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Polarization and civil society

Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on March 27, 2015

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila,
age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the
Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the
Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is
working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they
sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries,
how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the
emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila’s
living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views;
the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who
lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an
obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat
screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them
together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who,
from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn’t,
try to put limits and Manichean labels on the diversity of phenomena
that make up our reality. Any definition of the framework of this
complex tapestry that makes up a society should be constructed with the
objective of recognizing all of its parts and the right of each to exist.

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens
the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this
country needs to experience. In the current social fabric there are
identifiable strands that have to be considered and that no snip of
intolerance should exclude. If we are aware of our responsibility in
this process of inclusion, then we will try not to arbitrarily cut off
any part of the fabric.

The issue heats up as we approach the Americas Summit in Panama, where
both the Government and the opposition are ready to present their own
versions of Cuban civil society. All indications are that, despite
conciliatory longings on the part of the Panamanian organizers, this
platform is only going to hear a skewed version from each side, not the
so necessary discourse of respect for the other and for plurality that
the Cuban nation needs at this moment.

While it is true that the so-called mass organizations such as the
Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small
Farmers (ANAP) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution
(CDR) behave in the ideological arena like transmission poles from the
powers-that-be, it also needs to be borne in mind that each of them
encompasses a large number of Cubans – whether as an automatic response,
the inability to choose other options, fear, or true complacency – and
every one of our families is made up, for the most part, by members of
these organizations. To ignore them is to amputate a part of our reality.

To disqualify, per se, a person because they are a part of the FMC, the
CDR or the ANAP, for example, becomes an act of sectarianism and
eliminates from the national discussion an essential area of the
citizenry. Among them are some very capable people from the professional
point of view, who will be part of those supporting the economic, social
and legal reconstruction of Cuba. Many of them will be at the Panama
Summit – subsidized by the Cuban Government and chosen for ideological
reasons – with proposals that should be heard.

Sociologists, economists, intellectuals and Cuban academics will bring
solidly supported studies that address the core theme of the meeting:
Prosperity with Equity: The challenge of cooperation in the Americas.
Instead of rejecting them because they come with directives to convert
the event into trench warfare, it would be very healthy to interact with
them and their proposals with respect. Panama could be the moment when
Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land
should be excluded from the national debate.

On the other hand, the Cuban government official campaign has already
begun to vent its venom on dissident figures and groups, the opposition
and independent journalism which will also attend the event in April.
Those attacks are not directed at damaging the self-esteem of the
activists, already used to the verbal violence constantly directed at
them, but rather to avoid any possible dialogue between this part of our
civil society with that part recognized as closest to the Government,
the one that defends the current state of affairs on the island.

Non-government attendees will travel, for the most part, with tickets
and accommodation paid for by foreign institutions and entities, given
the material poverty they experience from their situation of illegality.
However, the selection process for those who will attend,
incarnated that part of Cuba that has lacked internal democracy and a
necessary transparency. Driven by improvisation and material
precariousness, these representative should know that they will also be
evaluated for the ideas and proposals they bring, not just for anecdotes
about the pain and repression they have experienced.

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in
Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who
to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group, but also
that it knows how to engage in politics in an intelligent, measured and
thoughtful way for the wellbeing of all Cubans. Its agenda should
include not only calls for respect for human rights and a framework for
individual and collective freedoms, but must also address the most
pressing everyday problems of the citizens they want to represent.

It is also important for this other share of Cuban civil society that
does not feel recognized in the mass organizations, nor in the
opposition parties, understand that their role is to be a bridge, not an
island. Pointing fingers at both sides from the moral stature of those
who are neither “subsidized by the Cuban Government” nor “employees of
the empire,” only adds more fuel to the fire of distrust.

The small private sector that is trying to prosper on the island, the
sectors tied to the Catholic Church and other denominations, the
academics who have tried at all costs to maintain an independent view in
their analysis, and those groups who defend the rights of minorities,
working for female emancipation, independence for artists and
filmmakers, or an end to racial discrimination, all should know that it
is not helpful to sit on the fence watching the confrontation between
the two poles. They have a responsibility to modulate and form a part of
the tapestry, not snip away at it or remain outside the conflict.

At Yamila’s dinner table everyone wants to live his or her life, have
his or her own autonomy. They have managed it, in the shelter of their
home and the understanding that comes from family ties. Can we reach it
as a nation?

Source: Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez |
Translating Cuba –

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