Cuban Civil Society and Debate (Part II)


By Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — It’s been an unusually active week for Cartas desde Cuba – we hadn’t had so much attention for some time now. Several articles – some critical, some supportive – were addressed to us, and we published those we considered serious and non-repetitive.

Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez confirms this state of affairs when he writes that “I have yet to meet someone who agrees with the hitting and the yelling. I think it was a moment in which we were very much aware that we were news, and perhaps people thought that attitude would be good for our image, but it was not the case.”

That said, he adds that “I understand that someone may choose not to share a space with undesirables (particularly if such undesirables include one of Che Guevara’s murderers and friends of terrorist Posada Carriles). What I do not agree with are the insults and the aggression.”

Yoerky Sanchez explains that “Cuban civil society, the one, true civil society, is the one that left Havana with the mandate of millions of well-intentioned men and women, expressed in previous forums held at home.” However, he doesn’t care to tell us what that mandate was or who discussed it in Cuba.

During a Round Table program, historian Elier Ramirez tells us that Cuba’s official delegation met with strong psychological pressures. At one point, he says, he sat among people from the Latin American Right at the debate hall.

Of all the articles written, Ariel Montenegro’s struck me as the most honest. “Talking with those who don’t even have a political platform, those who sold out to a neighbor that killed and starved their own, those who murdered Manuel Ascunce and Che Guevara….with those? Fuck that!”

The Cuban and US presidents at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

However, I wonder how we are able to shake hands with the man responsible for most wars around the world, wars that kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people with drones and bombings. If we follow Ariel’s logic, when Obama extended his hand towards Raul Castro, the latter should have replied: “Fuck that!”

Some were surprised we published some of these “replies” on our page, but, ultimately, that is the only honest thing one can do in a debate. We’ve seen far too many Round Tables in which all panelists are in full agreement.

The long battery of replies reminded some of Cuba’s years of intense censorship and violent public reprisals. These people fear that such attitudes will become widespread again, that “the manufactures of obtuse individuals know how to raise banners and rally others – those in other sectors of society, even – to complicate things more.”

What’s certain now is that many Cubans disagree with how civil society representatives behaved in Panama and that their opinions were not covered by the country’s news, which maintained the kind of fictitious “unanimity” that President Raul Castro has criticized so much.

Amaury Perez believes that “In a future Cuba, the one our general/president is vigorously and intelligently working for, we will have to revisit the civility our precursors passed on to us – those who, risking their lives, never shied away from debate. Our history as a nation can point to many examples of clear-headedness and decorum in light of disagreements.”

There are those who agree with what happened but not with the way things were done, like a teacher who wrote the following in an official government blog: “There’s no excuse for a young woman with a high leadership position losing her cool and saying something nonsensical, there’s no excuse for one of our own saying “go fuck yourselves” during a confrontation, as we see in a video that the enemy is replaying ad nauseum.”
Another recurrent topic of discussion is the idea that debating with dissidents gives them legitimacy. That would be true if the government did so, but I don’t see what legitimacy a dissident could be given through a debate with a psychologist who is a high Young Communist League official (the woman referred to by the Cuban teacher).

This may be one of the points most people agree on: the image of those who defend the revolution that came across was disastrous. It is not very smart to give irate answers and lie in front of the cameras about who paid for one’s trip.

Those who believe it was all an act of provocation designed to make Cubans lose their cool may be right. The question, then, is whether that couldn’t have been predicted with all of the information we had beforehand, or whether no one realized that was the case when they saw someone of the ilk of Felix Rodriguez.

I sat down to watch this week’s Round Table and, as was to be expected, all of the panelists were in unanimous agreement, and no one with a different perspective was invited on the show, despite the fact the debate has made it clear that different opinions do exist.

In his blog, Yohandry (who could never be accused of receiving money from the Empire or of being a foreigner) wrote: “I haven’t wanted to give my opinion about this issue, but, if so many explanations are needed, that’s because something didn’t go well, despite manipulation by the press and others.”
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.