Beware of Saying What Many Think

Yusimi Rodriguez

Havana's Chinatown. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 19 — Over the days following the Alamar community Report-back Assembly, which was abruptly broken up by the delegate, Pedro noticed that residents avoided any interaction with him.  They didn’t stop to chat, and they greeted him from a distance.  This was logical: they had to safeguard themselves.

It was like what’s recommended against contracting the AH1N1 influenza: Avoid normal kisses and hugs with people who are infected (in fact, the virus is transferable even from telephones and bus handrails, because these spread the contagion.)

Pedro had been accused of conducting a campaign that was described by the delegate as “counter-revolutionary,” which is equivalent to being infected with some viral strain.

In our country, it seems a “revolutionary” is —solely— a person who agrees with the official discourse all the time.  The concept of revolution is not the one included in the dictionary, but the one coined by officialdom.  We’ve lost the concept of what a genuinely revolutionary position is.

A few days after learning about the highlights of what happened in the two Report-back Assemblies in Alamar, I read a letter titled “The Contrary Opinion” in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Granma newspaper (the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba).

Havana photo by Roger Humbert

The author was advocating the position that small food-service operations (like all small-scale economic activities) should be organized into cooperatives instead of under the overly centralized State.  In fact, the writer proceeded to propose a debate around this different point of view…this contrary opinion.

The person who wrote the letter then asked who had listened to all of those people who had disagreed with transferring all small businesses to State ownership, to the point of even taking over “timbiriches” (food stands).  Who heard the opinions of those people who were not swept away by the “revolutionary fervor” that many supported during the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968?

I’d also dare to ask who heard those people who at the end of the 1960s argued that sowing Caturra Coffee wouldn’t work, and that the consequences of that attempt could be disastrous for the country.   Who could hear those who stood up to say the 1970 campaign to harvest 10 million tons of sugar would not be reached, and that the idea was senseless.

Was it that those decisions were absolutely unanimous and didn’t have any opposition?

The author of the letter in Granma asked, “How many times have we refused to add ourselves to the false unanimity —though this would genuinely support what Raul is struggling for so vigorously— to avoid getting into problems by holding a contrary opinion?”

What problems can someone run into for expressing a contrary opinion?  What was demonstrated by what happened to Pedro, at least, is that they can be branded counter-revolutionary and accused of conducting a counter-revolutionary campaign.  To be called a counterrevolutionary implies running the risk of receiving insults and even physical aggressions by the so called Rapid Response Brigades.  Cases like this have recently occurred.

But there are also more serious risks such as losing our job, depending on where the person works and their duties.  Or perhaps nothing happens, but there will always be an uncertainty, a fear of what could happen, the paranoia and the sensation of being isolated.

Something interesting that took place in the case of Pedro was that a few days after he was branded, some of the residents came up to him, in more private settings, and told him things like: “You’re right, but it is not worth getting into trouble”;  “After all, we’re not going to solve anything; they (the government?) laugh at all that,” and “What you’re saying is what everybody thinks, but nobody has the guts to say it.”


6 thoughts on “Beware of Saying What Many Think

  • February 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm
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    Replying to George- You are correct when you point out that the US consumes at a level unsustainable for the whole World to obtain. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% of resources for its 5% population In our defense, we did not just leap into this Piggy consumption, but by our prodigious manufacturing talent, and capitalist entrepreneurial work ethic. However the fact remains that this presents an unrealistic goal that much of the developing world strives towards now. Can you just imagine the traffic if every Cuban owned 1.2 automobiles as is the case in the USA? It would be Disastrous! Cuba would be one giant parking lot. What is the answer? Whatever it is it will not be an easy one. The US is designed and built around the automobile, and Big Oil, and it is extremely hard to get an individual to relinquish what he considers a Right at this point. And the Oil companies have a vested interest in the status quo. For sure something has to give, and the US must do More than its part,

  • January 19, 2010 at 11:44 pm
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    Thomas, out of context your comment is amusing. In context it is facile and totally counterproductive. Yusimi is raising a point that is of the upmost importance about the disconnect between the government and the people. It does not help to try and make that disconnect worse.

    The economic disparagement between Cuba and the U.S. is not just a question of the blockade. The U.S. actually consumes more than it is possible for everyone to consume. The whole world simply cannot have the same material standard of living as the U.S., it would take five planets. China is consuming on average its fare share or resources. In other words what is available if resources were fairly distributed is the average material standard of living as the Chinese. But there are huge economic differences within China that are not present in Cuba. This is the reality that Cuban people are engaged in. The delegate in question is obviously not up to this and should be replaced.

  • January 19, 2010 at 10:43 pm
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    Okay, look . . . Let’s imagine that you are the enemy empire, and that you want to be absolutely sure that Cuban socialism doesn’t work. So, what do you, in this hypothetical incarnation, try to do?

    Well, one thing you will surely try to do is interfere with any policy changes in the economic mechanism that might make things run sensibly, that might ameliorate the hardships faced by the masses. You would do this interference through your “friends” in the PCC.

    You would have your operatives come up with all sorts of big, non-workable ideas, like the take-over of small service businesses by the state. But, you would not announce that you were trying to screw things up. You would say instead that your big ideas were “revolutionary.”

    Anyone who disagreed with you, of course, would be labeled a “counter-revolutionary.”

    Let’s face it. All that glitters is not gold & All those who label sincere comrades as counter-revolutionaries are not necessarily genuine.

  • January 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm
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    Speaking of REVOLUTION and your very astute observations; there is a novel written by a Cuban American called “UP Dog Street ,” though at present only available in English, it addresses the hypocrisy surrounding the word “revolution” in all its’ forms. At one point, the great “Lider” named Alex Tenedor stops to explain to his brother why they officially banned the word revolution from the island’s vocabulary and replaced it with the word “evolution.”

    “Mi hermano,” he says “these people may actually be expecting rapid change to occur …at our expense.” At another point a customs official corrects a tourist who uses the forbidden “R” word. “It is Evolution Sir, good things take time.”

  • January 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm
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    Also forgive me for being naive, but why don’t you simply recall the delegate and elect Pedro, if that is the popular will… I believe this is your right.

  • January 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm
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    “We’ve lost the concept of what a genuinely revolutionary position is.”

    Yusimi, I appreciate your article. These things are important. Unity and discipline are necessary in warfare, but equally crucial is the ability to deal with problems in an open and participative way.

    The key word is “warfare”. Cuba is engaged in a global struggle. Unfortunately it seems that there is a disconnect between those who interface directly with the global arena, (the government), and those who only interface with the internal repercussions.

    Fifty years of war with no end in sight is certainly draining. As Mandela said, if you want to make a change start with yourself. It is therefore only right that you should focus on improving the internal situation. Cuba’s greatest weapon is its good example. Also spiritual martial practice involves healing the situation, not beating the opposition into submission. Can Cuba really heal imperialism?

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