombings and killings in the name of freedom and democracy. We can not accept that our ideals of social justice, national independence, freedom and democracy are used as an alibi by censors and murderers. We condemn NATO and the UMAP just alike.

Nor do we consent to grant legitimacy to those that defend imperialist interferences as a project for the future of Cuba, merely because some bureaucrats came up with censorship as a good tool to confront ideas.

Blocking access of some opinions to spaces that allegedly explore the notion of what is public – as has happened recently in more than one forum – has no other result than to substantiate the charges of totalitarianism that are usually expressed against the ruling social order in Cuba and amplify messages (or lack of messages) that otherwise might not have found so much echo.

We strongly defend the right to advance our own ideas, but we would not have legitimacy if we do not also defend the right of those that put forward views that differ from ours. For the latter, even if sometimes they do not understand us, we also recognize and defend their right to exist.

For this reason we repeat, along with Rosa Luxemburg, that freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party (however numerous they may be) is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.

From the diversity and contributions of all its children, will arise the great and beautiful nation of the future … “with all and for the good of all.”

Havana, April 2012

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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