Cuba: Notes About Unity, Leadership One-Party System / Miriam Celaya

(Article originally published in the digital magazine Convivencia, Issue No. 21)

In just five years, Cubans have been witnessing an extremely aggravating process in the socioeconomic and political crisis, steeped in what constitutes an exceedingly complex national and international juncture. Though just a few years ago it would have been possible to alleviate the hardship and mitigate potential conflicts by the reasonable application of some economic measures, with strategies to achieve positive outcomes in the medium term, the current situation requires a much deeper intervention than the few reforms enacted from the halls of power and consecrated during the celebration — similarly late — of the Sixth Congress of the only legal party. Those reforms, in addition, fall shy and insufficient of the effects of said economy.

The Cuban structural crisis today encompasses as much of our economy — in a true bankrupt state — as society as a whole and politics, this last category including both the policies of the government — demonstrably unable to meet current demands or to propose a viable model — such as the opposition’s alternative proposals, given the lack of coordination by the latter; of comprehensive and inclusive coherent programs, able to move decisively a sufficient number of stakeholders. It is fair to say at this point that the opposition action sprung from the early 90’s of the last century had the responsibility (and credit) to break the myth of “unanimity” politics in Cuba and forced the government to admit the existence of dissident sectors. Their modest gains are not negligible in terms of totalitarianism, in an extremely hostile frame against an opponent that, even in the absence of arguments, owns all the media and repressive instruments needed to prevent the strengthening of demonstrations by the internal dissent.

The problem of unity

One of the most recurring themes about the limitations that have threatened the progress of the opposition in Cuba in the last ten years focuses on what many have called a “lack of unity”, meaning the inability of opposition parties to create common projects with sufficient convoking power to denote a political wager of any importance against the government. The government, meanwhile, points to “the absence of social roots” of the movements and opposition parties as a clear sign of popular support for the revolution, as if the existence of a totalitarian regime — with all its concentration of power and its implications — and not, by itself, as a solid obstacle to building bridges of communication between Cuban with alternatives proposals to the system.

The Island’s reality, however, after the experience of a half century of failures by a demonstrably ineffective system, and after many years of the existence of opposition groups, which, though they have offered an example of civic resistance and have survived in adverse conditions, have not been established as an option to be taken into account by the government or society, has come to a climax that imposes challenges to all Cubans equally. Change today is not an option but an imperative that contains within itself the key to the survival of the nation and not just the permanence of a system, or the success of a party or ideological proposals or policies of any trend.

At the current juncture, the analysis of various factors specific to an eventual process of change for Cuba is absolutely necessary. Without intending to be “the solution” to our circumstances, this analysis could contribute in building a consensus that might lead to the inclusion of interests of all social sectors and not just a portion thereof; i.e., the thrust of the action is to develop through the unification of Cubans around proposals essentially civic, without ideological or purely political overtones, taking into account that ideologies constitute breakpoints of the basic consensus, essential for offering the government a solid social alternative.

It is obvious that a reality as complex and critical as that of Cuba forces us to part from a from an appreciation point as objective as possible, ignoring both the sectarian passions and troublesome exclusions that, sooner or later, tend to cause strife and extreme radicalism of unpredictable consequences. The “Cuban problem”, if we might call it that, is systemic, multiple-component and cumulative, due to causes of various kinds, and although the roots of our current ills are secured in the essence of a totalitarian regime, that regime alone could not constitute the only element responsible for the cause of the general crisis now choking us. Unlike enjoying the “benefits” in a country divided and distributed as booty among the small but powerful ruling caste, the responsibility for the current situation is ours to a certain extent, and we should all answer the call to reverse it.

Then there is the lack of properly organized social forces, even within the ranks of the opposition. Successive attempts at “unity” from various opposition parties have resulted in resounding failures, proving that comprehensive and effective alliances cannot be achieved based on ideology. Cases of pacts or collective projects have had a fleeting and precarious existence to collapsing in the end without achieving consistency. It is axiomatic that Cuban society is not ready to assume the challenge of choosing ideology, but may instead join in the general interest of building a democracy with the limited space of freedom we have, that might, gradually and naturally, lead to the emergence of political parties and other associations. Only after this initial metamorphosis from slaves to citizens will Cubans be ready to devote ourselves to politics by defining our ideological preferences.

It is appropriate in this regard to remember how much individual and social responsibility corresponds to the people, to attain a stable and lasting political equilibrium, economic welfare and a climate of social peace, such issues as, at the moment, neither the government is able to guarantee us — with the final crisis provoked by the failure of the system — nor by the opposition parties, with the with the wear and tear of two decades of damaged existence, the insufficiency of alliances or agreements, and the numerous and sustained emigration of many of its members due to political persecution and other causes.

The problem of leadership

Complications of the general collapse of the system, in turn, require systemic and also complex solutions. Our historical tradition of leader worship — whose tendency to leave important decisions in the hands of a leader maintains a dogged persistence to date — has planted in the collective mind the idea of the exaltation of figures above the relevance and quality of thought and even the law. This is one of the features that has made possible not only unhealthy political egotism, extreme voluntarism and a whole saga of violence, coups and other violations of constitutional order, but also the existence and the actual survival of a dictatorship that has lasted for more than half a century against the grain of the advances of regional democracies in the whole of the XXI century.

The Cuban experience should have made us understand, at least, than when there are no corresponding civic parties in a society, the leader becomes dictator. However, amid the overall worst general crisis of the last century, those called to “unite” around new ideological or group leaders, in what appears to be a sort of political tribalism where individuals — like attachments to a regional sports team — seem to group motivated by the personal devotion that the “leader” awakens in them and not by a clear awareness of the programs and interests that they represent and the commitments they are undertaking. Moreover, the members of parties (including the official PCC) that dominate the theoretical and philosophical ideologies that support them are in the minority. Faith in the leader seems to be enough support at the time of taking sides and cheering decisions, often without consultation or without subscribing documents.

The government’s ideological entrenchment is also repeated in the essential features of leaders of not a few opposition groups, each one of whom, at times, has believed himself to be able to offer the best solution, the philosopher’s stone or the most appropriate and sufficient Midas touch to overcome the national crisis, thus establishing the impossibility of alliances and consensus, even among groups of same or similar trends.

Another danger amid opposition alternatives with respect to leadership is the marked propensity for the establishment of “permanent positions”, so much so that some groups or parties are identified more by the figure who heads it than by the proposals they offer. Generally, they a referred to as “whose” group rather than as “which” group, suggesting a lack of maturity and of political consolidation, in addition to reflecting a lack of democratic practices within them.

What has been discussed here does not aim to deny the importance of the emergence of leaders, quite the contrary. Leaders with social recognition, prestige, with a high sense of ethics, public service-minded and innovative ideas are always key players in mobilizing goodwill. Any process of social transformation has brought the presence of leaders who have often had decisive influence on events. History is full of examples. The agglutinating capacity of the leaders, then, could be an essential component for promoting a transition in Cuba, as long as they combine the necessary set of virtues necessary to overcome the vices of the current society and, in turn, be able to put national civic interests above pettiness and personal ambitions; leaders, after all, who give preference to the rights and the development of this essential component of democracy which in Cuba is a true rarity: the people.

The problem of the single party

What would be ideal, in the Cuban case, would be the growth of opinion leaders that would help prepare for tomorrow’s citizens today, a task that must renounce the temptations of immediacy and improvisation — specific characteristics of the Cuban identity — and cannot concentrate in the hands of a leader with messianic tendencies in the narrow machinations of a party. Without neglecting or excluding any element in the dissidence spectrum that has developed its work up to the present, from political parties to independent civic groups and alternative journalism in all its forms, citizenship education is a previous, unavoidable step if we wish to succeed in a process of change and democratic transition. This does not suggest proposing a “wait” involving delaying the process, but to simultaneously shape the people with positive actions to encourage the expansion of independent civic spaces and social interest in alternative programs, whether or not they are policy proposals. Assuming democracy in a broader sense, the concept of “citizen” is not only its essential foundation, but greatly exceeds the narrow ideological framework.

It is known that a political party, whether the official one or any in opposition, cannot represent, by itself, the wide diversity of interests and nuances of society as a whole. Ergo, any political party which is deemed elected representative of Cubans or synthesis of the national democracy is guilty of committing a flagrant violation of civil and political rights of those who, in principal, he meant to represent.

In fact, in the face of a process of change, the presumption of ownership by any party would be so crazy as the fraudulent and unreasonable assumption that the communist party is the ideal heir and follower of the ideals of Martí or follower of the unifying task of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, a lie with which the government seeks to justify the absurd one-party rule. The ideological scam has been so magnified and repeated that almost all Cubans ignore that the party founded by the Apostle to organize and conduct the final War of Independence was not based on or contain in its objectives any ideological element beyond the separatist aspirations of its leaders, much less did it assume the intention to become a “single party” for Cubans once independence was achieved.

The recent Sixth Congress of the Communist Party did not offer solutions expected by the most optimistic, however, it clearly demonstrated the government’s interest in retaining power at all cost and at whatever price the nation will have to pay. This government has nothing to offer towards our future, except to pay off its non-ending debt of frustrations contracted against Cubans. Its time has finally come and gone; it is the people’s hour. The real challenge in today’s Cuba, then, is to forge strategic connections based not on purely political or ideological programs, leaders or figures, but on general interests capable of mobilizing the opinions and actions of broad social sectors. Common sense dictates that the solution to our problems today is not about replacing one leader or one party with another, but in finding a broad, common, inclusive, and comprehensive consensus without ideology, and complete, capable of gradually overcoming the acute and irreversible systemic crisis. To do this, we must foster partnerships based on essential civic principles, with a deep ethical commitment and public service as their essential premises. This is a truly daunting task in a society so divided and morally bankrupt, but the surest way for an effective transition and permanent social peace.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

July 18 2011