Cuba: In Defense of Political Dialogue / Dimas Castellano

Cuban protesters on July 11th.

Emerging civil society has to prepare to deal with the current power or the one that replaces it, and that articulation requires moving through the channels of dialogue.

Dimas Castellano, 13 July 2021 — The recent events of Sunday, July 11, confirm that the Cuban crisis is deepening, that popular discontent is growing and that the Government is unable to solve it. Despite the Cuban president’s discourse, which was literally a call to civil war, the Government will have to accept the participation of Cubans as active subjects, because it is a national demands as well as a demand of foreign institutions and governments.

Given the imminence of the event, the associations of the emerging civil society need coordination to interact with each other and prepare to deal with the current power or with the one that replaces it. Coordination that requires moving through the channels of dialogue.

In the face of social conflicts, the most frequently used solution, in the history of humanity and in Cuba, is the use of violence, which by not removing the causes makes the conflicts resurface, over and over again.

In dialogue, as an art of reconciling interests, the parties, on an equal footing, always have to compromise on something. Those who consider themselves to be in an advantageous position — which is the case of the Cuban government — reject, as it has done, the first calls, but given the worsening of the crisis, continuing to refuse may have a higher price than sitting down to dialogue and negotiate.

Why dialogue?

Because it is a form of communication in which two or more interlocutors establish an exchange of information to reach an agreement, for which dialogue is the most viable, safe and positive way.

Dialogue means talking to expose your own points of view, listening to know the opinion of the other and exploring possible solutions to the conflict. Dialogue and flexibility in negotiation enable the disputing parties to gradually resolve differences at the lowest possible cost.

If war is the continuation of politics, as defined by Clausewitz, then politics is the art of conflict resolution through dialogue and negotiation, which does not mean resignation or surrender, but an opportunity for direct communication to clarify positions, policies and proposals for changes.

As a process, dialogue includes efforts prior to negotiation to create a climate of trust, while requiring patience, flexibility, weighing in on the magnitude of demands and their gradual nature. The transformation of any violent conflict towards dialogue requires establishing communication channels between the agents involved, including those who practice violence, whether physical, verbal or moral, as is happening in Cuba against the fighters for freedom of expression.

There are no methods, rather there is only one method for conflict resolution: dialogue and negotiation. In the case of Cuba, although until now it has not yielded the expected results, it retains its validity for relations between the emerging civil society associations, between these with the State-Government Party and between the two with countries or associations of countries, such as the United States and the European Union (EU) respectively.

To be effective, in the case of Cuba, the first demand must be the promotion of rights and freedoms that allow legalized civil society to participate as a protagonist of changes in Cuba. This based on an understanding of civil society as a range of independent and autonomous associations, institutions and resources, which have public spaces and various forms of ownership over the means of production and expression.

Three examples of dialogue and negotiation in Cuba

The Zanjón Pact: After ten years of war, thousands of deaths, suffering and considerable material damage, on February 10, 1878, the Zanjón Pact was signed between most of the insurgent forces in Cuba and the Government of Spain. In exchange for peace, Spain had to implement, in Cuba, the laws related to printing, assembly and association contained in the Spanish Constitution.

The liberation of the slaves who went to war was a death blow for the institution of slavery, and from the freedoms implanted Cuban civil society arose: organs of the press, economic, cultural, fraternal, educational, instructional and recreational associations, unions and the first political parties, all of which served to restart the struggle in 1895.

The Platt Amendment: At the opening of the Constituent Convention, Military Governor Leonardo Wood told the delegates: “It will be your duty, first of all, to draft and adopt a Constitution for Cuba and, once it is finished, to formulate what should be, your judgment, the relations between Cuba and the United States.”

The commission designated for the formulation of relations, after exhausting all attempts to prevent the inclusion of the Platt Amendment, agreed to add it to the Constitution by 16 votes to 11 . The Platt Amendment endorsed the right of another country, the United States, to intervene in Cuba, omitted the Isle of Pines from the limits of the national territory and imposed the sale or lease of land for foreign naval bases.

The delegates had two options: violence or negotiation. The first, which meant suicide, implied indefinite occupation and the need to declare war on the United States. Cuba was now without the party of José Martí, who had died in combat, the Liberation Army had been demobilized, the economy was dependent on others and the island had not crystallized as a nation. In short, the country was plunged into desolation and ruin, and national self-esteemed had been weakened by years of military occupation.

The second option, negotiation, meant that, once signed, the Army of occupation withdrew, and the Republic was founded. Not the one we want, but the possible one. Sovereignty over the Isle of Pines was recovered; Civil society developed and the Platt Amendment was repealed.

The Constitutional Convention of 1940: Between 1902, together with the advances in the economic sphere, the country was immersed in conflicts over re-elections, which caused the Guerrita of 1906 and the uprising known as La Chambelona, in 1917; the massacre of thousands of black and mulatto members of the Partido Independientes de Color in 1912; and the reform of the 1901 Constitution to extend the power of President Gerardo Machado, which opened the period of struggle that led to the Revolution of 1930.

Those almost 30 years of political instability were followed by another seven until, in 1936, during the presidency of Colonel Federico Laredo Bru, a period of dialogue and negotiation was inaugurated that led to the Constitutional Assembly, where the capacity for dialogue and negotiation between communists, liberals, conservatives and social democrats was demonstrated. Together, they tackled the controversies and the result was the most advanced constitution in the region at that time, which offers a lesson in the value of negotiation for the destinies of nations.

Force is used to win, dialogue and negotiation to solve what is impossible through force, which obliges us to strengthen it as a starting point, as an essential concept, as a guiding principle and as a permanent strategy.