Closed Mouthed or Protagonists?

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?

  • July 31, 2010 at 7:08 am
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    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.

  • July 24, 2010 at 7:29 am
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    The expulsion of Esteban Morales by Party bureaucrats shows their weakness; as Bob Dylan once crooned, “The times, they are a’changing!” They will no more be able to surpress or contain the changes now in progress by such expulsions than could Pandora’s Box, once opened, be closed.
    What comes afterward? That’s the question. I hope not the same dismal history as befell Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where the promise of new freedom turned to ashes and resulted in giving free reign to kleptocrats and oligarchs.
    I’m now reading Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land,” and finding it very insightful. In fact, I feel that it articulates and crystalizes several of the suspicions and unarticulated feelings I’ve had. I’d be interested in reactions of others here who may have read this book. Though mostly about the rise-and-fall of social democracy in England and the U.S.A. over the past century, it also touches on mainland Europe, too, and I feel has some important insights which could be applied to Cuba, and the rest of Latin America, too.

  • July 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm
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    To follow up on my last thought, Communism and Christianity have two basic things in common; they both offer a fundamentally appealing and absolute eschatology and future for humanity, and yet as social or political movements both fail to actualize their own ideals, frequently resorting to barbarity or arbitrary absolutism or bureaucratic incompetence. In a way the Communist Parties of the world remind me of the Catholic Church (and I say this as someone who sees myself as a communist, though not a “Communist Party member”), not in terms of their actual ideology but in terms of the bureaucratic and self-interested actions of members of the party leadership. There’s a lot in common between the Priest abuse scandal in the Church and the inability of the Communist Party to attack corrupt party members. Going back to the foundation of Christianity, there’s a lot of similarity between the rise of the Church and the Russian Revolution, in terms of the persecution of alternative “interpretations” of the “canon” and the repression of all alternative movements. And just like the Church and the Communist Parties of eastern europe, the Cuban Communist Party risks hemorrhaging members and sympathizers in the long term, even if leaders within the party manage to cement their rule.

  • July 23, 2010 at 1:16 am
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    It’s amazing, every time in history a Communist movement tries to actualize itself, like Mao’s intellectual opening in the late 50s, or Khrushchev’s, it follows it up by repressing the voices able to preserve and perpetuate a Socialist system to realize the Communist ideal. If Fidel and Raul are such revolutionaries, why do they not protect the weak in the party from these “corrupt interests”? If Fidel and Raul don’t want to see themselves viewed in history in the same light as Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Mao and Kim Il Sung, they should act to realize the content of their ideology.

  • July 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm
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    For this to happen the government have to return freedom back to Cubans and be able to elect people that really represent them base on objective that candidates can postulate. Those objective act as measuring stick to know if they perform or not. This should happen all the way to a national election.
    This will simplify the path to a national reconciliation and forgiveness that is so necessary for Cuba.
    26 of July will be a great opportunity for him to start rolling the big changes. It is important not to be afraid.
    The Cuban people have suffered enough under one idea one party and the persecution of freedom.
    Is time to have freedom back, if Cubans want capitalism or socialism or a mix system that should be their decision and not an imposition from a minority in power.
    As I was saying Raul needs to go from speech to action it will be best if the other side is consulted.
    Why can the Cuban government meet with the Cubans on the opposition in Cuba and those that are outside and we all come up to some agreements?

  • July 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm
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    “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.””

    I have been talking about this before here at havana times
    this is exactly what I have said I guess I have to say I agree with Raul’s statements
    he hit the nail on the head but he needs to go from speech to action.
    I can help

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