Carter’s Visit: A Question of Legitimacy / Reinaldo Escobar

Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar

A few hours after former President Carted ended his visit to Cuba, one of those controversies developed that can rightfully claim to be a dialog of the deaf. On one side are those who criticized Carter for having come to visit our leaders without media conditions, while he met with “persons critical of the government” with the condition of no photographs and and a discretionary clause regarding the content of the conversation.

On the other side were those who understood it as a positive thing to be heard by one of the few personalities that enjoyed the rare privilege of being received by the highest leaders of Cuba and the United States and who, by the way, is well regarded by international public opinion.

The dialog was deaf not only because both opponents resisted listening to the arguments of the other, but because the real issue that beat in the background was not mentioned: that of legitimacy.

I would like to specify that legitimacy is achieved both by strict legal grounds, and moral reasons. Whether we like it or not, Cuba’s leaders have managed to legitimize themselves through laws they themselves have dictated and by virtue of diplomatic recognition from most of the countries around the world. Whether those same leaders like it or not, the actors of civil society and the opposition have gained increasing legitimacy from an unquestionable moral reason: the invocation and defense of human rights, taken as inalienable by the vast majority of the countries of the world.

What happens is that the government absolutely and stubbornly denies even the slightest semblance of legitimacy to those whom it considers despicable mercenaries of imperialism, although a good share of those demonized recognize the legitimacy of the government, albeit reluctantly, when they carry an identity card issued by those authorities or when they go to an office to process any kind of paperwork.

Taking it a step further, those who decide, with every right, to live outside the country, also recognize this same legitimacy when they go to consulates and embassies to update their passports or take any other action.

Mr. Carter had to perform a balancing act to meet with “the critics” — which implied his recognition of their legitimacy — without offending his legitimate host: the government.

The later, for its part, was forced at least to not delegitimize the meeting, which it showed by not sending a detachment of professional insulters, and granting accredited foreign journalists permission to cover the event.

Certainly this permission did not extend to anyone who dared to bring up the topic during the former president’s press conference, but we all know how the game is played and yet we still recognize the legitimacy of the foreign press.

I have perhaps left it too long to express myself on the matter, despite having been one of those present with Carter on that morning in the Hotel Santa Isabel salon, but I had no intention of participating in a debate in which I seemed to be defending myself. I insist on using these spaces to talk about matters of substance, or at least I try to.

From Diario de Cuba, 7 April 2011