Why is the Struggle of Cuba’s Cultural Activists So Important?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

I congratulate the brave cultural activists who have challenged repression in its most sensitive parts at home and abroad.

HAVANA TIMES – Someone once said that Cubans either don’t make it or go too far, and they do both with an arrogance that illustrates our historic aspirations of greatness. This is what is happening now with the protests against Decree-Law 349, which has been led by a group of dissident artists (in the best sense of the term) who are standing up to the repressive cultural policy that this decree-law promotes.

They have done this with great bravery and intelligence, always trying to be in touch with society and seeking out international support which is always necessary when you are dealing with a collapsing totalitarian regime like the one we have in Cuba.

But even so, they still haven’t been able to win over the hearts of spoilt intellectuals who get excited with the faint-hearted Cuba Posible forum, or the hearts of opposition groups and figures, who don’t think it’s worth attacking a part of the system when the entire thing is sick and demented.

They are right when it comes to the latter. Decree-Law 349, which even amputates artists’ freedom bone, is a symptom of an authoritarian system, with a single political nucleus, without social autonomy and an unappealable elite who are carefully preparing their transformation into the new bourgeoisie while ordinary Cubans continue to live in everyday misery.

But, they are overlooking the fact that if this is what’s happening in Cuba today and the corrupt Communist Party continues to govern when it has proven to be absolutely incompetent, that this is because there isn’t an anti-government social and political movement that is strong enough. That gives a nod to what Laclau called “logic of equivalence”: a time when opposition movements of different signs overlap in their interests and prevent the elite from managing conflicts.

We are far from this last point, but there are signs of opposition in street protests, private taxi driver strikes, in MUAD’s attempts to promote municipal nominations, in what artists are doing and even in the online debates that Cuba Posible organizes. And democratic change will only be viable in Cuba when these sources of resistance multiply and make everyday governance of the country unsustainable. And cracks begin to appear within the ruling class.

Any demand for tolerance, autonomy and pluralism in modern-day Cuba is very important, whether it comes from Cuba Posible’s sophisticated intellectuals, from homosexuals or the hard-working barrow boys at agro-markets. However, they don’t have the same strategic connotations.

The system might work as it does today, if they accept change. To give you an example, Article 68 of the new draft Constitution [which takes gender out of legal marriage] means making undeniable progress, but with political gain for the Castro family.

The system can accept this and other things, but it can’t accept art that is free from the government’s political shackles, in the same way that this might bring about socialization of values and information that affects what this elite knows it can’t give up: the street.

This is why I congratulate the brave cultural activists who have challenged repression in its most sensitive parts at home and abroad. The official response to these actions and others less well-known has been to throw cold water on the decree-law and try to repair the castrating pact that has existed for decades with UNEAC [the government approved artists and writers association]. A trick to save face, but unusual for an elite that has never taken what we call public opinion into account.

But even if decree-law 349 is repealed tomorrow, same-sex marriage is legalized, some rights are improved, or the system of local government is improved, there is clearly only one democratic, patriotic and decent way to vote in the constitutional referendum: NO.

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