Though it has no leading role in socialism as it is practiced in this country, the self-described “new Cuban left” is trying to find its place in the current economic, political and social debate, one in which no one is participating. Perhaps it is inertia that leads it to simply repeat certain well-worn arguments put forth by the government, which are far removed from historical reality.
When referring to the Cuban Republic, the “new left” accepts as fact that it was a neo-colonial and subjugated pseudo-state, constrained by the Platt Amendment and subject to foreign interference. It assumes that only a tiny minority lived well while the rest of the population suffered in misery without education, health services or employment opportunities. It also believes that discrimination against racial minorities and women was rampant. The current authorities have been incessant in their demonization of past eras, facts and historical figures, while some have accepted these claims as absolute truths and go on repeating them.
The reality is that the situation was not quite so gloomy. Cuba was one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of agricultural and industrial production, health services, education, salary levels and labor rights. Its gross domestic product was also one of the highest in the region, making it an attractive destination for immigrants from other countries. It had an established and thriving middle class, and both its population and cities were continually growing, both from an economic and urban standpoint as well as in terms of infrastructure.
In fact, most of what we still have of value we owe to the republican era. To ignore this truth — even keeping in mind the political situation as well as other shortcomings and problems that existed at the time, and that still have not been resolved — is like listening to only half the story.
When referring to the disastrous years of socialism, however, the new Cuban left characterizes it as true, authoritarian, statist and Stalinist. It focuses attention only on its distorted features, blaming them for all its failures, as though it were not the system itself — independent of its atrocities and its leaders — which has failed wherever it has been tried.
When discussing the future, the “new left” rejects a return to the past, presuming it might lead to something as ridiculous as a return to pre-1959 capitalism. It accuses those who propose abandoning Raul Castro’s model of being responsible for a possible loss of independence and sovereignty (language which daily falls further out of use in a globalized world) or for subjugation by the neighbor to the north. It is a perhaps unintentional reprise of an official rhetorical phrase: “You are either with me or against me.”
The only thing that Cuban socialism has distributed equally throughout the population — which does not include of the tiny elite which hangs onto wealth and power — is poverty. This is the equality that its domestic and foreign supporters applaud. Cuban socialism has enjoyed fifty-four years of missed opportunities, which makes it highly unlikely that the population will be inclined to give it further opportunities either in the present or in the future.
As the popular saying goes, the Castro model’s “last fifteen minutes are up.” Therefore, new opportunities present themselves to other political, economic and social initiatives which can and must include all citizens who care about Cuba. They cannot, however, impose narrow concepts, whether or not they are what we call socialists, democrats, participatives, critics, conservatives, liberals, capitalists, anarchists, rationalists, centrists, decentralists, pluralists, reformers, etc.
It is only natural that this political opening would occur after years of living under a single economic, political and social ideological mindset. The wide variety of new ingredients should produce a dish capable of satisfying the palates of most of our citizens. But this dish cannot be prepared by one single chef. It has to take into account the opinions and participation of those who will consume it, and must include economic development, freedom and social justice.
The goal is to enter the current global jet stream and advance along with it in ways to be determined by citizens exercising their full democratic rights, with participation by everyone but without new and ridiculous political, economic and social experiments or the kind of one-party nationalism that has left us light years behind the world’s democracies.
29 August 2013