Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cuba: Notes About Unity, Leadership One-Party System / Miriam Celaya

Cuba: Notes About Unity, Leadership One-Party System / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Norma Whiting

(Article originally published in the digital magazine Convivencia, Issue
No. 21)

In just five years, Cubans have been witnessing an extremely aggravating
process in the socioeconomic and political crisis, steeped in what
constitutes an exceedingly complex national and international juncture.
Though just a few years ago it would have been possible to alleviate the
hardship and mitigate potential conflicts by the reasonable application
of some economic measures, with strategies to achieve positive outcomes
in the medium term, the current situation requires a much deeper
intervention than the few reforms enacted from the halls of power and
consecrated during the celebration — similarly late — of the Sixth
Congress of the only legal party. Those reforms, in addition, fall shy
and insufficient of the effects of said economy.

The Cuban structural crisis today encompasses as much of our economy —
in a true bankrupt state — as society as a whole and politics, this last
category including both the policies of the government — demonstrably
unable to meet current demands or to propose a viable model — such as
the opposition's alternative proposals, given the lack of coordination
by the latter; of comprehensive and inclusive coherent programs, able to
move decisively a sufficient number of stakeholders. It is fair to say
at this point that the opposition action sprung from the early 90′s of
the last century had the responsibility (and credit) to break the myth
of "unanimity" politics in Cuba and forced the government to admit the
existence of dissident sectors. Their modest gains are not negligible in
terms of totalitarianism, in an extremely hostile frame against an
opponent that, even in the absence of arguments, owns all the media and
repressive instruments needed to prevent the strengthening of
demonstrations by the internal dissent.

The problem of unity

One of the most recurring themes about the limitations that have
threatened the progress of the opposition in Cuba in the last ten years
focuses on what many have called a "lack of unity", meaning the
inability of opposition parties to create common projects with
sufficient convoking power to denote a political wager of any importance
against the government. The government, meanwhile, points to "the
absence of social roots" of the movements and opposition parties as a
clear sign of popular support for the revolution, as if the existence of
a totalitarian regime — with all its concentration of power and its
implications — and not, by itself, as a solid obstacle to building
bridges of communication between Cuban with alternatives proposals to
the system.

The Island's reality, however, after the experience of a half century of
failures by a demonstrably ineffective system, and after many years of
the existence of opposition groups, which, though they have offered an
example of civic resistance and have survived in adverse conditions,
have not been established as an option to be taken into account by the
government or society, has come to a climax that imposes challenges to
all Cubans equally. Change today is not an option but an imperative that
contains within itself the key to the survival of the nation and not
just the permanence of a system, or the success of a party or
ideological proposals or policies of any trend.

At the current juncture, the analysis of various factors specific to an
eventual process of change for Cuba is absolutely necessary. Without
intending to be "the solution" to our circumstances, this analysis could
contribute in building a consensus that might lead to the inclusion of
interests of all social sectors and not just a portion thereof; i.e.,
the thrust of the action is to develop through the unification of Cubans
around proposals essentially civic, without ideological or purely
political overtones, taking into account that ideologies constitute
breakpoints of the basic consensus, essential for offering the
government a solid social alternative.

It is obvious that a reality as complex and critical as that of Cuba
forces us to part from a from an appreciation point as objective as
possible, ignoring both the sectarian passions and troublesome
exclusions that, sooner or later, tend to cause strife and extreme
radicalism of unpredictable consequences. The "Cuban problem", if we
might call it that, is systemic, multiple-component and cumulative, due
to causes of various kinds, and although the roots of our current ills
are secured in the essence of a totalitarian regime, that regime alone
could not constitute the only element responsible for the cause of the
general crisis now choking us. Unlike enjoying the "benefits" in a
country divided and distributed as booty among the small but powerful
ruling caste, the responsibility for the current situation is ours to a
certain extent, and we should all answer the call to reverse it.

Then there is the lack of properly organized social forces, even within
the ranks of the opposition. Successive attempts at "unity" from various
opposition parties have resulted in resounding failures, proving that
comprehensive and effective alliances cannot be achieved based on
ideology. Cases of pacts or collective projects have had a fleeting and
precarious existence to collapsing in the end without achieving
consistency. It is axiomatic that Cuban society is not ready to assume
the challenge of choosing ideology, but may instead join in the general
interest of building a democracy with the limited space of freedom we
have, that might, gradually and naturally, lead to the emergence of
political parties and other associations. Only after this initial
metamorphosis from slaves to citizens will Cubans be ready to devote
ourselves to politics by defining our ideological preferences.

It is appropriate in this regard to remember how much individual and
social responsibility corresponds to the people, to attain a stable and
lasting political equilibrium, economic welfare and a climate of social
peace, such issues as, at the moment, neither the government is able to
guarantee us — with the final crisis provoked by the failure of the
system — nor by the opposition parties, with the with the wear and tear
of two decades of damaged existence, the insufficiency of alliances or
agreements, and the numerous and sustained emigration of many of its
members due to political persecution and other causes.

The problem of leadership

Complications of the general collapse of the system, in turn, require
systemic and also complex solutions. Our historical tradition of leader
worship — whose tendency to leave important decisions in the hands of a
leader maintains a dogged persistence to date — has planted in the
collective mind the idea of the exaltation of figures above the
relevance and quality of thought and even the law. This is one of the
features that has made possible not only unhealthy political egotism,
extreme voluntarism and a whole saga of violence, coups and other
violations of constitutional order, but also the existence and the
actual survival of a dictatorship that has lasted for more than half a
century against the grain of the advances of regional democracies in the
whole of the XXI century.

The Cuban experience should have made us understand, at least, than when
there are no corresponding civic parties in a society, the leader
becomes dictator. However, amid the overall worst general crisis of the
last century, those called to "unite" around new ideological or group
leaders, in what appears to be a sort of political tribalism where
individuals — like attachments to a regional sports team — seem to group
motivated by the personal devotion that the "leader" awakens in them and
not by a clear awareness of the programs and interests that they
represent and the commitments they are undertaking. Moreover, the
members of parties (including the official PCC) that dominate the
theoretical and philosophical ideologies that support them are in the
minority. Faith in the leader seems to be enough support at the time of
taking sides and cheering decisions, often without consultation or
without subscribing documents.

The government's ideological entrenchment is also repeated in the
essential features of leaders of not a few opposition groups, each one
of whom, at times, has believed himself to be able to offer the best
solution, the philosopher's stone or the most appropriate and sufficient
Midas touch to overcome the national crisis, thus establishing the
impossibility of alliances and consensus, even among groups of same or
similar trends.

Another danger amid opposition alternatives with respect to leadership
is the marked propensity for the establishment of "permanent positions",
so much so that some groups or parties are identified more by the figure
who heads it than by the proposals they offer. Generally, they a
referred to as "whose" group rather than as "which" group, suggesting a
lack of maturity and of political consolidation, in addition to
reflecting a lack of democratic practices within them.

What has been discussed here does not aim to deny the importance of the
emergence of leaders, quite the contrary. Leaders with social
recognition, prestige, with a high sense of ethics, public
service-minded and innovative ideas are always key players in mobilizing
goodwill. Any process of social transformation has brought the presence
of leaders who have often had decisive influence on events. History is
full of examples. The agglutinating capacity of the leaders, then, could
be an essential component for promoting a transition in Cuba, as long as
they combine the necessary set of virtues necessary to overcome the
vices of the current society and, in turn, be able to put national civic
interests above pettiness and personal ambitions; leaders, after all,
who give preference to the rights and the development of this essential
component of democracy which in Cuba is a true rarity: the people.

The problem of the single party

What would be ideal, in the Cuban case, would be the growth of opinion
leaders that would help prepare for tomorrow's citizens today, a task
that must renounce the temptations of immediacy and improvisation —
specific characteristics of the Cuban identity — and cannot concentrate
in the hands of a leader with messianic tendencies in the narrow
machinations of a party. Without neglecting or excluding any element in
the dissidence spectrum that has developed its work up to the present,
from political parties to independent civic groups and alternative
journalism in all its forms, citizenship education is a previous,
unavoidable step if we wish to succeed in a process of change and
democratic transition. This does not suggest proposing a "wait"
involving delaying the process, but to simultaneously shape the people
with positive actions to encourage the expansion of independent civic
spaces and social interest in alternative programs, whether or not they
are policy proposals. Assuming democracy in a broader sense, the concept
of "citizen" is not only its essential foundation, but greatly exceeds
the narrow ideological framework.

It is known that a political party, whether the official one or any in
opposition, cannot represent, by itself, the wide diversity of interests
and nuances of society as a whole. Ergo, any political party which is
deemed elected representative of Cubans or synthesis of the national
democracy is guilty of committing a flagrant violation of civil and
political rights of those who, in principal, he meant to represent.

In fact, in the face of a process of change, the presumption of
ownership by any party would be so crazy as the fraudulent and
unreasonable assumption that the communist party is the ideal heir and
follower of the ideals of Martí or follower of the unifying task of the
Cuban Revolutionary Party, a lie with which the government seeks to
justify the absurd one-party rule. The ideological scam has been so
magnified and repeated that almost all Cubans ignore that the party
founded by the Apostle to organize and conduct the final War of
Independence was not based on or contain in its objectives any
ideological element beyond the separatist aspirations of its leaders,
much less did it assume the intention to become a "single party" for
Cubans once independence was achieved.

The recent Sixth Congress of the Communist Party did not offer solutions
expected by the most optimistic, however, it clearly demonstrated the
government's interest in retaining power at all cost and at whatever
price the nation will have to pay. This government has nothing to offer
towards our future, except to pay off its non-ending debt of
frustrations contracted against Cubans. Its time has finally come and
gone; it is the people's hour. The real challenge in today's Cuba, then,
is to forge strategic connections based not on purely political or
ideological programs, leaders or figures, but on general interests
capable of mobilizing the opinions and actions of broad social sectors.
Common sense dictates that the solution to our problems today is not
about replacing one leader or one party with another, but in finding a
broad, common, inclusive, and comprehensive consensus without ideology,
and complete, capable of gradually overcoming the acute and irreversible
systemic crisis. To do this, we must foster partnerships based on
essential civic principles, with a deep ethical commitment and public
service as their essential premises. This is a truly daunting task in a
society so divided and morally bankrupt, but the surest way for an
effective transition and permanent social peace.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

July 18 2011

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