Sandra Proenza (*)
HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 16 — When I think about the possible solutions for Cuba, the perspective of the “rights” of Cubans seems a useful approach to discuss the topic. As usually occurs, this possesses many problematic aspects and people have begun to debate these in various settings, so I’ll make only general comments about the “right to information,” the “right to participate in decision making” and the “right to a quality life.”
The right to information
This first means the right to access information without obstacles or intermediaries. In Cuba the news is generally presented in an exceedingly simplified fashion. People who get their information solely from the national press and television, plus perhaps a Miami soap opera or TV series, possess an extremely limited idea of the world – almost to the point of it being distorted. Being unable to access the breath of available information, they might be unaware, for example, of the real dangers are facing Cuba or if there do or do not exist solutions to our problems.
This is why it has become necessary to have access to the Internet, a very functional and helpful way of informing oneself. It is also an excellent tool for self-development since it not only allows access to diverse sources of information, and also knowledge, but it also offers a large bibliography that is free online (or for the price of the Internet itself, which in our case should be in accord with average Cuban wage). Also, it almost goes without saying that the Internet offers advantages in terms of general communications (email, chatting with or without video, etc.).
Some of the excuses used when the matter of the Internet crops up are that it is plagued by pornography, or that there’s much “deceptive information” that damages the image of our country and that the required technology is still unavailable. Because of this, they (our leaders) assert, general access cannot be allowed or the information must be properly censored. Frankly, I believe we Cubans are sufficiently intelligent and mature for each of us to know how to properly use the Internet.
As for the argument of finding “deceptive information,” we would be presented with the rich experience of investigating and verifying various sources online, and in this way expanding our perspectives.
As for technological limitations, we’ve seen that even while there is not a technological structure ideal for it and that legally, internet service is not generally available to the population, people have sought ways to connect to and navigate on it. Today, with opportunities to access even further limited to connect through Cuban accounts (they barely open email, messenger services don’t work and one can only use the country’s intranet system (mostly just Cuban websites), this was clearly not a response to a technical problem but a deliberate act to restrict use. Technical excuses have been used despite existing technical capabilities.
Corollaries to the right to information
The “right to information” also includes the right to responsibly spread information, as well as the “right to one’s opinion,” which means that each Cuban (and each human being) should examine their setting to find its shortcomings and express their ideas and solutions in a mature manner, contributing to the truth and to the building of a world that is more just.
A well-informed citizen who is used to thinking for themselves will then be prepared to make decisions. However, for it to make sense to speak about the “right to participate in decisions” that have to do with our country, it’s necessary to change the people-government relationship.
If the government designs the plan to follow and then presents it to the people for them to give their opinion, the opportunities for participation are obviously very limited. For true civic participation to exist, it is the people who should come up with their ideas and find ways to make a plan that can then be discussed with the government, which will have not all but a good part of the responsibility for carrying it forward.
For a real change, then, it’s necessary to begin to invert the people-government relationship. The people cannot be subordinated to the state, but the other way around. It’s important not to lose the basis of a possible “popular power” and to seriously develop it so that the people lead — not in a symbolic, artificial way, but with real leadership — the process of change that is taking place at this very moment.
There are many issues that still don’t have solutions and they’ll continue without them if the people, the main ones affected, are not the ones who bring the problems to light and present the solutions. These would likely include the reduction of the bureaucratic strata and the dysfunctional quality of the country’s internal life; the “full participation” of workers on the job; the ending of restraints on autonomous initiatives (that respect national sovereignty and benefit the country); the elimination of restrictions and exorbitant fees for leaving and returning to Cuba; the enabling of investment by nationals (included those of the Cuban diaspora), among many others.
In addition, the general public should be aware of, express their opinions and participate in how the country’s resources, environment and international relations are administered. For example, whom we associate with and in what manner is an issue that concerns us all. It’s too recurrent and tragicomic a situation when the public is informed of a meeting and all the treaties have been signed and all that the TV and the propaganda machine lauds only those initiatives or countries in whose hands we have once again put our destiny.
The rights to participate in decision making and to a quality life
On the other hand, the “right to participate in decisions” should not be a straightjacket. For different reasons, many people prefer to stand on the sidelines. This right is simply the channel for those who are overflowing with ideas and want to work for their country. Many others would open themselves to the process for the pure pleasure of moving from indifference to being challenged by the task of collectively creating a place where we could simply “live well,” without being tied to any power or acting as the predator of others.
However, the “right to a quality life” is closely related to the rights just mentioned. If we remain locked in a bubble of ignorance and scarce information without fully exercising (if this is our pleasure) our role as citizens participating in social, economic and political decisions, inevitably we will see a reduction in the spectrum of our personal decisions and in our “quality of life,” with this understood as being in all senses.
For a long time, the idea has been promoted in Cuban society that a good revolutionary “eats dry flour and doesn’t make comments.” From this it is understood that a proper Cuban accepts their poverty and remains faithful to the ideals of the state. It’s time to banish such ideas and to think about the possibility that common people, without being “flowerpots” or “leaders,” can lead a prosperous life. First, people should realize that they do in fact deserve a “quality life,” and this doesn’t have to be associated with any “consumerist” or capitalist thirsts, nor does it mean that it’s necessary to have a car, a house with pool or a yacht.
In terms of this issue, there are two fundamental concepts: the “standard of living” and the “quality of life.” It so happens that both coexist with an idea of “progress” that most modern societies have bought into in an endless race to raise the “standard of living” to the detriment of the “quality of life.” The result of this “progress” has been societies chained to the interests of powerful classes, the multiplication of modern mental and physical illnesses, the contamination of cities, and other phenomena associated with the desire to sustain an unbalanced way of life and comforts (unnecessary in many cases) at the cost of the resources of their own lands and those of many countries around the rest of the world.
These concepts should therefore be reviewed according to a totally different perspective. Each person can find their own way to “live well” without needing to follow the goals that “progress” imposes and, as a society, a balance can be achieved between “collective well-being” and sustainability.
People should be informed of how much the advantages of modern life are costing the planet, though they shouldn’t live their lives in want and misery because of that. Serious damage is done by pursuing only material goods that really do not “lead to a good life”, just as sinking into poverty and believing that there is no remedy.
Therefore, we can propose raising the level and quality of life in Cuban society according to the quality of food, the assurance of basic services with elementary conditions for savings and moderate costs (for water and electricity), keeping health care and education free and improving their quality; improving the quality of housing and the health of neighborhoods and urban centers; and achieving mental health and balance, as well as other qualities that could be added. Logically, an improvement in “collective well-being” can only be considered if sectors of the population improve their “quality of life” in a uniform way and enjoy equal rights and similar conditions.
Quality of life and human relations
To this I would add the quality of human relations. These are improved if people make an effort at it, but they’re also closely related to projects that society undertakes and the values it cultivates. We must ask a question: What are we going to prioritize in Cuba? – competition instead of cooperation, “everyone for themself” over solidarity and collective well-being, predatory materialism in lieu of spirituality?
For a long time a certain degree of unity between people was achieved in Cuba due in great measure to the very real threat posed by the United States. But soon the danger of “Yankee aggression” resulted in a reduction in people’s role in society. It was true that people participated in the revolutionary process, but as the heavy lifters, not as thinking beings. This was the time for cutting sugar cane and producing, not for writing revealing books or cultivating according to the cycles of the earth. Cubans got used to the discipline, of giving the best of themselves, but where did the cultural and political initiatives come from? Not from ordinary people. People had to trust those who led.
It’s true that it’s necessary to create a protective shield, but not against one imperialism; rather against all imperialisms. We should protect the social accomplishment that have cost the Cuban people so much, but not with prohibitions or fears that the people will progress. Only by more fully taking advantage of our talents will be able to move forward. We should not ask ourselves to put more effort to move in the same direction as always, we must strive to clear open new autonomous directions.
We need to reduce the excessive export of our human resources, of our people; we need to grow internally. Each Cuban should be aware of their role, make use of their rights, defend the freedom to exercise them and find a balance between their personal development and those altruistic and redeeming ideals that we have been leaving aside, though we once succeeded in achieving a certain level of unity in the pursuit of a collective dream.
We should feel ourselves the owners and at the same time responsible for Cuba, we must do everything including waving the magic wand of renovation to live well here and now.
(*) A Havana Times translation published with the authorization of Viento Jibaro