One of Cuba’s most prominent moderate dissidents, historian Manuel Cuesta Morúa (pictured), says the recent talks between Catholic Church leaders and the government of Raúl Castro mark the start of a “new time” for the country.
In this interview with IPS, Cuesta Morúa, spokesman for the Arco Progresista, a social democratic dissident movement, discusses the significance of the Church’s mediation efforts, which led to the relocation of six prisoners from provincial jails to facilities closer to their homes on Tuesday, Jun. 1.
The six form part of the original group of 75 dissidents handed lengthy sentences in 2003 on charges of treason for conspiring with the United States to destabilise the government, 53 of whom are still in prison. (The others were released on parole for health reasons.)
Observers say the relocation of the prisoners could be a first step in a process that could lead to the release of at least the remaining imprisoned dissidents who have health problems.
Cuba’s dissident organisations are illegal but tolerated to varying extents by the government, which sees them as small groups with no social base that only exist due to logistical and financial support from the United States.
Q: Beyond the fact that talks between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government are a dialogue “among Cubans” to address a problem that involves the political opposition, how do you see this development in terms of the recent history of the country?
A: This is the start of a new time for Cuba. Perhaps it is hard for us to see the forest for the trees, as we are in the midst of what is going on. But I believe we are looking at a new forest, one that all Cubans, through different routes, are entering and rediscovering.
One of the essential things is to see how solutions are found to old conflicts in the big issue of tension between the state and the citizens. What is emerging now is a new context in the midst of tension, but one that is richer when it comes to imagining solutions with regard to the future.
Cuba is moving into that new context with a classic solution: the Catholic Church mediating between the state and the citizens — a role that many believed it would not be able to play due to a variety of reasons, one of which was that this type of government and society did not tolerate any actor other than the state to confront problems.
And this new time is starting to “normalise” the country and open up possibilities for the state to reflect the complexity of Cuban society. I’m not saying that all of the consequences will be positive and will satisfy everyone, but that new paths are opening up and that a mediator in the conflicts has appeared.
Q: In your view, what would a “normalised” Cuba be like?
A: Cuba should “normalise” both in international terms and internally. We are gradually becoming a normal society — what is happening in terms of the openness to sexual diversity is one proof of that — but this social “normalisation” has not yet been reflected in the structures and institutions of the state.
“Normalisation” means that the government does not turn its back on reality, that it tackles big problems head on, that it adapts to society and does not try to get society to adapt to it. In other words, lowering the expectations for utopia and getting in tune with society.
And the government should accept that Cuba has been a plural society from the very start, from the cultural, religious and philosophical points of view and even in terms of how people deal with everyday problems. This pluralism has an impact on life, and accepting it has consequences in terms of how the state is organised, and with respect to society and how people see those who are different from them.
Q: In this process of “normalisation”, there is a civil society that is recognised by the government and whose issues and demands coincide, in many cases, with those of the opposition. A few years ago you told IPS that this process could deprive some opposition groups of a raison d’etre; how do you see that now?
A: I think many of these projects, in the long run, tend to displace a not insignificant number of initiatives by the opposition. In some cases, in the groups and initiatives that are tolerated (by the authorities), there is a higher level of preparation and sophistication than in the opposition, and this tendency could mark the way things unfold in the future.
But perhaps in some areas, that won’t happen because of another important reason: the connection with society. Many projects accepted by the government have more to do with the concerns, interests and visions of the elites, and in some cases would appear to be trapped in the cultural and ideological parameters of the powers-that-be.
Meanwhile, a significant number of opposition initiatives do not have an echo in society, but they better express the sensibility of the common citizen. However, they may have a lower cultural, intellectual and political level, and at times they are seen as a good springboard for leaving the country.
Q: Why is getting citizens to participate on their own initiative a central focus of the Nuevo País (New Country) project, of which you are one of the driving forces?
A: I am among those who believe that in Cuba there is a certain level of participation, but that the state defines in what area and to what extent, and sets the limits on that participation, and of course the results are those desired by the people in a position to set the limits.
We want people to decide for themselves, to participate because they want to, not because they are called to do so.
In other words, we want citizens to be a source of legitimacy. Here, the source of legitimacy is the Revolution, and citizens have to look inside the Revolution to propose any kind of action or suggest a political view. What we are suggesting is for that process to happen without any kind of mediation.
We don’t tell people which direction they should go in; we tell them they have the right to decide which direction they want to go in.
Above and beyond the individual citizen, the question would seem to be whether Cuba’s problem will be gradually resolved as adequate responses are provided to the problems faced by different segments of society, or whether a global approach is necessary. I’m really not sure.
This article was published by Inter Press Service
Photo credit: IPS
Any opinions or viewpoints that are published herein are directly from the contributing author and does not necessarily represent the philosophy or viewpoints of Latin America Bureau