“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” – Plato
HAVANA TIMES — The debates surrounding Cuba’s new Labor Law are starting on the island. In this connection, it is not enough to express our opinions, to say what we think at the meetings – based on the top-down administrative model – to be held around the country. As this is an issue that affects us all, we must, all of us, demand that the final draft of the bill be subjected to a free and democratic nationwide referendum.
Unfortunately, owing to the Cuban government’s long-standing policy of excluding the public from decision-making processes, many will likely say: “I don’t care what they finally approve. I’m indifferent to everything this government does.”
This is a serious mistake. The labor law is something that involves all Cuban citizens.
Recently, my friend Felix Sautie, a fellow activist who is also struggling for a participative and democratic form of socialism, published an article on the patent lack of motivation he has perceived in some sectors of Cuban society, as regards to participating in the reform processes underway in our country.
This apathy is not only evident in people’s response to the extremely modest changes being implemented as part of the “reform process”, but also to Cuba’s socio-economic and cultural ailments in general.
In effect, no few citizens opt to distance themselves from the country’s problems, aware that it is next to impossible to have any real say in these processes, which the State-Government-Party attempts to control as though they were a private affair and not something that ought to be decided by each and every one of the citizens who are going to suffer their consequences later.
The sad truth of the matter is that the profound disappointment that has built up in Cuba because of the failure of the huge efforts of the Cuban people and the insignificant progress that has been achieved at the level of the majority’s concrete, daily lives, has ended up convincing many that nothing is really worth saying or doing.
The bureaucracy itself took care of propagating the conformist and counterrevolutionary saying which goes: “no one can fix this, but no one can change it either.”
This is the way in which Cuba has been governed for over fifty years, through methods that create spectators rather than political actors, for everything is decided at the top and declared through abusive presidential decrees.
Those who have taken action, proposing a different way of governing, have ultimately been crushed by the apparatus, silenced and excluded, in the best of cases, and imprisoned or exiled, in the worst. All the while, the Party’s “cadre policy” has taken care of promoting those who are loyal.
The “revolutionary leadership” that has controlled the country, government, State and Party for over 50 years has hijacked the nation’s politics and, since coming to power, anyone who has dared promote policies different from theirs, be it for Cuba’s economy or other sectors of its society, have been and continue to be labeled “counterrevolutionaries”, “imperialist agents” and a whole slew of other manipulative appellations typical of neo-Stalinist governments.
The fact is that there always exists a direct relationship between an authoritarian government, such as Cuba’s, and low levels of citizen participation in decision processes.
Cuba’s authoritarian government and undemocratic system have their roots in the concrete military circumstances that led to the triumph of the revolution in 1959, in the context of the Cold War, when a State-controlled and centralized form of socialism was predominant. These circumstances allowed the Cuban leadership to unfold its authoritarian potential.
In this connection, a decisive aspect was the fact that the people blindly trusted their leaders, accepted the indefinite postponement of democratic elections and accepted the struggle for “social justice” demanded by the Sierra Maestra rebel commanders as a priority.
This doesn’t mean the people are to blame for their lot. What it means is that the authoritarian government that still rules Cuba took advantage of their nobleness and devotion. It is not those who refuse to participate in political processes who are most to blame for the country’s apathy, but, rather, those who have impeded and continue to impede others from participating, or to restrict such participation to voicing opinions in the “place, time and venue” decided by those at the top.
We cannot, however, resign ourselves to a situation in which people do not participate in debates, do not express their opinions, and do not seek to take part in decision-making processes. If we did, we would also have to resign ourselves to having authoritarian governments forever.
Bertolt Brecht once said: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political non- participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations.”
If we want to move forward, if we want to break out of Cuba’s current economic, political and social state-of-things, then we have to take action, we have to shake away the apathy of those who have lost hope, encourage their participation in society, the voicing of opinions, the struggle against the violation of other people’s rights, against impositions and authoritarianism and, of course, continue the struggle for freedom of expression through all possible peaceful means.
All Cubans must feel free to express what they wish, no matter what others think, no matter whether absurd provisions that impede the free and respectful expression of one’s opinions are in place.
All Cubans have the right to demand participation in decision-making processes that affect them, beyond official debates, to demand, in all possible places, at all podiums, at all meetings, their right to express themselves freely, that laws cease to be dictated in the form of decrees and that they be submitted to everyone’s consideration and vote, by referendum.
It is up to us, to all of us, to put an end to the generalized oppression of our society, to a State whose bureaucratic elite controls and decides everything.
Let no one level absurd accusations at us, saying that we are calling on the people to rebel or anything of this nature. We are calling on the people to peacefully demand their participation in decision processes. What socialism could we even speak of, if they do not?
Given its importance, the workers, the entire population, must demand that the labor law be submitted to a referendum.
The costs of political apathy are very high.
To contact Pedro Campos: [email protected]