My Return to Alma Mater, or, Proximities and Political Clashes
May 31, 2018
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Thanks to Alma Mater, specifically its director Mayra García Cardentey, for insisting that I write again for the magazine of the Cuban university community, the one in which I once collaborated in the early 1990s, when I was still studying journalism.
I remember with particular satisfaction those years when the publication almost disappeared due to lack of paper, and with a thousand efforts we rescued it in a tabloid format, almost a pamphlet, of bad material and worse printing, which luckily never came back.
With not very different difficulties for its print run in this 21st century, its young collective decided to bet on new technologies, and does not wait for its graphic editions to disseminate the texts it produces and proposes to its reading public.
So it is an honour for me to be able to collaborate again with the magazine founded by the beautiful and courageous communist Julio Antonio Mella, as far back as 1922.
Now, no longer so young or unredeemed, I offer only my humble opinion on matters where it is the new generations who teach me a little more each day, and I – a tepa that I refuse to grow old – try to accompany them at the rate that my (in)capacity allows me.
Here I am reproducing the comment that I was published in Alma Mater.
Political debate and social networks in Cuba: Proximities and clashes
Social networks on the Internet are a relatively new and growing scenario of political participation, which in Cuba complements the options, not infrequently too formal or uniform, that we already had for the exchange of ideas.
It’s not often, but still happens, that someone tries to question the motley and seemingly chaotic political affiliation of my friends on Facebook, or the strategy of moderating comments on my blog www.paquitoeldecuba.com. The answer I give is almost always the same: in order to exchange with fellow members I already have enough space, I am interested in debating and learning about other points of view.
I use this personal example to illustrate an increasingly evident reality. Social networks on the Internet are a relatively new and growing scenario of political participation, which in Cuba complements the options, not infrequently too formal or uniform, that we already had for the exchange of ideas.
It is no secret that regardless of the extroversion and spontaneity with which Cubans ventilate about any economic, social or political aspect of daily life, the specific forums for such discussion – including political, student, professional and mass organizations – can be quite reluctant or hermetic to channel or reflect in public the natural diversity of thoughts that exist within them.
Faced with this fact, social networks would seem to be in the Cuban context a much more flexible, horizontal and visible alternative for direct confrontation between different political positions. But beware. Let us not be too naive either.
Block or learn to accept?
Asymmetry is the first and main flaw that I would identify in that ideal state of participatory and democratic dialogue that social networks on the Internet want to appear to be (and to some extent achieve).
In the very nature of its functioning, the interests and ideology of capital and the system that represents it predominate: capitalism. We may or may not be aware of, be or not more sensitive to or aware of the manipulation that is proposed to us as a tendency, but it is an element that we should not ignore.
Advertising, consumerism, violence, individualism, are motives that from their innards – hidden or not – drive the networks. Of course, it is possible to take a critical, political stance in the face of these proposals, and even to oppose them with other values that we would pretend to be closer to Cuban society, such as humanism, solidarity, altruism and equity.
But this implies, without a doubt, an intense and profound training in the art of doing and influencing politics. And here comes another key disadvantage for our people, beyond even any generational or other considerations: the lack of civic practice we have of political debate, and I would add that of almost any kind of debate.
Agreeing or finding a consensus between more than two people can be complicated in our daily lives. It is still very difficult for us to listen to and respect a different approach than the one we defend. As a result, even in the midst of an alleged dialogue on social networks, violent reactions, offenses and disqualifications can abound, and ultimately it is easier for us to block, eliminate and disappear the other person from our contacts than to try to reason or accept disagreement.
Crimes of cordiality against them
There are concrete practices in the management of social networks that favor or hinder political debate among several people or groups of people. Without pretending to make a recipe book, because everyone builds their cyberspace according to priorities and interests, I would risk commenting on some variants according to my experience.
The first thing is the audience we select and give access to our profiles or admit them to our personal pages. As I said at the beginning, there is not much use – if we want to promote a political exchange, and not just maintain family or playful relationships in the networks – in reducing our circle to those who think in a very similar way to ourselves.
Here I would like to warn about a curious phenomenon that social networks on the Internet reveal within the Cuban political spectrum: the wide variety of positions on dissimilar issues, even among friends, colleagues, relatives and other people who perhaps in other contexts would seem to have coinciding positions.
The feasibility of a freer discussion, with a greater number of actors and actresses, today gives as a result of the political debate in the social networks a clearer and more public perception that unanimity is not necessary – impossible, moreover – to achieve unity, as long as we do not intend to impose a single line of thought or action. It is also important not to be invasive or abusive of other people’s spaces. This recommendation applies to any use of networks, but is particularly relevant when we talk about political debate.
Labeling other people constantly in our publications, indiscriminately breaking into other people’s walls, introducing or replicating information that is foreign to a discussion already underway, to take advantage of the visibility of a debate that we are not initiating, are some of the crimes against cordiality that are most damaging to the healthy and respectful exchange of criteria in social networks and other collaborative spaces on the Internet.
New and renewed militancies
I could not conclude this brief analysis without mentioning the importance of social networks to stimulate, make visible and coordinate multiple social and political activities in Cuba today.
With a traditional civil society whose institutions may seem to us to be aging or which subsist more because of the inertia and convenience of political power than because of its effectiveness in mobilizing citizens, cyberspace – with its social networks, blogs and other alternative publications – would seem to be reactivating and even creating militancies that did not exist in Cuba or were not very visible enough to achieve real political impact.
Issues such as racial, gender, sexual orientation or identity discrimination, animal and environmental protection, among many other noble and controversial causes, with political implications and debts still important in our context, emerge in social networks through multiple individual and collective initiatives.
On more than one occasion, they have already managed to overcome scandal or media pressure to achieve specific solutions or actions on the part of the institutions or entities responsible.
In this effort, the work of the most formalized organizations and organizations is praiseworthy for trying to insert their messages and communicative proposals into the whirlpool of the Internet, and even to stop and provide a direct response to the people who demand and control them through social networks. This can contribute in the medium and long term to articulating a more direct relationship between the State and the government with the citizenry. Also through these digital channels, in what would be another way – with the addition of their greater transparency, immediacy and public character – of strengthening the participatory and democratic ideal of socialism.
Who is Paquito el de Cuba?
I am Paquito, from CUBA; I am a Marti follower and a an author; I am a communist and gay journalist; I am a convinced and superstitious atheist; I am the father of a son whom I have adored and have been a partner for fifteen years with a seronegative man who loves me; I have been an AIDS patient since 2003 and am a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for more than twelve years; I am a university professor and a student of life; a follower of Cuban economic issues and a passionate devourer of universal literature; an incontinent and belligerent moderate; a friend of my friends and a compassionate friend of my enemies; often wrong and never repentant; a hardened and eternal enthusiastic optimist; alive and kicking; in short, another ordinary man who wants to share his story, opinions and desires with you…