Notes for the Transition / Antonio Rodiles, Alexis Jardines

Alexis Jardines

HAVANA, Cuba, July 29, 2013: The political landscape of the island has been energized recently. In the international arena the event with the greatest impact is undoubtedly the death of Hugo Chavez and his succession embodied in Nicolas Maduro, a man with few political tools who, despite many odds, has managed, for now, to maintain a certain equilibrium. However, given the difficult economic situation being experienced by Cuba and the uncertain scenario facing the Chavistas in Venezuela, Cuban totalitarianism is forced to avoid placing all its bets on Venezuela.

Antonio Rodiles

For the elite in power, time, as a part of the political equation, becomes the most important variable. The relaunch of their position in the international arena has become one part of their priorities, and it shows that a new moment in relations with Europe and the United States is vital in the search for new economic and political partners who will provide them stability and legitimacy.

In the interior of the island, the transformations in the economic sector are not generating a new impression given the years of accumulated statism, decapitalization and the precarious situation in multiple sectors. A genuine process of reforms would involve much deeper actions that would stir up a reality already admitted to be a social disaster, as acknowledged even by Raul Castro in his latest speech. But the fear of losing control has become an obsession and the principal obstacle.

The ability of some regime opponents to travel represents, in this sense, the boldest step taken by the elite in power, a clear commitment to improve its image abroad and to rid itself of the stigma of lack of freedom of movement. It is highly likely that this move was taken under the assumption that some bitter pills would be no more than that, that reality would remain stuck in its usual straitjacket, because we opponents would not penetrate the media and, on our return to Cuba, State Security’s absolute control and lack of social expression would keep everything in its place.

Given this scenario, we have to ask ourselves certain questions: Is Cuban society in a position to push for greater freedom and independence? Can the opposition capitalize politically on these trips? And by capitalize we mean our capacity to articulate and project ourselves inside and outside the island as pro-democratic forces with civic or political weight in both venues; a projection that also allows us to end the nefarious cat and mouse game with which State Security, as the arm of the system, has kept us inefficiently occupied. It then becomes imperative to mature as an opposition and as civil society, to be able to widen the cracks in an exhausted system that holds onto control and exercises State violence as elements of social containment.

The experience of multiple transitions shows the importance of understanding the moment of change as a step in the process of national reconstruction and to see it not as a discontinuous turning point. In an extreme scenario like the one facing us, a successful transition will necessarily involve the active participation of skilled human capital with a strong social commitment and a clear vision of the nation that it wants to build.

Without a social fabric that represents least a micro-cosmos, of the mid- and macro-cosmos we visualize, it will be very difficult to build a functioning democracy. Unsuccessful examples are plentiful and it is irresponsible to omit them. The famous Arab Spring-become-Winter is the most recent case, and shows that the establishment of a political system requires a process of maturation and articulation of civil society. To imagine the change and reconstruction of a broken, fragmented country, not only in the physical sense but also in its social and individual dynamics, is an essential exercise if we aspire to construct a democracy that contains the ingredients of every modern nation

As the opposition we must break with paradigms that imply regression and a copying of what has been experienced, in which glorious symbols, epics and personalities play a significant role. An imagined future that places too many hopes on an expansive “spark,” and that often postpones effective work with visions of the medium and long term.

It would also be healthy to readjust the idea that has dominated our minds for more than half of a post-republican century: the desired unity of the opposition as the only path to effective pressure to promote change. We believe that the main role of the transition should fall on civil society, while the opposition, as a political actor, must push with discourse and coherent action so that civil society has the necessary reach and penetration.

Hegel was right in saying that “everything that was once revolutionary becomes conservative.” The words lose their original sense and are redefined to change the context that nurtured and sustained them, so much so that the logic itself of revolutions backfires.

The truly revolutionary act is an abrupt gesture, a moment of rupture that disrupts the established order.  All revolutions, including scientific, are designed to transform, to subvert, the bases of the model or previous paradigm and, in this way, to bring it down.

Thus, what is new in our time is to understand the possible abruptness as a moment in a process, which must be permeated with the ingredients that shape modern societies: knowledge, information, thought, art, technology. The revolution is a time of evolution, but not the inverse.

In the second decade of the present century we can not think of any social processes without taking into account the transnational nature of them. In our case it would be impossible to analyze a transition to democracy and a process of reconstruction without involving the diaspora and exile with its political actors. While they are not anchored in the everyday life of the island they are living elements of the nation and as such gravitate to her. About this, the ordinary Cuban is not wrong. In the Cuban imagination part of the solution to our problems is in Miami (as the diaspora is generically defined). The modern vision of contemporary societies must come from and consist largely through constant reinforcement between the island and its diaspora. The opposition and exile should be precisely the hinge that makes such articulation possible.

And this, in our view, is the other element that would end up framing the Cuban scenario: how, looking forward, the opposition overlaps with a transnational civil society so that the binary logic of the internal and external, of the figures of the “Cuban insider” and “Cuban outsider,” come to an end. For this to happen it is not enough to recognize, on the level of discourse (as the regime does as well), that there are no differences between us, that we are equal, etc. It is something more: we are one and indivisible and this single Cuban has to have the right to exercise the vote and to influence the political present and future of his country, regardless of where on the planet he finds himself or lives; this is, for the opposition and the exile itself, not only a political problem, but a conceptual one.

As political actors we must show that we are an option for governance, presenting the human capital at our disposal, the capacity we possess to generate a political and legal framework capable of filling the possible void that would be left by the one-party nomenklatura. To prove that we could ensure security not only for the country but for the whole region, and last, but no less important, the ability to overtake at the polls the campaigns of the Castro supporters in any eventual free elections.

This would be, perhaps, the most desirable scenario in terms of expansion of the transnational civil society and the corresponding constraint of the totalitarian State. Let us, then, be careful not to confuse succession with transition; let us learn to see ourselves as ordinary Cubans and to demand our full civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as reflected in the two United Nations Covenants. Let us admit that for the transition the human capital dispersed through the State institutions is needed as badly as the skills, knowledge and financial capital of those who have had to grow up far from — but not out of — their country.

The problem of the Cuban nation today is the problem of the democratic transition and reconstruction, a process that will be possible only if it involves the largest number of Cubans, wherever they may live. We do not say that the country belongs to everyone, which is a de jure declaration; we say that all of us, together, make up the Cuban nation, which is already a de facto declaration.

Antonio G. Rodiles and Alexis Jardines
Monday, 29 July 2013

Published in Cubanet  and in Diario de Cuba

29 July 2013