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.
[1]For a basic introduction to these issues, I recommend reading (in the order below):

  1. Dussel, Enrique (2008). “Meditaciones anticartesianas”
  2. Grosfoguel, Ramón (2008) “Hacia un pluriversalismo transmoderno y decolonial”

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

  • July 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I counter that all of those negative human traits existed in every corner of the world prior to the expansion of the Western world and continue to live on, not because the West pushes these values onto the local population, but because those characteristics are representational to the local societies.

    For example, Ugandans embraced violent homophobia and misogyny long before European contact, they continue to express these tendencies today despite the more enlightened attitudes now prevalent in the a West.

    Western imperialism triumphed over other civilizations which also pursued imperialism, ( Islamic Empire, Chinese Empire, Aztecs & Incas) because the West developed superior technologies,in particular, for warfare. As the other eclipsed civilizations embrace and build upon the, they may surpass and supplant the West.

    When that happens, nothing will change but the names of the players.

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