Cuba: Decolonizing the Subject for a New Citizenship and State

Yasser Farres Delgado

HAVANA TIMES — A number of comments to my previous post – as well as other posts and their corresponding comments – suggest to me that we could profit from delving more deeply into the concept of “coloniality” as a means of formulating a new, Cuban society that is more just and inclusive. Below, I will expound on a number of ideas which – as I’ve said elsewhere – stem from a broad and well-documented debate taking place in Latin America and other parts of the world[1].

  1. Coloniality and the Modern Subject

I will begin by referring to something that may appear strictly academic, but I consider it useful in terms of clarifying what it is we’re talking about: the concept of “coloniality” has given rise to Postcolonial Studies and Decolonial Critique. These two “areas of knowledge” – to call them that – are related, even though there are significant differences between them that I will not be able to outline here. Their chief similarity is that they call for decoloniality, in response to the global coloniality we are experiencing today.

“Coloniality” is the series of long-standing power patterns that emerged with colonialism and that affect all areas of human life in today’s world order. “Decoloniality”, by contrast, would be a desirable scenario that breaks with the “colonial power matrix” in favor of diversity in all social spheres.

It is important to stress that coloniality refers to the interweaving of the “coloniality of being”, the “coloniality of knowledge” and the “coloniality of power.” Put differently, power patterns operating in different spheres of modern life stem from the hegemonic perspective on being, the validity of knowledge and the exercise of power. Thus, decoloniality will only be possible by breaking with the hegemonic conceptions of being, knowledge and power.

How can we arrive at this point of rupture? First, by acknowledging the hegemonic worldview imposed on us by the concept of the “modern subject” – or Western subject – a concept that that attributed to itself the alleged quality of “universality.” Second, by rethinking ourselves as individuals and by reassessing the relationships we establish with others.

Our personal aspirations are marked, in one way or another, by the modern conception of the “ego” (being), the “I” that considers itself superior to the “Other, avows a capacity to produce universal truths (knowledge) and, as such, believes it has the authority to decide for all other persons (the exercise of power). Such a hegemonic worldview has an effect on interpersonal relationships at all levels, from the configuration of the family to the organization of the State. This is what has taken place in the course of the history of our world order and Cuba’s national history.

  1. Coloniality and Citizenship

In my previous post, I pointed out that the colonial power matrix established by the “colonizing” subject (white, Western, capitalist, military, Christian, patriarchal and heterosexual male) was inherited by the socialist concept of the “New Man.” I now wish to reflect on how it was also inherited by the ideal of “citizen” during Cuba’s republican period and to determine whether it survives in the model “citizen” that some people propose for Cuba’s “democratic transition.”

In practice, the concept of “citizen” has reproduced the colonial power matrix established in 1492 with the modern/colonial world order. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile – the epitome of the “illustrated citizen” – is molded in the image of the white, Western, capitalist, military, Christian, patriarchal and heterosexual man.

In fact, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, the foundational document of the French Revolution, neglected white, Western women, to say nothing of non-Western men and women. It is no accident that the Haitian Revolution did not begin until Olympe de Gouges wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen in 1791.

The concept of “citizen” also reproduced colonial relations. In the 19th century, black American women were already criticizing the emancipatory project of white feminists because they did not feel represented by it. The struggle was extended in the black feminism of the following century. In fact, the current diversity of feminisms attests to the limits of “enlightened” feminisms, whose principles persist among Feminists of Equality.

In Cuba’s case, the concept of “citizen” reproduced colonial power patterns, during the years of the independence struggle and the republican period. Discrimination on the basis of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion and other factors would be experienced in many ways in daily practice.

  1. Decolonizing the Subject, Citizenship and the State

Decolonial Critique reveals that no social project will be truly emancipatory if it does not eradicate all aspects of the colonial power matrix. It allows us to address a number of uncomfortable questions to self-avowed democrats, having to do with sexual and religious diversity, the right to decide what to do with our bodies (how to dress, whether to abort or not, whether to practice euthanasia or not), the right to marriage (regardless of the gender of one’s partner), the right to adoption (regardless of the marital status or gender of the person seeking custody), the right to employment (without discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, etc.)

At the same time, Decolonial Critique challenges us to assume transversal demands. That is why we should organize rallies not only to demand the right to marriage and adoption, but also (and simultaneously) the right to free association, freedom of expression, free access to information, employment, mobility, decorous housing, an ecologically healthy environment, social empowerment, and others.

Decolonial Critique could even make Cuban government officials and supporters think – that is how radically emancipatory it is.
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[1]For a basic introduction to these issues, I recommend reading (in the order below):

  1. Dussel, Enrique (2008). “Meditaciones anticartesianas” http://www.revistatabularasa.org/numero-9/09dussel.pdf
  2. Grosfoguel, Ramón (2008) “Hacia un pluriversalismo transmoderno y decolonial” http://www.redalyc.org/pdf/396/39600911.pdf

9 thoughts on “Cuba: Decolonizing the Subject for a New Citizenship and State

  • July 21, 2014 at 8:57 am
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    OK, now it makes much more sense! Indeed, the right to marriage (I presume you are referring to same-sex marriage) is meaningless if the people are denied all the other rights.

    In a similar way, a 100% literacy rate is meaningless in a country with no freedom of the press, where authors are imprisoned or exiled and many books are banned.

  • July 19, 2014 at 8:41 am
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    The Decolonial Critique DO NOT assumps that “the enumerated social evils such as imperialism, hegemony, racism and homophobia were all invented by, and only by, white Western, capitalist, military, Christian, patriarchal and heterosexual men.” Where I used the words “only by”?
    What the decolonial critique explains is that the western imperialism, hegemony, racism and homophobia has been globalized and dominates in the world-system.

  • July 19, 2014 at 8:29 am
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    I will say the translators to correct that. I meant exactly the opposite

  • July 18, 2014 at 6:51 pm
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    “we should organize rallies only to demand the right to marriage and adoption, but not also (and simultaneously) the right to free association, freedom of expression, free access to information, employment, mobility, decorous housing, an ecologically healthy environment, social empowerment, and others.”

    Am I reading that correctly? Has this been translated properly? You are calling for people to demand the right to marriage and adoption only? You do not demand the right to freedom of expression or free association? What is marriage but a form of association? How can you organize rallies and demand any rights if you do not support free expression?

    If these are the demands of Decolonial Critique, it seems they cannot make even themselves think, never mind the Cuban government officials.

  • July 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm
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    Sorry to disappoint you John, but it’s all mine. The only source was the quotation from Yasser’s article above.

    English is my language and my memory is pretty damn good, thank you very much.

  • July 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm
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    You did not cite the sources you quoted in your post.
    The language is not yours in many places and some facts are too involved to be from YOUR memory.
    Sloppy?.

  • July 18, 2014 at 9:43 am
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    “…the colonial power matrix established in 1492 with the modern/colonial world order …molded in the image of the white, Western, capitalist, military, Christian, patriarchal and heterosexual man.”

    The problem with concept such as “coloniality” is the inherent assumption, as expressed in the quotation above, that the enumerated social evils such as imperialism, hegemony, racism and homophobia were all invented by, and only by, white Western, capitalist, military, Christian, patriarchal and heterosexual men.

    Any survey of world history will note the appearance of imperialism, hegemony, racism and homophobia among all races and religions and on every continent humans where have live since the dawn of time. The empires of ancient Egypt, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Africa, China, the Incas & the Aztecs, the Indus valley, and the several Muslim Empires (Umayyad, Abbasid & Ottoman), and etc., were all established and expanded through the use of military might. They functioned under hegemonic economic systems and featured racial, ethnic, religious and sexual discrimination as social norms.

    The failure to recognize the universality of the human capacity for violence, cruelty and selfishness perpetuates the condition of human suffering around the world. Blaming the legacy of “coloniality” is a sophistic lie which attempts to shift responsibility onto the Other, in this case the former colonial masters, and excuses the current masters form accepting responsibility for their own tyranny.

    Just one of the many examples of this sort of hypocrisy are the Castros: white, European, male, heterosexual, militaristic autocrats who condemn US hegemony in Cuba as a cover for the establishment of their own form of tyranny.

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