Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pros & Cons on a Loyal Opposition

Cuba: Pros & Cons on a Loyal Opposition
February 19, 2014
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES — The issue of a "loyal opposition" (LO) in Cuba appears to
demand a place in Cuba's current intellectual debate. Today, it is taken
up by two valuable Catholic thinkers – Lenier Gonzalez and Roberto Veiga
– in two short articles published by the Catholic journal Espacio Laical
("Secular Space"), where these intellectuals call for a discussion on
the subject.

This is a positive development. I think that this and many other issues
arising in Cuba today, issues that are invariably going to determine our
future as a society, ought to be debated.

If we aspire to hold a rigorous debate on any subject, a debate that
will help elevate our social thinking, then we must place the discussion
at the theoretical level that has been reached on the matter around the
world. I believe this has been a recurrent shortcoming of all debates
held in Cuba because of countless epistemological, political and
ideological obstacles I cannot delve into now.

We have grown so accustomed to thinking we are exceptional that we allow
ourselves to foray into areas of extreme theoretical density with very
light intellectual luggage.

This is what's been happening in the debate surrounding the LO. The term
itself is a politically attractive and conceptually interesting
appellation, as is the case with nearly all oxymorons. For Cuba, it
represents a political step forward. Since it's ambiguous, using it is
very much like tip-toeing across a bedroom full of mischievous kids.

Unfortunately, it isn't a chunk of clay we can shape to suit our
interests, but a concept. As such, it allows for some functional
flexibility, but such elasticity has a limit, beyond which one would
begin to deform the concept's meaning. Thus, we must not forget the
basic structure of the LO: "opposition" is the noun, "loyal" is the
adjective. The essence is expressed by the second word, and the
gradations by the first.

Accordingly, when someone speaks of a "loyal opposition", they are
referring to a political relationship in which the group eluded to
aspires to displace another group from power and apply different
policies once in power, and that the system offers mechanisms that make
this possible within the realm of its own procedures. Any party which
accepts the electoral rules of a liberal democracy, be it left or
right-wing, is a "loyal opposition."

The peripheral parties that existed in East European regimes, or in
Mexico under PRI's dominance, weren't exactly "loyal opposition" parties
per se. They were, rather, subordinate, crushed or caricaturized parties.

The world "loyal" has traditionally referred to the fact that the
opposition party accepts the legitimacy of the system's mechanisms and,
as such, the legitimacy of the party that wields political power.
Consequently, this opposition does not aim to overthrow the established
party or to eliminate it as a political option, but only to replace it
and keep it from taking power for as long as it is legally possible.

I believe Veiga and Lenier (and others these authors mention as well)
have been speaking of a "loyal opposition" while meaning to say
something else, something we could call "tolerated critical
accompaniment" (TCA).

We can conceive of the latter as a semi-autonomous space where
intellectuals and activists can make systemic criticisms of official
policies and their effects, but not put themselves forth as a potential
government alternative.

Such spaces can be both diverse and circumstantial. They can be result
of deliberate policies or the absence of given policies, and operate in
Cuba or abroad. Before, it was the Center for American Studies or the
Felix Varela Foundation; today, Cuba's journal Temas, the Observatorio
Critico, the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC) and CAFÉ
are examples of TCA.

The existence of a TCA does not entail democratization – as an actual,
loyal opposition would. It only reflects the emergence of spaces that
are less rigorously controlled, as a result of the transition from a
totalitarian to an authoritarian regime (precisely what has been taking
place in Cuba since the early 90s) which does not ask its subject to
hand over their souls, only to obey – a regime that can tolerate these
spaces for criticism provided some rules are respected and no immoderate
public appeals are made.

The life of the TCA is always precarious and subjected to pressures its
members must confront with courage (and risk dying in the process) or
skirt (hiding their heads in the sand, many a time). This is the case
unless a tacit and mutually beneficiary pact exists, obliging the
political class to shoulder the burden of its critical accompaniment.

This is what's happened with the high Catholic leadership and the window
it opened to communicate with Cuba's intelligentsia, the journal Espacio
Laical. To aspire to have the Cuban leadership designate the
participants of the intellectual discussions organized by the journal
Temas or CEEC technocrats as its "loyal opponents" is merely a rather
thoughtless display of intellectual frustration and dissatisfaction.

For both Veiga and Lenier, the notion of a "loyal opposition" is linked
to values that this notion must incorporate and protect at the same
time. These values invoke the desideratum of a society characterized by
solidarity, democracy, de-polarization and consensus, a society that
would, at the same time, exist within an ideological matrix that
polarizes, excludes and breaks up consensuses: Cuba's nationalist,
revolutionary tradition.

What would happen, for instance, if a group of people decided that Cuban
society must renounce its socialist goals and undertake an unflinching
transition to capitalism? Or if this group felt that the country's
nationalist intransigence ought to be replaced by a more global
perspective? Would they cease to be considered a "loyal opposition"?

The other side of the problem is Cuba's political elite. If one is to be
absolutely honest in one's discussion of a loyal opposition, one must
begin by pointing out the main obstacle to its existence in Cuba is the
persistence, in power, of a narcissistic political elite that is deaf to
all appeals and considers itself the very embodiment of the nation's
history and future.

This elite does not even consider the possibility of sharing or giving
up power, does not recognize the value of minorities, transforms its
citizens into subordinates and both manipulates and refuses to
acknowledge the country's émigré community, that key component of our
transnational society.

It is an elite that has taken the Cuban nation to its worst historical
moment and today ushers in a capitalist restoration through its
conversion into a bourgeoisie and by delivering an unprotected and
atomized population to the rigors of contemporary capitalism.

Finally, I believe that any discussion about this issue, like any other,
must entail a conceptual updating that can elucidate what Cuban society
actually is the first half of the 21st century. The use of the concept
of "people", for instance, is a kind of political inoculation in Cuba,
but, from the point of view of theory, it is a vague concept and a
reality that, on closer inspection, has changed dramatically in recent

Words such as "nation" and "nationalism" aren't less ambiguous,
particularly when dealing with a transnational society that has been
rifted apart by polarization as a result of the binary ideological
constructs about émigrés that the Cuban government began to fashion as
early as the now-distant 1960s.

Thus, we run into myriad of such concepts which are less exact and less
useful the more conclusive and explicit they appear.

I congratulate Lenier and Veiga sincerely for their thought-provoking
articles and for having opened the doors to a dearly-needed debate, as
they have successfully done on other occasions.

Source: Cuba: Pros & Cons on a Loyal Opposition - Havana -

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