“Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think” / Laritza Diversent

Photo: AFP

“A massive discussion of the Guidelines contributes an enormous and rich wealth of arguments,” said Esteban Lazo, member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba, speaking before the National Council of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. The information appeared in Granma on January 13.

In addition, Lazo said it was very difficult to carry out the proposed changes without the consensus and opinions of all. According to the newspaper, over 55,000 “discussion meetings” had been held in the country, about one-third of those planned.

As a worker of the Municipal Court of Arroyo Naranjo, I attended the meeting in my workplace on January 7. What was disturbing about the proceeding was not the opinions, but the method by which they were received.

The meeting had been announced three days before and scheduled for 4 p.m., half an hour before the end of the workday. As they had not announced what was going to be discussed, the comments started in the halls and fears surfaced. Everyone was waiting expectantly. They thought they would address the issue of who was “disposable,” that is who was going to be laid off.

At the time and place agreed upon, in a narrow room where the majority stood, the meeting began. A lady with sharp acrylic nails, claiming to be a member of the PCC and chair of the event, then reported the matter to be discussed: the economic guidelines for the next five years. They knew that if the matter had been revealed earlier, they wouldn’t meet the required attendance rate.

While each of the participants registered on a piece of paper and signed it, the Party member explained how the meeting would take place. First the document would be analyzed chapter by chapter, and then whoever wanted to give an opinion would raise his hand, give his full name and the number of the guideline he wanted to discuss.

“Don’t be afraid to say what you think, all approaches will be heard,” she said. “The proceedings will go into a computer and will be sent in an encrypted and encoded message to the Council of State, not to fall into enemy hands,” she explained, like telecommunications in Cuba were so developed and available to all, and information could be easily stolen.

I was amazed and I wanted to laugh. Was it fiction or did they want to make us feel like we were the center of the world? The vices of Cuban socialism are difficult to eradicate. Obviously, its followers have not internalized the words of Raul in his latest speech, when he confessed that we should struggle against state secrecy.

While the señora tapped her fingers on the table, my subconscious processed the information that I saw and heard. Would her salary allow her to keep her hands so beautiful? In the informal market, acrylic nails cost 200 pesos in national currency (8 cuc) and 100 pesos (4 cuc) to put them on and fill them periodically. Her Party militancy was not in keeping with her attire or the message she was trying to convey.

“First and last names, for the encrypted information.” In other words, they need to know who gave an opinion and what the workers were thinking, I thought. Under these conditions, the smart ones would weigh their words, especially when after this assembly another one could come, declaring who was “disposable.” Is this the way to encourage debate and divergent opinions?

If they really wanted consensus and everyone’s opinion, they would conduct a constitutional referendum as is legally required by the new transformations. In one day and with one single question, they would know how many Cubans support the upgrade of the socialist model. Of course, the country’s socio-economic conditions do not support that procedure.

Discussion meetings are more effective and reliable. It was the method used when they increased the retirement age. In France, faced with such a prospect, the workers took to the street and protested, creating a government crisis. In Cuba, the proletariat marched on May 1 to give its support for the Revolution.

The political propaganda calls it “a popular consultation mechanism.” And it’s a subtle way to control the citizens and silence opinion. It even allows you to predict the results and put in Granma headlines like this: “The people of Cuba unanimously approve the guidelines. ”

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 30 2011