(Article originally publishes in Diario de Cuba, 14 May 2022.)
I recently wrote an article published in this Journal, which, to my satisfaction, has provoked several controversial comments. I say this is satisfactory, because several decades of absence of public debate in Cuban society, has contributed greatly to the lack of solutions to problems that have multiplied to create a general stagnation. Thus, any outbreak of discussions about events and proposals on the current reality of the island can only encourage a climate of change or at least spread the idea of its necessity.
It is for this reason that I return to the same subject, more with the intention of addressing the emergence of a phenomenon that–whether some readers like it or not–is happening, and which must be considered if we want to objectively analyze the social present in Cuba and not incur the pattern of exclusions and subdivisions (revolutionaries/counterrevolutionaries, patriots/traitors, Cubans/anti-Cubans, etc.) that have been so useful to the government.
All process of change is preceded by certain manifestations of thought, apparently isolated, the majority of them spontaneous, that have the virtue of unleashing events not always directly derived from the initial action, but equally related to the social environment shared by diverse groups and sectors with specific interests. So, for example, the beginning of the alternative blogosphere–taking as the date the birth of the blog “Generation Y” on the Desde Cuba website and with relative rapidity extended within the Island–could be related to a phenomenon that preceded it, the Intellectual Debate, although the former is not exactly a consequence of the latter.
The truth is that both events, the Debate and the blogosphere, are part of a social environment in common, a few months after the Proclamation that “provisionally” passed power from one Castro to another, when a strong expectation of change emerged and dominated general sentiment, a mix of hope and uncertainty.
While the first phenomenon had an ephemeral character, the second has been extended and strengthened in the last four years: the Debate, however–that came to public attention as “The Email Skirmish”–was the first visible manifestation of a wave of virtual debated that far exceeded the initial topic of discussion (the presence on national television of certain sinister censors of the culture), to the point of seriously questioning the cultural politics of the Revolution and other deeply-rooted aspects of the Cuban reality. Obviously, in February 2007 the authorities could not silence by way of a meeting–with entrance by invitation-only and behind closed doors at the Casa de las Americas, under the supervision of the Minister of Culture–the expression of the growing dissatisfaction of many intellectuals, writers, artists and other sectors of society. Since that time, independent of the incident that provoked the beginning of the debates and the “official closure” given to the process, nothing was the same: they had opened a Pandora’s box of public opinion, although, in the absence of other possible scenarios, the debates had taken place on the virtual web.
barely two months after the smothering of the Debate, the alternative blogosphere began. A quick look evidences several basic elements of this phenomenon: its essential spontaneous and independent character; the variety of its composition, be it in the themes of the blogs, in the generational differences among the bloggers, and the individual interests and styles; the rapidity of its growth and its ability to multiply, maintain itself and evolve qualitatively despite the proverbial limitations of connecting to the Internet in Cuba and the harassment by the authorities. It is a heterogeneous and peculiar phenomenon, differentiated from any previous civic manifestations, but not divorced from them.
Meanwhile, in recent years, other virtual spaces have began to emerge, which may not be as independent or spontaneous, but which are also opinion sites. Perhaps, in turn, these spaces wouldn’t have been possible without the antecedent of the alternative blogosphere; in any event, some of their creators have been expressly designated by the ideologues of the system to confront the limited, but quietly growing influence of some of these alternative blogs. That the authorities have been forced to allow official or pseudo-official opinion spaces is quite an achievement, whether their pretensions are to weaken the development of civil society within Cuba, to impede the free flow of information and debates, or simply to confuse permeable and indecisive sectors.
It’s because of this that, even if they have reservations about the appearance of “revolutionary dissidents” on the virtual Cuban spectrum, that don’t consider it prudent to slam the door on such offers. It wouldn’t be healthy to call for dialog and at the same time yield to mistrust. It is clear that there will always be opportunists and camouflaged agents, but those are the ones we should be capable of identifying. We don’t fall into the temptation of repeating the pattern that we reject. These and other new spaces could offer the possibility of building bridges and fomenting civic discussions among Cubans of different trends of thought.
Although to many of us it may sound like heresy, it is likely that among the new “revolutionary” critics are not only the usual dogmatic characters, now disguised as reformists, but also young thinkers who could well contribute to a national dialog and a transition based on respect for differences and the inclusion of all social groups of the most diverse interests. My proposal is, then, to accept the challenge: to launch our ideas and aspirations; to engage in an inclusive, transparent and open debate; to make visible our differences and to offer arguments against slogans. After half a century of sterile barricades, we have nothing to lose and much to gain.
May 20 2011