By: Mónica Baró
December 17, 2014 was for Cuba a date marked by the powerful convergence of mysticism and politics. Not a rare convergence in national history, despite frequent discretions of those who write about it, but it always shocks society. This time, on the day of St. Lazarus -Babalú Ayé in Afro-Cuban religion, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Raul Castro, announced two very unusual events that anyone would call miracles: the start of talks for the restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States-a headline that sounds to war, but peace remains hostage to the American Congress, and the return of Gerardo, Antonio and Ramon, the other three heroes there were part of the Cuban Five, but remained five because freedom of each depended on the freedom of all. Two events that if not enough to convert an atheist, then at least to make an agnostic doubt.
From that moment, something changed. Or people felt something else changed or would change, which is important. Multiple sleepy hopes began to wake up like daisies. Now when the Americans come became almost a premise of a project of life, almost a theoretical foundation for change, almost a guarantee of future, if not prosperous and sustainable, then at least different.
Since the uproar resulting from the Guidelines -of economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution, adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in April 2011-, and the consequent cuts in state bloated payrolls with the legalization of a picturesque list of self-employed productive activities, read private, and simplifying the licensing process, social expectations regarding the economy or social fears about utopia hadn’t been stirred that much. Where some have perceived danger, others have perceived opportunity. As if it were real the disconnection between utopia and economics, or worse, as if those expectations and those fears were the most defining for the economy, utopia and society of the country.
Because behind, under, inside, all these emerging, valid and necessary hope, underlies immaculate an essential problem: people´s power. One problem we see through a glass with some decent cracks but we haven’t broken them yet, since the most defining moment for a socialist project, which would be the how and who of changes, plus of course the direct object of change, it is only constant. The state continues as the leading actor and the people alternate between the role of extra and support actor. Yes, congratulations on December 17, but, what about the “thing”?
That was precisely the purpose of this interview: investigating the organizational structure, metabolism and the potential of “the thing” with one of its leading scholars, who is also a lawyer, writer, father of twins and author of books like The imagination against the norm. Eight approaches on the 1902 Republic (2004); The continent of the possible. A review of the revolutionary condition (2008); and The Truth is not tested. Cuba: Socialism and Democracy (2012), which can be downloaded from his personal blog The Thing (Democracy, Socialism, Republic) – as well as dissimilar essays and articles scattered around the Rebelion website, magazines Temas and Espacio Laical among other sites that Google kindly indicate to interested persons who ask about him.
There is not much more to add to Julio César Guanche, unless his name. His ideas describe him more justly than his professional experience as a researcher, editor, journalist, intellectual in the deep and wide sense, or that his merits and awards, or any other data from his resume. Here are more interested in dialogue with his theoretical work, which contributes to the controversial Cuban panorama of political discussion a relevant approach from the legal sciences and from his involvement with civic participation projects.
In March 2013, in the digital edition of Espacio laical (Lay Space), appeared a paper entitled Dreamed Cuba – Possible Cuba – Future Cuba: proposals for our immediate future, which had 23 very concise proposals as “instruments to strengthen the Republic in Cuba today and tomorrow “, so they were studied and debated publicly, This text signed by something then called Laboratorio Casa Cuba, composed of researchers” of disparate ideological backgrounds “, among which you were, and that stated as goal ” to study the Cuban institutions and make suggestions for improvement and socialize the study and discussion of these issues.” Almost two years after the publication of this document, what do you think was its transcendence and the balance of public debates that arose?
That document had something unique, which was its own design and development among people with clearly different ideologies. Some were social Catholics; others, anarchists; other socialist and democratic republicans. It was an exercise in diversity, understanding that if you preach that diversity is a core value of political life that must be affirmed in social life, you must live it as a value in your specific interactions.
Political life walks through taht, by the plurality of ways of doing politics, for the plurality of political articulations. Far from view with suspicion the legitimacy of an independent project, as was Laboratorio Casa Cuba, born outside of any institutionalism-, it is about building that legitimacy from the transparency of means and ends pursued, respect , honesty and seriousness with which it works, civic quality of what is proposed.
Apart from the above, what essential learning can you highlight from this process that rescues participating and building something together with various people from an alternative space to the institutions?
It was a learning to note that there are many different people who believe that these projects are valuable, that commit to them, defend them. Sometimes you think that things like this can stay in solitude, but they teach you not, that there are many people who can join, participate and articulate to generate more encouraging projects. That was a learning experience. Since there is not visibility for such proposals, you do not know how the proposal can be shared, but comments and support we received help visualize that there are shared agendas within the country and several possible consensus.
We have lived too many polarizations; we still live in too many polarizations and political fractures. As stated at a time, between those who left and those who stayed, the left and right, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries-images that are tied to the context from which they arose, but evolve into new contexts. I think it’s necessary to keep the difference as a value, but we must also be able to recognize when they exist, communities, convergence and consensus.
One of the things that document insisted the most was in the depolarization of Cuban politics. And depolarizing does not mean depoliticizing. It is the opposite. Depolarizing is to think politics beyond the trenches everyone has built to survive in them, to win an exclusive place from them. It is thinking more of bridges than of trenches.
Does it involve only build with those different or with the antagonistic as well?
The first temptation would be to do with the different, of course, but the antagonistic is there, it exists and has rights as a person and as a citizen. We cannot deny or send him away without arguments on non-interference in internal affairs, or the illegitimacy of acceptance of external financing; because this often ends dispatching any political action that claims to be autonomous regarding the PCC.
Cuban civil society, as it has been said many times, is far from being synonymous with specific groups of opponents supported by government media or groups of political power in the US. For that reason, and this is said unless such civil society has to have many more opportunities for political action, dissemination of ideas and political organization in Cuba. So there would be more likely to identify exactly who the antagonistic is and regarding what, because there are many prejudices raised on this story, and sometimes people are identified as antagonistic who are not.
And after the publication of this material, what happened with Laboratorio Casa Cuba?
We had other meetings, but did not make more public documents because there were reservations from some sectors, in which several members of the Laboratorio were inserted, who did not accept that kind of public intervention. So the process was interrupted by pressures that were not, as far as I experienced, by government institutions. What we did then was to stay connected, publish, and participate in common activities, perhaps without the organic level posed by the Laboratorio, but participating in collective project development.
On September 8, 2014 there was a note of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue where the founding of Cuba Possible project was announced and that comprises some of the people who were already at Laboratorio Casa Cuba among which you were-, with the principles and purposes related to those of Laboratorio Casa Cuba. How different is a project from the other?
At that time there were two people, Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez, who were Catholic magazine editors, who were linked to the Cuban Catholic Church. Cuba Posible has no such linkage by any of its members. Those who are believers participate in their own right, but their criteria do not refer to any institutional structure. Institutional linkages that we have, do not determine our participation. We participate as intellectuals, as citizens with the will to act politically in Cuba.
The principles are common among both experiences because we are committed to fundamental values, such as republic, freedom, justice, citizen participation, and an expansive vision of democracy, linking individual rights with social rights, which does not oppose formal democracy substantial democracy but thinks its contents in interdependence, and evaluates democracy not only by the ability to participate politically but also how political decisions can intervene successfully in improving the lives of people.
What is the projected work for Cuba Posible?
It is a space that aims to participate in the public sphere of the country through publications, events and activities that mobilize people who are acting in social life and in the Cuban intellectual life. It aspires to be a voice to participate with the voices in the country, which seeks to influence the way it does and can.
In Cuba there is a kind of anti-intellectual discourse for many years -present in both the history of the republic and the revolution, which wants to reduce the discourse of intellectuals synonymous with “things of intellectuals”, “a thing is the theory and practice is another “as to detract significance, resonance, diffusion, scope and recipients. However, Cuban intellectuals have a very long tradition of integration into the social life. What I am advocating are not gestures of a hedonistic group but an intelligentsia that seeks to place the professional work done in terms of social needs, complement other efforts made. Not like the actor exclusively, nor as the most enlightened actor, but starting to make use of what we are. If we are intellectuals, we act as such, without trying to cover with our voice to other players, but knowing that we can and must contribute from our place in Cuban society.
By influencing you mean what?
Influencing on what happens in Cuba and, hopefully, in the decisions that are made. The aspiration seems very basic: political influence in the country. That would be normal when you live with democratic values, but is rather unique in the world we live in because of the really existing oligarchic political decision. The recent success of Siriza, in Greece, or the tremendous rise of Podemos in Spain, was made possible by the effective response that occurred against the actor that guarantees and benefits in these scenarios of said movement: “caste”. If members in Spain militate in the “right” of PP or “left” of the PSOE, the result has been the same for the country: the politics of European austerity, dismantling of the welfare state and political corruption.
The monopoly of the ability to act politically, to decide the course of our lives is a wall built against democracy. Our aspiration to influence is nothing other than the requirement to participate in a scenario of power redistributed in Cuba. Although the context is different from the countries I mentioned, there are here practices of concentration and centralization of power. What can be achieved already depends on the actual distribution of power in Cuba, information asymmetries that exist, the capacity not only to be heard but to interact with areas of decision. However, the importance lies not only in what we are able to influence. It’s a responsibility to be involved. If you are listened to, well, but if you are not you just have to keep working.
Because, there is no single interlocutor. This is not to speak only to the Cuban state. It is an attempt to talk among ourselves, among Cubans, talking to and from Cuban society. Because society has multiple actors and various spaces that addressed what concern us. It is to build horizontal relations with the society, not to communicate to us only a vertical body but to also be able to communicate with each other more and more.
On October 10 and 11 Cuba Posible held its first public action in Cuba Sovereignty and Future Symposium, in the city of Cardenas, and involved more than 60 intellectuals from around the country to discuss this subject. Why is the issue of sovereignty in relation to the future? What is the relevance of promoting this discussion in the current Cuban context?
The colloquium in Cárdenas recalled the situation of 1902 and the independence of Cuba against the United States. The emphasis on the Platt Amendment, the birth of mediated Republic, is always done but it was a merit of millions of Cubans to achieve a republic and independence, even with these mediations. The Cuban people managed to conquer what Puerto Rico did not then achieved. Rebuilding the story, showing that it was a struggle against the annexation, and a fight was not successful in other contexts, I think that speaks better of vocation for sovereignty Cuba has had since then has.
National independence is one of the major issues that come to 1959. It was at the center of national consensus that hour, that articulated economic nationalism (the recovery of domestic goods), national sovereignty and social justice. It is one of the strong values of Cuban political culture. That’s why I think that until today remains critical, meaning that national sovereignty is the sovereignty of its citizens and is more likely to be defended to the extent that they are more sovereign citizens. Because defend it as a common good, as a good in which their lives depend upon but also the ability to be freer.
Apart from the historical relevance, how the discussion of sovereignty in the current context is placed, considering the changes that are taking place?
I think a much more successful transformation will put the country in a better position to negotiate their international, regional and daily interactions with their environment. A country that builds better relationships, it becomes more diversified in their relations, which is built from the inside more, social, economic strengths of political participation, which builds its sovereignty from below, is in a better position to negotiate their stand before the world.
Sovereignty is also a strategic resource. There is a need to develop economic sectors and building democracy. We should be sovereign to take control of our resources, to determine the diversity of strategic sectors and to not tie the economy or national requirements conditioning redistribution of resources to creditors decisions with the power to impose conditions. It behooves us to take a good part in any instrument in question -in a treaty of integration, exchange, on any type of political relations need to be established-. It protects you to know you’re being part of a community that is respected and treated as equal.
In this regard you mentioned that just now spoke at the inaugural conference of the symposium, the sovereignty of a nation also depends on the sovereignty of its citizens, how sovereign do you believe Cuba is today? In what ways do you think it is or not?
In what sense are we sovereign? First, in international relations. Undoubtedly. Although relations with Venezuela are as crucial, they have diversified, and much, international political and economic relations with Cuba. No one would have to dwell too much on how we have become independent of political pressure from the government of the United States, achieving not reducible to the official rhetoric, because it would be expropriating that achievement to the Cuban people.
Now, if we talk about sovereignty, we have serious problems in other dimensions of sovereignty, such as food sovereignty. Energy sovereignty is also a huge problem. In Cuba the issue of sovereignty dispute with the United States is reduced, but if we think that sovereignty is a dimension that involves many more dimensions, we must consider other issues.
Where there’s deficit, as far as I know, is in the construction of citizenship in Cuba, citizen sovereignty. I think there is a reading of Marxism-Leninism that put aside the concept of citizenship thinking it was a concept belonging to the imagination of the bourgeoisie. Undoubtedly, there is a bourgeois use of citizenship, as there is a bourgeois use of rights, citizenship is not a bourgeois ideal, and much less so are the rights.
Also the issue of democracy seemed at this imagination, a bourgeois resource exception to conceal the class rule, to cover all types of domination. But democracy, as the ability to ensure access to policy sectors excluded from it and to ensure the living conditions of the people is the most powerful political value of history. History shows that only where democracy could be imposed is where there have been revolutionary processes, or who has been a result of struggles and conquests of actors, social groups -nothing reducible to something called “the bourgeoisie” – aimed at social transformation.
And how far this imposition? Where does it end in a revolution the imposition of that first moment, it would be here in Cuba the 60s? And to what extent is legitimate to impose it? Would not it be inconsistent with this of not to seek domination?
Theoretically, a revolution has a moment of closure. It is a critical social and political transformation, breaking a state of affairs and producing another. Continue using the term revolution institutionalized and stabilized after the new order, is an operation that often hides problems arising from post-revolutionary order and its specific distribution of power and advantages and disadvantages for players in the new scenario.
The institutionalization always been done in the name of revolution, the continuity of the revolutionary process, precisely to exploit the symbolic capital. However, it is to rebuild an imagination where the revolution does not come first and democracy later, but where they are built at the same time. The revolutionary method should be the democratic method. To the extent that you are succeeding as a revolution, you’re succeeding as a democracy. I think the triumph of the revolution is none other than the full conquest of democracy.
There is nothing a priori, in stone, which impose or limit, but you’re building consensus and limits at the same time, and you’ll build democratically, with participation, generating conditions of control over political life which is developing. Revolution and democracy are not opposites but part of a process that communicates. The revolution takes to win democracy and democracy is necessary to continue the revolution.