Cuba's Unanimity: Rest in Peace
December 6, 2012
HAVANA TIMES — My colleague Angel Thomas told me that during the early
years of the Cuban Revolution, political debates were constant and many
leaders — including Fidel Castro — used to go to the University of
Havana to talk with students.
Unfortunately I wasn't around during that time. The Cuba I found when I
first arrived here in the '90s was — to the contrary — a place of one
single line of thought. It was a land of unanimous 99.99 percent vote
counts and round tables in which everyone repeated the exact same thing.
Gradually I got to know ordinary people and I realized that nothing in
Cuba is like it seems, much less the stereotypical image that the
pro-government media were trying to sell. I was glad, because it would
have been difficult to live in such uniformity.
Discussions would unfold in intimate settings between family members and
friends. Journalists, academics, economists, researchers and even
politicians would express their views, but only when they were assured
these wouldn't be made public.
On those rare occasions when someone questioned something openly, they
would invariably begin by saying: "Following the ideas expressed by our
Comandante on this issue I think…" and only then would they give their
In 2007 Raul Castro "cracked the mold" by calling on people to
participate in a national debate concerning the present and the future
of the country. Five million Cubans responded with more than a million
criticisms – fatally wounding the country's "unanimity."
And that wasn't the only debate. After more than a decade without having
convened a meeting, the Communist Party held its congress and an
assembly to discuss the fate of the country and the course of reforms,
as well as to elect the highest party authorities.
Those events came to my mind when reading the words delivered by the
prominent Cuban intellectual Aurelio Alonso at a recent conference. It
is an excellent analysis for young people about the challenges of
today's Cuba, one which is also written with serenity, balance and
Aurelio told them that "the collapse of Soviet socialism" wasn't only an
economic issue "but was due mainly to the failure to generate a
participatory democratic culture; without this, political institutions
become scaffolding without content."
I immediately thought of Alfredo Guevara (the founder of the Cuban
cinematographic institute) when he went from university to university
proclaiming the news that everything hadn't been done correctly, and
that not even had everything been done, as he then asked young people to
continue to build the nation.
I also thought of the socialist Julio Cesar Guanche and democratic
[Catholic] Roberto Veiga, who initiated a public debate on democracy
that ended up as a meeting of intellectuals, full of contradictions
between themselves, whose only point in common was the dream for a
Out of this was born a document in which the Marxist warned about the
"monstrous monopoly over ideology, politics and the economy in the hands
of the state" and the priest said "you can't allow flirtation when it
comes to national sovereignty."
I learned that there are now meetings of intellectuals and economists
with debates that throw off sparks because what's good for the economy
isn't always good for the culture – as we other citizens of the world
know very well.
"How are you going to self-finance the national ballet school or ballet
itself, for example?" pondered writer Graziella Pogolotti in an
interview, adding: "The solution can't be to raise the prices of the
performances and cut out most Cubans."
The old clichés have been permanently broken, as the youth of the
Critical Observatory defied the government by marching on May Day with
banners railing against the bureaucratic class and then proceeding to
Karl Marx Park to honor the German who invented socialism.
Researcher Esteban Morales published an article that called for
transparency in several cases of corruption, for which the Communist
Party promptly expelled him. Nevertheless the academic ended up winning
the tug of war; he was reinstated into the party and continues to write
If these debates have little mass repercussion it's because the national
press is still "deaf, dumb and blind" to this creative process.
Editorial control is stupendous, while a number of websites that had
made any receptive impact ended up "pulling their own plugs."
Notwithstanding, things have changed and they no longer have total
control. People like writer Leonardo Padura make use of their national
and international recognition and visibility to highlight what are, in
their views, the problems affecting their compatriots.
Cuba has been left without models yet it seems to be awakening from the
many mind-numbing certainties of the past. The silence has been broken
and every day we hear more voices expressing and sharing their own opinions.
Me? I'd like to think this exercise will serve to strengthen the nation.
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original article
posted by BBC Mundo.