Rafael Hernández

Rafael Hernández


Consensus and dissent (III)

In a recent article on U.S. foreign policy doctrine, one commentator claims that it should move from America First to Dissidents First. According to this logic, that would be the way not only to “revive its moral leadership,” but to rebuild its strategic foundation in the face of “powers that cannot be militarily overthrown,” such as Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and…Cuba. This New York Times opinion columnist maintains that “if it hadn't been for Sakharov, Solyenitsyn, Sharansky, the USSR would still be there.” So if the Chinese want trade tariffs lowered, they must release their imprisoned dissidents; the same as the Iranians if they aspire to renegotiate the nuclear agreement; just like the Russians, if they want their entrepreneurs to not be blacklisted. Because all those imprisoned dissidents (including José Daniel Ferrer, from Cuba), are well worth it to “force our adversaries to choose between their material interest and their habits of repression,” which “would provide a margin of security and maneuver for the dissidents that we would like to see one day in power. When it comes to foreign policy doctrine, it is more than decent. It's smart.” I have quoted this recent text at length, not precisely from...

Photo: Fernando Borges.

Consensus and dissent (I)

We are political animals, according to Aristotle and a friend of mine. The Greek based his argument on the fact that, unlike other beasts, we humans speak. My friend says that social networks are the eminent expression of our capacity for communicative political action. I don’t deny that both are right, but they are lacking a bit. Appreciating the nature of consensus requires going beyond reasoning about the public sphere and the circulation of discourses; as well as the network of precepts that articulate rights such as freedom of expression, demonstration, assembly, association. Consensus is defined in the eminent field of politics. When Hanna Arendt said that the first of human rights, above freedom and justice, was “the right to have rights,” she was inspired by the atrocious experience of the mass of refugees from World War II, in particular, German Jews like her, who had been left without citizenship, because they did not have a state that recognized them. That vision of hers, aimed at rescuing the dignity and rights of refugees, represented the human as an immanent condition of life, prior to politics. Hence arose the so-called aporia or paradox of human rights, which philosophy and political sociology...

On Calle 8, Miami. Photo: Marita Pérez Díaz

“In difficult times”: the tango of normalization (IV)

I’m curious that none of the observers of recent Cuban politics, not even my jurist friends, have commented on the planned legislation on demonstration and assembly in the implementation plan of the new Constitution. According to official sources, the approved schedule for 2019-2022 identified it with the title “Rights of demonstration and assembly” and proposed to consider it in September 2020. This was derived directly from Article 56 of the Constitution, where it is stated that “rights of assembly, demonstration and association, for lawful and peaceful purposes, are recognized by the State.” To give readers an idea, several main laws were planned in 2020, including Territorial Planning, Courts, Criminal Procedure, Housing, Public Health, Claim of constitutional rights and National defense. Much was postponed in the year of the pandemic, not just in quantity. It was not the case, by the way, of the Law on Associations, scheduled for 2022 in the same schedule, a date that has just been ratified by the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP). As for the decree-law on demonstration and assembly, its normative status was “modified” and postponed until the next legislature (April 2023), along with others of higher rank, such as defense and national...

Cuban flags fly from the so-called anti-imperialist tribune, in front of the building of the United States embassy in Havana. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS Archive.

“In difficult times”: the tango of normalization (I)

In a well-known poem from 1968, Heberto Padilla describes a man who is asked to successively hand over parts and capacities of his body. When he has yielded them all, they urge him to walk straight into the future, “because in difficult times/this is undoubtedly the decisive test.” Although those verses, at the time so controversial, referred to the asymmetry between the state and the individual, their poetic allure allows us to reread them as a metaphor for the asymmetry of powers between the U.S. and Cuba, and the difficult deal between our two nations and countries. Now that a window for understanding between the two sides seems to be opening again, as a result of the recent elections in the United States, some ask the question: what will the island’s government do to seize this new opportunity, on which the country’s future depends? In English it is said “it takes two to dance the tango.” Unlike the rumba, in which the dancers evolve on their own, when one dances so close as in tango, there is no way to judge what one is doing without seeing (and understanding) what the other is doing. To truly appreciate it, would be...

Photo: Yander Zamora/EFE

Predictions (IV and final)

When I was very young and undocumented, I spent the 1971-1972 academic year with a team from the University of Havana, led by Graziella Pogolotti, interviewing farmer families in Mataguá, then Las Villas. As good university students, we shared seminars on the methodology of surveys and interviews, with an updated bibliography that we had managed to come up with, as well as the findings of our research in that hilly town. We would go out every morning, on a horse that each one had been assigned, and we would sometimes return at dusk, after long conversations with the families, collected in notebooks, and then we began to study the subjects of our careers, but not before bathing and letting the animals graze. It was only after months of living in direct contact and making rapport (as they say in sociological jargon) with those hospitable and talkative farmers, that we discovered that the between their first answers recorded in our notebooks and what they told us six months later there was a considerable difference. We learned that what they thought and felt, their concerns and motivations, and their final attitudes and decisions regarding joining the community project that the government projected...

Photo: Javier Arrizurieta

Predictions (III)

Let’s imagine for a moment that there were three parties in Cuba, named the Renewed Socialism Party, the Cuban Revolutionary Party and the Fidelista Party. Let’s imagine that the three of them went to elections and governed according to popular vote, with platforms dedicated to the construction of a socialism with differentiated emphasis, but definitely anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, for social justice, equity, sovereignty, social development (not only economic growth), citizens’ democracy, human rights, and most especially, the dignity of all Cubans. According to this scenario, I wonder how many in the rest of the world would consider Cuba a fully democratic republic or, on the contrary, would continue to judge it as lacking an essential pluralism, only conceivable in a full-fledged “market economy,” and with antisocialist and “right-wing” parties, including those akin to “American democracy.” Now imagine that these three parties are governing Cuba at this time, and that, instead of taking turns in power according to the electoral cycle, they share the same Council of Ministers and Council of State, they sit in the meetings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the National Assembly, and they agree to govern collegially and make decisions...

Havana, August 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Predictions (II)

It seems obvious that you can’t look ahead without noticing where you are, and what is around you. In the Cuban case, this exploration is equivalent, as Rubén Matínez Villena would say, to an “exercise of brave discipline” to overcome the avalanche of perorations, opinions and counter-opinions that saturate the environment, and obscure the process of political change underway, in itself complicated. Now that the 8th Party Congress is less than eight months away, it is worth analyzing some of the ideas that have inspired the policy of reforms, a decade later. Instead of emulating with the accumulation of recommendations to the government that circulate in the networks, some very reasonable, this brief analysis is aimed at examining the real policy on its own terms, to appreciate how far it has come from today’s perspective, to not only count the pending agreements, but to estimate to what extent it has been consistent with its logic, and how it is explained. https://oncubanews.com/opinion/columnas/con-todas-sus-letras/predicciones/ Almost 10 years ago, the central themes of the 6th Congress, collected in the headlines of those Guidelines of the economic and social policy of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Revolution, were reflected in the frequency of...

Entry of the first cruise ship to Havana after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. May 2, 2016. Photo: Ismario Rodríguez

Cuba-United States relations for beginners (IV and final)

Help us keep OnCuba alive I remember the afternoon of March 2016 when Eusebio Leal walked Barack Obama and his family through Cathedral Square, under an auspicious drizzle. Old Havana was taken by the Secret Service (the one that appears in House of Cards) and by Cuban Security. Without having anything to do with it, I had been confined to the roof of the Lonja del Comercio, a few steps from the radio station of the Office of the Historian, where a Univisión reporter had summoned me for an interview that turned out to be live coverage about Obama’s arrival in Havana. Trapped with no way out, I thought of Eusebio, who, being already very ill, had to fulfill his duty as host on that very rare unofficial visit by an American president, as a private visitor. Eusebio Leal accompanies the Obama family on a tour of Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí From the rooftop of Habana Radio, the Univisión reporter peppered me with questions about the Cuban delegation that walked through the airport’s runway to meet the Obamas: who, why, what does it mean, etc. I was very entertained with her inquisitions, when the presidential car...

Photo: Ismario Rodríguez

Cuba-U.S. relations for beginners (III)

Help us keep OnCuba alive Where did one of the architects of President Kennedy’s main program for Latin America, godfather of the Alliance for Progress, come from in 1961? In what hands did Ronald Reagan (1981-88) and George W. Bush (2001-2008) place their most important offices for the western hemisphere: those that coordinated the contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and in the Department of State during the failed coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002? Who did Clinton and Obama pick for second position in the Department of Defense bureaucracy toward the region? What led George W. Bush to choose his commerce secretary in his second term? What is the reason for President Trump’s proposal for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank? The answers to all these questions have one ingredient in common: it’s a Cuban-American. More exactly, one that is opposed to the government and the prevailing economic, political and social order in Cuba. Now, if it’s a question of U.S. policy towards the island, what would have to be clarified would rather be to what extent the presence of Cuban-Americans in hierarchical positions within Republican and Democratic administrations proves that this policy is dictated by a...

Photo: Kaloian Santos

Cuba-United States relations for beginners (I)

Help us keep OnCuba alive here Cubans can confess ignorance in epidemiology or meteorology, but not about Cuba-United States relations. Perhaps nothing brings them so together on the same side―including those who don’t agree with the system―as that historical tension between a North that has sought to prevail at all costs, and a country determined not to let itself be dominated, at all costs. If that were a trait of thinking as a country, surely it would be necessary to feel proud of a civic conscience. After all, as a history teacher friend says, “we are political animals” who have no choice but to opine on “a matter that concerns us.” Here comes the basic idea (or the “theoretical framework,” as they used to say in the past at the University of Havana) of this conversation: one thing is each one’s respectable opinion and another, quite different, is to understand the nature of these relations. Let’s assume that it is a couple in marital conflict. Those who care, are interested in and think about them don’t have to understand what is happening to them; opining hardly expresses “knowing,” for example, which of them “is right.” But the conflict itself, as...

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP.

Trump, Hong Kong, free trade and poker

It’s all too obvious that President Trump’s latest cavalry charges against the WHO and against China converge on the same common denominator: the search for a scapegoat for the 100,000 Americans killed by COVID-19. Although most of the analyses on the United States today boil down to presidential teratology exercises; and although some observers still try in vain to string together a strategic guideline in U.S. foreign policy, neither the science of the monsters nor the general theory of imperialism offer a rational explanation for his administration’s logic. Paraphrasing that electoral campaign strategist of candidate Bill Clinton in the 1990s, the key would be summarized in something like “politics, stupid, politics.” Background European imperialism’s enclaves in East Asia known as Hong Kong and Macao were returned to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997 and 1999. Like the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, they were born from a time when China had been subject to British and Portuguese rule, along with the Portuguese possession of Formosa (or Taiwan). Unlike the naval base in eastern Cuba, both had been geopolitical posts that quickly mutated into commercial emporiums. Far removed from London and Lisbon, they were legally based...

Photo: Ng Han Guan, Pool/AP.

China and Cuba: a long march (II)

When I first stood in a classroom of Chinese students, enrolled in my seminar on Comparative Socialist Transitions, I was amazed at their age and the range of their careers. In the middle of the suffocating Beijing summer, that class at Renmin University was full, with young people between 18 and 21 years old, coming not only from Marxism, History and Politics, but from Administration, Finance, Environment, Languages, Pedagogy, Urban Planning, Business, Literature, all very interested in learning from Cuba and Vietnam. Hearing them discuss what socialism is, the history of their revolution, the Reform and Opening policies, the role of the Party, the lights and shadows of transition, was a very special opportunity to look closely at the complex fabric of current Chinese society, and having glimpse of the tips of certain problems difficult to perceive from afar. Class in Renmin. Discussing Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s film: “Memories of Underdevelopment.” Photo: Rafael Hernández. Almost everything we read about Chinese (or Vietnamese) socialism is economistic, superficial, or ethnocentric. By that of ethnocentric I mean that it transplants and judges from our codes, essentially western, those other traditional societies, which have specific development problems, social relations, centuries-old histories,...

Photo: Cuba Material

Cuba and China: a long march (I)

Now that China (and Vietnam) have become political debate referents in Cuba, taking a look at the ups and downs in relations with the People’s Republic and its presence in the Cuban process could contribute to a more enlightened debate about their real meaning. After the Chinese invasion of Vietnam (1979), as a result of the Vietnamese intervention in the Kampuchea of ​​the Red Khmers, and the heated political confrontation that this provoked between the governments of Cuba and China; the end of the conflict in Southwest Africa (1988), where both socialist nations aligned with opposite political actors; and the advance of the post-Mao and post-Deng transition (1989), bilateral relations would begin an upward turn, which would take them to their highest level since the early 1960s. The echo of those ideological and political disagreements would still resonate, however, 20 years after the collapse of the USSR, when Cuba had already launched the Updating of the Socialist Model (6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, 2011), and 15 years after Deng Xiao Ping’s death, when Fidel Castro last remembered him in his “Reflections” (June 14, 2012): “He boasted of being a wise man and, undoubtedly, he was. But he...

Artisan facemasks ready to be reused. Photo: Naturaleza Secreta de Cuba.

Cuba against coronavirus: politics, communication and civil society

Virgilio Piñera would have been surprised to know that that verse of his “the damn circumstance of water everywhere” was going to be the most cited and hackneyed of all his tremendous literary work—even among those who don’t know it. Assuming that, in addition to literary merit, that verse contained a key about Cuba, its people and the complex logic of its history, it would be worth putting it to the test at this time. Many continental countries surrounded by permeable borders would today envy that natural barrier that the sea represents in Caribbean islands. In the case of Cuba, if its 3,735 km coastline were a land border with other countries, it would be longer than that of Mexico with the United States, that of Colombia or Brazil with Venezuela, and almost four times greater than that of Guatemala with Mexico. Can you imagine controlling that border with territories where the panic pandemic would have make tens of thousands of unprotected people seek refuge in a neighboring country, whose health services would have a reputation for facing epidemics of rare diseases in Africa and other regions? If anyone could walk across that border at one of its most intricate...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Some childhood diseases in the culture of socialism in Cuba

Like measles, mumps or rubella, dogmatism and sectarianism have been early pathologies in Cuban socialism. Although they are not precisely a syndrome of ideology, but of a political culture that has permeated it, and carried by many socialized in that climate, for or against the system, they live in Párraga or Tacubaya, in Hialeah or Lavapiés; believers or atheists, straight or LGBT. Naturally, it is not at all a geriatric syndrome, but rather a chronic one, arising from the youthful ages of these Cubans―although sometimes it improves over time, or at least their symptoms may cease to be acute. Dogmatism defines a territory divided by fences, which define a two-dimensional space, where the true is inside and the false outside a fixed demarcation. It rejects as aberration everything that strays from its essential postulates. Strictly speaking, it does not allow us to test, deepen or critically update a way of thinking, or learn or change, but rather to reaffirm its apothegms, to revive, to turn in the circle of what is already known and shared. Unlike critical thinking, dogmatism does not set out to explain things; find out its origin, causes or trends in certain circumstances; or delve into them....

A Cuban soldier guards a ship in the port of Mariel on April 23, 1980, while people on board wait to sail to the United States. Photo: Jacque Langevin / AP.

Cuban emigrants and the political culture of exile (II)

Read the first part of this article. The sensation that people under 40 have, that a great many of their friends have left, was that of those who are in their 50s when the rafters crisis suddenly reopened the exodus, at the apex of the Special Period; and even earlier, when those in their 60s, in the upsurge in prosperity in 1980, saw their friends unexpectedly cross to the other side; not to mention those who, on the way or already in their 80s, saw their classmates or playmates leave in the wave of the epic and not always prodigious 1960s. The Mariel thunderstorm, whose round anniversary is approaching, rumbled under a seemingly clear sky. Its cause cannot be attributed to a formidable political conflict with a civil war and international isolation included (as in the 1960s), or to a collapse of the economy (like 14 years later). It took place in the midst of economic growth, stability and the international thaw of the 1970s, although at a juncture of worsening tensions with the United States. It is often said that it was the expectations that were opened by the dialogue with the emigration, and the consumerism incited by the...

“Freedom Flights.” 1970. Photo: Esteban Martin, University of Miami Library.

Cuban emigrants and the political culture of exile (I)

When Fernando Ortiz differentiated the Cuban condition―cubanidad and cubanía―he did not establish ideological distinctions. And when he spoke of belonging to a culture, inside and outside the island, it was not limited to the taste for sleeping black beans or not being able to control the movement of the waist when hearing certain irresistible beats, but to the self-awareness and the will to remain as part of a real community, not only evoked in phrases and images, which claimed its Cuban identity. Here, however, we don’t find all the answers, but rather the path of difficult questions begins. When some propose to place the Cuban condition as something superior to differences and interests, “with all and for the good of all,” and other Martí quotes, and declare their adherence to “the nation,” they are opening a Pandora's box which, far from verbally solving the equation of national unity, complicates it. Of course, among the landowners and bankers, and other partners of American capital and their employees, who began to leave the island since 1959, there were Cubans of a certain cubanía. So were those representatives of the Batista dictatorship or even that of Machado. In the same way that the...

Photo: Roberto Chile.

The homeland that grows: Cubans here and there

If, as the Cuban government has affirmed, the determination to maintain the scope and pace of the reforms would not be stifled by the prevailing climate of hostility with the United States; and if, as the figures indicate, the visits and exchange with emigrants have not taken a step backward in the face of this bad weather, it would be logical that their reintegration would be among the strategic objectives of the reforms, especially the consolidation of development and its main premise, national sovereignty. Relations with emigrants are usually not a matter governed by foreign policy, but rather just by politics. The gigantic diasporas of Mexico or China (although neither of them usually call them that) are not related to their countries of origin according to the migratory agreements signed with other governments, but through institutions, laws and above all their own specific political practices. Let's say, the normalization of Hanoi's relations with the “overseas Vietnamese” (that's what they call themselves and that is what the government calls them), especially with the great post-war flow in 1975, occurred long before they were reestablished with the United States in 1996, or even when the Doi Moi (its reforms) had begun in...

Photo: Milena Recio.

Does anti-Castro-ism have the key to the White House’s policies?

As is known, the United States has always been a domestic factor in Cuban life. As with cyclones and ballgames, even though they originate “outside,” they are entrenched among us. Product of the enormous vicinity that links us and the shared history, this condition was woven even before both became nation-states. This is not only because of the “laws” of geopolitics, but because of a mutual geocultural imprint. Let us say, for example, that nothing similar could happen to the Chinese and the Vietnamese, because, despite globalization and the Internet, they live in the antipodes, both geographical and cultural. While, with us, familiarity, and even consanguinity with what is American, is key to many things, including the modernity with which the Revolution emerged 60 years ago, and even the leadership’s ability to deal with the conflict. Of course, the Cuban Revolution and State now play a big role in the equation that dominates bilateral relations. It is evident, however, that this is not reduced to the monaural channel between the two governments, but encompasses a kind of stereophonic network between the two countries. Now then, to what extent have these relations―intergovernmental and others―receded qualitatively, as some argue, to the situation...


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