Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 7 — Taking advantage of the government’s new permissiveness and its own excellent facilities at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, The Catholic Church convened a conference entitled “Current Challenges of the Cuban Nation” led by Alfredo Guevara. According to some reports, those in attendance included some dissidents as well as important Cuban academics.
It’s very good that discussions are taking place around this topic, particularly among people with different viewpoints and affiliations. In addition, it was encouraging to see that this was taken advantage of by a figure such as Alfredo Guevara, whose intellectual sensitivity inevitably urges a more developed conceptualization and a more complex discourse than the usual generalities that Cuban authorities are accustomed.
His participation was good because while Guevara is not a democrat (meaning he doesn’t advocate a political system of this nature that would give people control over their daily lives and public affairs), he is indeed a proto-liberal; at least I would say that he’s on the liberal edge of the Cuban political elite, as he calls for certain freedoms and rights.
Though surely many readers will challenge this idea and my favorable appreciation of the speaker, however I would invite them to imagine a conference on that same subject led by Vice President Machado Ventura or the party’s ideological director, Rolando Alfonso. Understanding the differences, surely all of the participants must have thanked the Cardinal.
This wasn’t the first time Guevara has made critical incursions in the constipated Cuban intellectual scene. He has done so several times in the past two years. I particularly recall his talk at the journalism school a year and a half ago, where he raised so many hopes and so much anger among his various readers.
As the conference speaker, rather than answering questions about specific and controversial situations, he responded with vague and rhetorical speech (someone once called it corny kitsch) in which he answered almost nothing but permitted those present to imagine many things
He did this from the podium that Cardinal Ortega had lent him, one which Raul Castro had in turn presented to the Cardinal in his arduous task of securing credible allies.
I think this occurred because Guevara (at 86) carries with him the subtle sensitivity of an intellectual who remained outside of the country for a long time (in Paris, which is always worth a mass), though at the same time he has been part of the most controversial decisions, as he himself said, as a militant “who has never got off the horse.”
Certainly he didn’t ride on the worst side. Leveraging his status as an untouchable, because of his cultivated personal friendship with Fidel and Raul Castro, he has successfully defended certain cultural spaces, even protecting some functionaries from misfortune, though still never getting off the horse (i.e. never making any substantive criticisms of the prevailing authoritarian and repressive situation).
Such a situation has serious implications in contemporary Cuba, where there have been severe restrictions on freedom and the rights of individuals, as well as imprisonment, executions, banishments, beatings and the humiliation of opponents, among other things that make mounting the steed ad infinitum an action that is extremely expensive ethically.
Guevara synthesizes in himself the limit to which the Cuban political class will go on these issues. In his last talk, Guevara used an old trick of discourse that’s employed in Cuba when the speaker wants to look daring without actually being so. He placed the blame for all problems at the level of the average administrator, which they identify as the bureaucracy.
It’s not the power, nor the state, he asserts, but the bureaucracy that is to blame for all the nation’s problems. Moreover, it is what will be swept clean by the “revolutionary leadership”—obviously where he is included—in a transition (as I’ve said before) from “disaster to stupidity.”
Trying to give empirical coherence to the puzzle of Alfredo Guevara, I imagine that the blame for the terrible food situation of the Cubans lies with the functionaries of OFICODA (the rationing office); that agriculture is unproductive due to the inability of the provincial offices of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI); that the immigration status that means banishment for more than one million Cubans and confines the rest of the population is the responsibility of immigration officials on 22nd and 3rd streets; that the repression of opponents is due to the callousness of the police; that mediocre one-party rule is the result of the authoritarian vocations of municipal party secretaries; that the dire situation of life in Havana is the fault of the provincial People’s Power; and that the mind-numbing press is the fault of journalists who rather than follow Fidel with his “battle of ideas” (and here I’m quoting from another recent conference) they prefer to take the path of “the battle of the systematic estupidizacion [dumbing down] of the Cuban population.”
Of course I should also try to imagine how it’s possible that the same guys who worked so hard on this disaster for five decades—with all the subsidies imaginable, and while holding the reins of power and the state—will now change the situation, with very little time available to them and facing a social mood described by Guevara himself as marked by disillusionment.
It’s hard to imagine all of this, but Guevara never surrenders his weapons of eloquence. This is why he proposed as a solution nothing less than a “consciousness-raising campaign” to awaken the masses, who have been estupidizadas (dummied down) by journalists.
With enormous arrogance, he has called for “a huge and tremendous liturgy that (mobilizes) people’s awareness,” but where individuals “must be willing to risk everything…because it’s difficult for docile people to be true revolutionaries.”
What this means is that Guevara is using his political license to admonish ordinary people not to be docile, even though those who have not been submissive have suffered pressure, banishment, attacks and punishment. All of this has had the participation as an accomplice of a person who, like Guevara, has ridden for five interrupted decades on the back of the “revolutionary” horse.
For this conference speaker—who, I reiterate, is one of the most enlightened individuals that we can find among the Cuban elite—a “consciousness-raising campaign” should be done with a backdrop of crass equality, of a society without differences, without color or gender (everyone mixed, he says) where what is important is “ethics, the person, their behavior toward society and above all toward themself.”
Obviously, those values that consecrate ethical and acceptable behavior have been defined by those who for five decades have been the riding buddies of Alfredo Guevara.
*A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.