Friday, October 17, 2014

‘Cuba Possible’ Hopes to Open Dialogue Between State, Dissidents

'Cuba Possible' Hopes to Open Dialogue Between State, Dissidents
By Associated Press | October 16, 2014 Last Updated: October 16, 2014
12:51 pm

HAVANA—The former editors of one of Cuba's few non-government controlled
media outlets have quietly restarted efforts to spur debate about the
nation's future, launching a series of public forums and plans for a new
journal addressing the island's most urgent problems.

The project, known as "Cuba Posible," joins a handful of others in the
small space between the uncritical state-run media and fiercely partisan
dissident websites that have little reach inside Cuba.

Lawyer Roberto Veiga and journalist Lenier Gonzalez gained renown among
Cuban intellectuals by transforming the Catholic church magazine Espacio
Laical into a rare and influential forum for sociopolitical debate
before the two men left last year amid an apparent church backlash over
the publication's aggressive coverage of current affairs.

The two men and their small circle of close collaborators say they are
confident the project can provide a space for dialogue between
government supporters and critics without running afoul of the island's
communist leaders.

"We hope that we'll be heard and paid attention to in the world of
politics," said sociologist and project backer Aurelio Alonso. "We hope
that what's said won't remain in a void, but will affect institutions
and political players."

Funded by Norway's University of Oslo, Cuba Posible is based out of the
Christian Center for Reflexion and Dialogue, an ecumenical church group
focused on community projects that occasionally publishes newsletters
and magazines from Cardenas, a sleepy mid-sized city about 95 miles (155
kilometers) east of Havana. Basing the new group there means it can use
the center's existing government permits rather than seek permission for
a new independent publication.

"There have always been people inside the government who don't like what
we do and people who care about what we do," Veiga told The Associated
Press this week. "There are a variety of opinions but there's no policy
aimed at disrupting or battling us."

The first public forum attracted dozens of academics and intellectuals
and gave a hint of the group's approach. Its central theme, "Cuba:
Sovereignty and the Future," was uncontroversial enough to avoid the
risk of official ire. Participants avoided direct criticism of President
Raul Castro or the island's single-party system in place since the 1959
revolution. But some speakers, particularly those who rose from the
audience to question speakers on panels, were unsparing in their
evaluations of Cuba's poor performance in a variety of sectors ranging
from expanding the economy to updating educational curricula.

Gonzalez said the project's founders were fierce defenders of Cuban
sovereignty and wanted to improve the current system rather than see it
overturned in a return to its pre-revolutionary past.

"We don't think that's a possibility for Cuba and we don't want that,"
he said. "We're working to pose important questions, to maintain the
ideal that a better country is possible, and it's possible to achieve
that among Cubans who think differently but have common values."

Prominent Cuban exile businessman Carlos Saladriegas, who participated
in forums organized by Espacio Laical, said he believed that Cuba
Posible could gain more influence than the two men's former publication.

"For the moment their task is putting on the table ideas that require
critical debate. Cuba has a lot of things to rethink," Saladriegas said.
"If they succeed in this process I think they're going to greatly
contribute to this dialogue between Cubans."

Gonzalez, 33, and Veiga, 49, say they plan to publish their first
journal by year's end.

Speaking after the forum, Veiga cited the country's slow progress toward
the abolition of a special currency for tourists as an example of the
type of problem that Cuba Posible is designed to address. The double
currency allows Cuba to theoretically split the country between a realm
of highly subsidized prices in Cuban pesos and a tourist economy where
prices more closely resemble those of U.S. or European cities. But the
system has contributed to the riseof a new class of privileged Cubans
with access to convertible pesos. And it has led to economic distortions
like a special exchange rate for state enterprises that effectively
subsidizes them with cheap convertible pesos.

Cuba can't get rid of the convertible peso and related subsidies without
increasing productivity, can't increase productivity without foreign
investment and can't attract sufficient foreign investment without
reforming its monetary system, Veiga observed.

"We're trapped in a vicious cycle that we have to get out of," he said.

Of his and Gonzalez's efforts to spur dialogue in a nation not
accustomed to it, he added: "We've strived from the beginning to have
something that appeared impossible, and today is more possible, which is
that people who think differently can share the same space and even work

Source: 'Cuba Possible' Hopes to Open Dialogue Between State, Dissidents

No comments:

Post a Comment