Cuba: The Prompting of Debate

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

dilla1HAVANA TIMES — The Laboratorio Casa Cuba has presented a paper titled A Dreamed of, Possible and Future Cuba: Proposals for Our Immediate Future, consisting of 23 proposals that summarily cover various aspects of national life.

The appearance of this type of policy document is a common Cuban practice — on the island and in exile — and it reveals the concern of certain sectors of Cuban intellectuals and social activists for the future of the island in a context that the document defines as epochal change.

Its good that its like this. As old Mao said in a rare moment of pluralistic advocacy, let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools contend in this discussion.

The novelty of this proposal is that at the same time it calls for open debate, which is a challenge to the sponsors of the initiative taking into account the polarization of views between Cubans and the Cuban authorities, who are hypersensitive to anything that sounds like debate thats not strictly limited and controlled.

Therefore I sincerely congratulate the Laboratorio Casa Cuba (LCC) for its authorship and the magazine Espacio Laical (EL) for publishing this document.

Organized as a list, the document should be read linking points that are sometimes separated; otherwise one will get a fragmented view that doesnt serve the totality of the proposal.

For example, the magnitude of the proposal to organize the state from direct and competitive elections (items 11 and12) only makes perfect sense when contrasted with item 4, which demands the respect of rights that pluralism implies.

Covered in the invitation, and assuming the pretext of reasonable space, I will focus my attention on three aspects: the notion of the Republic, the transnational character of Cuban society and government decentralization.

I should make it clear that Im only focusing my attention on these three points for analytical reasons, but that the discussion of alternatives can only be grasped from a systematic perspective that debate must proceed to shape.

The Republic: Virtuous or consensual?

I think this starts from a Republican vision contained in some conceptual aspects that hamper the documents call. The document is clearly inspired by Marti, declaring itself as having emerged from the thought and pro-integration practice of Jose Marti.

All of this is a laudable intention with which I largely agree, but it is one that’s not necessarily shared by many other Cubans. Marti is the epitome of an entire historical tradition, but hes not the only one.

If what LCC/EL want is to be the coordinating pole of the center-left (left social Christians, social democrats, socialists, anarchists, neo-communists), then the monologue of Jose Martis thought is not unequivocal, though useful.

But if theyre attempting what they say theyre attempting (a forum open to everyone) then they have to also look in other directions.

For this, though I basically accept their definition of the Republic as based on individual shares of sovereignty, I think its improper for us to continue advancing with the burden of reducing its foundations to virtue.

Virtue is always relative, diffuse and transcendentalist. Instead, we need a political order that is immanent, unsacred, subject to critiques and where nothing is eternal. We need an essential separation between positive politics and positive doctrine so that criticism of the legislator does not exclude anyone from the Demos.

This is why I prefer to emphasize rights and duties that are firm and clear. Our Republic must be based on a minimum consensus around principles, and these principles must be the rights of individuals vis-à-vis the State, the community and the market.

The Republic must rely on a pact that is as broad as possible, and virtue will only be one quality resulting from that pact, not its main ingredient.

Therefore, this call for dialogue and debate that is open to everyone is commendable, because the only way this document can transpose its current state from a meritorious proposal among others that are also commendable, is to expand its base and pluralize its contributors.

Thinking graphically about the extremes that frighten, the neoliberals and the authoritarian communists must be guests at this intellectual table.

Who are we all?: The Transnational society

Cubans face the 21st century with the tremendous potential of an emerging transnational society. About 10 percent of the population resides permanently outside the island, and a number much greater than a million people comes and goes periodically.

The vast majority realizes their transnationality in South Florida, but not only there, which results in a highly positive balance for the future of the nation in terms of income, training and life experiences.

Paragraph 22 of the document invites the Diaspora to participate in national affairs. Its a positive mention, but very sparse for such an important issue. I think that in this sense the paper shares the laziness that has characterized Cuban intellectuals on the island (except a few very honorable exceptions) regarding the situation of Cuban immigrants and their national rights.

The new immigration reforms do not stipulate the right to travel, but they substantially extend what is permitted for Cubans living on the island. They have done next to nothing to change the situation of exile of Cuban immigrants.

This is an injustice that violates a right enshrined internationally, and it holds in contempt a sector of Cuban workers that contributes decisively to the survival of part of the islands population and to the always dire balance of payments situation.

Incidentally, I should note, this emigrant community is not only the most economically dynamic, it’s also the only one that is growing demographically, in contrast to the drama of an island that’s depopulating.

But to ignore this is also to lose out on an opportunity, because the Cuban émigré community has not only been successful in creating material wealth, but also skills, knowledge and experiences that could be put to use for national development.

It is untapped social capital that cannot be reduced to the caricatures of respectful emigrants attending meetings misnamed the nation and the emigrant community, or agonistic bêtes noires branded with cheap and derogatory slogans, as is done with Plattist trite.

Dual nationality must be recognized (the continued denial of it is the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the émigré community), likewise recognition of the right of Cubans to return to their homeland without limitation, to own property there (not just to sell it), to invest their money as nationals, and to exercise their rights as citizens similar to the many experiences of other Latin Americans.

This is not a question of political aesthetics: We either recognize it or we live forever on the shameful threshold of renouncing a part of our reality. This is one of the things that are most urgently needed in the construction of the Republic, whether imagining it virtuously or demanding it in practice.

The Leviathan impediment

 At various times the document toys with the idea of ??strengthening basic decision-making levels and invoking the principle of subsidiarity, which is very positive. But I think it dilutes the issue of state decentralization with some general drawbacks.

Cuba has an interesting municipal system. Its municipalities contain appreciable settings for participation and their leaders are composed of capable people.

However their potentials are constrained by a lack of autonomy, over-centralization, the non-existence of a Municipal Act, the formalization of their mechanisms for participation and an electoral system that limits voting to a very basic level with competitive profiles that are too discrete.

Reversing this situation and building capable, democratic, transparent and participatory municipal channels are inescapable conditions for the construction of democracy that must animate the Republics future.

Put another way: government decentralization and municipalization are not sufficient conditions for building democracy (local elites can be more authoritarian and corrupt than central ones), but they are indeed prerequisites.

This requires a clear legal framework and reforms that establish municipal autonomy as a principle and limit provincial authority to spheres of ??policy coordination, planning and technical services.

What’s imperative is a local fiscal system, one which returns the taxes of municipalities to municipal decision making — as well as the fixing by law of the percentage of [the national] budget expenditures that can be implemented by municipalities. And obviously municipalities access to the market is something that today doesn’t exist.

This requires the design of a mechanism for participation that must exceed the current spaces for adding demands. It must incorporate participatory budgeting norms and public debate through open meetings.

If its about being a follower of Marti, I can only think back to that definition he left us concerning municipalities: They are the life blood of freedom.

I reiterate my congratulations to LCC/EL and the authors of this document in the hope that from it is generated from another area of discussion, one among many that we need for a better and possible Cuba.


2 thoughts on “Cuba: The Prompting of Debate

  • Unfortunately, encouraging Cubans to assemble a variety of opnions regarding reforms without the possibility of real democracy will simply serve to heighten the already critical levels of cynicism and mistrust among Cubans. Until Cubans can be assured that ALL options are on the table, only ‘safe’ ideas will come forward. Until there are no Castros in charge, very little will change and absolutely nothing will change to bring real value to life on the island.

  • “As old Mao said in a rare moment of pluralistic advocacy, let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools contend in this discussion.”

    Keep in mind, Mao only said that to find out who the dangerous free-thinkers were so he could later round them up and liquidate them. Which he did.

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