Evolution vs. Revolution: The Sign of the Social Vanguard / Miriam Celaya

At last, skeptics have been able to confirm the accuracy of their assessment of the insolubility of the Cuban problem from government “initiatives”. The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, held last April, didn’t go beyond a situational formality intended to legitimize the decisions previously issued by the top leadership of the country and give the green light to the same outmoded system, generator of the national crisis, despite the supposedly reformist varnish that was intended to give some attractive luster to the always drab event. After the Sixth Congress, it became clear that the improvisation as the system’s own method has reached its limits. It was an event that did not materialize steps, phases, timelines and specific proposals, and whose “agreements” apply stale cryptic language in which ambiguity remains the official recourse to prevent obligations and elude responsibility.

In many areas and in virtual opinion forums the problem of the impossibility of partial changes in the midst of a systemic crisis is being discussed; a thesis that is being confirmed, for example, by the apparent contradiction of simultaneously implementing economic measures while increasing repressive actions against sectors not in tune with the system. All the ongoing “opening up/repression” — in which the latter is much more visible — is based on the authorities’ knowledge of an elementary principle: any movement within a totalitarian system, however minimal, will, sooner or later, lead to the total transformation of that system. In Cuba, after half a century of ideological wear and sustained “massification” of individuals, limited autonomy or opening up of any kind could lead to the precipitation of events that would ruin the regime’s “renovation project” and, consequently, the regime itself. The hastiest response to avoid this, on the part of the system, is to nip any expression of disagreement or dissent.

Apart from official decisions, however, is the Island’s asphyxiating sociopolitical and economic situation. The first part of this year has seen an accentuation of a markedly unsalvageable dichotomy: on the one hand, General Raúl Castro needs to implement, in a relatively short time, his economic measures destined to the “upgrading of the model”. On the other hand, the social equilibrium gets more fragile at every turn, a product of the general crisis of the system, which goes against both the effective completion of said process of reforms as well as against the government’s forecasted results. Behold, the General faces an almost impossible mission: to demonstrate the viability of the process of economic reforms that tend to grant independence to large sectors of the population –let’s not forget that the government itself seeks to ensure that the planned layoffs will be conducive to increasing the sector of self-sustaining protobusinessmen that will contribute to the economy through taxation — while maintaining social control in order to retain all power. The whole dilemma revolves around whether it would be possible for the regime to stay in the role of shepherd of a flock of more than one million individuals who will stop being “masses” to turn into citizens as the result of the application of those same government measures, or if an eventual process of reforms would stimulate the strengthening of an independent civil society stemming from the emergence of groups with common interests, that is, a theoretical situation of checkmate, judging by the position of the pieces that can be seen on the board.

This situation, in turn, has led to a slowdown in reform implementation, demonstrating that the reversal of the general paralysis is much more difficult and complex than expected by the renovation ideologues from their comfortable climate-controlled cabinets. A recent Council of Ministers, chaired by the General, had, among the items on its agenda, the analysis on the implementation of self-employment applied so far, “which proved inadequate in its initial basic preparation” which is seen as a congenital inability of some municipal leaders to create “the conditions necessary to ensure adequate care for those interested in this employment alternative”. This, coupled with the usual bureaucratic ills (request for documents not required by law, undue delay of proceedings, etc.), in turn settles the top leadership’s inability to make himself understood by his subordinates — or in his failure — their reluctance to abide by guidelines from above (“authority crisis?). Half a century of top leadership has failed to prepare for its adequate replacement, not even to save it from its own interests, but aiming at being the vanguard that would protect the interests of the entire nation. Nothing could better illustrate the insurmountable fissures of the system.

At the same meeting, the ministers approved the proposal “to extend the timetable for executing the process of availability of the labor force” or, in words without any euphemisms, to also slow the layoff plans, a measure that corresponds with the insufficient answer to private business as a viable alternative to unemployment in the Cuban realm. That is, even if not articulated in that fashion, several factors  demonstrate how reality problems go far beyond the scope of the official proposals: the lack of sufficient stimulus on the part of the potentially interested in this “employment alternative”,  faced with difficulties, such as high tax rates, the lack of wholesale markets for  materials, supplies, etc., plus the risks of investing one’s own limited resources in a country where approximately 20% of the active labor population will be unemployed, among other factors.

While the government has slowed the implementation of reforms and layoffs, an apparent radicalization of dissent is taking shape. This is a process that is experiencing a modest but steady growth, which could, simultaneously, be affecting the depletion of the system, the general crisis of values, the standardization of poverty and corruption at all levels, the loss of credibility in the Revolution, government and institutions, the lack of expectations and a host of other countless, equally significant factors, including the very repression. Paradoxically, the regime has simultaneously maintained a marked tendency to the systematic harassment of individuals and groups critical of the system, thus enabling the expansion of the range of sectors potentially hostile to the government and, additionally, granting visibility and importance.to them.

Using suicidal logic, authorities have stepped up harassment, intimidation, threats, beatings, “operatives” and brief arrests, with the intention to stifle any possible outbreak of riots and to discourage the emergence of new alternative spaces, succeeding in the opposite effect: strengthening the role of dissidents, awakening the sympathy of the population for those persecuted — who are usually, at least, respected by the supposed courage of confronting the regime’s power — exposing, each time, the perverse nature of the system, positioning the magnifying lens over the growing civic and opposition activism, and helping to extend a feeling of latent rebellion among those  who desperately seek other options in the face of the failure of the communist experiment.  Similarly, it has become extremely difficult for authorities, seeking the support of economic powers and political forums, to provide a friendly face to foreign powers as it establishes, as a mechanism of control inside the country, a kind of “terror attenuated” which is the selective application of the repression over isolated individuals and groups to maintain a climate of mute panic over the rest of the population..

Today, Cuba is becoming aware that, if the government leads  in the economic plan, imposing its rhythm and depth on the reforms basic to the state’s monopoly in this sphere, in the social aspect, alternative or independent civic groups are marking the beat through pressure that the authorities can’t afford to ignore indefinitely. An unequivocal sign of progress in this regard is that several groups have already passed the initial stage of catharsis in critical areas, and are taking frankly responsible positions in the process of making citizens out of the masses of slaves. The social offensive is tilting the balance in favor of sectors with new proposals, truly innovative ideas, and a rather conciliatory and inclusive discourse. Somehow, it has begun to cause the breakdown of the social immobility before the end of the economic stagnation, probably because, as the economy remains subject to the power center, civic niches, as a social phenomenon, have relative independence in that respect. A general, more defining spirit of radical changes, with greater depth and a more comprehensive one than Raúl’s reforms is thus intensifying, gradually.

Among the main attractions of the alternative sectors are open public debates, free press, free flow of ideas and opinions, the right of association, and access to information and communications; requirements that correspond to real time, as the rest of the world we live in, whose denial can no longer hide behind barricading slogans  and enemies of the occasion. In an incipient, but visible manner, a web has begun to be woven — still fragile but tenacious — from the meeting of dissimilar minds that are being joined by a spirit of shared civility.  It is too soon for triumphalist predictions: In Cuba, better forged ideas have failed more than once, but this one is perhaps the last hopeful spark, barely a log floating in the ocean of the national shipwreck. Over a century of revolutionary experiments leaves no room for doubt. Evolution, not revolution.  We have no other choice.

(Published in the magazine Voices 8 for the month of May)

Translated by Norma Whiting

June 3 2011