Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, April 10 — I sincerely believe that the visit by the Chilean student leader Camilla Vallejo (CV) to Cuba has been an opportunity to make mistakes that were well taken advantage of by everyone.
In the first place, it’s unfortunate that a woman as brave and as smart has been put in contact with a reality so reprehensible without her being able to raise her own criticisms, which is what everyone is going to ask her about.
I don’t think this episode will go too far, but I think that if the Chilean Communist Party is looking to take a more active role in the politics of its country, to which everyone has a right, it must break with these testimonial events that bind it irrevocably to the past and make it difficult to project into the future.
I think that in her context, CV has been as adept as she could have been. She showed her disagreement with the Cuban model and said she wanted something else for Chile. And even when her [highly favorable]statements about Fidel Castro and the features of the Cuban political system were deplorable, I don’t think she was in a position to say otherwise.
We cannot forget the support given to an organization whose history is inevitably linked to the Cuban government. In that history there are pages which I — if I were Chilean — would never forget, like when Cuba opened its doors to thousands of Chilean exiles and became a pivot of world repudiation of the criminal and dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet.
But I won’t dwell any more on explaining Camila Vallejo, who incidentally doesn’t base her halo on her glamor, as her Cubans critics suggest, since she is neither a catwalk girl nor a media construction.
The recognition she has earned has been by virtue of her intelligence and her ovaries – of which she has a lot of both. These have allowed her to succeed equally at holding her own with rightist ministers (some of whom are unabashed admirers of Pinochet) as well as with ultra-leftists who were active in the student strike movement.
And she did this with enviable maturity and poise. She was so intelligent that no one could accuse her of simply being beautiful.
Camila received many critical reactions to her Cuban journey. Some of them were powerful, well-articulated arguments, but almost all were very emotional and terribly narcissistic.
It’s like imagining that on the island there’s no decent world after the opposition. It’s as if the rest of society is a herd of frightened opportunists where there is (quoting Ismael de Diego) “almost no one who is sufficiently elevated morally or ethically,” and according to these critics they haven’t been so for more than a half a century.
It’s a logical reaction of people situated on the margin, those who the totalitarian system condemn to the status of non-persons…people who have earned a place by virtue of facing repression and isolation. Notwithstanding, this isn’t a position that can build a worthwhile political alternative.
Cuban society is much more than dissidents, opponents and émigrés. And whoever wants to oppose it without recognizing this is going to end up entrenched in a virtuous ghetto, as a product for export and without connections to a reality of highly complex loyalties and resistance.
What caught my attention most, however, was the liberal charm suffered by the critics of CV.
It’s one thing to speak about liberal rights — a historic achievement of humanity — but it’s something else to talk about the specific nature of liberal-democratic regimes. When CV speaks about repression in Chile, she’s talking about very concrete things that exist along with the democratic political system.
The Chilean system poses undeniable virtues: a vibrant economy and many rights and freedoms that facilitate it (for example, CV can speak openly, her comrades can organize themselves and she can travel freely to Cuba).
It possesses a stable electoral system that permits changes in leadership; one that allowed a center-left coalition to rule for many years and that reformed some particularly inhuman aspects of the Chilean neoliberal world.
The party of which CV is a member has several deputies and controls some local governments. I should note that these virtues are the results of social struggles and citizens who on many occasions had to escape from the police, jailers and water cannons in the wake of pitched battles.
These are undeniable virtues, but it doesn’t mean that history has ended, as it is implied in some writings that seem enchanted with liberal dogma.
CV speaks of a terribly unequal neoliberal economic system in which immense wealth coexists with bands of unacceptable impoverishment; an expensive health care system that doesn’t reach the poor and middle classes; a mercurial and inaccessible education system; particularly repressive police (so different from the Cuban police but somewhat like them), and a legal system that prohibits abortion and discriminates against gays and indigenous peoples.
Those and other conditions are what compel CV and Chilean society to continue fighting for a better future. They fight not only against a dictatorship that no longer exists, but also against the exclusion and discrimination of the capitalist system.
I think we need to look at the world beyond our island reality.
But also on this issue, the island’s critics of Camila Vallejo are victims of the Cuban system.
For years our youth have been indoctrinated by clichés and ideological constructions about the evils of a caricatured capitalism that doesn’t even exist in the slums of Sao Paulo, as well as the virtues of a form of socialism they proclaim as superior and irreversible.
When some of them have managed to break through the armored doctrine, they have ended up throwing out the baby with the bath water. They have inverted the terms of the explanation but with the same Manichean scheme: bad guys and good guys, virtue and sin, honor and shame.
If we were to learn to overcome our tendency towards unstoppable parochialism, insularity, one-upmanship and Manichaeism, maybe then we would come to understand that Camila Vallejo, the twenty-something-year-old-girl who put the seasoned Chilean political class in check, is not an enemy of a democratic, participatory and socially just Cuba.
And that’s why — for those who aspire to a better world — she’s basically our friend.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Cubaencuentro.com.