Democracy in Cuba “Only for my Kind of People”

No book holds the answer to the Cuban question…

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Havana Bay fishing.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Havana Bay fishing. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — In my last post, dealing with a private daycare center in Havana, I argued that Cuban society ought to be aware of the extent to which the current re-structuring process entails the privatization of the country’s production and services infrastructure – something which isn’t clarified by the Party’s guidelines and which appears ridiculous from the point of view of current legislation.

I continue to believe this and, in response to the recent debate between Carmelo and Rolando (two friends I deeply respect), I am inclined to concur with Carmelo’s claim that the changes brought about by President Raul Castro, though inadequate and fragmentary, are ultimately structural. Such changes have a profound impact on society and cannot be taken lightly.

Anyone who reads my last article (or casts a quick glance at it, even) will immediately appreciate that I do not express any personal stance with respect to the issue of privatization. This does not mean I don’t have a position on this, or that I am devoid of questions in this regard. It means only that I choose not to assume any particular stance with respect to the process as such.

I limit myself to saying that the issue must be made public and debated openly, particularly when something as sensitive as the privatization of a social service – education – is at stake. This is a basic principle of democracy: the right of society to be informed about issues and to freely debate about its future.

To my surprise, I came across several irate reactions to my post, from readers who either do not understand Spanish very well, suffer from cerebral retinosis or, quite simply, call for a kind of disemboweled democracy that only benefits those who think as they do, a democracy, as the title of this post announces, only for their kind of people.

A reader of the site Cubaencuentro left me an affectionate message which described me as having “the brain of the New Man, washed with the bleach of Cuba’s Round Table programs,” while a Havana Times reader urged me to explain what “pure Marxism” and “true socialism” were, as though I made a habit of addressing such trivialities on request, or as though my demand had anything to do with Marxism, pure or not.

The existing model.  Photo: Juan Suarez
The existing model. Photo: Juan Suarez

We must demand the right to debate everything, for everyone, without restrictions.

On the one hand, society has to address serious economic and political questions which cannot be answered through the application of doctrines or reading the classics. Neither can we set our hopes on formulas that have been enshrined by political tendencies.

All of these things – the classics, doctrines and political preferences – are part of a debate that ought to be open to everyone, and where no one ought to proclaim they hold the absolute truth. The best system, according to the Neo-Corporatists, was that in which every individual’s second-to-best choice would be the best choice for all.

Cuban society is very complex (though it is worth pointing out that not necessarily more than other societies, as we are anything but exceptional). To begin with, we are a transnational society obliged to hear the opinions of all Cubans, wherever they may be.

We are also a society with proposals coming from all political corners, which will continue to grow in number as the country’s political system begins to relax more and more and the Communist Party itself begins to openly produce its own neo-liberals, social democrats, Keynesians, Neo-Communists, Christian democrats, socialists and anarchists.

We must also hold debates because, in the complex world that we live in, there are no infallible formulas. It’s incredible how some people can dream up solutions for everything on the basis of a handful of facile prescriptions: more or less market, more or less State, etc. These kinds of people probably sleep well at night, fatigued as they must be from so much political masturbation. But we won’t get very far with such formulas.

That is the reason we must debate the issues, and do so with the conviction that opposing ideas can be something of value, not merely something to be refuted.

We have to discuss, for instance, how much of the socio-economic and political structure that has operated in the country for the last fifty years is worthy of being rescued, and how much of it ought to be discarded outright.

We must also discuss what part of Cuba’s republican history ought to be considered a valuable precursor for our future. Such issues must be debated on the basis of a sober analysis of the country’s opportunities in today’s world and what we call the global economy.

Grandparents in the park.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Grandparents in the park. Photo: Juan Suarez

We have to think about what relationship ought to be established between the three major mechanisms for assigning resources and values (the State, the market and the community), and how to socially compensate those who get the short end of the stick in the relationship we consider optimal.

These are complex issues which cannot be addressed in a single discussion and which entail specific questions, such as the role the State should play within the economy (in terms of investment, regulation and ownership), our priorities in terms of the kinds of property we choose for ourselves, the prerogatives of each and the way in which surplus should be distributed.

We all claim we want democracy, but we have to define the type of democracy we want. For instance, we need to specify how the State powers would be configured, the optimal extent to which our society will be decentralized, the degree of government transparency we want and the power that representative and participative mechanisms will have.

Specifying how we want to take on the unavoidably transnational nature of our society, and whether a definitive rapprochement with the émigré community is ultimately desirable, is no less important.

This is not in order to meet the nationalist goal of “a Cuba for all Cubans”, but to achieve just the opposite, to create a community of “Cubans for Cuba”, a movement that not only impels the country’s development, but also helps us overcome the blinkered perception of the world that living on an island has given us.

These are merely questions. I have my own answers to some, but what I have the most of are questions – about all of them. What I always try to do is arrive at my modest answers from an unflinching analysis of the opportunities and risks before us, not through the ideological commitments we all have.

No book holds the answer to the Cuban question. If such a book exists, it is our society, and reading it would be nothing other than democratic debate.

(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.


2 thoughts on “Democracy in Cuba “Only for my Kind of People”

  • September 15, 2013 at 8:06 am
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    Moses, the problem is, there is no guarantee the dictator will not be replaced by another dictator. Therefore to wait until there is democracy to start discusisng democracy is a catch 22. the debate must start now.

  • September 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm
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    Democracy and Dictatorship are incompatible. It would serve the Cuban people to first discard the dictatorship (and by that I mean the dictator) and THEN begin to focus on the democracy best suited for Cuba. Attempts to find democracy while under the thumb of a dictator are doomed to fail.

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