Democracy at Stake

Luis Miguel de la Bahia

Valencia, Spain

HAVANA TIMES, March 1 — Over the last several days I watched a number of episodes that were causes for concern.

In London the police came at night and evicted citizens from a public square. Riot police in Valencia indiscriminately started clubbing people. “Outraged” demonstrators were evicted from the Puerta del Sol plaza in Madrid and arrests were made of members of the group “Anonymous,” true representatives of freedom of expression. Similarly, participants of the Occupy Wall street movement were removed from that site.

All this shows that there is much to be desired in our democracies.

Firstly, the public sphere belongs to all of us, so occupying it is more than an inalienable civil right – it is the political duty of any person seeking to contribute to their republic.

The same goes for the freedom of assembly, which is included in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

We all know, as was agreed to by our predecessors, that any international agreement takes precedence over the national legislation of those countries that adhere to such agreements.

It is therefore not only unthinkable that such violations occur in the postmodern Western world, but these evictions are unlawful. They must be seen as explicit violations of the human rights enshrined in that international document.

If there were a mechanism that in a practical way would enable citizens to bring their concerns to debate in parliament, there would be no need for such protests.

If state security forces didn’t silence protesters, there would be no justification for a group of hackers attacking government agencies in different countries in defense of freedom of expression.

These are actions that should of course be taken by those to whom we have given part of our autonomy by virtue of being able to live together in peace and freedom. Perhaps our legislators haven’t been asked the reasons for these occupations of public space. Apparently they haven’t.

If it is true that the level of our democracies can be measured through the test of the soap box in the public square, then many of these would fail.

When everything is going well, there’s no need to occupy public space and the discourse is full of  the words democracy and civil liberties. But when there is a need to occupy these places because things are not going well, then there’s no talk of civil liberties and the rights of citizens – instead, of “people against the system” taking over the square.

I would like to ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon whether we will only act when a woman is stoned in the Middle East or when people demanding freedom are beat up in Cuba, China or North Korea. How far are we going to go with this hypocrisy?

Why dosen’t the UN go to Spain, England, Denmark or the United States with groups of international observers to put the brakes on these medieval attitudes?

You understand that these are not only little local problems but they call into question something that already is questionable, the culture wars in the Middle East.

How can I say to an Arab that their culture is medieval, and that we’re trying to bring them the light of European enlightenment and the humanistic values ??of the West when our own flags and slogans are violated in our own public squares?

Could it be that the wrongdoing is only bad when someone else does it?

To the Cuban people, who are now beginning to politically rebuild their republic, these episodes should serve to let us know that if ideas of democracy, civil liberties and other political gains are not constantly rethought and renovated, they become old and outdated.

This can get to such a point that leaders lose sight of reality and turn into precisely what they were at first attempting to abolish.

They should also know that those changes were not possible except through revolution or the occupation of public space, with open civic expression and without fear of the riot police.

To you who are building a young modern republic with evolved systems of thought, I must tell you that public, political or historical memory — whatever you want to call it — is something fundamental that must be carried along with the other torches at the forefront, because it allows us to avoid the mistakes of the past.

I think we won’t want to have to say like we do in Spain today: How is it possible that these things are happening after so many years of democracy?

Therefore, any such situation must be answered with all the strength possible, through the citizens and the law, because only in this way can we truly have a state based on the rights won in France.


6 thoughts on “Democracy at Stake

  • The recent brutalization of protestors reveals the truth about so-called “democracies.” The dominating class is doing what it always does – flexing its muscles – with violence. Never forget, the United States was founded on power that came from guns. The natives were killed and Africans were imported as slaves for hundred of years. Until that truth is reconciled, we will never live in a democracy. The prison industrial complex is alive and well in the good old U.S. of A and it is a form of contemporary slavery.

    Off the subject, Luis, I have a friend who left Cuba and would like to return. How will he be treated if he requests voluntary repatriation? What does the process look like?

  • This is a very interesting view point not commonly seen here in the United States. Even though I wish the people of cuba had more rights than they do and are able to have a free travel, the rest of the world isn’t as great of a democracy as we all think.

  • Luis, the removal of sleeping tents from the church grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has nothing to do with “social control by the repressive forces of the State.” It was requested by the church authorities who had tolerated the presence of an encampment for months but decided for reasons of public health and safety that could do so no longer. Free expression does not give anyone the right to set up encampments in crowded city centres.

  • Please Mark, do not justify the wrongdoings of the authorities in the so-called ‘civilized world’, because when you do, you miss the central point of how and why social control by the repressive forces of the State exists and functions.

  • “The London protesters had set up an encampment not in a public square, but rather on the church grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral.”

    So it was a square nonetheless.

  • This article is riddled with factual errors. Here are just a few.

    The London protesters had set up an encampment not in a public square, but rather on the church grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The church authorities tolerated the presence of the occupiers for months, and only sought and were granted an eviction notice after conditions in the camp became intolerable and a threat to public safety and health. The legal basis for the evictions had nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of expression. The occupiers have the legal right to continue peacefully protesting including on the cathedral grounds.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also provides no legal basis for overnight camping in small urban spaces not designed for that purpose.

Comments are closed.