Cuba: On Bats and Balls

Lazaro Gonzalez

The argumentative spirit of Cubans comes out with baseball. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 14 — “So you think this is the Villa Clara team’s year?” a stranger asked me, with a look of anguish in his face.  We had barely bounced a couple of ideas around about the Cuban baseball playoffs when he threw that fire ball at me.

In less time than it takes for a monkey to scratch his eyeball, the P-2 metro bus became a “hot corner” of arguing baseball fans on wheels.  It was boiling, and how.

Our national pastime has that virtue: it vivifies —like no other event in the year— the argumentative spirit of Cubans.  With the play offs is released a sort of popular effervescence, and there’s no situation that escapes the spontaneous debate that erupts concerning those games.

The discussions that are touched off over scores, plays and predictions are contagious.  They draw together families, neighbors, fellow commuters, housewives, the self-employed, classmates or co-workers, bosses and subordinates, whites and blacks, Christians and Abakuás, intellectuals and workers, city dwellers and farmers, young and old, the poor and the wealthy…

Whenever the final stage of the championships gets here, I always wonder the same thing: Why can’t we Cubans discuss the other truly monumental issues that also affect our lives in the same continuous and open way…with the same passion?

Perhaps some people will have already ventured to respond, but it’s not the aim of this writer to pass sentence, but rather to stir…debate!

Let’s start from one reality: Never has a juncture demanded more cohesion from the Cuban people than today.  The unity of ideas and actions —not slogans— is the sole alternative for surviving the effects of the worst global crisis in the history of humanity. This current drama is proving to be more disastrous than the Great Depression of 1929 in terms of having reached new dimensions: the environment, energy, food, culture…

Additionally, sociological and super-structural changes that have taken place in the still-unconcluded Special Period economic crisis, as well as globalization, incessant imperial subversion and media attacks against Cuba, all act to complicate this panorama even more.

Unity doesn’t mean passive consensus

But unity in no case means passive consensus.  Nor is it obedient acceptance of commands handed down by inefficient bureaucrats disconnected from the masses.  Without distinction of status, field or calling, true unity must express the general will of the community; it must be built with the help of active consensus and the dialectical integration of the diversity of opinions. The same thing is involved in determining what resource allocations to make in a company as how to implement new national migration policies.

“Two (three, four, fifteen, a hundred…) heads think better than one,” goes the old saying.  From collective reflection the best solutions are born, not only in terms of being the most effective, but also because they benefit the most people.  From this, strong criticism has been raised concerning the piecemeal patching up of the global crisis by a handful of countries in restricted forums such as the G-20 group.

Cubans debating baseball issues. Photo: Caridad

The conscious and leading role of participating citizens is the spine of socialism.  Many people have reiterated this.  Just as the axis of the “neuroskeleton” of a system constitutes its support, this participation is the path along which popular will is executed and —fundamentally— is the locomotive center of socialism in its movement toward the future.  Thus debate is the regenerating seed of participation.  It is a kind of hammer that forges action.

Several seasonings can be found in the enrichment of debate.  One cannot lack the capacity to listen to and respect diverse opinions, including those that are in opposition.  Both qualities —apparently torn out of the Cuban recipe book (one needs only attend a sports match to confirm this)— are generated when mixing in a new ingredient: a climate of trust.

No one gets demoralized discussing an issue if they’re sure their opinion will be considered and taken as useful, if it’s seen as a contribution —though even minimal— to the group’s decision. People also need for their argument in a debate to constitute a moral duty, be valued as such, and not an act of courage that risks possible hostile retaliation.

The other thing needed is the effective existence of settings, forums and opportunities for debate, not just token ones symbolizing that they exist.

The organizational networks are already there

Cuba possesses perhaps the greatest social networks in the world, with a matrix of organizations that are broad, mass, comprehensive, and inclusive; with settings that are conducive to open discussion on important local, sectoral and national problems.

Notwithstanding, today these necessary debates seldom occur.  They are very formal or acquire relevance only within gatherings emanating from within high-ranking Party and government leadership – when they should be common practice.  It is an imperative to oil these participative mechanisms…to temper them.  On this depends the advancement of careers or, to the contrary, their obstruction when noted.

The premise would be to take advantage of current settings under respectful principles of diversity and constructive criticism, promoting the transformational initiatives as a consequence of our anti-capitalist goal.

The mass media, to rise to the occasion, must not sit on the sidelines in this vindication of debate.  There exist no other socializing agent capable of surpassing the limited reach of academic circles and offering trustworthy and well-argued information on the dialectical process in the construction of socialism.

“We have to sustain ideological debate with information that has broad horizons, is truthful and believable,” affirmed noted intellectual Graziella Pogolotti in a lucid comment published recently in Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

To the press there is the great responsibility for cultivating —from dialogue (distinct from dogmatism, ideological pablum and authoritarian admonishment)— a genuine culture of debate. The practical inheritance of the first decade of the revolutionary press represents an unsurpassed watering hole.

Later there will remain the creation of new settings and spaces absolutely incomparable with our deliberative mechanisms constituted in old, imported or “improvised” models.  With our looks fixed on the next horizon, we will watch over the renovation of everything, from the old to new settings.

Consistency and continuity are the keys of a program promoting the contribution of constructive debate.  Only by evaluating the results can one verify the utility of debate and the execution of collective will.

From the publicized upgrading of the Cuban economic model, to the improvement of small companies and the nation’s defense in the face of internal and external aggression, there are many problems that demand the attention of the Cuban people – and more than those of post-season baseball.

Contrary to baseball stadiums, where we watch homeruns from the bleachers, there are many settings in which we must be the clean-up hitter on a daily basis.  But instead we sit on the bench, or get used to contemplating fastballs without ever taking a swing.

For how long?  Are we taking the bull by the horns?  Are we ever going to solve the difficulties pulling at each one of us wherever we are?

Before getting off the P-2 metro bus, I told the by-then inflamed passenger, “The playing field—and the ball players— will have the last word.”