SOMETHING NEW FOR CUBA: CIVIL SOCIETY’S PRIMACY.
Cuba experienced during the 20th century three ways of organization as a nation: colonialism in which the primacy of another nation deprives the colony of its sovereignty; capitalism in which market outweighs the State and the civil society; and this model of socialism in which the State imposes itself in a totalitarian way over market and over civil society. The injustices that these three socio-political and economic ways cause are well known.
Almost anybody would like to come back to the past to copy it identically in our future. Neither one model nor the other such as we have experienced them is right. This is so, among other reasons, because such models don’t exist in almost in any place of this world anymore.
Cuba is searching, following different paths, one way to structure its society. It’s an urgent need. Almost everybody believes that the state of things must change. But the question is: the change, where to?
We believe that every healthy and lasting change should combine: novelty, experiences and roots.
The experiences lived cannot be invented or modified, they are the recent past. They are there. The anthropological roots cannot be torn out from the present or forgotten in the remote past. The national pantheon of the identity is also there and it should be a source and a path for the new things. The things we should recreate, reinvent, conceive and agree are the things that are novel for the future. Then, what would be truly novel in the Cuba of the 21st century?
A long way of reflection has led us to identify a constituent element of the social body which has not been the main protagonist of the nation yet: the civil society.
We don’t say that a flourishing and booming civil society did not exist in the last century until the year 1959 when it started to be thoroughly dismantled. On the contrary we believe that the dense fabric of social interactions and the enterprising and independent character of the civil society during the first five decades of the 20th century built a republic with lights and shadows. But even with its injustices and inequalities, that republic carried in its heart a plural, inclusive and democratic seed, in spite of everything.
The novelty and the concept of civil society.
We believe that “the novel thing” would be to achieve the rebuilding of the civil society with the free and plural participation of all Cubans from the Island and from the Diaspora, first of all, by reaching an agreement on the identification and acknowledgement of what the term “novel”, which is relatively contemporary, means to Cuba. Many understand it this way:
-It’s the open, complex, diverse, inclusive and interactive collection of relations and resources that constitute a social fabric or a civic framework of all those natural groups; social, cultural, sports, political, professional, welfare, supportive associations; of all those religious, fraternal, humanitarian institutions; of all those organizations whether they are local, national or international.
All of them should have as common characteristics:
1. They should be autonomous from any structure of the State, in their foundation, in their procedures, in their financing, in their organization and actions; they should really be non-governmental.
2. They should follow pacific and proactive methods and ends.
3. They should be a free and participative public space. This public space also allows the groups of civil society to debate, to pressure, denounce or cooperate with the State and with the structures of the market, as well as to create states of opinion and pacific and democratic pressure. The debate of the civic and political matters is also a part of the very civil society as if it were its atmosphere or habitat. This civic fabric, that network of initiatives, would give the Fatherland the third leg or the third pillar back; the third column of the national home which is the civil society and it would reach such prominence and levels of participation that it would assume the primacy in the public administration and in the progress and the holistic development of the nation, without the exclusion of the Market or the State.
The civil society: the new name for democracy.
The way to interrelate the three legs of the stool of the nation will define the character, the efficiency and the durability of democracy in Cuba. The interdependence and mutual control of the three powers of the State, which is a basic and a foundational principle and an accepted and acceptable patrimony of the modern States, should also be implemented in the relations between the State, the Market and the Civil Society.
The democracy with the absolute primacy of the market causes inequalities, injustices and exclusions.
The democracy of the Marxist-Leninist socialism causes the same and it establishes a dictatorship of one class over another.
The democracy with the primacy of civil society would be a way to organize the society as:
-A school of empowerment, leadership, inclusion and self-management.
-A fabric of solidarity and a subsidiary principle.
-A network of control and pressure over the Market and the State.
-It generates creativity, richness and a communitarian patrimony, created and distributed as fairly as possible.
Civil Society: Catalyst of Governability and Governance.
What gives true consistency to a nation is not only the capacity of its political government, that is, its governability. It’s also and above all, the capacity of its citizens to organize themselves in the framework of the civil society, and this is known as governance.
Some countries change their prime ministers and cabinets with incredible frequency. These ministers and cabinets undergo crisis and lack of credibility from their parliaments; however, these are countries which don’t lose their social stability or their economic growth or their international role and their governability turns itself sustainable because of the responsible exercise of governance.
The strongest the role of the civil society is, the more reduced and efficient the regulating role of the political power is, and this political power should contribute the legal framework and the guarantee of the social security in a subsidiary way.
Differences between the power vacuum and the civil society vacuum.
If the power vacuum can lead to violence, social disorder and bloodshed during the transit period, the civil society vacuum can lead to:
- The absence of governance during the change so that the responsibility of the “design” of the project can lie again in the hands of a group or a person who are “enlightened” and this leads to the usual leaderships or populisms.
-A democracy that does not have a society educated and exercised in democratic methods and without spaces to experience democracy; without the necessary empowerment and with the hereditary social anomy which is the anemia of democracies.
-A very stringent economic participation which may fall in the hands of the State again or in the hands of some few powerful or some “more clever” persons, organized in new mafias.
-The political parties wouldn’t have a counterpart in civic movements and institutions and this situation may lead to the particracies which mutilates the participation of citizens.
-The State could intervene directly in the life of each citizen without intermediate institutions that can regulate the State competence, support its procedures or denounce its excesses.
What would be the new prominence of the civil society?
Václav Havel, ex president of the Czech Republic, has said: “The most important aspect of civil society is another. It allows people to fulfil themselves. The human beings are not only manufacturers, businessmen or consumers. They are also, and this is maybe their most intimate quality, persons who want to be with other persons, who long for ways to live together and cooperate, who want to have an influence on what happens around them. People want them to be acknowledged because of what they contribute to their environment. The civil society is one of the key ways to spread our human nature in its entirety”. (Havel, Václav. “Civil Society is the Most Legitimate Thing of Democracy”). Vitral Magazine, Year VIII. Nº 45. September-October 2001, page 57)
The new prominence of civil society could be conceived as:
-A route to gain access to the participation in the rest of the sectors of society (political, economic, cultural, religious).
-A reserve of civic education so that each person can exercise the citizen sovereignty that corresponds to him by right.
-A school of participation for a more efficient participative democracy.
-A source of progress in the economic aspect and the holistic human development.
-A factor of pressure to control the political power, the market and the State.
-A network of solidarity to promote and assist the most vulnerable.
-A shield of protection and empowerment for defenceless citizens and minority groups.
To interact is the attitude and the task to rebuild the fabric of the civil society.
Many times the absence of a pretended unity of the civil society in Cuba has been criticised. Some work tirelessly trying to find alternative ways to reach a consensus. And this is good. Every nation needs “lowest common denominators” to prevent it to be disintegrated. However, we believe that democracy carries in its essence plurality and diversity. The desire to standardize or unify everything would be to work crosscurrent. Democracy also carries in its functional structure, the need of the different members of the social body to interact.
To interact and not to standardize. This would be a realist challenge and hope. To interact does not demand from the members to leave their features and social functions behind, and it is always understood to be inside the limits of the pacific cohabitation. The arm cannot be asked to be a leg and the ankle cannot be asked to be a neck. Every association, group or social institution should keep its identity, its social object, its own language, its methods and other codes of cohabitation and public service. An artist cannot be asked to have the language, the task and the actions of an opponent politician but both of them can interact using their respective charismas for the benefit of the whole society. To interact is to connect the diverse social functions, the different services so that they can share the holistic responsibility of the whole social body so that these functions and services can be complementary and co responsible.
The service of integration of the civil society is a work of a perpetual creativity and flexibility in order to train the weavers of cohabitation who devote their endeavor, among other many actions, to: communicate and share experiences; educate for diversity and pluralism: train to prevent the discredit and sectarianism; build bridges and strengthen the ones existing in the Island and in the Diaspora; identify (not define), an ethics of minima; identify (not define), minima common praxis; implement, in common, minima possible and growing works; to weave the small interactive things and turn them into greater networks.
Another interaction which is also necessary would be among the three legs of the national stool. It is about finding among the market, the State and the civil society the mutual control, the balanced regulation, the committed participation and the mutual cooperation for the comprehensive and holistic development of the Cuban society and at the same time the correspondent and healthy autonomy should be kept among market, State and civil society.
We don’t have to wait for the radical change to happen in order to see the slow recovering of the civil society.
So was the experience of the ones who have been through situations similar to ours, each situation with its own nuance. It seems to us it is a castrating obviousness to repeat that Cuba is different from the rest of the peoples on Earth: from the people of Central Europe or the extinct USSR or the Middle East or Latin America. We must have something in common with humankind and we believe that the inalienable longing for freedom and prosperity is what we have in common. That is why we must listen to every pacific experience which searches for the new things and we must discern what we can apply to our reality.
“…even under communist domination, it existed, in a significant degree, a civil society in a stringent meaning and it should be granted the opportunity to exert pressure, to move forward to the establishment of a civil society in its most wide sense (…) in Poland, the Church and the Unions were the ones that defended these proposals (thus, above all, in the associative field); in Hungary, these initially emerged through the development of what was called the second economy (thus, in the field of market); in Checoeslovaquia they were defended mainly in the field of the public debate and the cultural dissidence (that is, above all, in the field of public sphere (…) These practical demonstrations took place during a long period of time (…) and they paved the way (…) that ended up happening in the late 80’s when a ventilation shaft was opened; a window of opportunity, due to the incapability or lack of will of the leaders of the Marxist States and parties to use violence against their own populations.” (Pérez Díaz, Víctor. La primacía de la sociedad civil. Alianza Editorial. Madrid, 1994, p. 140-143)
Cuba has already gone through that “long period of time.” The time to serve as social lab has ended.
The most responsible attitude and the greatest present challenge would be: to use our diverse and plural endeavors to “pave the way” for the primacy of civil society in Cuba.
We make paths as we walk.
Pinar del Río, 25 February 2011
158th Anniversary of Father Varela’s Death.