Cuba and the “Other” Revolutions

Dalia Acosta

Biologist Isbel Díaz hopes to see greater autonomous spaces for participation and taking advantage of successful institutional experiences. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños

HAVANA TIMES, April 21 (IPS) — YES to sexual diversity! NO to transgenics! LONG LIVE @! In stark contrast to the political apathy of many of their contemporaries, some sectors of Cuban youth are radically re-writing the standard slogans, opting for active participation and fomenting “new revolutions within the Revolution.”

“The anti-racist revolution, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) revolution and the ecological revolution are the ones that have most consistently blazed the trail, and their coming of age could be in our hands,” biologist Isbel Díaz told IPS.
“The word ‘minorities’ should have no meaning in this world, and especially in this country.”

The founder and editor of El Guardabosques (The Forest Ranger), an electronic bulletin advocating tree conservation, Díaz sees in the young people around him “deep cravings for freedom in the widest sense of the word: freedom of expression, sexual and ideological freedom, freedom of movement, of action and of consumption

“The feeling of suffocation that arises from having attained high cultural and educational levels in a permanently circumscribed environment is something we all want to do away with,” said Díaz, who at 35 is living proof that youth is not a matter of age but “an attitude, a state of mind.”

However, people like Díaz are a minority. Studies carried out by the state Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS) found that social and political aspirations have great weight among certain segments of young people, but not for the majority.

In the 1980s, many young people ranked social and political goals in third place among their priorities, after self-development and their family, but this changed with the economic crisis in the 1990s. Society and politics dropped into fifth place, and the aims expressed in these categories were wide-ranging, such as “achieving the stability of the Revolution.”

Over the last decade, young people’s interests changed again. Social and political affairs became further diversified and continued to decline in importance on the scale of priorities, and this was true even for people committed to and systematically involved in political action, through membership in student organizations or the Young Communist League (UJC).

“People concentrate on their day-to-day troubles and forget about the future,” Ivet Ávila, a producer who runs a children’s workshop for making animated cartoons, told IPS. “My sense is that many young people are not concerned about their country. Even so, there are quite a lot of people who are involved in community projects.”

The trend is not confined solely to Cuba. “In the 1960s, young people all over the world were imbued with the spirit of protest and were involved in transforming society; but later generations wanted less and less to do with these concerns,” María Isabel Domínguez, the head of CIPS, told IPS.

In her view, these changes in outlook are due not only to the priority young people accord to their individual interests, and to cultural and social activities centered on ways of interacting facilitated by the new technologies, but also to their disappointment with traditional politics, which have become discredited among young people worldwide.

“The fact that Cuban youth have maintained their levels of political affiliation and commitment to traditional political practices attests to the credibility of these institutions and organizations, notwithstanding that young people wish to change, modify and adjust them in accordance with modern times,” Domínguez said.

In any case, she added, Cuban society is in need of “continual adjustments” to free it from the “ways of doing things learned in the past” that have become entrenched to the point of being “permanent and immutable formulas” that tend to give blanket treatment to “social groups that are increasingly diverse.”

In the face of the government’s aim to “update” Cuba’s socialist model, civil society experts and activists agree on the need to transform the ways in which participation has been understood for decades, and to create mechanisms to ensure ordinary citizens can express themselves and take the initiative, without having to wait for the prompting of “instructions from above,” she said.

Ana Isabel Peñate, a researcher at the Centre for Youth Studies (CESJ), said “We must seek a more autonomous kind of participation by the young in a large number of areas. The idea is not for adults and institutions to create these projects for them, but for young people to contribute their own opinions, needs and expectations.”

The head of CESJ, Natividad Guerrero, argued that the older generations should share their experience and work with the younger generations, not simply “make way for them.”

“If adults do not change their attitude of wanting to control everything in an authoritarian manner, young people who want to shake things up and do things differently will only be able to do so within the areas they already occupy. We have raised our youth to be combative about things that are badly organized at present, but not to take on a protest role from an individualistic point of view,” Guerrero told IPS.

While in many spheres in Cuba the same patterns of participation that have prevailed for the last five decades are still in place, young people like the editor of El Guardabosques have chosen to build their own spaces of citizen expression and participation “that are really authentic and functional,” Díaz said.

Díaz grew up with guaranteed access to free health care and education. The conquests of his parents’ generation, that spearheaded the transformations that followed the triumph of the 1959 revolution, were for him “inherited rights.” His teenage years were marked by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the demise of socialism in Eastern Europe.

In his view, events like the Living the Revolution Workshop Cycle, organized in 2009 by the Antonio Gramsci Chair at the state Juan Marinello Institute for Cultural Research, and many other self-managed projects springing up spontaneously all over the country, are examples of thinking about and building Cuba in participative ways.

Díaz is convinced that for Cuban youth, the watchword is “fusion”, and therefore “pure”, single focus approaches no longer work for them. He proposes that intellectual workers should be in constant dialogue with real social actors, because “I believe that when both these functional groups come into contact, they have the greatest transformational capacity.”

As for young people who are working for socialism in Cuba, he said “We have understood that the main thing now is not defending the Revolution so much as developing it, broadening it and radicalizing it.”


One thought on “Cuba and the “Other” Revolutions

  • April 22, 2011 at 12:45 am
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    Yes, but to develop, broaden and radicalize the revolution, you need to know what the socialist revolution is supposed to be.

    It is supposed to be where society, that is the people, take ownership of the instruments of production. This means that associte-owned cooperatives and small entrepreneurs, not the state or the capitalist class, own the enterprises.

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