Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cuba: The Prompting of Debate

Cuba: The Prompting of Debate
March 26, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES — The Laboratorio Casa Cuba has presented a paper titled "A
Dreamed of, Possible and Future Cuba: Proposals for Our Immediate
Future," consisting of 23 proposals that summarily cover various aspects
of national life.

The appearance of this type of policy document is a common Cuban
practice — on the island and in exile — and it reveals the concern of
certain sectors of Cuban intellectuals and social activists for the
future of the island in a context that the document defines as "epochal

It's good that it's like this. As old Mao said in a rare moment of
pluralistic advocacy, let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred
schools contend in this discussion.

The novelty of this proposal is that at the same time it calls for open
debate, which is a challenge to the sponsors of the initiative taking
into account the polarization of views between Cubans and the Cuban
authorities, who are hypersensitive to anything that sounds like debate
that's not strictly limited and controlled.

Therefore I sincerely congratulate the Laboratorio Casa Cuba (LCC) for
its authorship and the magazine Espacio Laical (EL) for publishing this

Organized as a list, the document should be read linking points that are
sometimes separated; otherwise one will get a fragmented view that
doesn't serve the totality of the proposal.

For example, the magnitude of the proposal to organize the state from
direct and competitive elections (items 11 and12) only makes perfect
sense when contrasted with item 4, which demands the respect of rights
that pluralism implies.

Covered in the invitation, and assuming the pretext of reasonable space,
I will focus my attention on three aspects: the notion of the Republic,
the transnational character of Cuban society and government

I should make it clear that I'm only focusing my attention on these
three points for analytical reasons, but that the discussion of
alternatives can only be grasped from a systematic perspective that
debate must proceed to shape.

The Republic: Virtuous or consensual?

I think this starts from a Republican vision contained in some
conceptual aspects that hamper the document's call. The document is
clearly inspired by Marti, declaring itself as having emerged "from the
thought and pro-integration practice of Jose Marti."

All of this is a laudable intention with which I largely agree, but it
is one that's not necessarily shared by many other Cubans. Marti is the
epitome of an entire historical tradition, but he's not the only one.

If what LCC/EL want is to be the coordinating pole of the center-left
(left social Christians, social democrats, socialists, anarchists,
neo-communists), then the monologue of Jose Marti's thought is not
unequivocal, though useful.

But if they're attempting what they say they're attempting (a forum open
to everyone) then they have to also look in other directions.

For this, though I basically accept their definition of the Republic as
based on individual shares of sovereignty, I think it's improper for us
to continue advancing with the burden of reducing its foundations to virtue.

Virtue is always relative, diffuse and transcendentalist. Instead, we
need a political order that is immanent, unsacred, subject to critiques
and where nothing is eternal. We need an essential separation between
positive politics and positive doctrine so that criticism of the
legislator does not exclude anyone from the Demos.

This is why I prefer to emphasize rights and duties that are firm and
clear. Our Republic must be based on a minimum consensus around
principles, and these principles must be the rights of individuals
vis-à-vis the State, the community and the market.

The Republic must rely on a pact that is as broad as possible, and
virtue will only be one quality resulting from that pact, not its main

Therefore, this call for dialogue and debate that is open to everyone is
commendable, because the only way this document can transpose its
current state from a meritorious proposal among others that are also
commendable, is to expand its base and pluralize its contributors.

Thinking graphically about the extremes that frighten, the neoliberals
and the authoritarian communists must be guests at this intellectual table.

Who are we all?: The Transnational society

Cubans face the 21st century with the tremendous potential of an
emerging transnational society. About 10 percent of the population
resides permanently outside the island, and a number much greater than a
million people comes and goes periodically.

The vast majority realizes their "transnationality" in South Florida,
but not only there, which results in a highly positive balance for the
future of the nation in terms of income, training and life experiences.

Paragraph 22 of the document invites the Diaspora to participate in
national affairs. It's a positive mention, but very sparse for such an
important issue. I think that in this sense the paper shares the
laziness that has characterized Cuban intellectuals on the island
(except a few very honorable exceptions) regarding the situation of
Cuban immigrants and their national rights.

The new immigration reforms do not stipulate the right to travel, but
they substantially extend what is permitted for Cubans living on the
island. They have done next to nothing to change the situation of exile
of Cuban immigrants.

This is an injustice that violates a right enshrined internationally,
and it holds in contempt a sector of Cuban workers that contributes
decisively to the survival of part of the island's population and to the
always dire balance of payments situation.

Incidentally, I should note, this emigrant community is not only the
most economically dynamic, it's also the only one that is growing
demographically, in contrast to the drama of an island that's depopulating.

But to ignore this is also to lose out on an opportunity, because the
Cuban émigré community has not only been successful in creating material
wealth, but also skills, knowledge and experiences that could be put to
use for national development.

It is untapped social capital that cannot be reduced to the caricatures
of "respectful" emigrants attending meetings misnamed the "nation" and
the "emigrant community," or agonistic bêtes noires branded with cheap
and derogatory slogans, as is done with Plattist trite.

Dual nationality must be recognized (the continued denial of it is the
sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the émigré community),
likewise recognition of the right of Cubans to return to their homeland
without limitation, to own property there (not just to sell it), to
invest their money as nationals, and to exercise their rights as
citizens similar to the many experiences of other Latin Americans.

This is not a question of political aesthetics: We either recognize it
or we live forever on the shameful threshold of renouncing a part of our
reality. This is one of the things that are most urgently needed in the
construction of the Republic, whether imagining it virtuously or
demanding it in practice.

The Leviathan impediment

At various times the document toys with the idea of ??strengthening
basic decision-making levels and invoking the principle of subsidiarity,
which is very positive. But I think it dilutes the issue of state
decentralization with some general drawbacks.

Cuba has an interesting municipal system. Its municipalities contain
appreciable settings for participation and their leaders are composed of
capable people.

However their potentials are constrained by a lack of autonomy,
over-centralization, the non-existence of a Municipal Act, the
formalization of their mechanisms for participation and an electoral
system that limits voting to a very basic level with competitive
profiles that are too discrete.

Reversing this situation and building capable, democratic, transparent
and participatory municipal channels are inescapable conditions for the
construction of democracy that must animate the Republic's future.

Put another way: government decentralization and municipalization are
not sufficient conditions for building democracy (local elites can be
more authoritarian and corrupt than central ones), but they are indeed

This requires a clear legal framework and reforms that establish
municipal autonomy as a principle and limit provincial authority to
spheres of ??policy coordination, planning and technical services.

What's imperative is a local fiscal system, one which returns the taxes
of municipalities to municipal decision making — as well as the fixing
by law of the percentage of [the national] budget expenditures that can
be implemented by municipalities. And obviously municipalities' access
to the market is something that today doesn't exist.

This requires the design of a mechanism for participation that must
exceed the current spaces for adding demands. It must incorporate
participatory budgeting norms and public debate through open meetings.

If it's about being a follower of Marti, I can only think back to that
definition he left us concerning municipalities: They are the life blood
of freedom.

I reiterate my congratulations to LCC/EL and the authors of this
document in the hope that from it is generated from another area of
discussion, one among many that we need for a better and possible Cuba.

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