Cuba’s Hopes for a New Era of Public Criticism and Debate
Cuba’s Hopes for a New Era of Public Criticism and Debate
July 17, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban President Raul Castro’s address to the closing
session of the National Assembly of the People’s Power (Parliament)
marks, without a doubt, the beginning of a qualitatively new stage in
the process of public critique he has decided to push forward.
Though I was pleased to hear such pronouncements, I was also concerned
about the fact that Cuba’s accumulated social ills had to be publicly
condemned by none other than the country’s president, something which
reveals how inept our institutions are at detecting and addressing such
It would be fair to say that many institutions in the country – the
press, political and grassroots organizations, intelligentsia, academia,
government, social and cultural institutions – aren’t doing their jobs
when the country’s top leader is forced to expose these problems himself.
We must set all of the potential of these institutions in motion so as
to avoid such dramatic moments as when the Cuban president stated that
“(…) we have taken steps backwards in terms of culture and common
civility. I have the bitter impression that, as a society, we are
increasingly more educated, but not necessarily more cultured.”
This issue is not new. Many have been alerting us to the ethical and
moral decline of Cuban society for some time. Fidel Castro’s address at
the University of Havana in November of 2005 is a particularly resonant
case in point.
Nothing published in the press over recent years has given us reason to
think that, in their many assemblies and meetings, the country’s
political and grassroots organizations have undertaken an analysis of
the negative trends that have gained momentum in our society.
Criticizing and analyzing a problem publicly serves to immediately set
in motion an effort to contain that problem. It constitutes a first step
towards raising the public awareness needed to address the issue and
lays the groundwork for tracing the plan of action needed to overcome it.
It is also true, however, that those who have alerted us to these
negative trends have often been reprimanded and punished, by those who,
far from analyzing and discussing the nature of the problem brought to
light, have focused on the supposed untimeliness of its public
exposition. In this regard, as many know, I can speak from experience.
While it is true we should not follow those who remain quiet so as to
avoid problems, we mustn’t lose from sight the fact that such fears stem
from a lack of democratic freedom which would encourage the frank and
open debate, and condemnation, of illegalities, from the intolerance
that different opinions have all too often met with and the impunity
with which many – many who, if there was any justice, would be the first
to be reprimanded – continue to act.
Though President Raul Castro has, on several occasions, insisted on the
need for open, timely and anticipatory criticisms, it is clear not all
Party cadres have fully understood this. This is the reason he is now
calling on them to put behind all conceptions that prevent them from
criticizing our weaknesses openly and unflinchingly.
We must criticize our deficiencies promptly, without concerning
ourselves with how our enemies will use such criticisms. Silence, in
fact, is what transforms these into instruments of a subversive
diplomacy. We have to come to the realization that speaking about our
problems doesn’t mean handing anything over to anyone. We can even share
our problems. What we can’t do is neglect the need to tackle them ourselves.
In response to Raul’s speech, the Cuban media has once again resorted to
the hackneyed and by now rather boring formula of interviewing people on
the street in search of reactions to the president’s remarks – reactions
which are invariably favorable.
What I have yet to see in any interview is something that clearly
expresses the critical spirit with which we ought to address the speech.
This holds as much for government officials (at all levels) as for those
who have always opted to keep quiet, so as to avoid problems.
Regrettably, while Raul Castro encourages open criticisms, some
bureaucrats, who stand to lose from this process, “inspire fear” in the
population to hold back the tide. Ultimately, this is nothing other than
a subtle and at times unconscious form of counterrevolutionary action.
Few are those one can turn to in order to report antisocial behavior,
corrupt practices or cases of wrongdoing perpetrated with impunity. This
is because the ills of our society do not stem exclusively from
individual behavior, but also the practices of some institutions,
organizations and officials, precisely those who are tasked with
combatting such problems and cases of social indiscipline.
We know prostitution has been on the rise, but we also know that, on
occasion, police officers are bribed so as to leave prostitutes alone.
We also know about the public official who hastens some paperwork in
exchange for money, the teacher who facilitates cheating at exams, or
the manager of a commercial establishment who turns a blind eye on the
fact his employees are selling store products under the table.
There’s also the butcher, who sells meat destined to specific customers
to anyone willing to pay a higher price. Many are the people involved in
these kinds of activities, but those who must begin to preach with
example are the country’s high officials.
While it is true that the economic crisis the country went through in
the nineties has played a decisive role in the emergence of these
trends, overcoming our economic problems – something we have not yet
managed to do – will not make these problems disappear automatically.
Such practices, once they take root, are difficult to eradicate.
A whole system of moral justification has come into existence in Cuba.
Within this system, stealing is no longer stealing, bribing someone is
merely wriggling out of a tight corner, and misappropriating something
is working to make ends meet. This has given words and expressions such
as “surviving”, “working hard” and “getting things done” very specific
connotations in Cuban society.
The call to battle has been given out. The president himself has called
on us to get ourselves into trouble, ultimately the only way we can
defend what rightfully belongs to the people, not the group of corrupt
officials who are getting rich at the expense of other people’s work and
are contaminating the rest of society with their activities.
The attitude we are demanding requires, however, the full support of the
government. This support must assume the form of greater freedom to be
able report on illegal activities, greater protection for those who
justifiably report on such activities, and prompt government responses.
It must mean greater discipline and State, government and political
control, more honesty and transparency from those in leadership
positions, including those who are called on to give a report on the
resources they manage. It must spell a tougher stance on those who have
hitherto managed State property as if it was their own, with impunity.
It will also require stricter monitoring of and demands from
institutions, so that all levels of government respond to a single
policy, not the policy they see fit to follow, or, worse, the one they
consider in their interests to adhere to.
People need to start feeling that timely criticisms, a lack of tolerance
towards wrongdoing, and reporting on cases of bribery and corruption
will not be punished and they will always be able to rely on someone
who, no matter what political, State or government position they hold,
is also willing to get into trouble, so as to prevent an offense against
the government, the State, or the people.
Because, when all is said and done, it is the people who are, not the
perpetrators of these crimes, but their true victims.
(*) Read Esteban Morales’ blog (in Spanish).
Source: “Cuba needs a new era of critical thinking and public debate” –