Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 15 — Recently I had the privilege to be invited to participate in a workshop in Santo Domingo on the issue of national reconciliations. Obviously some ideas were exchanged concerning what should occur in Cuba at some point in time – I imagine in this century.
It was a meeting of very diverse people in terms of gender, age, race, residency and occupations, although everyone there could have been described as being situated on the soft edge yearning for change, but without fatal disruptions, even when they had substantial differences in defining what direction to pursue and how to achieve it.
It was really a moving and intelligent meeting for which we need to thank the organizers: the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Baruch College (CUNY).
For me it was very important because it forced me to weigh an issue for which I’ve never felt a special inclination (probably because I don’t belong to that group of respectable people who mourn their banishment and always keep a sentimental focus on where they were born).
I also think that it’s because I’ve had to spend much time outside my country of birth (sometimes for very long periods, with this latest one for twelve long years and going). In addition, I’ve learned to adopt new homelands (where I link to the same causes that continue tying me to Cuba).
A friend of a friend said that his homeland was wherever he laid his laptop. That’s a prickly statement, excessively hardcore. Nevertheless, I think that is — as one would say in good Dominican — “anda la vaina” (a pretty good way of looking at it).
WE NEED TO DEFINE WHAT WE WANT
But back to topic at hand, I think the issue of reconciliation can cause serious misunderstandings, even between those with the best intentions. Therefore it’s healthy to clearly define what we mean by a term that’s so emotionally charged.
In a plane that I would call “systemic,” reconciliation can never mean returning to a pre-revolutionary Cuba – a land that in the minds of many exiles is seen as the best of all possible worlds.
It’s possible that it was indeed like that for some exiles, but I don’t think that was the situation for the majority of people, those who enthusiastically applauded the revolutionary negation of that state of affairs.
However, it’s undeniable that many virtues will have to be rescued from that past, though the party line and post-revolutionary historiography have endeavored to reduce all of this to purely outmoded sludge. Likewise, it will also have to be defined what should be preserved from post-1959 period.
These are decisions that of course don’t belong to the elites on either side of the Florida Straits or to their second rate intellectuals, but to all Cubans residing on and off the island.
Reconciliation cannot mean the blurring of political ideologies in a political embrace. These will continue to exist, fortunately, with many opposing ideological (political, historical, positional) positions.
But all of them — and their political expressions — will have to accept clear rules of the game to facilitate democratic and pluralistic processes.
Reconciliation cannot omit a priori either the communists (the real ones) or the neo-liberals or any political faction that accepts these rules of the game, because if someone remains outside of the game, reconciliation will be weak and the resulting democracy will be misleading.
Politically, therefore, reconciliation makes us not sisters and brothers, but simply guests.
But if I concentrate on the most intimate plane — which is what I want to discuss now — reconciliation must be, above all, recognizing that we made mistakes, but we did so believing that we were doing what was right, and there’s life ahead that has to be addressed without the baggage of animosity.
RECONCILIATION BEGAN A LONG TIME AGO
This is indeed the case, because reconciliation already began a long time ago.
First it was with families, who despite political pressures never broke their ties. Though occasionally contact was broken or became frozen, this was usually re-established with the smallest opportunity to do so.
Our Caribbean culture — particularly our Andalusian and African mixture — is always prone to understanding if there exists any possibility of realizing it. And we forgive and forget, because our hearts are not prison cells of long periods of emotional punishment.
While I agree that forgiving and forgetting is not enough, I think that to be willing to do so means having traveled a good part of the way.
THE EXTERNAL FACTOR
If today there remains a lasting strip of separation and resentment, this is due to the existence of external political factors that act to obliterate — with increasing difficulties — understanding and reconciliation.
The first location of these factors is among the exiles/emigrants and in the policies of the US government.
But I don’t stop with them, since it’s well known that among them are people who are deeply resentful (with or without reasonable grounds for being so). These include opportunistic politicians looking for Floridian votes, right-wing activists and business entrepreneurs who can thrive without working thanks to their having discovered a goldmine in anti-Castroism.
As for the American government — no matter who’s in the White House, and for which Cuba is a side issue from all points of view — it’s more beneficial to maintain the current blockade/embargo than to assume a unilateral lifting, which would always be costly.
THE GREATEST OBSTACLE LIES IN CUBA
However I think that the main factor that obstructs reconciliation now underway resides in Cuba.
It is not in the bands of thugs who beat up dissidents and throw stones at houses. Nor is it the underpaid bloggers (my favorite pet peeve) who have made defamation a way of life.
These figures are ever-diming political embers that serve the cause more out of their own convenience than conviction. They won’t hesitate in switching to the other side when circumstances change, or rather when there is a shift in the determining factor: the Cuban government.
I think the main factor that currently acts as a prod of hate, separation and resentment between Cubans is the set of repressive policies and the expropriation of citizens’ rights practiced by the government of the island against all Cubans, those on the island and those abroad.
One hypothesis that comes to mind with respect to this is that according to the economic “updating” by Raul Castro, there continue to be advances being made as well as new needs for support, such as the one that motivated the alliance with the Catholic hierarchy.
Indeed, the Cuban government could begin opening some specific gates, for example, by facilitating investments by Cuban American capitalists or facilitating exchanges with the most liberal wing around issues of immigration.
In this manner we will begin to see a dynamic whereby the Cuban elite will begin to promote reconciliation as a slogan, though obviously in the most grotesque spirit of lampedusiano (change that is more apparent than real). In this, the Cuban elite appear like God in that dialogue with Lucifer as imagined by Saramago – they cannot live without the threat of the devil.
A COMPLEX SITUATION
I’m afraid that unless we recognize the complexity of this situation, we cannot advance a serious debate on the matter. Cuban society is not represented by bands of hotheads who beat up opposition figures in Cuba or threaten artists in Miami.
It does not consist of those who planned or triggered the bomb on the plane over Barbados, nor is it those who ordered and carried out the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat.
For a long time this society displays itself in reunions between families and friends at airports in Miami and Havana. These encounters — noisy, genuine and unprejudiced — are those that mark the course of reconciliation.
It’s always useful to be familiar with methods for approaching the alienated, including reunification and forgiveness. Sometimes resentments run deep and, as Freud once said, what is repressed always returns. However, I don’t think that at this stage of the game that this need is so pressing.
What we need is decisive action to force the Cuban government to cease its discriminatory, divisive, repressive practices against the entire Cuban nation.
In the foreground I believe we should demand the normalization of immigration to put our country at the same level of most contemporary societies – nothing more, nothing less.
“Ramdomly tweaking the situation isn’t going to change the current situation. What’s most important, in this sense, is that everything we do at the micro level of understanding be aimed at making our society strong.”
Either we are direct our actions and demands above the scaffolding, or we will end up — despite our intentions — propping it up.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com