Civil Society in Cuba is Diverse, Beyond the Control of the Government

If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist … then we will have succeeded in taking the first step. (Social Sciences Blog)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 8 December 2019 — A few days ago, I took part in an exchange of ideas on the social network Facebook after a Cuban journalist asked about the opposition’s proposals and programs. I responded with some basic clarifications to understand what is happening on this Island outside government and state control. Here I share these opinions, with a certain didactic tone tailored just for those who are looking at the subject for the first time.

Many times, due to ignorance, stereotypes or lack of public information on the subject, multiple phenomena that are worth differentiating are grouped under the heading “opposition.” I believe that in today’s Cuba there is an opposition movement of a political, outlawed and structured nature based on platforms that mix ideological tendencies, economic programs and diverse positions on such varied topics as foreign investment, diplomatic alliances with other countries or the scale of the presence of the State in the functioning of the economy.

Those parties, groups or partnerships aspire, as in all parts of the world, to come to power, to lead the nation and to be at the political helms of the country. Among them I can mention some, and I apologize in advance if I forget others, for example: el Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba), el Foro Antitotalitario Unido (United Antitotalitarian Forum), Somos+ (We Are More), Cuba Decide (Cuba Decides), Todos Marchamos (We All March), and el Mesa de Unidad de Acción Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable).

A second phenomenon, which I believe should not be subsumed under the word “opposition” is that of social activism. The majority are groups and organizations, also outlawed, that have a social agenda that can be directed to an infinite number of groups, problems or demands.

In that kaleidoscope of associations there are those that defend the rights of the LGBTI community, others that demand an Animal Protection Law, those that are demanding feminine grievances be addressed, those that ensure human rights such as the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), those that incline more to the union defense of workers, against racial discrimination and a long etcetera that can include many other tendencies and “struggles” from civil society.

In a third space, also erroneously called “opposition,” I would place independent journalism, which although it has spent decades reporting what is happening in the country, has had an important boost in recent years with the emergence of new technologies and the emergence of a varied ecosystem of press media not controlled by the State, the Communist Party or the Cuban institutions.

Among them are newspapers, to monthly magazines, cultural weeklies, environmental blogs and reporting podcasts. To think of these three universes as a block is a mistake, because many of their components are very different, pursue parallel objectives and work differently.

Let’s start by analyzing the first group. There are prejudices that are repeated again and again when the Cuban opposition speaks. Most people who repeat what they say and claim to be convinced by them, have never really sat down to talk with an opponent, have never read a program from one of those political parties, and only have a “passive bibliography” on the issue based on what the official Cuban press says, a press that in more than half a century has not allowed these opponents to explain themselves in the first person, or published their proposals or allowed them to participate in debates with official voices.

One of the stereotypes that is most repeated when talking about the Cuban opposition is made up of individuals with low ethical and moral appearance. As in every human conglomerate, there is everything. In the National Ballet of Cuba and the University of Havana, wonderful and dedicated people work, but also the mediocre and unscrupulous. I remember that in the Faculty of Arts and Letters, where I studied, I had professors with a touching altruism and exquisite wisdom, while others had come to the classrooms not because of their pedagogical quality but because of their partisan militancy. I even met some cases that plagiarized their students’ course work and presented it in their own names to gain a rise to a certain academic level.

The Cuban opposition has lights and shadows like every human group, but for more than half a century it has had over it, watching and denigrating it, one of the most implacable intelligence apparatuses that has existed. Hence, the official media, street conversations and even the rumors that are spread in a low voice on this Island, have been plagued all these years by the negative opinions that State Security has launched against that opposition.

This most resembles racial and xenophobic prejudices: the idea that a certain ethnic or racial group is “lazy, a thief and a liar” is spread or the foreigner is blamed for coming to “steal the job, violate women and ruin the national culture.” In the end there is an animosity towards a human group based on prejudice and fear. The approach necessary to destroy those clichés or false topics will only be undertaken by a few daring ones, because the rest fears being “attacked” by “unknown others” or blamed by their own group for getting too close to the “other.” colleague

The day that the opponents have a microphone on national television, a few minutes to express themselves on the radio or a few lines on the pages of the newspapers, these prejudices will begin to break.

As for the other prejudice that there is little of formal qualifications in the opposition ranks, I must clarify that I have never believed that a university degree is a guarantee of good leadership, however, I warn that I know many graduates, academics, doctors, jurists and excellent professionals who are active in these games.

I add that in the high party leadership that controls Cuba, we have evidence that there are people who are not there because of their qualifications to direct the economy, public health or the investment process (these are only examples) but for their ideological fidelity. Some of these senior leaders cannot even articulate a complete sentence without making mistakes and have said some memorable barbarities in front of the national television cameras.

The Cuban opposition has a long history of initiatives, as does the activism that carried out on this Island, ranging from the document La Patria es de Todos (The Homeland Belongs to Everyone) and the Varela Project to the Carta de Derechos y Deberes de los Cubanos (Bill of Rights and Duties of Cubans) and many others. In all cases, the Cuban government responded to these proposals with more vigilance, arbitrary arrests, the destruction of the reputations of members and reprisals.

Parallel to these programs and platforms, spaces of thought and reflection have been created that range from the political, the pedagogical and the economic, to reach all the social aspects that urgently need solutions in our country. Cuba Posible (Cuba Possible) was one of them and the Centro de Estudios Convivencia

(Center for Coexistence Studies) has, for years, also been contributing ideas, assessments and initiatives from the academic scene. The reaction of the Cuban authorities to them has followed the same script: harass, denigrate, slander and push their members into exile.

If we move on to activism, its achievements and proposals would take very long to explain because of the number of initiatives and programs involved. I will only recall the historic march of May 11 for the rights of the LGBTI community, the most recent protest against Zoonosis [“the dogcatcher”] and the demand for an Animal Protection Law, in addition to the human rights activism that has managed to denounce and shed light on many cases of arbitrary arrests and violations of legislation.

In the case of independent journalism and the media not controlled by the Communist Party, the achievements are impossible to cover. Sites such as El Estornudo, Yucabyte, Tremenda Nota, 14ymedio, Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, Inventario, Alas Tensas and many more that were born from within Cuba and their reporters, in most cases, graduated from Cuban universities, some of them from journalism programs and others in the humanities.

In my opinion, it is the ecosystems of activism and independent media where a more dynamic and interesting process of social pressure is taking place to bring about changes in Cuba, although I recognize that the political opposition has faced the worst in terms of a repressive and exhausting response due to retaliation and stigmatization.

To end this very long text and, looking at the situation as it is now, to eliminate the prejudices, confusions and misgivings that have become entrenched in Cuban society against the opposition, social activism and the independent press, I believe that the criminalization of disagreement should be eliminated and these people should have the right to access public media (which we all pay out of our pockets) to break down these stereotypes, to let people know their proposals and to stop being narrated “in the third person” as bad, ethically deplorable, mercenaries or enemies of the homeland.

Unblocking censored digital sites on Cuban servers and legalizing independent media would also be a very positive step for these plural voices to be heard and to be able explain their initiatives.

Mechanisms should also be created so that the citizens from their own pockets, and even – why not? – the state budget would support these parties and groups of activists, in addition to allowing them clear legal right to obtain resources, so that their income comes from national, business, and citizen sources.

Continuing to deny the opposition the right to collect and have legal income, on the Island, to carry out their work, is to condemn them to financial secrecy and is the cause of many of the problems we see today in the operations of many of them, such as lack of transparency

It is also necessary to remove the ideological indoctrination of a single party from the classroom, so that Cuban children and young people grow up feeling it is something very normal and healthy to have several parties, the presence of an independent civil society and access to multiple media with different approaches and opinions.

As long as education is in the hands of a single ideological group that uses it for political proselytism, there will be people who are educated to think that the “different” must be silenced, crushed and prosecuted for not behaving like them.

The current situation of censorship, discrimination and criminalization of political and ideological plurality is based on the same mechanism of racial, cultural and nationalist prejudices. If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist, express themselves, be legal and have a space… then we will have managed to take the first step.

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