Fernando Ravsberg

The Eye Photo by Marco Petrovic

HAVANA TIMES, July 22 – Recently, a member of the Cuban Communist Party told me that “unanimity” was accepted by revolutionaries as a necessary evil.  According to him, an intellectual, this was the disturbing response to one of the greatest weaknesses of the nation: its internal division.

This was the reason behind the loss of the first war against Spain and why things didn’t improve after winning independence.  Conflicts between Cubans facilitated subsequent military invasions by the US and the prolongation of a constitutional amendment that converted Washington into a “guardian” over Cuba.

This division is not a factor solely of the past.  Today one can still see its effects represented in dissident elements.  There are a few thousand of these activists, though they possess very limited social influence since they’re divided up into dozens of small groups and lack the capacity to coordinate the most minimal action.

Attempting to avoid similar fragmentation, it seems that communists and revolutionaries have accepted remaining silent so as to speak with a single unified voice.  This was achieved but at the cost of giving tremendous prominence to the leader and limiting the plurality of ideas, so important in enriching nations.

When assuming the presidency, Raul Castro seemed to propose another concept of unity, one based on the diversity of opinions.  He blasted “false unanimity” and opened up discussion by affirming that “from the deep exchange of divergent opinions come the best solutions.”

Moreover, this did not seem to rest only at the level of theory.  Earlier he had summoned a national debate in which five million people participated.  When high level figures of the Communist Party wanted to put him a corset, he again broke the pattern by saying no issues would be taboo.

Reasons for caution

Ordinary Cubans —with next to nothing to lose— submitted an avalanche of more than a million criticisms of the system.  Meanwhile, the intellectual wing began to open up gradually, as if cautiously testing the ground before inching forward.

They weren’t without reason.  The recent “separation from the Communist Party” of Professor Esteban Morales for writing an article on the existence of corruption in the high spheres of the country is proof that “putting one’s finger in the wound” can lead to excommunication.

This latest incident took my thoughts back to the end of the 1990s, when Fidel Castro invited 14 of us foreign journalists to a dinner.  In the middle of the conversation he proposed that we create an association consisting of all of the international correspondents accredited in Cuba.

We left delighted by the idea, but the following day I was called in to the International Press Center (I suppose that others were too).  There, they told me that such an association would not be authorized and that anyone who tried to organize one would have to suffer the consequences.

Today, like then, the bureaucracy displays its real power by contradicting the directives of even the president himself.  Esteban Morales’s great sin was to follow up on the warnings made by Fidel Castro at the University of Havana [in November, 2005] several months before his becoming ill.  [This was when the then-president publically alerted the nation of the possibility of corruption having the potential to reverse the Revolution.]

Conversing with some colleagues, I heard some speculation as to why the professor became a target of the most orthodox sectors of the Communist Party. I don’t discard them, but I bet that there also exist more mundane explanations.

Esteban Morales touched on the economic interests of very powerful people when he criticized openly that “there are people in government and state positions who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls.”

He also affirmed that the most dangerous counterrevolutionary forces are not the dissidents but corrupt individuals situated “in very high posts and with strong connections —personal, domestic and foreign— generated after decades of occupying the same positions of power.”

As if this weren’t enough, he asked that justice be served in relation to those leaders suspected of being involved in cases of corruption (like the dismissed head of civil aviation, General Rogelio Acevedo, who Morales requested be charged and tried or rehabilitated).

Undoubtedly, Esteban Morales entered terrain in which he will harvest much hatred from the high ranks, but also respect from most of his ordinary compatriots, not because he has revealed any new secret to them, but for his bravery in publishing it.

The weak-kneed reaction by communist intellectuals, despite the arbitrariness of the sanction against the professor, will give new mettle to those “excommunicators,” especially if they believe the measure will serve as a preventative strike in protecting their personal interests.

But it could also become a boomerang since party activists and intellectuals are now faced with the dilemma of slinking back into the security of silence or becoming the leading actors in the construction of a better society – suffering all the risks that this implies.

Havana Times translation of the Spanish original authorized by BBC Mundo.


6 thoughts on “Closed Mouthed or Protagonists?

  • When I read that a journalists’ association projected by Fidel himself was blocked by top bureaucrats, it confirms my worst suspicions: that the bureaucrats are girding themselves for the approaching collapse of the socialist state, and are preventing any reforms that might ameliorate the people’s hardships and save the Revolution.

    The answer? I don’t know. The sincere Cuban revolutionaries will either do what is necessary, or they will not.

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