Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — More than a month ago, in the first half of March, two Cuba-related events took place. This would hardly be news – Cuba-related events take place every single month somewhere in the Western world – were it not for the fact that the two of them shared the same political objective.
The first took place in Havana, under the ambitious title of “Religious Faith, National Institutions and Social Models.” It was announced as a space for debate among Cuban intellectuals, living in Cuba and abroad, including an open panel where the public could participate.
From the high status of those who opened the debate, we can safely assume the gathering had the support of the Catholic Church. In fact, an event of this nature can only stem from a pact with Cuba’s political elite.
Consequently, the event is situated within that intellectual space I have elsewhere referred to as a “tolerated critical accompaniment”, and it reflects an intention to participate in the process of changes that is now taking place within the system. A way of understanding the symposium is to regard it as an effort by Cuba’s Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) journal to give consistency to the critical space it is immersed in. I believe this is a positive move, for a space of this nature is important for the island’s present.
The gathering in Miami was organized by four organizations that deal with Cuba-related affairs and focused on US – Cuba relations and the issue of the blockade / embargo. According to the organizers, the event gathered nearly a hundred participants and, from what we’ve been able to read in the press, most of its efforts were devoted to demanding that the US government dismantle the blockade/embargo on Cuba.
Curiously, the organizers of the two events were involved in both, such that one could perceive a personal thread running through both. Beyond this – and this may sound almost as an anecdotic comment – the two meetings are the faces of a nascent, transnational political sphere that is tackling the proposal of a peaceful transition in Cuba.
That is to say, we are witnessing a conservative shift in the political situation, an economic and political liberalization that seeks to avoid disturbances and guarantee the privileges of the post-revolutionary elite (regarded as inevitable if positive changes are sought).
This is not the first transnational political sphere to emerge in Cuban history. It’s been common, in fact, for political identities on the island to have become replicated in the émigré community and for alliances based on shared creeds and methodologies to have formed. What’s novel is that this is the first transnational political sphere that can present itself as such publicly and show its credentials to Cuban society at home and abroad openly.
One could argue it is a shame the Catholic Church is the only institution that can achieve this – even if does through that refreshing and at times unruly space known as Espacio Laical – but this is the fault, not of the Church, but of Cuba’s political system. The Church saw an opportunity and is quite simply taking advantage of it – that’s what politics is about.
Despite all of the positive aspects of the gathering that took place in Havana, I believe it was marked by something that places it before an ethical and political dilemma. It is true the event gathered the fringe of critical participants: those that publish Temas magazine, researchers from the Juan Marinello Center and other intellectuals who like to mingle with the heretics.
I didn’t see any radical hard-liners at the gathering, something which didn’t take anything away from the event. But I also didn’t see any member of Cuba’s opposition, which did make the meeting all the poorer. This is so because, to begin with, there are valuable intellectuals in the opposition that have a lot to say about a renewed future for Cuban society. Secondly, because including these individuals – and openly condemning the fact Cuban authorities denied intellectual Carmelo Mesa Lago a visa to travel to Cuba – would have sent a risky but highly important message in these difficult times.
On the other hand, I believe Cuba’s transnational relations face a fundamental handicap in terms of the nature of the organizations that make up the field, particularly in connection with an association which has been the most enthusiastic participant of the intellectual moves of Espacio Laical: the CAFÉ group.
CAFÉ faces a more complicated dilemma than does Espacio Laical: since it is part of the émigré community, it is pretty much obliged to abstain from any attempt at voicing an opinion or participating in Cuba’s internal political affairs (that is the price the Cuban government makes its “patriotic and respectful” interlocutors abroad pay), and even from criticizing the abusive migratory policies of the Cuban government in any serious manner.
Consequently, if CAFÉ, or any other group of émigrés for that matter, wants to get closer to the Cuban government, it is obliged to direct its critical arsenal towards US policies and pass over Cuba’s in silence.
This is precisely what CAFÉ does, and this is why this organization is not likely to carve a space for itself within Cuba’s émigré community: it was born to be part of the problem, not of the solution. Thus, CAFÉ could be a good wildcard for the Church’s immediate maneuvers, but, in the long run, it will spell more difficulties than benefits.
This unbalance in terms of political opportunities was evident in the high standing of the participants at the event held in Havana and the unimpressive turnout at the Miami gathering, where the absences were more noticeable than anything else. It is curious that Cuba’s official press said nothing of the gathering in Havana and merrily applauded the one in Miami. Such, it seems, are the times were live in.