Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 August 2016 – We are nearing 60 years since that ominous January 1959, and after decades of ideological fraud and demagogic discourse, we might expect that at least the political pillars on which the current aspirations of Cuban society rest would have radically changed. However, this is not the case. Some populist myths have become so deeply rooted in the social imagination that they have become commonplace and even been assumed to be incontrovertible truths.
Some of these principles useful for political messianism, especially in Latin America and Cuba, have been the perceptions of “the humble,” “the youth,” and “the majority.” These, not to mention other subdivisions that also carry political weight – such as those wielded by racial claims (for non-whites or whites), gender (women only), or sexual preference (for LGBT) – in a county where absolutely all of us have been dispossessed, far beyond our individual categorizations.
It is these intangible categories that skillfully serve to place everyone – subjects that can be classified in any of those areas by their condition as supposed beneficiaries and protagonists of policies dictated from the speeches and political projects; and the politics of any position – whose projects rarely get past the proposal stage – to gain the goodwill and votes of those sectors.
Put this way, any interlocutor could argue that these are strategies used by almost all the politicians in the world, which is true. But in free societies there are also democratic structures such as the separation of powers; civil society in its various manifestations and its specific objectives; freedom of expression, communication and press, as well as multiple independent state institutions that question, demand and moderate politicians.
In the case of Cuba, however, more than half a century of autocracy has not only consolidated the demagoguery from Power, but – in the absence of a strong independent civil society and a well-articulated opposition – this demagoguery has become a kind of political subculture that has even polluted the speech of some opinion leaders and the opposition, despite the value of many of their proposals.
This is why, in the laudable desire to demand democratic spaces for all Cubans, more than a few discourses presented as alternatives to the official line also commonly reference the demands of “the humble,” while calling on the inspiration of the transformations of the country, especially from “the youth,” and offer themselves as interpreters of the demands of “the majority.”
“They are humble people, and so good and hardworking people,” some of them affirm referring to the poor sectors of society – the majority. As if poverty itself constitutes a virtue or that implicit in it is honesty and industriousness. One might think, then, that prosperity is the parent of evil and laziness.
With such assumptions, the legitimacy of political projects would be directly proportional to the defense they offer to the interests of “the humble,” which are “the majority,” in detriment to the rights of the more economically advantaged “minorities,” thus following the patterns of populist regimes who have done so much damage in the region and, incidentally, strengthened the dispossession of these economically advantaged “minorities.”
And, given that in Cuba the “Revolution” has performed the miracle of converting an entire people into an army of the needy, with no lack of new messiahs, some of them as egocentric as that boastful young man in the olive-green uniform with the dove on his shoulder [Fidel Castro]. These new messiahs return to draw upon the discourse of the victimization of the “humble people,” for whom they fight and sacrifice, because this “childlike people” is immature and congenitally incapable of defending itself.
However, it is a truism that the most relevant social transformations are led by minorities, as minorities are also opposition groups facing dictatorial regimes. Minorities are, in addition, the entrepreneur class that in free societies contribute taxes to the public treasury, and at the same time create jobs, among other contributions.
A class that, in counterpoint to so much populist megalomania, we need to consolidate in a post-Castro Cuba to lift the country’s dire economy. In a future democracy it will be this will be accomplished not only by investors who come from the outside, but also those entrepreneurial sectors (the so-called “cuentapropistas” in today’s Cuba) – a minority – that today is repressed and stifled by the same power that strangles all of us.
On the other hand, to award “the young” in Cuba the role of the “vanguard” in the changes espoused – perhaps as an unwitting parody of the official tendency to devalue the present, always expendable for the sake of a luminous future – is at the very least an illusion in the light of current reality. Not only because “the young” are not, in and of themselves, do not enjoy the condition of success without which the changes needed cannot be guaranteed – as shown by the fact that the 1959 Revolution was led and carried out primarily by young people, with the results that we all know – but also because a great part of Cuban youth choose emigration abroad over rebuilding their nation.
In this regard, the emergence of some pro-democracy centers and organizations of youth activists on the island is a hopeful sign, as they have endeavored to gain representation and have incorporated new proposals within already existing ones from previous years. Sadly, these projects are still in the early stages, but they are renovating spaces and bring a different vision, more attuned to this century than are some of the old formulations.
But it also happens that in Cuba, where there is an accelerated demographic trend toward an aging population, that the enormous segment of Cubans over ages 45 or 50 must be taken into account, not in terms of their economic potential but because of their broad political representation and their potential as voters in an eventual scenario of transition and democratic elections.
In fact, most of the opponents, dissidents, and independent journalists of today are exactly in that age group, such that one of the current challenges is to achieve the creation – apparently still well in the future – of an inclusive strategic block that on the one hand brings together the minimum consensus of all proposals and, on the other, capitalizes on social discontent and reflects the interests of everyone.
It is an old aspiration, whose attempts at realization have so far ended in failure, due mainly to the extreme fragmentation of the opposition and independent civil society – divided by leadership, methods of struggle, finance, prison pedigree, age, geographic region, proposals, ages and even racial or gender composition – which weakens the whole and in turn makes it easier for the repressive forces and, ultimately, the powers-that-be.
But, back to the initial topic, it is not about omitting the interests of the “majority” of society, scorning the importance of “the young” or failing to recognize the importance of the new leadership for the present and the future. What it really is about is the need to move to a new political message, better articulated, that reflects the reality of these times and abandons once and for all the Manichean tenets of postulates of the twentieth century, peppered with praise for “the humble, the young and the majorities.”
Specifically, it urges offering a hopeless, faithless and apathetic people an alternative of real changes and an image of convincing cohesion, particularly in these moments when Power has not only lost its capital of faith, but has just announced a promised future of major difficulties. This task belongs to political leaders.
And that alternative is not going to be achieved with the repetition, from opposite poles, from positions of martyrdom, immolation and victimization, however sincere and well-intentioned they may be. Let’s not fool ourselves: ordinary Cubans are tired of martyrs; they no longer want leaders willing to die to “point the way,” because they prefer the way to life and prosperity. Leaders need to live.
We leave it then, to social scientists, this task of elaborating the taxonomies and nominalist segmentations that separate us. Opponents must articulate a more integrated discourse and postpone internal competition for a future in democracy, if they truly desire “the good of all.” And times of freedom will arrive that will permit the certification of social divisions without their implying secular privileges nor transgressing against the rights of one person or another.
Personally, I will continue to distrust any harangue vindicating the humble, flattering the young or legalistically defrauding minorities. Let us say “citizen,” and let this simple word alone encompass the dreams of Cubans of any origin, social sector and age.