14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 23 March 2015 — Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You’ll be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.
First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful according to the teacher’s vision. A meticulous educator looks for good examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the State. Also interesting is Habermas’s approximation about individual rights that guarantee and foster free association.
Like almost all social science concepts, we find different and even opposing views on the subject. Where the philosophers agree, regardless of their political affiliation or their religious creed, is that civil society exists and functions independently of the State, and in many cases as its counterpart.
Only then, after talking about the subject enough so that the citizenry feels informed, can we speak of the role of civil society.
It has still been less than a decade that the term civil society, along with its close relatives, human rights and non-governmental organizations, was either nonexistent or cursed in the Cuban press. But with the growth of alternative civil society, which is attacked and simplified, accused of following an agenda dictated by the enemy, has the issue seeped into the discourse of the official press. To public opinion, contaminated with the unhealthy idea, now trying to present as civil society organizations that, for the most part, are created and financed by the government itself.
The upcoming Summit of the Americas will put to the test the ability of both – the civil society recognized by the government and the alternative one, unrecognized and derided – to show the continental community their projects and results. Since the constitution itself observes the difficulty of the alternation given that, according to Article 53, freedom of expression is only recognized in relation to the aims of socialist society. This article makes clear that the mass media are state or social property, and limits their use exclusively to working people and the interests of society.
The government tries to know and represent the interests of Cuban society but, given the deterioration of social conditions, the boundaries become blurred between popular support for the authorities and the desire of citizens to try another formula. Only within a totalitarian context is it possible to control the discontent, deaf to discordant voices and to make practically impossible the legalization of an independent project. This lock is constitutionally established in Article 62, that doesn’t recognize the freedoms when they don’t fit with the aims of the socialist state and the decision of the Cuban people to build communism.
I read Friday, in the newspaper Granma, the article “Our civil society.” I agree with some of the points of view of the journalist Sergio Alejandro Gomez. In effect, domination is not always applied by force or coercion and the powerful like to appropriate words and their meanings. However, I disagree with the manner in which the journalist resolves the current problem with civil society. The Cuban State represents the interests of the great majority (while it demonstrates the contrary), but this government has rejected the free associations established by Cuban citizens.
It is clear that the heterogeneity of the Cuban Civil Society Forum is circumscribed to differences in matters of religion, gender equality, racial equality or sexual diversity. Immediately observable is the absence of a political opposition, It’s very fair that the above rights are recognized, because bad memory can’t omit the fact that minorities were also discriminated against in Cuba. But as long as political opinion and initiative outside the State are not present, civil society will be incomplete, and any democratic observer immediately perceives this anomaly.
As pointed out by the Granma journalist, the society is not homogeneous. Homogeneity is not the personality of brothers brought up under the same roof. However, the Cuban state wants to achieve with these organizations of its civil society a symphony that supposedly affirms to the writer that this is a civil society unlike any other.