Nationalism and Loyalty in Cuba: A Civilizing Challenge

Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez

G St. and Malecon in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — A number of scholars have reflected on our viewpoints on the issue of a “loyal opposition” in Cuba since the journal Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) published two of our articles on the subject in its first issue for 2014. With respect and civility, intellectuals Rafael Rojas, Haroldo Dilla and Armando Chaguaceda have shared observations that ought to be addressed, as part of a continuing and broadening debate. We are convinced that, sooner rather than later, these analyses and proposals will have a say in the building of a new Cuban republic.

The arguments exposed invite us to debate about the efficiency of Cuban nationalism as a means of re-articulating a socio-political consensus, and about the urgent need for a democratic model capable of managing a prosperous and sovereign Cuba.

Revolutionary nationalism is a set of values, intellectual constructions and even a certain degree of mysticism that have been shared by broad and significant sectors of the nation since the 19th century.

In the individual as well as collective imaginary, it has impelled the integration of powerful referents related to responsible freedom, sovereignty over intervention by foreign powers in the country’s internal affairs, the socialization of the nation’s wealth among the vast majorities, active forms of solidarity, justice for the underprivileged, full and free access to education and healthcare, a vocation for universality, a commitment towards regional development and Latin American integration, and the construction of a democracy sustained by the sovereignty of citizens and respect towards and the participation of minorities.

In addition, we must acknowledge that this nationalism advocates the creation of an active and empowered citizenship while championing the need for a State that is capable of materializing these aspirations and serving as a facilitator and guarantor of these.

Currently, one can come across a commitment towards these ideals in the rank and file of the Cuban Communist Party, across the spectrum of the island’s civil society, among the opposition and within groups that make up Cuba’s émigré community.

Other postures have of course existed and continue to exist (and ought to enjoy the right to participate in the nation’s political life), but such tendencies must be humble enough to acknowledge that they are not the ones that have shaped the Cuban nation and do not constitute a significant majority.

Accepting this core of ideals and understanding that they are shared by a broad range of Cubans could help define our posture and establish frameworks for a democracy capable of including socialist, libertarian, anarchist, liberal, social-liberal, social-democratic, Christian democratic, Christian socialist and communist tendencies, among others. To be possible, this pluralistic framework must aim at a consensus regarding the aims that generations of Cubans have pursued.

Dominos in the street. Photo: Juan Suarez

The tendencies that ought to be granted the right to participate in the nation’s initiatives would not be “loyal” if, in order to attain their political aims, they were willing to harm the people, become aligned with foreign powers that undermine the country’s interests, maintain organic ties with national or foreign organizations seeking to bring about transformations through “regime change” policies, disregard sovereignty and social peace and propose to annihilate their adversaries.

No debate can exist with Cubans who declare that, in Cuba, the same things happening in Syria, the Ukraine or Venezuela must take place, for heading down such an irresponsible path would drown our country in blood and lead the nation to a chaotic situation, spelling a future of conflict and instability.

Any real and beneficial solution to the Cuban crisis entails leaving the trenches and exorcising the specter of war from the nation’s political life. Arriving at a climate of normality in Cuba requires the sustained and coordinated efforts of responsible actors committed to dismantling the structures of hostility that operate within and without the island.

Any opposition in Cuba must be committed to peaceful changes through “pacts”, even if current circumstances do not appear to favor such a solution. After long decades of confrontation and exhaustion, history demonstrated that only peace and understanding, debate and consensus, the political high ground and national commitment, can lead the country towards a present and future of stability and progress.

In addition, these hopes, and the possibility of having a plurality of sectors contribute to these tasks, must be grounded in the country’s Constitution. Only thus would the law enjoy the legitimacy it requires and have sufficient authority to mobilize and command the nation’s vast majority of socio-political tendencies.

At a recent gathering sponsored by Espacio Laical, we addressed a series of plausible constitutional reforms that could take us closer to that paradigm.

In this connection, we have proposed a redefinition of the foundations of an economic system that wishes to expand in order to accommodate, more and more, economic initiative and all its forms of property. We have also proposed broader guarantees for association in Cuba, for, ultimately, the justness of any social model depends on the responsible actions of a strong, demanding, educated, effective and heterogeneous civil society moved by solidarity.

We also advanced a proposal calling for a restructuring of parliament, with a view to making it more active and systematic in its work, and for a different way of electing deputies, such that there can exist a certain degree of competition among candidates with different proposals and a more involved, dynamic and positive interaction between government representatives and the voting public.

Roberto Veiga and Lenier González

This agenda calls for a restructuring of government aimed at strengthening order and national cohesion, understood as necessary for the development of local potential. It includes modifying the electoral law, with a view to bestowing greater legitimacy on those who are elected to act as deputies and heads of State and government.

Other objectives are achieving greater balance between legislative, executive and judicial powers, giving citizens and institutions greater possibilities of demanding respect towards and the promotion of constitutional precepts and redefining our charter of rights.

We propose the elimination of all mechanisms that make the Communist Party a control mechanism and place it above society and the State, and granting different political organizations the right to exist – always within a democratic framework that places sovereignty in the hands of the people and avoids any situation in which such organizations can kidnap the social destiny of the nation.

Adopting the postulates of nationalism as the common ground where a national consensus can be re-articulated does not entail renouncing the creation of a democratic system for the country.

It is true that the linking of nationalism and Soviet Marxism-Leninism brought about restrictions to Cuba’s democratic practices. The current challenge places at a crossroads in our civilizing efforts: before the need to exorcise all deformed principles and unite all socio-political forces for the creation of a renewed order.

We must not fear the hegemonic position of Cuban nationalism, much less delegitimize it alleging it is an ideological construction. Other world-views related to Cuba are also grounded in ideological constructions.

We understand the desire to de-penalize access to other national imaginaries within the public space, but this will be possible solely on the basis of a consensus sustained by a minimum set of aspirations, and, in Cuba, this nucleus has constituted, since the 19th century, the nationalism outlined above.

Provided other nation building projects do not deny this reality and accept it as a set of aspirations shared by the majority of Cubans – and can undertake their projects without ignoring these coordinates – we could all support such projects and help them become legally constituted oppositions.

If we manage to make this possible and make use of a public space open to everyone, we will also find the ideal means of arriving at a new economic model, novel political mechanisms and a broad range of rights and other prerogatives.

There is no doubt that the basic aspirations shared by the majority of Cubans are to be found in nationalism. History could well have been different, and it could change in a distant future, but, today, it is beset by these coordinates. Ignoring this would not help in the least and could have us attempt to build castles on air, leading us to failure and frustration and postponing the solution longer for and needed by all Cubans.

Havana Street. Photo: Juan Suarez

It could seem as though our approach to Cuban society and politics is sustained by a binary conception of reality that is removed from new forms of conceiving initiatives by civil society.

The monumental transformations that have taken place within Cuban society over the past two decades, the increasingly transnational nature of this society, growing depoliticization, and the impact these phenomena have had on the imaginary of broad sectors of the population may indeed be undermining the efficacy of this bipolar paradigm.

Important sectors of society, however, including individuals in government, civil society and the émigré community, continue to understand reality in such binary terms, and, given their degree of involvement in political, power and public opinion mechanisms, everything seems to indicate they could be actively involved in the forging of Cuba’s future.

While it is both necessary and convenient to be up to date on the theoretical debate surrounding civil society and politics around the world and adopt the best postulates arising from such debates, there are practical dimensions to politics and the dynamics operative in a given society that forces us to adapt to the reality we hope to change.

When, more than a decade ago, we chose to create a platform for debate within the island, we ceased to be mere spectators of this reality and renounced to defining the country’s future on the sole basis of our personal preferences, which are often completely out of reach. From the standpoint of our limitations and humility, we responsibly opted for contributing, with realism, to the creation of a better present and future for Cuba, where there is no room for a new class of excluded people.

2 thoughts on “Nationalism and Loyalty in Cuba: A Civilizing Challenge

  • The ruling caste of the Communist Party of Cuba can only be removed by class struggle. Workers of Cuba must rise up and demand an end to the single party system. Then they must build a new workers party on a genuine democratic socialist program. Such a party is needed, because capitalist political parties will use the Castro period as ”proof” that socialism does not work. This worked in Eastern Europe, were right-wing forces were able to win every election. All this because workers there lack class consciousness. A return of capitalism is only possible if the Cuban working class allows itself to be brainwashed by the new capitalist political forces, who will come to the island after the single party state is abolished!

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