Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — In the course of these past few years, the Cuban journal Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) has demonstrated that the much-needed space for a gathering of Cubans and a debate among them can be created in every imaginable sphere, provided the guiding tenet is transparency.
Published by the Archdiocesan Secular Council, the journal has shown commendable rigor and has become one of the publications that most seriously delve into the spiritual, political and social problems of a nation facing a clear transition process.
It is not my intention to downplay the undeniable contributions made by a handful of other journals which, published within more restrictive contexts, encourage the critical analysis of our society. I am thinking about Temas (“Issues”) and of the more wide-encompassing, academic and theoretical publication Criterios (“Criteria”).
I also do not wish to portray Espacio Laical as a work of perfection published by beings enlightened from above, much less as a template for other Cuban journals.
I cannot but acknowledge, however, that this publication from Cuba’s Catholic milieu has managed to intellectually surprise, provoke and challenge those who would seek an accurate portrayal of that reality which is deliberately concealed from readers in the official media.
While just about everything has been written in Cuba’s blogosphere and other online spaces, it is not every day that you come across a regular, printed publication with the insightful critiques and pro-active daring we catch sight of in Espacio Laical.
Such daring (moderate and not prone to verbal fireworks) has brought the editors of the periodical no few headaches. Arrows, shot by the Left, the Right, from beneath, above and even higher, have whizzed past the heads of the Espacio staff – something which, though some do not like to admit it, speaks of the magazine’s true plurality and inclusiveness.
Espacio Laical has advanced daring proposals such as the debates at the Felix Varela Cultural Center (the former venue of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary), a project which is still in an early stage of development.
Similar praise is due to the Casa Cuba Laboratory, where editors Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez have played a significant role, next to other renowned intellectuals from across the political spectrum.
Espacio Laical has expressed itself “in favor of a re-union, of debate, reconciliation and forgiveness among all Cubans, without exceptions of any kind,” and has remained true to these principles, something which is far from trivial in a society as polarized as Cuba.
Several Havana Times bloggers, for instance, have been offered the pages of this periodical to express their opinions on the most varied topics.
I am aware of the fact that not everyone has been offered the same opportunities. The journal’s staff, however, has always expressed its reasons for not publishing certain pieces. Truth is, neither Havana Times, nor Granma nor the New Herald publish everything sent to them (though each may have reasons of differing legitimacy to reject certain pieces).
Espacio Laical has not distanced itself from the Catholic calling of its staff. Though I do not share their belief system, I find this admirable. The magazine, however, has long become a publication which isn’t exclusively “for” Catholics.
The journal is sought by young university students, Cuban and foreign researchers quote it, and the public reads it. That is why it is desirable. Cuba has become a country with more books and educational opportunities and less readers, and reverting this is desirable.
It is desirable as an exercise in democracy and civility, in openness and adherence to the principles of decency we uphold.
It is desirable because we still have a long way to go. Espacio Laical is a journal which unflinchingly documents every inch of the intricately-winding theoretical and practical unpaved roads that Cubans must tread as they move forward, paths where, to make progress, one must often get dirty.