Cuban Civil Society and Debate (Part III)

Fernando Ravsberg*

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — Some friends are of the opinion I should put an end to the debate about the behavior of Cuban civil society at the Summit of the Americas held in Panama, but, as I see it, I have no right to finalize an exchange of opinions that was begun by several people and which others have joined along the way.

If anyone has a different impression, it is probably and unfortunately because my name appears in nearly all “replies.” As though the debate involved me alone, they ignore the highly important Cuban intellectuals who have expressed their opinions on this issue.

Curiously, there are no “replies” to what Silvio Rodriguez, Amaury Sanchez, Orrio, Gomez Barata, Harold Cardenas, Arboleya or Aurelio Alonso (and others) wrote. This is regrettable, for very interesting perspectives are lost when this broad range of opinions are omitted.

A young colleague from Cuban television, Javier Ortiz, poses the following question on social networks: “why does all of this strike me as a crusade against Fernando Ravsberg, rather than a real debate about the participation of Cuban civil society at the Panama Summit?”

Our debate included the right to hold different opinions and express these publicly, the nature of civil society in Cuba, the United States’ new strategy and Cuba’s response, the role of the press and different ways of doing politics.

Debates in Cuban civil society normally begin on instructions from “above.”  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The repercussions my first post had – and its most notable merit – stem from the fact it reflected, expressed and published what many Cubans thought, those opinions the official press ignores to maintain a false image of unanimity, a practice even the government’s highest leaders are criticizing.

My Cuban colleagues cannot be blamed for this state of affairs. Many of them do not agree with the “official version of the facts.” The problem isn’t to be found among journalists but in those who manage the press, with clumsy formulas that end up conveying a dreadful media image of Cuba.

The most interesting part of this whole experience is that the debate remained respectful throughout, save for one incident that isn’t even worth mentioning. If someone tried to organize a “digital crusades,” they failed miserably, for cyberspace rather filled up with different opinions and criteria.

A few days ago, I was invited to a party where one of the young men who’d written a passionate text in defense of Cuba’s delegation at the Summit had attended. We chatted, laughed, others poked fun at us and we maintained our different postures.

The debate hasn’t involved any pressures at the personal level. I recently conversed with authorities from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about other issues and we of course touched on the subject. They offered me their points of view respectfully.

Cuban civil society is mature enough to build its unity on the basis of diverse opinions. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

I am convinced that the tensions didn’t stem from the issue or the contradictory opinions about it, but from a lack of training in horizontal and spontaneous debate, the kind that develops without instructions from “above.”

Previous debates have touched on far more sensitive issues and people have expressed their views with total frankness. I particularly recall 2007, when 5 million Cubans expressed their criticisms of Cuba’s social model with their “gloves off.”

People spoke of low wages, the two-currency system, food, housing, transportation and the lack of entertainment options. The process of economic changes that is still underway in Cuba began to be built on these foundations.

My view is that Cuba is mature enough to put unanimity behind it and build its unity through a diversity of opinions. I believe progress has been made in this connection over the past decade, but it is merely the beginning of an endless process.

As the poet Antonio Machado said, only by walking does one trace the path. New debates will come along and we will again disagree, but all of us, or nearly all of us, will have learned that thinking differently and debating need not turn is into enemies.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.