- June 1, 2020 -
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Rafael Hernández

Rafael Hernández

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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