Cuba: A Question of Principles or How to Silence Debate

by Yusimi Rodriguez  (photos: Caridad)

15HAVANA TIMES — Seeing the word “debate” in a headline of Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s one legal political party, may be encouraging…but only until one reads the title of the article in its entirety: “Rules for Debate, or a Question of Principles,” by Rafael Cruz Ramos.

The question isn’t what the rules are but who establishes them. If those in power are deciding who can participate in the debate and what can be debated, that is the end of all possible debate.

Rafael Cruz Ramos makes it quite clear. Only those who do not question the authority of the Party or oppose the government may take part in their debate. The irreversible nature of the socialist system is outside all discussion. He is, however, sincere when he declares, at the beginning, that “a war of principles is a war for power. The power to be able to sustain oneself through principles, those of socialism over and above those of capitalism.”

Cruz affirms that Cuba’s current constitution (which is not the 1940 constitution, the one Fidel Castro promised he’d restore), establishes the irreversible nature of socialism in Cuba, and that this was decided by the majority of the population. He fails to explain that the said referendum was not anonymous, that people (myself included) feared reprisals if they did not sign the document, in much the same way they fear losing access to certain jobs if they do not belong to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution in their neighborhood. However, there are always those who have enough courage and enough of a conscience not to yield to intimidation.

6In 2012, I interviewed the independent historian, analyst and journalist Dimas Castellanos. I assumed that, being a socialist, he would have signed the 2002 referendum, which made socialism in Cuba eternal. I was mistaken in my assumption. Dimas did not feel entitled to decide the future of those who were under age at the time or of future generations, generations which, under that referendum, were tied to a system they hadn’t chosen, unable to change it.

Sticking to the principle of never returning to capitalism, I ask: could socialists in the opposition who are also convinced that we must not return to capitalism, not only be part of the debate but also form official parties, use the media to present their ideas to the people and advance candidates for office?

It is important to point out I am not referring to the semblance of an opposition that has been created by the government, to offer the image of a multi-party democracy. I am speaking of a real opposition, convinced that Cuba should not return to capitalism. In fact, for many Cuban socialists, our current government (if it ever was socialist) is the one returning to capitalism. Is there room for those socialists, concerned over the future of Cubans who will not have access to remittances and will be denied the opportunity of setting up prosperous private businesses? Our history demonstrates there isn’t.

22In 1967, Cuba experienced an incident unknown to most, known as the micro-faction. Members of the Communist Party that existed in Cuba well before Fidel Castro discovered his Marxist calling and declared that the Cuban revolution was socialist were persecuted, put on trial and sent to prison. What was the crime these veteran communists who had fought against Batista accused of? Criticizing the despotism of Fidel Castro, the excessive use of free benefits, the way the revolution was being exported and the confiscation of small businesses…which now have to be recovered in order to save Cuba’s ruined economy.

According to Cruz, the problem in Cuba has consisted in a lack of understanding between those who lay the bricks and those who decide where the bricks go. And he’s right. The Cuban people lay the bricks where the government says, and it continues to get it wrong, denying the people the possibility of deciding where to put it themselves. The government has reserved the right of being the only one entitled to make mistakes time and time again. The role of the people is to obey, pay for their leaders’ mistakes time and time again and continue to make sacrifices for an increasingly uncertain future.

33The inefficiency of the government-Party and the costs shouldered by the people, however, will not be debated. Once again, our official media prefer to discredit anyone pointing to the decades-long inefficiency and the way the government tramples on people’s rights. Cruz puts terrorists, murderers, alternative journalism and civil society organizations in the same bag. What is his argument based on? On images of Coco Fariñas standing next to Luis Posada Carriles, and of Antunes embracing Felix Rodriguez, who was allegedly involved in the murder of Che Guevara.

Well, if we’re going to judge people on the basis of those they embrace or shake hands with, both Fidel and Raul Castro have been allies of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and it is a known secret that he sexually abused his step-daughter for years. Personally, I can’t imagine myself shaking hands with Posada Carriles or Felix Rodriguez. I do not believe in the axiom that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” I do not approve of Posada Carriles’ violent methods, just as I do not approve of the violence used by the activist wing of the 26th of July Movement, which took part in terrorist actions. Nor am I for the violence that took Fidel Castro to power and allowed him to govern for 15 years without calling a single election. Ernesto Guevara once proudly declared before the UN that we “have executed people and we will continue to execute people.” Those who were executed were as unarmed and defenseless as he was when he was killed in Bolivia.

Near the end of his article, to deliver the coup de grace, Cruz insists that principles are not negotiable. Ironically, the Cuban government (since the days when Fidel Castro was in power and including his heir, brother Raul) has done nothing but negotiate its own principles when negotiating meant staying in power: private businesses, even small-scale ones, and professional sports, were demonized until the country had to turn to them as a means of salvation.

4Those Cubans who were once condemned by the people under the instigation by the government, for leaving Cuba during the first decades of the revolution, were welcomed back, along with the remittances that have helped support families and the country as a whole. After fining and even imprisoning Cubans for holding US dollars, the government dollarized the economy.

The last clear example of this is Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel fashion show. The same capitalism that, according to Cruz, we must not return to, took hold of a public space, closed up streets and presented itself in luxury cars. Who was there? The heirs to our leaders: Mariela Castro and Antonio Castro. Who then is selling the people a form of capitalism disguised as a future and even socialism?

This is not a war of principles between socialism and capitalism. It is not even a war of principles. It is simply a war between those who aspire to democracy and those who aren’t willing to let go of power.

19 thoughts on “Cuba: A Question of Principles or How to Silence Debate

  • As I commented previously in these pages, in 1952 my late father predicted that the USSR would rot from within.
    Cuba is very different, it does not hold any other countries in bondage as did the USSR. It is physically isolated as an island and in many respects is more similar politically to the Kim regime in North Korea, than to the USSR.

  • Before Gorbachev rose to prominence who was able to predict glasnost? Certainly not me.
    Gorbachev was not known as a dissident or an open critic of the system in the Soviet Union.

  • I find it difficult to imagine that Diaz-Canel would support glasnost. I think Ken that you vastly underestimate the degree of power and control that the Castro regime exerts daily over the lives of Cubans. Hoping, even praying for open free debate in Cuba necessitates a marked degree of optimism.

  • Don’t misunderstand. Most comparisons between countries are marginally useful at best. Comparing Cuba to anyplace else is virtually useless.

  • Okay, I’ll grant your point. Would it be fair to say that some critics of the Cuban Revolution prefer not to compare Cuba with surrounding countries?

  • An excellent column! The last paragraph is brilliantly to the point:

    “This is not a war of principles between socialism and capitalism. It is not even a war of principles. It is simply a war between those who aspire to democracy and those who aren’t willing to let go of power.”

    This! This is Cuba.

  • I can see two ways that Cubans might have a wide-ranging debate.
    1) The government would have to change it’s attitude. This is not impossible if we look at the experience in the Soviet Union. If memory serves, glasnost was initiated from the top.
    2) So many people get involved in debate that it is beyond government control.

  • How are Cubans going to have a “wide-ranging debate”? To do so would require freedom of expression and being able not only to criticize the Castro family regime, but to suggest alternatives. Doing so is not allowed by law.

  • Duh!! You missed my point. I’m talking about Castro sycophants who, in order to defend Castro tyranny, love to remark how bad things are in Haiti.

  • Firstly Doug 1943, thanks for the correction.
    Secondly, regarding the Soviet Union, in 1952 my late father maintained that the West had to pursue a containment policy and by doing so, the Soviet Empire would eventually rot from within. It took a further 38 years for that to occur, but provided him with great satisfaction. He I should add was Head of Station for SIS (MI6) in Vienna from May 1945 and died in Vienna in 1997.
    Although there are those who dislike my referring to the US Cuban Democracy Act and in particular to Section 1708(b)(3), 22 U.S.C. (section) 6007 (b)(3), it provides in: directing the President to: “take steps to end the United States trade embargo of Cuba when two conditions have been met.”
    The first is that the Cuban government has taken five steps including free and fair elections conducted under international supervision, permitting opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign, om showing respect for the basic civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Cuba, moving towards a free market economic system and committing itself to constitutional change that would ensure regular free and fair elections.
    The second is that a Cuban government has been elected as a result of such free and fair elections.
    This appears to meet your view that a slow transition is preferable to that which occurred in Russia.
    As we all know, the embargo was a failure and served the Castro regime well, in that they for fifty five years have attributed all their failures and inadequacies to it.
    But, that doesn’t change the intended purpose.
    Obviously those who contribute to these columns and are happy with the imposition of communism upon the people of Cuba, similarly attribute all Cuba’s problems to the embargo. It is noteworthy however that they do not seek to experience communism for themselves, preferring to shelter under democracy and capitalism.

  • I don’t think Cuba will progress without a wide-ranging debate.
    But by itself, a freer debate will not guarantee a better Cuba. Some Cubans will want to look closely at the events in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to get the best of that experience.

  • A very large proportion of Cubans in the island have some relative or friends in the US. This, together with the Cuban Adjustment Act and the undeniable fact that the US have the better economical environment is what makes them tend to go into the US. However you can find Cubans living in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile and even in Guatemala, Salvador and Haití!

  • I think Cubans are acutely aware of who is better off and who is worse off than they are. You will note that very few of the Cubans who arrived in Ecuador turned south to Peru, Chile and Argentina. And those travelling north were not inclined to stop in any of the countries they passed through on their way to the US.

  • As one of the ‘optimists’, let me reply: (First: the sentence above, ‘There are the optimists who think that change is not only possible under the current dictatorship but is they believe actually occurring. They appear however to be able to define what these ‘changes’ are. ‘ — should it not read ‘They appear however to be UNable to define …’?)

    I won’t list the changes, but rather ask informed readers to ask themselves: how is Cuba different today than it was, say, ten years ago?

    Private businesses, pretty open expression on the internet, relative freedom to travel abroad, to sell your house … and while we’re making comparisons …One of the reasons I’m a cautious optimist is that I resided briefly (a few months) in the old Soviet Union, and made several extensive visits there before the whole system … changed, peacefully. Now, however bad you may think Cuba is today, I am afraid that the old Soviet Union had it beat hands down. But it changed. Detente with America and the passage of time, a new generation that hadn’t grown up with the memory of invasion from the West and the tense hostility between Russia and the West of the 1950s, a new generation much more aware of the world and its possibilities and the failure of top-down state socialism to fulfill those possibilities … sound familar?

    On the other hand, the Soviet experience also made me a pessimist: after the whole system just collapsed, I had expected Russia to emerge as a sort of rough-around-the-edges Sweden, with a strong socialized component to its industry … instead the whole system went down, and the means of production, the property of the Russian people, was stolen by ruthless oligarchs. How much better would a slower transition been, allowing the Russian people to gain the habit of public argument and discussion, with transparency in state transactions.

    So I’m a folllower of the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, when I look at Cuba, and other countries too: if possible, let there be step by step reform, not a grand upheaval whose outcome may be uncertain.

    And on the other hand, I think Marx is useful too. What some people who contribute here lack is an appreciation of dialectics. They don’t see contradiction and they don’t see change. Everything is seen as an abstract moral struggle of Good against Evil. I hesitate (but only briefly) in urging those who only know about Marx from what von MIses said about him, but … have a look at this brief introduction to how we ought to approach politics — at least you’ll know your enemy:

  • If the Cuban people are ever to be set free from this or these despots I can only imagine this taking place when the Castro clan are nothing but a memory in history!

  • Lurking in the background N.J. there is the potential Troika of Diaz-Canel, Marino Murillo and Bruno Rodriguez. Diaz-Canel is a humorless hard-core communist – that is why Raul appointed him as his successor and he has been well groomed. The Troika are the ‘government/PCC’ group but are non-military and each is under 60 years of age.
    In my opinion, there is a potential for strife in 2018 following Raul retiring, for the economy of Cuba and its security services (including the CDR) are in the possession of Raul’s son-in-law and Raul’s son. They form the powerful economic/security group and each is a military general.
    History demonstrates that communist countries end up with a dictatorship and in such a system only one person can hold control. As political creatures, each of the aforementioned will have a desire for power and it is possible maybe even probable that there will be a power struggle between initially the two groups and eventually between individuals.
    Much depends upon whether Raul is still fit and active. Although he has determined to retire as President, nothing has been said about retiring as head of the military, secondly there is always that question of whether he will be alive and if so, of sound mind. Thirdly, if Raul does retire as head of the military, who will succeed him? He has held that position since October, 1959 when he succeeded Camilo Cienfuegos following the mysterious disappearance of the latter and it was Raul who developed GAESA.
    The Castros have the benefit of having observed the collapse of the USSR and the factors which caused that collapse and they have learned from it. The same mistakes are unlikely to be repeated. I wish I could share your optimism!

  • Those who support the regime tend to do so by suggesting it’s worse somewhere else. They also love to repeat the same anti-US, pro Castro tripe.

  • The change is already underway. History will take care of when this group’s time is up and at average age of 85, time is short.

  • It is obvious that the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba are dependent upon power and control and intent upon retention of both. Democracy and allowing the people of Cuba to decide their own destiny are contrary to the current system. It is intended that my five year old Godchild and the rest of her generation should spend their lives accepting the dictatorship, stay mute and exist following the same dreary existence that has been imposed upon their parents and grandparents generations for fifty seven years.

    When one reads the contributions in these pages, it is easy to detect three clear views. There are the optimists who think that change is not only possible under the current dictatorship but is they believe actually occurring. They appear however to be able to define what these ‘changes’ are.
    Then there are the supporters of the form of socialism/ communism practiced in Cuba and described by Fidel Castro as ‘socialismo’. They will indicate their approval of repression and oppression as practiced by the Castro family regime, approving its application to others, but being careful not to seek or experience it for themselves.
    The third group comprise some born in Cuba who have managed to escape but who have relatives still living there, those who have experience of living in Cuba under the Castro regime and can properly describe life as it actually is for the average Cuban and those who have wide horizons and observe international affairs.

    Yusimi Rodriguez has written a sensible article about Cuba as it actually is. The three groups will as usual respond by the optimistic saying that things are however changing. The regime supporters will attack and endeavor to deprecate Yusimi Rodriguez’s expressed opinions for they find the truth unpalatable as it doesn’t fit in with conditions which they associate with theoretical communism/socialism and they in any case will always seek to defend the Castros and the PCC. They will drag in a bunch of dead cats regarding the US and their frustrations.
    The third group will in general approve the article because it is truthful.

    Whichever group each of us belongs to, we ought to commence by declaring whether or not we approve dictatorship be it of the right or the left. Whether or not we believe that the people of Cuba should have access to information provided by a free press and whether or not we think that the people of Cuba should have open free elections.

    I openly declare that I am opposed to dictatorship, that I believe in the introduction of freedom of information in Cuba and a free press, and that I believe that there ought to be opportunity for Cubans themselves to determine their own political future.

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