Monday, February 11, 2008

Watch what you say

Two Cubans from opposing ideological poles are seriously bent out of shape by foreign coverage of recent events in Cuba.

Former dissident Raul Rivero, now living in Spain, is worried that an “induced, false and dangerous happiness” permeates the views of reporters and others who watch and write about possible changes on the horizon in Cuba.

In his essay in El Nuevo Herald, he says there is a “dose of anesthetia” clouding everyone’s vision. For all his tough words, he doesn’t bring himself to say precisely who he’s talking about. But he is bothered by the coverage of “small gestures that do not respond to a will to liberate the structures of power” and that are “symbols of force and domination” rather than “signs of change.”

By “gestures” he means the public mention of formerly banned writers, the screening of a film that includes an interview with El Duque Hernandez, the screening of the movie Fresa y Chocolate years after the outside world saw it and acclaimed it, and coverage of rumblings inside the artists’ and writers’ union in favor of ending travel and Internet access restrictions, and legalizing the sale of houses.

Rivero ends with a call for human rights and the liberation of political prisoners.

Then from deep left field comes Juventud Rebelde writer Pablo Valiente getting on his high horse and voicing a susprisingly similar complaint. He says that foreign coverage of Cuba’s recent debates is full of simplification and distortion by those who are “searching for ‘the Revolution’s final hour.’”

A collection of “analysts, journalists, and soothsayers” are ignoring the fact that, according to Valiente, debate is nothing new in Cuba. “If there is something that has not been lacking in this revolution,” he writes, “it is the calls, not always from the base but also from the revolutionary leadership, to live permanently dissatisfied with our work, to transform it and overcome it, to criticize it and above all to seek solutions…”

Valiente claims that those who are covering the debate are expecting it to be like the opening of a Pandora’s box, unleashing something that will spin out of control. “What do they want? Political stripteases like those of the European ex-socialists?”


No one has been named in either of these critiques, so there is no one to defend, no examples of these writings to evaluate. But we can say a few things.

Maybe there is someone out there writing, as these writers suggest, that the current debate and the possibility of economic reforms are "slam-dunk" indicators that Cuba’s political system will transform itself.

If so, the prediction lacks foundation, to say the least.

As far as Valiente is concerned, I understand that there is lots of debate in Cuba, and that Cubans have a very special propensity for argument. Fair enough.

But something different and newsworthy is going on, at times in the pages of Valiente’s own paper. Until recently, I don’t recall people within the system calling for serious changes in economic policies, or Cuban media explaining that state enterprises are dysfunctional, or that domestic health care delivery suffers from the absence of medical professionals serving on foreign missions, or that official unemployment statistics are inaccurate. And the fact that Raul Castro has called on Cubans to debate would seem to indicate that the permanent debate and self-criticism lauded by Valiente had not been doing the trick.

The problem with Rivero’s complaint is similar. The Cuban government, like any government, has a large ability to make news. If the scope of discussion in speeches, media, and official institutions changes, that is going to draw attention and coverage regardless of whether we know where it will lead. There are hints of “big decisions” (Raul Castro’s words) that could affect Cuban life in substantial ways, especially in the economic sphere.

The main drama in Cuba this year, it seems to me, involves the expectations the Cuban government has raised in that regard, and whether they will be met by action. It is natural that observers are going to focus on every marginal change in debate and policy, and it is not engaging in “dangerous happiness” to do so.

Nothing could be more clear than that the Cuban leadership is working to ensure that the Good Ship Socialism will be in shape to sail on for a long time, with a new generation of leaders at the helm. Its project is continuity, not transformation. Rivero seems to think that observers don’t point this out because we’re naïve. Speaking for myself, I don’t repeat it because I think it’s obvious, and I think everyone knows it.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Phil!

Anonymous said...

Pedro Campos Santos has also elaborated on this theme arguing that interference and manipulation by the United States will only stall any really change and serve to strengthen the position of Cuban bureaucrats and others resisting any change:

La “intervención” de los voceros imperialistas en este asunto, como ocurre siempre que introducen sus extremidades inferiores, solo sirve para complicar las cosas a los trabajadores cubanos y en todo caso hacer el juego y fortalecer las posiciones de los burócratas e inmovilistas.

He refers to the workers of foreign firms’ rejection (within the Revolution) of the new tax policy as a good step forward in rejecting bureaucratic philosophy.

La reunión fue mucho más que un rechazo a esas medidas, fue una muestra de la indisposición de los trabajadores a seguir acatando la filosofía burocrática del actual sistema estatista que los esquilma. Con esta actitud han dado una buena lección de cómo defender sus intereses, dentro de la Revolución.

He argues that not only Raul Castro’s speeches, but now by the workers’ reaction to the taxes demonstrate that structural changes and the deepening of socialism are inevitable (the Good Ship Socialism will be in shape to sail on for a long time).

He is confident that new government will undertake the needed changes.

Pero la profundización de la Revolución y los cambios “estructurales” para más socialismo son inevitables. Lo confirman esta reacción de los trabajadores y los últimos discursos de Raúl. El nuevo gobierno los acometerá.

He concludes that the struggle against those within Cuba who do no want change is difficult enough (bureaucrats) without interference from the North.

No señores imperialistas, no necesitamos su “generosidad”, nos basta con la de nuestros burócratas.

Some may argue that Sr. Campos is overly optimistic about the changes that may occur, but it is indisputable that United States has alienated itself so much that Cuba’s internal debate can only be affected in a negative manner by comments made in the United States. Out of respect for the sovereignty for the Cuban people and the hope that real change will occur that will improve the quality of life for Cubans on the island, the US officials should refrain from commenting on Cuba’s reform process. There surely will be attempts by the “Talibanes” within the regime to maintain the status quo and outside interference will only serve their intentions.