Training the Citizenry to Stop Being “The Masses” / Dimas Castellanos

Cuba is immersed in the deepest structural crisis in its history. To emerge from it will require an understanding of its causes and the political will to undertake changes, among which citizen participation in public affairs stands as an unavoidable necessity. Hoping to find new solutions in the behaviors of the past will lead nowhere.

The Cuban government, having exhausted all possibilities of keeping the “model” unchanged, has decided to introduce some reforms, and although this is still far from getting to the root of the problems, it has broken the inertia. In the new context of citizenship education, lack of a history of our country must occupy a central place. In this regard it is interesting to recall the teachings of Cuban figures who were concerned about, and who addressed, this long-standing gap.

When Cuba was a colony, Father Felix Varela realized that civics was a prerequisite for independence and therefore chose education as a path to liberation, so he insisted this must be thought about first. José de la Luz y Caballero came to the conclusion that education came first, before the revolution and independence. Men rather than academics, he said, is what we need in our time. And José Martí began a critical study of the errors of the War of 1868, which revealed negative factors such as immediacy, strong-man rule and selfishness, which are closely related to a weak civic education.

During the period of the republic, Enrique José Varona, in “My Advice,” written in 1930, complained that the Republic had entered into crisis because many people believed they could ignore public affairs. Cosme de la Torriente and Peraza, convinced of the futility of the use of violence to found peoples and form nations, directed his steps towards reconciliation and dialogue as ethical and cultural foundations of political action. Gustavo Pittaluga, an Italian physician who lived in Spain and emigrated to Cuba in 1937, in his “Dialogue of Destiny,” showed that violence is the harbinger of the fate of Cuba and insisted that the settlement of disputes could only be reached from politics and understanding.

Fernando Ortiz, in “The Cuban Political Crisis: Its Causes and Remedies” (1919), emphasized that among our limitations are: the Cuban people’s lack of a historical preparation for the exercise of human rights; the psychological weakness of the Cuban character marked by impulsiveness and psychological laziness, which often lead to strong performances, but quick, hasty and unpremeditated violence. White Jorge Manach, said: “Every person has their little aspiration, their little ideal, their little program; but what is lacking is an aspiration, an ideal, a program for everyone. And,” he added,” the inhibited individualism in our race makes each one of us a Quixote on his own adventure. Generous cooperative efforts are invariably undermined. The selfless Leaders do not emerge. There is a vague anxiety for a better state; but this does not translate into a struggle to realize it.”

The above observations place us face to face with people’s lack of preparation for the exercise of political rights, which has led most Cubans not to pursue public affairs, a past and present weakness which constitute a serious obstacle to overcoming the current structural crisis.

To move from the present context to a democratic country requires training in a culture of human rights. In other latitudes the concept of affirmative action defines laws and projects focused on the social inclusion of groups traditionally neglected. Paraphrasing this for the Cuban context implies the need for a similar educational activity, because experience shows that efforts aimed at democratization will fail if there are not citizens capable of demanding, promoting and stimulating the changes.

Without that culture, even were the Government to introduce economic and political transformations, and restore rights and freedoms, people will never be able to assume the responsibilities imposed by living in a democracy. It is no accident that, in 1878, civil liberties were established across the whole colony, civil liberties that today no longer exist. It is therefore imperative, as we work to shape a culture of laws as the foundation of the new Cuba, to stop our march into the past.

In “The Revolt of the Masses,” referring to the crowds that are impetuously form as a subject of social changes, said José Ortega y Gasset said, “It ma,y in fact, be a transition to a new and unparalleled organization of mankind, but it can also be catastrophe in the destiny of humanity. There is no reason to deny the reality of progress, but we must correct the notion this progress is secure.” He added, “Everything, everything, is possible in history, the triumphant and undefined progress as well is the periodic regression. (1)

Despite the few spaces and the many difficulties we can progress along different paths: the study of the Universal Declaration and the Covenants on Human Rights which Cuba signed in 2008; the debate of ideas in the small circles that are emerging from public discontent; the growth of citizen journalism and the different seeds of autonomous civil society; the teaching of courses on law and the history of Cuba; and the airing of films and documentaries. These and other avenues should be encouraged and multiplied in order to promote analysis and exchange of views. In the future, these actions will have to be incorporated into the educational system

The challenge is to ensure that awareness of citizenship and the holistic vision of human rights become deeply and solidly incorporated into the culture. Undertaking this work in a context dominated by the moral of survival, mental frustrations, the trend towards escapism, and the lack of a humanist viewpoint, is a highly complex task, but an essential one. Educational activity, using a phrase from the Apostle, is where the seeds of tomorrow’s democracy will be planted. Where no political elite can offer itself as the representative of what it calls “the masses.”

(1) J. Ortega y Gasset. The revolt of the masses. El País. XX Century. Madrid. 2002, pp.119-120.

November 8, 2010