Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 6 – The Cuban government has now begun the process of expelling hundreds of thousands of workers from the labor market and is organizing the country in agreement with the rules of the private marketplace. Given this, it’s worthwhile to discuss to what degree it’s ethical to hold onto political loyalties in the name of a revolution that is now dead.
More than a decade ago, two Cuban intellectuals (exiled Jesus Diaz and island resident Aurelio Alonso) argued over an issue that today holds great relevance: Does the silence of Cuban intellectuals regarding that country’s political system mean loyalty to a political initiative or simply complicity? Aurelio replied to Jesus with his critique of Cuban intellectuals who lived on the island at that time —those who Jesus reproached for their “silence” in the face of the worst aspects of the political regime— while on the other hand reaffirming the loyalty of those intellectuals to the most genuine revolutionary program.
I believe there is something correct in what Aurelio claimed back then. That phenomenon of radical changes that has been called the Cuban Revolution has been one of sharp disagreements (in one decade nearly a million Cubans left the island), but also one of tremendous consensus. To ignore this reality is to lose sight of the kernel of Cuban politics over the past fifty years, and surely a variable that will weigh for other fifty. The Cuban intellectuals who decided to remain on the island have been exceedingly active parts of this consensus, constructing it and being consumed by it.
If we analyze the fact that these intellectuals (at least the devoted ones) could have life opportunities (material possessions and professional lives) well superior outside of Cuba, then the commitment they have demonstrated is praiseworthy. They remained in Cuba, they each added to art or science in a way in which they thought they could contribute to a better future for the nation, and in this way they contributed to the intellectual development of a society.
On occasion that commitment led them to submerge themselves in poor neighborhoods of the cities or in campesino communities, paying for their social vocation with a host of inconveniences – including quarrels with their lycanthropic Party bosses.
Despite emigration and the exclusions committed by the Cuban government, the island possesses intellectuals of international renown. In the social sciences alone, the setting with which I’m most familiar, figures like Juan Valdez Paz, Aurelio Alonso, Mayra Thorn, Oscar Zaneti, Mario Coyula, Carlos Garcia Pleyan, Hiran Marqueti and Natalia Bolivar, among other equally meritorious professionals, have produced theoretical work on par with that in any country. They are valuable assets for the nation’s future.
I believe that this commitment (loyalty according to Aurelio Alonso and silent complicity to Jesus Diaz) deserves a brief review. Even though we can find many unforgivable blemishes in the revolutionary and post-evolutionary history of Cuba (which I will not comment on here), there have also existed reasons for supporting it.
Revolution substituted by caudillismo
In the first years, those that we can truly call revolutionary, acts of social justice and national independence took place that announced a program of development and substantial democracy that most of the population perceived as being the overcoming of a frustrating past. Later, when this program was sacrificed by authoritarian caudillismo (a state or government in which a “caudillo” exercises absolute power) and the sclerosis of “real socialism,” the alliance with the Soviet Union provided sufficient resources to organize the most dramatic social uplift that Cuban society had ever experienced.
However, when this process dissipated, there opened up a period of the expectation of changes amid a national debate that, while incomplete, was unprecedented since 1959. Moreover, it was one that many intellectuals appreciated as a door opening up to a better future.
It was an opening made possible by the omission of policies more than by a political opening, properly speaking; but it closed in 1996 with the shelving at the 5th Plenary Meeting of the Communist Party. Though since then there has been very little space for enthusiasm, there still appeared a faint ray of light when Raul Castro called for another national discussion [in 2007] as a sign of change.
The problem rests on the fact that today there are neither rays of light nor possibilities for them to be initiated.
A plan for capitalist restoration
The steps made in recent times (from what we’ve been able to learn in a society without free access to information) indicate that the technocratic/business sector led by the military and the Castro clan is reintroducing its plan for capitalist restoration. Evidently that initiative is based on offering to international capital a cheap, well-educated labor force that has been channeled into official organizations that differ from the government’s policies on minor only details.
For decades there has been talk of a “development program” and the “updating of the model,” though without the arrogant Cuban political class believing it necessary to explain what the final goal is, what are the costs that it implies or how they will distribute it.
This is because the crux of the updating resides precisely in not explaining anything – neither to the genuinely classist unions that ask about the distribution of income and the need for fair wages, nor to environmental groups that protest for a more appropriate handling of mass tourism on the keys or concerning the probable effects of oil drilling, nor to feminists who are concerned about the expansion of prostitution and the degradation of the woman’s role in society, nor to blacks who demand a rewriting of the history of Old Havana so that it not only recounts the tales of white aristocrats, nor, to conclude, will there be explanations made to homosexuals who want to know what are the laws pertaining to that issue, which —according to the daughter of the general/president— will be discussed in the National Assembly.
A painful adjustment
This will be a painful adjustment economically and socially; one that will deepen the poverty of hundreds of thousands of Cuban families. Nonetheless, the Cuban government is resistant to an integral economic opening. What concerns us here is seeing these families have to seek their material wellbeing in the rugged terrain of the market with, at best, support from relatives who have emigrated and from dozens of international development institutions that support programs of this nature in hundreds of countries at the international level.
Yet even this would mean a degree of autonomy that is incompatible with an authoritarian political system. Because of this, only partial concessions are being made, step by step, without a predictable regulatory framework. This is accompanied by discourse that today refers to Cubans as parasites with their mouths open and who tomorrow will be asked to smile at the misery into which they’ve been sunk.
The Cuban government doesn’t seem to be moving in any direction that favors the individual rights of its citizens. The case of immigration is an example. After numbers of demands for change, after pronouncements by many public figures, and after hosts of rumors, the matter has been buried. Cubans continue to be subjected to oppressive policies that force them to pay for the right to request permission to travel. They continue to be victims of a mean-spirited practice that transforms the island into a prison in which each Cuban is confined if they live inside or remains in exile if they live outside. This carries with it much suffering by the Cuban population on both sides, and it limits the free development of the Cuban community, inside and outside the island. Nothing justifies these abusive policies, which are nothing less than the political subordination of the Cuban population to a corrupt and reactionary elite.
The same thing could be said of each and every one of the rights that today are consecrated as universal values: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, access to information, the right to choose and to be chosen, etc. It has been almost a century since a Polish communist paid with his life for his political position when he reminded the Bolsheviks that the sole way to think of freedom was conceiving of it as freedom for those who think differently. In Cuba millions of people think differently, and a part of them believe that the system should be changed. These people are repressed, persecuted and imprisoned without guarantees for wanting to exercise their right to speak and criticize in the land where they were born.
Finally, nothing indicates —it doesn’t even suggest to the eyes of the optimist— that the society is advancing toward what we once saw as the democratic construction of an alternative to “liberal democracy.” Our parliament continues being a caricature that meets twice a year for about four days, which is why the country continues to be governed by decree. The election of deputies remains a farce in which there is a sole candidate for selection to each office. There is no decentralization, and the municipalities are less promising today than they were two decades ago. Opportunities for participation are restricted by formalism and political control. The last mass public discussion was a disappointing spoof. The political regime violates its own legality in that there has not been a congress of the Communist Party in 13 years, though supposedly the Party and the Politburo direct the State and society.
There is no longer leeway to believe that silence, be it total or partial, is the price of loyalty to the Revolution, socialism and the homeland, like the old slogan insists.
The Revolution has not existed since 1965, when destructive adventurism and Soviet institutionalization began. There was never socialism, and the homeland —although it indeed exists— has left us. It has left each Cuban that has to emigrate to realize their aspirations. It has left each youth who sells their body and soul to go to a store in which they sell in a currency different from the one in which they’re paid. It has left each Cuban who has been exiled or imprisoned for political reasons.
And it leaves each time we remain silent.
It has left, and now I think back to Jesus Diaz, because our silence is now definitively complicit.