HAVANA TIMES – Many years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution, a US magazine published an article describing the idiosyncrasies of Cubans. One of those characteristics was the fact that, whenever they argue, they always begin by telling the other: “you’re totally wrong.”
Last weekend, however, I had a very different experience. I took part in a debate among Cubans that unfolded in an atmosphere of respect and empathy, where participants were able to put together truths from bits and pieces drawn from different points of view.
The gathering was organized by Cuba Posible (“Possible Cuba”), at the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue in Cardenas, Matanzas. People with different political outlooks, from those who believe in the government’s projects to those who criticize it from the Right and Left, met there.
The issue was Cuban law, and the debate began with a historical overview of the subject, passing through the issue of human rights, mechanisms for the creation of laws, the country’s economic reforms and worker rights, the right to housing and the challenges faced by the justice system.
As a foreign journalist, I had decided not to offer any opinions on the subject. I limited myself to listening to others, taking note of my ignorance about many of the issues debated and my agreement and disagreement with some ideas expressed.
I couldn’t keep quiet, however, when one of the lecturers called for the re-establishment of housing mortgages. I reminded those present that the other face of such a measure is the eviction of families who cannot pay their dues to the bank.
No one seemed to agree with anyone. The speakers didn’t even let us sleep, debating amongst themselves until late into the night. There was no rest during breakfast, lunch or even the breaks – people used every space to continue the debate.
In theory, there was a time allotment, after the lectures, for people in the audience to ask questions. Every time a Cuban took the microphone, they took the opportunity to express their opinions at length before posing a question about what the speakers had said.
The gender makeup of the debate panel (the seven speakers were men) was put in question for a second time. A young Cuban woman asked the organizers whether there wasn’t a single woman in the entire country capable of speaking about those issues.
The concluding activity of the gathering was a workshop on the creation of rights, where participants were divided into 4 groups. Everyone was asked to individually write down what rights they aspired to have in society and then to identity the three that repeated themselves the most within the group.
Finally, the 4 groups were asked to present their proposals – proposals that had were surprisingly similar. The first right people called for was the right to a dignified life, understood as the right to employment, housing, health, education and culture.
The second was the right to access information, including the Internet. This was key for the third right they demanded, the right to participate in the decision-making processes of the State at any level and to have government officials give them a full accounting of their activities.
These coincidences were all the more surprising for me given the diverse backgrounds of the participants: there were religious people, lawyers, economists, sociologists, historians, journalists, university professors, a former State Security agent and even a former Attorney General.
I left with more questions than answers, more doubts than certainties, with the conviction that the steps Cuba must take are extremely complex. The search for a path to follow will require all imaginable “wisdom”, the one forged at universities and accumulated by the people.
For the first time in fifty years, the neighbor to the north that sought to overthrow the Cuban government begins to abandon its efforts. Little by little, the possibility of turning this “republic in arms” into a “republic of law”, a republic that embodies the aspirations of all Cubans, begins to emerge.
Recalling Eduardo Galeano, I wonder to what extent the Cuban nation is what it wanted to be and to what extent circumstances forced it to be what it is. Perhaps now it can finally begin to change into what its citizens want it to be.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.