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A Kick Start for Cuba’s Civil Society

A Kick Start for Cuba’s Civil Society
September 6, 2013
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Young independent film producer Claudia Calviño explains
to me that the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) has become
the State’s representative among filmmakers, and that what these artists
need is exactly the opposite.

This problem isn’t limited to the film industry. One comes across it in
practically all spheres of life in Cuba, for it is part of the model
inherited from the former Soviet Union, where all “mass” organizations
were directed by the Party.

In Cuba, the secretaries of the country’s all-encompassing union (the
CTC) are Communist Party people. This holds for the leadership of the
Federation of Cuban women, the heads of the Committees for the Defense
of the Revolution (CDR) and even the leaders of the island’s farmers’

Some of these organizations have lost the popular base they once had. In
their meetings, debates are few and far between and all directives are
unanimously approved, in the knowledge that they are mere formalities,
words on paper that very few will adhere to.

Today, many of these organizations are headed by professional State
officials, practically obliged, by force of discipline, to carry out all
directives handed down by the Party, even when these do not respond to
the interests of the workers or population group they ought to represent.

In all of my years in Cuba, I have never seen the CTC demand a salary
increase for its members, even though it is one of the key demands made
by Cuban workers. I have run into CDRs that have such top-down
administrative structures that it is next to impossible to organize an
activity involving two of these committees without authorization from
“higher bodies.”

This holds true for legislative authorities. Deputies that have been
dismissed from the Party also disappear from their seat in the National
Assembly of the People’s Power (Parliament), even though they were
elected by the people.

Cuba’s system lacks the counterweights that different social sectors
would need to apply pressure on the government in order to advance their
interests, which are not necessarily the same as those of other sectors
and do not form a harmonious whole, as Soviet manuals envisaged.

Each sector of the population has a set of specific demands, and Cubans
are hungry for ways in which they can convey these demands to the
country’s centers of power and for representatives willing to ensure
that they are given due attention.

The institutionalization of the country is one of the aims of Raul
Castro’s government. Giving civil society organizations autonomy, such
that each can assume, in practice, the role it theoretically has, could
be a step in this direction.

Would the government collapse if, during the next May Day parades, Cuban
unions showed up with banners demanding a raise in salaries; the
Federation of Cuban Women denounced domestic violence by offering actual
statistics, or farmers requested the import of tractors to work their

Would all hell break loose if we were to witness the first nay vote
against a bill in the parliament, if the CDRs in my neighborhood sued
the State companies that tear up our streets or if the Federation of
University Students called for open lectures?

Surely no such political Armageddon would ensue, just as there was no
mass exodus of Cubans when migratory restrictions were lifted –
something which has many people asking why such an unpopular and
unnecessary prohibition was maintained for so long.

Re-structuring civil society organizations, handing them over to the
people, could be a way of making the base identify more with them and
feel better represented, leading the way to a more participative and
permanent debate.

A Central American politician was telling me that many of the steps
needed to empower civil society have yet to be put in place in his
country, while the ladder already exists in Cuba. “The problem is that
they only use it to go down.”
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original posted in Spanish by
BBC Mundo.

Source: “Cuba’s Civil Socity and the Ladder that’s Only Working Top
Down” –

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