Raul Castro and Good Manners for Cuba

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES — At first glance, President Raul Castro’s address to the Cuban Parliament, where he announced a crusade against “the culture of social indiscipline that has taken root in our society”, is simply impertinent and rather cynical.

This does not prevent it, however, from being a functional component of the process of transformations which Cuba’s leaders have undertaken to “modernize” the economy, or, at least, from attempting to do so.

In this case, as in others having to do with information and technology, Cuba’s political elite continues to stumble at every step of the way, chasing the unreachable dream of being able to change things which need to be changed without having the face the inevitable consequences.

The situation can be compared to someone who is splashing about in a quagmire and wants to keep his shoes shiny and clean at the same time.

Before all else, I must say that I find it less than coherent that the president of a country facing a disastrous economic situation, a country facing a marked decline in population, should devote a key speech delivered to parliament, to complain about the fact that the citizens under his rule use cuss words, raise their voices in public places, throw garbage on the streets and make improper use of school uniforms.

More importantly, I find it wholly inappropriate that he should do so at such a critical moment, when people are barely managing to survive economically, and this, according to his own statements, because his government’s much-proclaimed economic achievements have not yet reached the average, Cuban home.

Being malnourished is serious enough without having to bear the additional insult of being labeled “uncouth”.

Though regrettable, this is far from surprising. Cuba’s political elite has always been prone to socializing their mistakes, laying the blame for the havoc they cause on the victims.

Now, Raul Castro has opted to paraphrase the Chapulin Colorado (“Red Grasshopper”), a parodic superhero from a popular Mexican television series for children, going as far as stating that people “have taken advantage of the revolution’s nobility.”

With such statements, he appears to be telling us that, from now on, we should be mindful that the revolution will respond “shrewdly” to such behavior.

In his speech, Raul Castro explains to us what we already knew: that Cuban society faces a generalized climate of lawlessness. And we know this is not a historical coincidence, or an ill inherited from the “neo-colonial pseudo-republic”, but, rather, a consequence of the post-revolutionary system where the president was always second in command, and of which he has been the leader now for seven long years.

For Cubans, lawlessness has been a kind of cynical reaction to what proved a cynical government. In some cases, it has been the ideal counterweight that has allowed the population to endure the erosion of society’s regulatory mechanisms.

It is also a political maneuver aimed at keeping up appearances, resorted to by a population that was denied the right to organize itself and undertake collective action as it saw fit, outside of the official structures imposed upon it.

The word “family” – and reference to this institution as a control and educational mechanism that failed – is repeated several times in Raul Castro’s address.

But the dismemberment of the family, as an institution, was policy promoted by the revolutionary government itself, which first used political conflicts to bring about separations, and then sought to distance children from home life, to replace it with a whole slew of countryside schools, which disguised insalubrious overcrowding and promiscuity as virtuous, revolutionary co-mingling.

The president may have the right to criticize the results of this, but it does not seem decorous to conceal its causes as he does.

The same holds, to mention another issue addressed, the state of urban disorderliness. That is the result of the initial, vehemently anti-urban sentiments of the new leadership, who extolled plebeian austerity and demonized the city, particularly Havana.

It was the same elite that continue in power today that organized livestock fairs in the gardens of Havana’s Capitolio, transformed mansions of great architectural value into bunkhouses and pretty much neglected all urban regulations that had been in effect in Cuba since 1863.

It was those in power who subjected the first working-class housing projects in Havana’s eastern end to “destructive criticism” and substituted them for the ill-kept housing warehouse called Alamar.

In doing so they did away with the high-spirited “family architect” initiative of the Habitat-Cuba project, destroying those community projects that blossomed in the 90s, that would have infused the city with new life.

But Raul Castro’s speech isn’t aimed at encouraging a process of self-criticism, a gesture that would have proven more credible and dignified, but instead attempting to remedy a situation which today constitutes an obstacle to the project of capitalist restoration, which, in essence, is what the “modernization” process aims at.

Real capitalism can only work with a socially disciplined population, and the State plays a crucial role in this disciplining process. Raul Castro has understood that he needs to bring back a significant degree of what Bauman has called “fear of the official” to counter Cuba’s ungovernable tidal wave of social lawlessness.

With the wrong diagnosis, and without going to the root of the problems, I doubt such an initiative will work. Even so, I think it is positive that the issue is being discussed. What I find regrettable is that the blame is being laid on the victims of this monumental mess.

Like the foolish men of Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, it seems Cubans are destined to pay for the sins they themselves condemned.

One thought on “Raul Castro and Good Manners for Cuba

  • This may seem harsh but sometimes there is no other way to express the truth. The Cuban people truly are too blame for their current decline in civility as broadly defined. In view of the recent Arab Spring uprisings, Occupy Wall Street, protests in Spain, in Chile and as far back as Tiananmen Square, unarmed peoples, fed up with their governments have risen up in protest. To varying degrees of success, these protests served to at least demonstrate to the ruling elite that there are limits to the abuse that people will accept without protest. The Cuban people have yet to reach that point, or fail to have the ‘cojones’ to take to the streets to express their frustrations. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, when Cubans reach that point they will run the Castros out of town and back into the Sierra Maestra.

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