By Eileen Sosin Martinez (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — Do the following exercise: stop and stand in a line, at a bus stop, on a street corner… and listen to what people say. In the majority of cases, they will be talking about politics. Because food, the transport situation, what the media says or doesn’t say, wages, changes… are all political subjects.
First of all, this denies the opinion that the Cuban people don’t care, don’t know or don’t want to do anything. For example:
“Everybody raises a hand, everything promised is met, I don’t know how many thousands of liters of milk, and then…?”
“Do you think that we should have to wait until July 26th to paint a school, sell more food and for people to be happy….?”.
Or to settle a discussion on a bus:
Let it rest, guys. Think about the good things that are on their way; look, the Chavistas have won the Constituent Assembly.
Clearly, and we are still going to have oil…
And about the new restrictions on the private sector: “In short, to screw you over… And moving backwards like a crab.”
Several experts agree on the need to point out the evolution – about 10 years to this point – with relation to the emergence of greater spaces for public discussion. Institutionalizing debate as a much needed, important “normal” factor of social balance, has been promoted by President Raul Castro in his speeches.
[Note: the government still doesn’t allow opinions in the State controlled media that question government policies or criticize its leaders.]
With regard to vox populi issues, it seems like there are two plans of concerns at the same time. In academic and intellectual circles, the agenda deals with political options, the speed and depth of the reforems process, expectations and uncertainty relating to the replacement of Raul Castro in 2018…
On the other hand, at the level of ordinary citizens, concrete everyday issues are maybe the most determining. During the last exercise of the neighborhood delegates reporting to voters near the end of last year, the most repeated public input had to do with water supply, repairing streets and pavements, garbage collection, street lighting and public transport.
However, these accountability assemblies, one of the most democratic spaces in the Cuban political system, only had a 66% turnout, according to sources from the National Assembly of the People’s Power.
Why do discussions on the street only just about manage to make their way into official channels and spaces? “Above” – the government, institutions – and below, we talk about the same things a lot of the time. So, what is happening in the middle?
“If they tell you to speak, and it’s only to know what you said, people find that out in two meetings: they remain quiet in the third one. This isn’t “popular apathy”; it’s called intelligence, people learn the lesson,” a lawyer believes.
I once had to cover the annual review of an architectural company. Worker interventions were centered around bonuses, worker transportation, the poor conditions of its offices… In response, the bosses set off on a bureaucratic and tiresome spiel about how “it’s being assessed”, the lack of resources, the blockade, productivity indicators, bla, bla, bla…
The story ended in the usual manner: everybody got bored like mushrooms, then the report was approved, they applauded and went to lunch. When they were leaving, people kept going on about the issues that make their lives difficult. The end.
It isn’t pointless to remind readers that a system like the Cuban one is based on popular concensus and support – yes only this; that there isn’t socialism without workers participation, without the healthy, efficient and functional running of “public affairs”. For this, debate needs to be a first inescapable step; in mathematical terms: a necessary condition but not enough.
All they have to do is go through online forums on some national media platforms (for example, days ago, when private licences were suspended). People become hoarse, questioning, demanding that they be consulted before decisions are made. And they repeat over and over again, “how is it possible” and “pardon me, but I don’t agree.”
One would hope that after so much deliberation, so many opinions, there would be some kind of outcome. Of course, debating doesn’t build houses or plant potatoes. However – just like work, effort – there must be an objective that goes beyond the debate; it needs to be for something, so that we can move forward.
Otherwise, many people will believe – like they actually do – that it isn’t worth being bothered, that everything comes down to collective catharsis, pure abstractness. This is a dangerous idea, even more so when there are some decisive elections around the corner, and constitutional reform.
Francisco Aruca, the founder of Progreso Semanal, has seen – 30 years ago, one of the Revolution’s main contradictions in the following: people have received a high level of education, which creates a certain level of expectations and a vision of the world at the same time. What would happen when people begin to think and to call for changes based on this education because there aren’t simple answers to complex problems?
Times for political systems aren’t the same as times for people; people today won’t have a second opportunity to change what needs to be changed. It’s now or never.