Mr. President, please be brief

por Alina Bárbara López Hernández

Ideological differences cannot be insurmountable barriers. I learned that by studying the old Republic, where Juan Marinello and Jorge Mañach stood at ideological antipodes, and yet remained united by their love for Cuba, by common cultural projects and by a friendship which was kept separate from discrepancies and personal vicissitudes.

This conviction allows me to collaborate with a blog such as LJC, in which all participants are respected and we have a space to voice our opinions, even though on many occasions we do not share the same views or –as in this case– we may have amicable controversy.

The article ‘The Good Seed’ by my friend Yassel Padrón Kunakbaeva has two essential elements: on one hand, there’s absolute trust in the Cuban government and in the figure of its President –something that’s respectable, yet debatable on many levels–; on the other hand, there’s an intention to reduce those who diverge from its line of thought to labels and pejorative designations –a frankly unacceptable element.

Yassel is upset about what he considers a misinterpretation of Fidel’s words quoted by President Miguel Díaz-Canel in his October 10 speech at the National Assembly of People’s Power: ‘The Revolution is not a fight for the present; the Revolution is a fight for the future. The Revolution always looks ahead, and the homeland we envision, the society we conceive as a just and honorable society of men, is the homeland of tomorrow.’

The quote is from a speech Fidel delivered in 1962, only three years after victory over the tyranny, and one year after the declaration of the socialist character of the process. It was logical that he would express himself like that; that he would make offerings to the future. He was promising a better tomorrow to the first generation of people born with the Revolution, and to all those who, in adulthood, became integrated with enthusiasm and were willing to suffer countless hardships so their children and grandchildren could enjoy, later on, a better life.

Because what Yassel must be clear about is that a revolution, and the sacrifices it imposes, are accepted in order to change and improve the lives of people. The period of time to achieve that cannot be eternal. And that was the point of view of the revolution that triumphed in Cuba, which, in the words of its leader and in frantic times, announced: ‘We have lost more than fifty years, but we will quickly make up for that. We will make up for that time. They made us waste fifty years in the beginnings of the Republic. We shall recover them.’[1]

In accordance with those times, government offices in 1959 had signs which read: ‘We have lost 50 years —we must make up for that— be brief’. Trust in the future became palpable. According to a survey carried out by Hadley Cantril in the mid-1960s, 74% of Cubans polled anticipated a favorable future.[2]

Yassel says that ‘any speech contains phrases which, taken out of context or placed under a certain light, make the author look rather bad.’ Quite true. That’s exactly what happened when President Díaz-Canel —or his advisors?—, decided to quote something that was a happy proposition for 1962, but that now, in 2019, when a fourth generation of Cubans has been born under socialism, is an unwise mention which lays bare the lack of concrete, short-term goals and continues to delegate the possibility of transforming the present, the here and now.

Would the President of Cuba be bold enough to carry out a survey, independently from the PCC, to confirm whether the citizens are as confident in the future as he proved to be in his speech? It would be an exercise to provide some feedback on his work.

If we’re going to quote Fidel, I would rather pull out of my archive this 1966 statement that our bureaucrats never bring up: ‘This revolution is, fortunately, a revolution of young men. And we earnestly hope that it may always be a revolution of young men; we earnestly hope that all revolutionaries, as we grow biologically old, be able to understand that we’re becoming biologically and regrettably old.’[3]

They obviously failed to understand any of that. They are old, and so is their model of bureaucratic socialism, which no country has been able to keep going for more than seven decades. We have just completed our sixth; I think it’s time we woke up.

Some analysts have referred to the departure of the old guard from the new Council of State, but it’s irrelevant that they be absent if their archaic legacy endures: their ideas on the development of society. The idea that, once victorious, the socialist revolution may not retreat and, consequently, society shall always march forward, towards a glorious future, has imposed a mechanistic view of history which causes excessive confidence in the course of the process.

The worst thing about that teleological perspective is that it delegates everything of consequence to the future. For nearly fifteen years, the highest leadership of the country has publicly acknowledged the need to achieve monetary and exchange unity, a necessary condition in order to normalize or update the national economy, but, against all common sense, this is still an aspiration which does not seem imminent. In order to think of a future, we should have to set off on a path to it in the present.

While trying to defend it, Yassel doesn’t realize how much of a disservice he does to the Cuban socialist model when, in an act of resignation, he points out that ‘we must make do with what we have’. You propose a Homeric task, dear friend. We must not fear our critical thinking; that which common sense indicates.

In the crumbling of socialism in the former USSR, the attacks of Soviet intellectuals on the Party were not as decisive an element as Yassel states. It was rather the fact that the Party itself contributed to the process of returning to capitalism, since after so many years accumulating political power and economic benefits, socialism became a hindrance for the leaders themselves. If you want to verify that, check how many of the current Russian millionaires and businessmen come directly from the nomenklatura or are related to the main leaders of the CPSU.

In Yassel’s opinion, speaking of the future is what politicians do. I watched as AMLO took office in Mexico, when he introduced his six-year program. For the Mexican president, the future means six years. I don’t know whether he will achieve it, but it impressed me a lot more than our President’s speech, in which he put off the transformations in Cuba until the twelfth of never.

If I agree with Yassel on something, it’s with his affirmation that the grave mistake some are making is ‘expecting too much’ of the new President. I also accept that his style of work is dynamic, more like that of a younger person. However, based on the new Constitution, I’m not so sure about the true influence he may have on the decisions that could justify this offering of a future.

In Cuba there’s the PCC as ‘the superior leading force of society and the State’. Now the President of the Republic will not lead the Council of State, and will soon designate a Prime Minister who will take charge of the Council of Ministers. In my opinion, which may be wrong, his functions are notably reduced. Will such a promise be within his power to fulfill?

In the above-mentioned speech, President Díaz-Canel reiterated his certainty about ‘the optimism and confidence in the future’ our people have. Perhaps I’m in the category Yassel created of the ‘unconsciously biased’, but I would rather not let emotions cloud my judgment, and I would like to respond to him in the words of Senel Paz, in a 1993 interview by Magda Resik, that hold very true today:

An exaggeratedly positive message, instead of creating an example and acting as a motivation, acquires a demoralizing and conservative character, not to mention what happens when it is so out of line with reality that it begins to lose credibility. In this case, it has no effect on the social dynamics, and it may even be rejected as ludicrous.

If you want us to be optimistic, please be brief, Mr. President, we have wasted too much time with promises of the future. We want the present.

[1] In Revolución, July 7, 1959, p. 20.

[2] Quoted by Louis A. Pérez Jr.: Estructura de la historia de Cuba. Significados y propósitos del pasado (Structure of the History of Cuba. Meanings and Purposes of the Past), Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 2017, p. 355.

[3] Speech given by Fidel at the University of Havana on March 13, 1966, on the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the assault on the Presidential Palace.

(Translated from the original)