One of the most controversial issues facing both the Cuban government and Cuban independent civil society is one stemming from President Barack Obama’s December 17th speech when he stated: “Next April, we will be ready for Cuba to join the other nations in the hemisphere at the Americas Summit, but we will insist that Cuban civil society joins us so that it will not only be the leaders, but the citizens who will shape our future.”
Immediately after, Obama added: “And I urge all my colleagues and leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights, which is the essence of the Inter-American Charter. Let’s leave behind the legacy of colonization and communism and the tyranny of drug cartels, dictatorsand electoral farces.”
After the first moments of surprise and with each other’s positions set out on the table about the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, most Cubans are sure that the regime is not prepared to face, in a satisfactorily manner, an honest debate on democracy and human rights, and much less is willing to compromise on its stubborn refusal to recognize areas of rights which would inevitably lead to the end of its power.
But, with the same certainty and for the sake of honesty, we must recognize that we still have major obstacles to overcome in the independent civil society, starting with the one that will be, without a doubt, an essential premise: to agree on our consensus, leaving aside our differences – derived from political partisanships, ideologies, autocratic individuals and other personal agendas — that have divided us and prevented further progress over decades.
In politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.
To leave behind political adolescence and suddenly attain adulthood to achieve a common front that amplifies the democratic demands of Cubans which several generations have been struggling for under difficult conditions is not impossible, as evidenced by debate and consensus forums in the past two years. However, achieving a single agenda capable of meeting the essential requirements of all sectors of the civil society will not be easy, particularly for those who are more reluctant to dialogue and have opted instead for a confrontational stance.
It may seem premature to put on the table an issue that depends, in the first place, on the combination and coordination of many as yet unknown issues. But in politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.
Obviously, President Obama’s willingness to support civil society does not imply — or at least it should not imply — the government’s direct intervention in financing or selecting the actors who participate in the hemispheric conclave. Presumably, taking as a sign his own statements when he recognized that Cuban issues belong first of all to Cubans, his government’s commitment should be to support the proposals we make, and should include those who do not live in Cuba but who are part of the nation’s heartbeat.
In that case, it would be advisable to start a process of discussion and consultation now with participants in the independent civil society groups and leaders of opinion, journalists, activists of all existing projects, and those individuals or organizations — whether from the opposition or any civic venue — who may have ideas to contribute to the agenda.
It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.
We should not be seeking unanimity, but trying to consolidate unity in those essential points we agree on, and readying our proposals, both in a plausible memo to present at the Americas Summit and in a representation that could encompass, more inclusively and justly, the whole range of organizations and trends of the independent civil society. At the same time, we must give up our presumptions and embrace modesty for the common good.
Unfortunately, we have witnessed the persistence of intolerant positions in recent events, verbal violence and contempt for those ideas different to our own, something that is inherent to a society that has been, for a long time, tense and controlled by a regime that has sown totalitarianism and intimidation as valid methods to prevail, which a handful of democrats seem to want to perpetuate.
These actions, which have been carried out against the public image of a dissidence characterized mainly by its posture of peaceful struggle and respect for differing views, should be banished from the discussions if we wish to strengthen and achieve standing and recognition inside and outside Cuba. It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.
In short, what is truly important is, after all, to be prepared for the occasion that is politically being offered to us. It is a matter of commitment, not a easy ride, and whoever will end up representing us in this or any other international forum should feel the great historical responsibility they assume, and be worthy of the trust of all those who have committed their forces and pinned their hopes on the future of democracy in Cuba.
Translated by Norma Whiting