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Protests that occurred on July 11 in Cuba have reinforced the idea of the need for a national dialogue in order to articulate a new consensus and expand existing democratic mechanisms. As it is difficult to specify an agenda and identify its possible actors, it is worth trying to discern the political currents existing in the country and their broader interests.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuban political life has been so intense and all-encompassing that very few have been able to avoid placing themselves in one of the great conglomerates in dispute — those who support the socialist system and/or its adversaries. Let us analyze the balance of these forces and their possible disposition to the dialogue that is proposed.
Defeated initially on the Island, the hard core counterrevolutionaries settled abroad, especially in Miami. For the most extreme sectors of this group, dialogue is a bad word and there have been many disparagingly called “dialoguers (dialogueros)” who have been harassed, attacked and even killed, for defending this position. Beyond the fanaticism that characterizes these groups, there are objective factors that explain this behavior: those who adhere to a hostility encouraged, protected and very well remunerated by the U.S. government.
They are promoters of chaos and U.S. intervention in Cuba. Their ultimate goal is to return to the neocolonial regime that previously existed in the country. This is not a gratuitous accusation inspired by left-wing fundamentalisms; it is clearly expressed by the Helms-Burton law, a legal instrument that regulates relations between the United States and Cuba.
These forces have some supporters within the country, generally encouraged and dependent on the money they receive from abroad. In no way is this a secret. Boasting of their transparency, the U.S. government makes known the public funds allocated for subversion in Cuba — money that is received from its Miami intermediaries, extreme right groups who also profit from these funds.
Their activities in Cuba and abroad, usually violent and meant to provoke, resonate internationally due to the attention they receive via the large information consortiums and in social networks where media campaigns are articulated, and often designed using very sophisticated techniques for manipulating these media. Due to its nature and intentions, under these circumstances there are no real possibilities of dialogue, nor is it to be supposed that they would be willing to accept it, since it conspires against their own existence and privileges.
However, not all opponents of the socialist system are reluctant to establish a dialogue with the government and various sectors of Cuban civil society. For some, this responds to a strategy aimed at achieving a “regime change by other means,” as Obama’s move to establish relations with Cuba was defined. For others it simply reflects intentions for advancing their own interests — be they economic, cultural, ideological, existential, even humanitarian — without conditioning it to the overthrow of the Cuban government. This is not strange. Cuba maintains more or less harmonious relations with countless governments, institutions and people all over the world who oppose socialism.
No matter their intentions, this dialogue is convenient for Cuba because these positions are the majority within its emigration, and are based on their recognition of the State and the Cuban institutions with which they propose to negotiate with. This dialogue should attempt to satisfy matters of mutual interest while neutralizing the most aggressive options that influence policies towards Cuba of those in power in countries where they live, including that of the United States.
This tendency, which could be characterized as a peaceful opposition with a willingness to dialogue with the Cuban government and civil society, also has its proponents within Cuba, although there are no organizations that represent it. As can be inferred from the result of the 2019 constitutional referendum, it is composed of around 9 percent of the electorate, some 700,000 people, who voted against socialism, a figure that could increase if we add some abstentions and invalid votes. A significant minority position, which does not correspond to the matrix of propaganda against Cuba, that does not imply that it is fair to ignore their rights, nor is it intelligent to underestimate the importance of taking them into account for the construction of a national consensus.
Although often they can be freely expressed through the channels of the People’s Power, the open consultations that are usually carried out on various issues, through unions and other mechanisms of citizen participation, and either due to deficiencies or limitations in the functioning of these structures or as a result of the social compulsion that intolerance and misunderstanding of their positions can generate, the full satisfaction of these rights is often limited.
Given the difficulty of expressing themselves through official channels, it is common for them to manifest themselves through churches and fraternal organizations, with which the government maintains relationships, or through social networks. To increase dialogue with these sectors and expand the possibilities of their participation in multiple aspects of national life, it is enough to enforce what is established in the Constitution and that they receive maximum protection from the State and the rest of the country’s political institutions.
Paradoxically, it has become much more complex to establish the agendas and the composition of possible dialogues within the left-wing conglomerate that, from various philosophical and political approaches, declares itself in favor of socialism, although some may question the model applied in Cuba and the management of the government. Although practically all say they are willing to participate in a national dialogue, they often differ in the scope of the convening, the focus of attention and the priorities of the debate. Achieving conciliation of these positions is vital to articulate the unity of the country around the socialist project. As much as the argument has been degraded as a result of the abuse of slogans, the history of the Cuban nation bears witness to the importance of this unit for the defense of the sovereignty and independence of the country, the point of demarcation of political tendencies in Cuba.
The issues in dispute are many. They include the conceptualization of socialism and its application to the Cuban reality; the functioning of the government and the direction of the economy; the role of the market and private management; the mechanisms of democratic participation and popular control; the concept of citizenship and one’s rights; information and cultural policy; bureaucratism and dogmatism; social problems of diverse character; the role of the communist party and its methods of work; emigration and the nation’s bond with emigrants; as well as relations with the United States and the rest of the world.
These are very complex issues, traversed by fairly recent phenomena such as the collapse of the USSR and the European socialist camp, which had served as a model for the Cuban system; the tremendous economic crisis that this meant for the country, with its resulting inequalities, social problems and the deterioration of values that greatly influenced citizen behavior; the increase in emigration as a result of discontent and lack of expectations, especially among young people; as well as the death of Fidel Castro, who was a unifying factor domestically and of influence internationally, especially on the left.
Add to all of this the resurgence of the U.S. blockade in the midst of a devastating pandemic, as well as the worsening of inherited structural problems which complicates even more solutions for the current circumstances. The strange thing is not that there have been protests of social discontent, but that the system has been able to survive despite these immense inconveniences.
Under these adverse conditions, new leadership in government, which has made its own mistakes, has had to function. Which does not exempt them from assuming the maximum responsibility of channeling possible dialogues, which in fact they have promised to stimulate and have tried to do so through various official announcements. The problem is that dialogue not only consists of establishing spaces to express opinions and debate on various topics, but also in the resolution of conflicts, through the confrontation of different ideas, sometimes supposedly antagonistic.
The Cuban government has not always had the flexibility and breadth that is required for this endeavor, in part because, in the case of Cuba, the real need to be on the defensive, with no gaps, is important. One consequence of U.S. harassment has been the objective limitation of the exercise of democracy in the country. With everything that must be recognized as a right and from that condition they must be treated when they occur within the parameters established by law, protesting in Cuba does not entail the same dangers to national security as in other countries. No one has thought of a humanitarian intervention in Colombia, for example, although those killed by the police in the demonstrations in recent months number in the dozens.
“The art of the Revolution has been its ability to turn enemies into friends.’ – Fidel Castro
Revolutionary intransigence demonstrated by the Revolution has been an essential component of the capacity to resist and forms part of the tradition of Cuba’s fight for independence and national sovereignty. A possible dialogue’s problem is when this intransigence is assumed through a misunderstood radicalism, which confuses principles with conjunctures and objectives with methods to achieve them. Any student of Cuban history will recognize that Fidel Castro, the most radical of Cuban revolutionaries, was a magician of dialectics. On one occasion I heard him say, and I quote him from memory: “The art of the Revolution has been its ability to turn enemies into friends.”
The most conflictive moments of the revolutionary process, and the cause of many of the worst political consequences, has been when, protected by a distorted ‘revolutionary radicalism,’ the most extreme tendencies prevailed. Many people felt alienated by a perverse logic which unfairly mistreated them until turning them into enemies, thus justifying the original abuse. Extremism, as Lenin, another radical revolutionary par excellence, warned, is a breeding ground for opportunism, and opportunism is a cancer that corrodes revolutionary processes. One only has to look at the Soviet debacle, a disaster that hatched within the system, to perceive the magnitude that these damages can attain.
Extremism obstructs dialogue when it entrenches itself in the indefensible and, in the name of defending the Revolution, disqualifies any type of criticism, as well as violates ethical principles of socialist political conduct where the end cannot justify the means. It would not matter much if it simply reflected another current of thought which struggles to defend its truth on an equal footing with other tendencies, but it can be very harmful when, as has happened on occasions, it assumes the representation of the official line of the party and the State, monopolizes public expressions and exercises the ability to repress its adversaries.
In this way, in recent years, attempts have been made to discredit, even punish, left-wing intellectuals, mostly young people who, rightly or wrongly, take critical positions regarding certain conceptions and government policies. Also, options for dialogue with non-socialist sectors have been frustrated which, regardless of great differences, have been willing to find common ground with sectors of the left. They have even tried to silence the critical voices of revolutionary militants through pressure or by limiting their access to the official media.
It is clear that any of these expressions can serve individuals with hidden counterrevolutionary intentions. Surely, there are departments within the CIA, right-wing organizations and so-called experts in many places trying to gain ground in Cuba. Be it a non-conforming left, or followers of other ideologies or, even, among the most extreme radicals, the issue is not to make things easier for them by making enemies of those who are not and who do not want to be. Once again, respect for the Constitution and the laws is the best protection against the penetration of the enemy and the main antidote to avoid committing excesses covered by this purpose.
Although it is not possible to speak of the existence of a properly institutionalized national dialogue, many dialogues exist in Cuba and are more widespread than many suppose. They take place within the communist party itself, particularly in the nuclei, whose symbiosis with the popular bases should be listened to and exploited more closely. They happen with great intensity and breadth in academic circles, either among students and teachers, or as a result of social research that, although increasingly taken into account for the design of public policies, are not disseminated until they become a source of popular culture. It occurs between intellectuals and artists within their own organizations; it has even been seen in the commissions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, although the result of the votes always reflects an exaggerated unanimity. It exists between emigrants and the government, as well as various sectors of civil society, not to mention the streets, declared a permanent forum for political debate in the country.
Perhaps the main obstacle to the potential of these scattered dialogues to contribute to the national consensus lies in the limitations of the press and other official media to disseminate their results and integrate them into the political work of the nation. For years the government itself has criticized the deficiencies of the press to reflect the situation in the country and meet the information needs of the population. But this criticism has been focused more on pointing out the results, than analyzing their causes. The most negative consequence has been the loss of credibility of public bodies and their defenselessness in the face of the distortions that are often generated through social networks or other strange media.
This contrasts with the quality of our journalists and other information professionals, many with a high vocation for social service, trained in good schools, and aware of the most innovative techniques of the trade. They are not even problems in essence attributable to the directors of the organizations and officials who direct these activities, since their replacement would suffice to overcome the mess. It is a much deeper problem related to the conception of the role of the press in the construction of socialist hegemony and the norms for its operation, an old unsolved problem of the socialist system. Add to this a huge gap when facing the scenario created by the new information technologies. The solution, then, requires a thorough review of state and party policies, as well as their conceptions regarding the press and its democratic demands.
The phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was Bill Clinton’s campaign theme in 1992 and was considered so descriptive of the situation that some say it was decisive in his victory. The same logic applies to the current Cuban reality. No dialogue will be able to solve the impact of this objective reality in the daily life of Cubans, but violence will achieve even less. Dialogue is a way to find solutions, especially by taking advantage of the enormous human capital the country has developed, and produce the welfare that comes with social harmony and contributes to popular political culture. Therein lies its importance.