Beyond Criticism / Eliécer Ávila

I come from everywhere and I go everywhere... / Self Portrait. (Eduardo Sarmiento, 2007)

I recently heard an older person say, “To those who say things aren’t changing, look how at you can criticize now, even on TV.”

The history of criticism in Cuba, especially political criticism (direct or indirect) is older than I am, so I won’t venture to give details from times gone by which I only know about from reading. I leave that task to others. I can speak about what I have lived, from the time I was a “pioneer” as a child, until today.

Self-criticism was the first kind I knew; it was obligatory to stand in front of the group at whatever level in elementary school and engage in a “self-criticism” to appear modest and sincere before the sharp eyes of the teacher and whomever was visiting the evaluation meeting. In this trance I saw children cry and tremble, unable to construct sufficiently strong phrases against themselves.

Criticism of one’s classmate, meanwhile, was a part of being a good “revolutionary,” along with being “critical and self-critical.” Similarly, this was the style of the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the Union of Young Communists (UJC), a method that never failed to destroy human relations, especially every friendship.

“Friendship ends where duty begins,” the ideological posters repeated. As if friendship were not a sacred duty. It was enough for someone not to like a person to ruin an evaluation or spoil a significant opportunity by dragging out their dirty laundry. Envy, hypocrisy and other vices grew comfortable in these environments.

My entire generation grew up under these rules that governed the only authorized, and indeed encouraged, forms of criticism. Until recently, the message was clear. Everything that is going badly, or isn’t completed, or isn’t finished, or doesn’t work, is someone’s fault. That someone could be anyone, but it is never the system or its principle leaders.

Criticism as a norm. And then what?

This has not changed much. But lately, and for many reasons, including the economic failure of the country that cannot be hidden and access to information through various channels (satellite TC, Internet, CDs, etc…), as well as the attitude adopted by some of the “nuts” who, from within the country, have exposed and challenged the management of the State, the government as been forced to allow some kinds of criticism that in some ways threaten it.

At some point, difficult to pinpoint, criticism began to be common. To the extent that almost everything created today in the world of art, movies, television or radio, is tinged with criticism.

This is a particularly new context for the government and its ideological control authorities, not adapted to living in a society the criticizes and questions. To the point where it has almost completely eliminated direct contacts with the common people. We no longer hear about meetings with university students. Nor do we see, or even reported, press conferences or presentations in public spaces.

What’s more, the Cuban president doesn’t speak, and barely travels, unless to another sanctuary created in advance by the intelligence services to ensure there are no surprises.

And they have already shown that they cannot confront ideas. Which they may never have done.

Lacking arguments with which to debate in good faith and without possible solutions to almost any of the problems suffered by the people, the authorities have opted for something more macabre to block the criticism: they have imposed “criticism as a norm.” That is something we can understand as, “If they want to criticize, let them, in the end we are not going to change and we are not going to leave.”

Today we are stuck on this point. Criticism bombards us, every day we all criticize. But in fact, the fundamental questions seem immovable. And there are those who, already bored and fed up, surrender.

But there are others who realize that criticism alone will not solve much of anything. And it’s not worth the trouble to waste every day explaining what needs no explanation, except to the slowest minds.

Those who have already noticed, among whom I include myself, think that it is time to establish clear points politically unacceptable for these times, and for civil society to begin to demand concrete answers.

We know that the government is putting its last bet on not allowing people to communicate, connect and organize. And this implies taking the necessary measures to maintain its credibility among the population.

This is the challenge now: in these conditions we must make the leap and manage to compete politically. From the condition of the weakest, the most vulnerable, but with heads as hard as a rock, to be able to resist without giving up thinking, with enthusiasm and above all with responsibility.

Different alternatives to the current government have every right to exist in Cuba. The people have the right and the duty to listen to other voices and to decide their own destiny.

Enough of playing with the chain. From this point forward, the fight must be directly with the monkey.*

*Translator’s note: From an expression with obvious meaning: “You can play with the chain, but don’t touch the monkey.”

5 June 2012