Friday, January 22, 2010

Civic Illiteracy

"I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to express it."

I have waited almost a month to write this post, I’ve received passionate emails, insulted and insulting. I had a fairly heated debate with a great friend and writer and I have, finally, reached the same conclusion I came to when I first laid hands on the “Charter Condemning Recent Obstructions and Prohibitions of Social and Cultural Initiatives.

I try not to get stuck on the first idea that comes to mind, but the question tossed out by the friend who brought me this open letter is still unanswered: Who are the real counterrevolutionaries?  I don’t pretend to write directly about the contents of the letter, but rather I want to try to have an argument about the argument, to write about the disconcerting discussions held with those I consider my friends, and to clear my mind; writing has always grounded me. Because in the end, the road to change, to ending censorship, to freedom, is, as well defined by Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths.”  But first, I am bound to admit that I share, without any doubts, the opinions of Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya and, though I do not subscribe to the Declaration of the Intellectuals, I accept much of what it says.

A plural country is not a civic plaza of general consensus, nor a parcel of paradise where contradictions have been relegated to those weak sinners of the earth.  To build the society we dream of, I think, the first thing is to put her feet firmly on the ground, and cleanse ourselves of the impurities that 50 years of monolithic discourse has left in our brains, and stop kicking everyone WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH US.

Dissent is not a sin, criticism is constructive, to disagree is healthy, and to say so publicly, far from being sentimental patriotism, is a civic responsibility.  Some of the fears of “disunity” and “the lack of prudence” are evils borne with pain with the first meeting of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) which our parents attended.  Prudence is what day-by-day, lifts a Cuban from his bed and takes him, ration card in hand, to buy bread; prudence is the conceptual juggling acts that artists perform to slip into galleries and biennials; prudence is the cat-and-mouse game with the dictator; it’s the double standard, the opportunism and the careerism.  Disunity is what breathes between the people and the government.  The rest—criticism and opinion—is tolerance, civility and stimulation for a civil society, even one in its infancy.

Among the objections raised by Yoani and Miriam, the “fanatical” defenders of the letter, and I say fanatical with no intent to offend, believe that when one does not accept criticisms he joins the radical camp; they cite “the cultural character of the same.”  I start from the principle that everything is culture, man is a social and cultural being, and I base everything I say on this.  It is because of this that the letter—without contradicting what I just wrote—speaks of socialism, capitalism, social phenomena and even political-economic-social projects, as a “project that socializes—that is, shares—all its resources, where we all have equal access to exercise power.” (sic)

In my opinion, the collection of signatures is a coherent initiative because it tries to globalize all aspects that concern a country without taking “cultural” positions; and this despite the unpardonable omissions and the ambiguities one finds in it and that prevent me from adding my name to the signatories.

Below I list and comment—with my conscience completely at peace—the concepts about which I have the greatest doubts:
  • Real counterrevolution (who, when where?)
  • Official institutions (are there legal institutions in Cuba that are not official?)
  • Directed from above (from the PCC, the Central Committee, or lower?)
  • Too little space for socialist criticism (and non-socialist criticism, not addressed?)
  • Promote cultural dialog (to resolve social problems?)
  • Our project of social liberation (I have no idea what this is)
  • Irreversible emergence of new social facts, such as digital technologies or the impossibility of isolating our country (perhaps the syntax is deceptive, but what I understand is that—despite contrary efforts—the Internet has slipped into Cuba and with it the watchful eye of international public opinion.)
Much more coherent logical and productive to sign what is omitted or is doubtful, or not to sign but to remain silent for fear of the consequences on a supposed unity; that is—without rancor nor malice— to say what one thinks without evasion, be it of Raúl Castro, the Letter of the Intellectuals, or of the Vice Minister of Culture.

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