Feb 18, 2021
By Carlos Alzugaray Treto
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
NOTE FROM EDITOR OF LA TIZZA
At the request of its author and due to the interest that the ideas presented here are of interest to La Tizza, we publish the following text by Carlos Alzugaray Treto, an expanded and revised version of his comments during the round table discussion “Dialogue in Cuba today”, developed in social networks on February 11, 2021.
I thank Julio for the opportunity he has given me to participate in this workshop with the presence of several people I know and others with whom I share for the first time. And I thank him first because I have always been a supporter of dialogue and I have never refused to participate in any dialogue to which I have been summoned, especially if it has to do with Cuba, as in this case. I come in the spirit not only of speaking and sharing my reflections, but, more importantly, of listening.
And, secondly, because it allows me to make known a series of personal reflections with which I have been grappling since November 27 last year, as a result of what happened at the Ministry of Culture that night. As some of you know, I live around the corner from that government institution, so when I say that these issues are close to me, I am not speaking in a metaphorical sense, I am also referring to a physical proximity.
It is clear that I belong to an older generation than the other participants in this workshop. Therefore, my life experience is not the same, which may inevitably lead to different conclusions. When I talk and exchange with the young people of today, I often compare what I had to live and do when I was close to the age of some of the participants here, between 15 and 35 years old (1958-1978), critical moments in the history of our country and its Revolution.
Among the events in which we were actors, participants or witnesses in a vivid way are the Bay of Pigs invasion, the October Crisis, the cultural dialogues of the 1960s – not only Words to the Intellectuals but also something so closely related to art in particular as the cinema debates – , sectarianism, the “Hard Years”, in the words of a collection of short stories by Jesús Díaz, Che’s “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, the Revolutionary Offensive, the magazine Pensamiento Crítico, the Tricontinental, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the internationalist deeds of the Congo and Bolivia, the Padilla case, the Zafra of the 10 Million, the Gray Five-Year Period, the terrorist attacks against civilian targets such as the Cubana flight in Barbados and our Embassies and Consulates, the internationalist epic of Angola. In short, the list is long.
At that time, most of us young people went to the calls of the revolutionary leadership imbued with a spirit of sacrifice and discipline -words of order-, convinced that in this way we were defending national sovereignty, constantly threatened by the United States, and we were building a better future for our country.
There was no lack of dialogue then. There was discussion and debate.
Of course, the way of thinking of today’s young people is somewhat different and I recognize and accept that. I believe that the same patriotism and the same commitment to social justice persist in them, but there are differences. In 2009 I wrote an essay for Temas magazine, entitled “Cuba fifty years later: a meditation on continuity and political change in a new historical moment”. There I argued that an important change was that today’s youth, even the whole society as a whole cannot be mobilized in the same way and that the words of order are others: autonomy and prosperity.
I do not reproach, I simply note that this is the case. You will tell me.
This reflection on what in my view are the two major issues in the national debate or dialogue, how to achieve autonomy and prosperity in these difficult times, also leads me to reflect on the obstacles that stand in the way, and from my point of view the policy of the United States towards Cuba with its two main aspects: economic, commercial and financial blockade; and persistent interference in Cuba’s internal affairs still carries a lot of weight. The latter is not only the governmental action legislated in the Helms-Burton Act, but it has become the center of the political practice of many groups and individuals living in South Florida, who were and are friends or schoolmates and even relatives of those of us who are here. Believe me, something similar happened to us – I personally had a cousin and several school friends who lent themselves to the Playa Giron invasion – .
I know that many will disagree and put in first place actions of the Cuban government as the culprits of our difficulties. And they have a right to think so because they are not wrong, there have been mistakes. But I believe that the evidence is there, particularly during the last few years under the previous US administration which tried, by all means at its disposal, to aggravate all the contradictions and internal tensions to achieve what was proposed in April 1960 in the infamous Mallory Memorandum: “to produce hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Cuban government”. Even after losing the elections on November 3, that administration continued to sanction Cuba until shortly before the handover of power, and continued to grant funds to stimulate a social outbreak in our country.
So, even though I know that the new administration may change things and return to Obama’s policy, this is something that cannot be forgotten in any dialogue or political action today.
And this argumentation, which I do not ask to be shared, but to be considered, leads me to the main point I want to make in this pronouncement which is at the same time very personal. As it is common knowledge, I was among the signatories of the first document of “Articulación Plebeya”. I did so on Saturday morning, November 28, when it seemed that the dialogue requested after the San Isidro incidents had come to fruition. My purpose was to support that dialogue. Like Fernando Perez, I thought that I was traveling to the future.
I am one of those who think that some of the demands that were presented by the 30 who participated in that early morning meeting, related to Decree Law 349, are legitimate. In fact, if I were the Minister of Culture, I would have asked the President a long time ago to repeal that decree and would have summoned the whole intellectual community to a deliberation exercise to draft together a new one, or several, because, in my opinion, a defect of Law 349 is that it wanted to cover too much and in different fields.
The experience since November 28, and in particular what happened after January 27, reveals a bitterness and intolerance that is regrettable. I believe that, together with efforts to put dialogue on track by sectors in the government, there have been and there are also unacceptable mistakes and practices by others within the government that I respectfully invite to reconsider. But I also perceive that among those who call for dialogue there are behaviors of defiance and confrontation, which do not foster trust and facilitate the work of those who do not want dialogue. I am not going to point the finger at anyone. I am only inviting to reflect.
But the most serious thing for me is the perception that, stimulated by some external actors, they are not seeking an understanding but a protagonism that makes them visible in certain social networks, at a time when the country is facing four much more important challenges that I will enumerate:
1. Confronting the pandemic, in the face of which thousands of young Cubans risk their lives, on a daily basis, trying to save other lives. This is not a slogan, it is a reality and one that forces us to see things with more humility. There is a permanent dialogue between the government and the scientific and health community to find ways to solve this existential challenge. This is a dialogue that can be an example to be imitated.
2. The financial order that implies the transition to an economy with different rules of the game. Millions of Cubans are now struggling with salaries and pensions that are not enough for them, as well as having to wait in long lines. And yet, there are citizens who dialogue with the government, which has modified many policies after listening to them, such as, for example, electricity rates.
3. The expansion of self-employment, late and with many shortcomings, but which has also been the result of a dialogue between the government and the self-employed and economists who, with tenacity and patience, have been insisting on it over the years.
4. The transition from a confrontational relationship to one of understanding for the normalization of relations with the United States. This will not be an easy transition, although it is likely to end in a more favorable climate than the one that has prevailed. Supporters of what Mallory called the “overthrow of the government” in Cuba through hunger, desperation and social outbreak are relentlessly trying to influence the Biden administration to continue applying sanctions and funding these groups in Miami. 2] On this issue, the dialogue must go through something similar to what a group of people from civil society did several days ago with the leadership of the Editorial Board of La Joven Cuba to produce the Open Letter to President Joe Biden, which was published the day before yesterday and which several of us here have signed. This is an example of something that can be done to seek changes and that involves dialogue within civil society.
I think that relations with the United States are a key issue. Because the dialogues in Cuba today are crossed, whether we like it or not, by the problem of the relationship with our neighbor to the North, where close to 2 million Cuban brothers and sisters live.
By the way, a dialogue that has been postponed due to the pandemic but that the government has already expressed its willingness to have, is the dialogue with the emigrants, who are also part of the Nation and whose rights should continue to be expanded if there is a climate of understanding with the government of the country where most of them live.
For these reasons, I asked myself and I ask myself if I can continue to support in all conscience that document that I signed on the morning of November 28, which had the shortcoming, among others, of only touching on this subject in passing.
That document was modified, I was even asked for contributions and I gave them, but I have no longer signed the two new documents produced by Articulación Plebeya. I do not repudiate my signature. It is there. But I have decided to refrain from signing any other document of this Platform. It has seemed to me that for a problem of elementary loyalty to its promoters I should have come here today to say this, among other things.
I end this presentation with the following proposals:
1. Recently Professor Carolina de la Torre proposed in the social networks a truce. I support her. Let’s seek a truce while we deal with at least the first challenge I referred to: the pandemic. If the predictions of our scientists come true, and there is no reason to doubt it, vaccination of the entire nation will begin in the second quarter. Let us give ourselves that time.
Jurgen Habermas has elaborated a whole reflection on deliberative politics. There is a development of this modality of democratic procedure. There is a literature. Studies have been done. It has even been exercised with good results in other countries. The Cuban government has practiced it on occasions, perhaps imperfectly, but with important elements, such as when it submitted to deliberation or popular consultation the Social Security Law, and the guiding documents of its entire policy – Update, Conceptualization, Vision and Strategy 2030, and the Constitution -. Raúl Castro himself acknowledged this procedure when he stated a few years ago that the best decisions come out of the broad and deep discussion of the possible policies to be approved. In Cuba there are experiences of dialogue platforms, such as Último Jueves de Temas, Dialogar Dialogar of the AHS, or the Workshop on Socialism and Democracy of the ICIC “Juan Marinello”. Therefore, it should not be difficult to organize something like this with respect to Decree 349. Submit it to a broad deliberative consultation for which UNEAC and AHS can play a role.
Let us take advantage of the truce to organize it.
Thank you very much.
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Notes: All footnotes are after the February 11 discussion.
2] Such is the case, for example, of a letter that has been circulating since Monday 15 and which was published in the journalistic site Cibercuba, with a clearly destabilizing and tendentious orientation. It is self-titled Cuba-US Letter, but it is also known as the Cibercuba Letter and is full of lies and half-truths, all aimed at hindering the process of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Those who have signed it are playing into the hands of the policy of regime change with prejudice pursued by the previous U.S. administration. It can be seen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=109941937799814&id=108337137960294
3] I clarify, in case there is any confusion, that the truce proposed by Professor de la Torre and which I fully support in this way is a total truce that should include each of the actors involved in this process, the government, the N27 group, the official national media and the alternative media, both based in Cuba and abroad.
In 2009, Temas magazine published an extended commentary by Dr. Alzugaray entitled Continuity and Change in Cuba at 50. This essay was embedded in the version of THIS essay that appeared on La Tizza. It was also published, in English, in the journal Latin American Perspectives. Dr. Alzugaray has kindly shared the English version which appeared in Latin American Perspectives.
It is available here: https://walterlippmann.com/continuity-and-change-in-cuba-at-50/