Goodbye to a Summit to Forget / Ivan Garcia

cumbre-celac-en-cubaIf you walk through the marginal and mostly black neighborhoods of Havana, you will not hear people talking about integration, inequality, human rights, democracy or freedom of expression.

They are hard neighborhoods. Their priorities run toward having containers full of potable water: it’s been decades since the precious liquid arrived in their precarious dwellings through the obsolete pipes.

Residents of these slums, like Gerardo, who pedals a bike-taxi 12 hours a day through Central Park environs, feel satisfied when they have food for a week, deodorant, tooth paste and detergent.

Poverty in Cuban is not just overwhelmingly material. It is also mental. A sine qua non for a wide segment of the population. It does not matter if you proudly hang an engineering or law degree in the living room of your house.

The system designed 55 years ago by Fidel Castro has been a champion in socializing poverty. For almost everyone. He is to blame for salaries being symbolic and unworthy.

But the worst is not the crude material poverty that shames you when, for example, you travel through one of the more than 60 destitute neighborhoods, real slums, that arm themselves on a night on the outskirts of the city.

The big problem for the majority in Cuba is that they do not have legal tools for changing the state of things. That’s they way it is. And people know it.

That’s why the solution for many is to emigrate. Or to do political juggling acts, pretending to applaud the official discourse, legal snares and to steal all they can on their jobs.

The wear and tear of a regime that still governs after five decades of economic failures disgusts a growing segment of the citizenry.

It is already known that in autocratic Marxist societies networks of commitments, information censorship, fear and police effectiveness are woven in an effort to contain the internal dissidence.

But the power of Fidel Castro, almost absolute until the 1980’s. has been eroding. Now the people do not keep quiet about their disagreements or unease about the State’s gross mismanagement.

Today on the island, in any line, park, corner or public transport, you hear racy criticism of the Castro brothers. And an interminable list of complaints. Nevertheless, those querulous debates go no further.

A high percentage of the population does not trust the mechanisms of government. People power is a mere adornment. Letters to a newspaper, a minister or any Central Committee office that attends citizen complaints do not usually solve or manage the disparate problems raised.

For some years Cuba has been living in a time out.  Many believe that the solution to societal and economic structural problems is biological, and that they will be resolved by magic, when the Castros die.

As bad as they live and for lack of a future, a wide segment of Cubans is indifferent to meetings like the recently completed CELAC Summit. They feel like a tropical political comedy.

In the modern world forums and meetings between nations abound and lack concrete actions and practices. Right now, politicians of the whole world live at a low ebb. They have not learned to manage the needs and desires of their people.

On the American continent corruption and extreme neo-populism abound. To their credit they are democratically elected presidents. Except Cuba. A contrasting difference.

Also striking is the anachronistic discourse of the Cuban regime when compared with that of other regional politicians.

The speeches of the island’s representatives seem like outputs from the age of the dinosaurs. You listen to how Pinera, Humala, Santos or Rousseff openly express needs that affect their countries and their tangible bet on democracy and human rights.

Raul Castro, out of focus in his inaugural speech, analyzed poverty, inequality and other phenomena in Latin America as if Cuba did not also suffer from them. He tried to seem like a teacher holding class for a group of students.

The future of the world is increasingly of blocs. It is positive that Latin America is seen as an inclusive entity. The great merit of the Second Summit was declaring Latin America a Zone of Peace.

But there are many challenges ahead. The continent continues to be the most unequal and violent region on the planet. Caracas, Michoacan or Tegucigalpa are true slaughterhouses.

Neither can one get around the tendency of the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela or Nicaragua to reform the Constitution at their convenience. It creates a harmful precedent: that of politicians endorsed by institutions saturated by colleagues and buddies from the party that are perpetuated in power.

Demagoguery floats in several nations of the region. Political honesty and frankness is a rare bird.

It is not possible that none of the 31 governors that were at the Summit in Havana, elected in democratic plebiscites, with opposition parties and free press, have not questioned the Cuban regime about its lack of freedoms and its repression of the dissidence.

Like a Russian doll, the olive-green autocracy tries to regenerate itself and govern without respect to the democratic clauses of CELAC.

If they are committed to integrating the Cuba of the Castros into the Latin American and Caribbean community, ethically, some leader should let them know. And not exactly in a quiet voice.

Iván García

Translated by mlk.

3 February 2014