Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cuba's Political Circus: Stunts & Applause

Cuba's Political Circus: Stunts & Applause
July 20, 2011
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES, July 20 — When we go to the circus to enjoy the acrobats,
we only give them a brief and courteous applause at the beginning of the
act, as if to say we're expecting something good from them. The main
applause is given at the end…if they truly satisfy us.

It's like this and it's always been like this. Applause is recognition
of the quality of the performance itself, not the intention – and much
less an intention we have out doubts about.

To applaud before the stunt is to give away the applause. And to give
away applause, in a circus as well as in politics, is to expose
ourselves to the disspointing lack of skill of the acrobat. Moreover,
this ends up undeservedly building the confidence of the recipient of
the applause.

I repeat: this is as true in the circus as it is in politics.

How this applies to politics

I will stop with this image, because there exists a sector of analysts —
well informed and surely even better intentioned — who express candid
enthusiasm for the changes they perceive in contemporary Cuban life.

I am speaking in support of these enthusiastic analysts, because after
so much time of immobility, screw-ups, senile tirades and
deinstitutionalization, what's happening in the Cuba under the hand of
Raul Castro (who obviously was part of all the above-mentioned) excites
the imagination.

Consequently, they are trying to place themselves alongside those
changes, promote them, to explain to "those-who-don't-understand," and
to possibly become the intellectual components of that "change."

I have several reasons to differ from these colleagues and to consider
their applause a waste of emotion.

The first reason is that behind Raul Castro's supposed fear of making a
mistake, invoked to justify his astounding slowness in making decisions,
the Cuban political elite are concealing their own inabilities, their
internal contradictions in the form of all types of commitments, and the
perverse interaction of their commercial interests with their appetite
for bureaucratic power.

This has been taking place throughout their five-years in the Palace of
the Revolution, although we can simultaneously speak of a calamitous
economy sustained by external subsidies and a population that is getting
smaller and older, with all of this compromising the future of the nation.

This doesn't mean that in Havana there are good reformists and bad
ultraconservatives. There is a post-revolutionary political class that
is playing its hand and displaying another face according to their
needs, and that obviously has a cost. Vice President Machado Ventura's
guys are not a protuberance on the system – they're an organic part of it.

The balance after five years

As a consequence, what we have after five years is very little and, more
frequently than desired there are also more negative scenarios. We have
— in the name of the struggle against paternalism and egalitarianism —
more poverty, more social vulnerability, greater inequity and more
uncertainty in the face of the future.

To make all of this more manageable, we have the same repression as
before, the same intolerance, the same lack of freedoms and rights and
the same exclusion of the émigré community. In addition, we have the
same state-centered pretense that restricts the number of occupations
that can be practiced, the types of organization that can exist and the
caliber of criticism one can make.

There is nothing that indicates the slightest sign of recognizing social
autonomy, tolerance or respect for diversity.

Those who applaud can argue that something is changing, and they're
right. There are positive measures, but they continue being
non-systemic steps aimed at survival, and therefore trivial before the
tremendous crisis that faces society.

There are no coherent proposals that speak of a new project for the
country and society. That's what we really need, "with all and for the
well-being of all."

What we see changing is the activity of an emerging economic elite at
the top of the incipient private sector and from the enterprise-based
technocracy supported by the military. This is an emerging
sweet-toothed elite that is seeking to associate themselves with foreign
investors in the development of marinas, golf courses, hotels,
manufacturing maquiladoras, and probably oil wells in the future.

These stunts that are ultimately applauded involve economic
restructuring to the detriment of most people's consumption and to the
benefit of the emerging elite and the subsidiary middle class.
Meanwhile, these minorities have implemented more "spectacular" steps to
indicate some changes on the political playing board: the rights to use
cellphones, check into hotels, travel as tourists and to buy houses and

Civil society as a corporate operation

Continuing with the applause, those who clap from the grandstands could
believe — according to the neoliberal myth — that when something changes
in the economy as a function of the market, civil society grows and the
system becomes liberalized. And here too it's probable that applauses
will be given, because greater space has indeed been generated for civil
society, but not necessarily for democratization.

A civil society turned into a corporate operation and delimited by
mercantile rules is perfectly compatible with an authoritarian political
system, and such an operation even reinforces this autocratic rule if
the economy becomes sufficiently dynamic to plug its political gaps with
its surpluses.

I recognize that in the Cuban setting it's necessary to be realistic and
pragmatic in the face of these changes. Personally I find it
politically repugnant that Cuban leaders have for so many years wallowed
in their inabilities to manage the country, all in the name of socialism.

Equally, the ultra-right wing in exile have made tons of capital —
economic and political — out of the issue of anti-Castrism, and all in
the name of democracy.

Fortunately we can do without the latter ones, but unfortunately not
without the former. The Cuban political elite — military leaders,
technocrats, bureaucrats — is an inevitable piece for the construction
of Cuba's future.

Will applauding produce benefits?

However, if someone believes that by lavishing applauses at the wrong
time they will be recognized as an interlocutor, they're committing two

The first error is in not assessing the moral and political price
they're paying when applauding what doesn't exist, while on the other
hand failing to condemn that which does in fact exist.

The second is failing to keep in mind that if "change" is produced under
the current circumstances, the elite wouldn't need to dialogue, except
with those institutions (the Catholic Church, for example) that have
already been selected to affect those political changes indispensable
for the functioning of economic changes.

With this I don't want to say that I'm unwilling to applaud, but only
after an undertaking that leads to a prosperous, equal and democratic

I will only applaud gymnastics that lead to pluralism, autonomy and
social administration, public freedoms for everyone; strict respect for
(and the state responsibility over) social, political and civil rights,
democratization (understood as people's capacity to participate in and
impact on the making of decisions), government decentralization and the
development of varying forms of ownership.

I don't believe that the Cuban government has taken any steps at all in
this direction.

That's why I don't applaud. What about you?

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