Like all things that have even the slightest connection with Cuba, the popular protests of the Cuban masses that erupted in globally noticed form on 11 July 2021 have presented the situation in Cuba in very specific and ideologically conscious forms. It is one given particularly pointed discursive form in the shadow of the intensifying disagreements between the Cuban state and its artistic and intellectual communities since the reinforcement of Leninist discipline on their work, and spiced by the divisions among the U.S. intellectual left (the U.S. right is divided but its discourse does not drive policy in the US at the moment), The same is true of the countermeasures--discursive and physical--of the Cuban state apparatus. Both discursive approaches tend to skew analysis if only because analysis has bee aligned with political and ideological objectives at least since the ate 1950s. In all of this Cuba continues to play its critical global role as an abstract terrain
into which other materialize their own fantasies about idealized political normative realities.
It is in this quite lively and heated context that Domingo Amuchastegui has published a clear eyed analysis that is worth reading. I agree substantially with its viewpoint and assessments. I particularly appreciated the subtext: that the reason that things remain unchanged for the last 40 years or so is because it is in the interests of the major players (and their intellectual servants) to ensure that everyone is committed to change but that change does not occur. The bottom line, as it always tends to be in these erupts of popular protest, revolves at a conceptual level around battles for control of the narrative of representation, of oppression, and of legitimacy offering solutions (abstract or concrete. Domingo notes that this narrative remains up for grabs.
On the other hand, both parties claim the monopoly of embodying "the people" [its demos]. Big mistake. Vast segments of the polity populate both sides of this conflict. There are thousands of Cubans protesting and thousands still loyal to the government; a scenario that recalls that of "masses against masses." Such polarization stems from the current situation of hardships, extreme shortages, total lack of incentives (both material and socio-cultural), dollarization (beyond what is usual in the Cuban context) and, in particular, the reaction to the effects of the so-called «Ordenamiento».
That is, of course, less obvious to most people than I would have thought possible, but people tend to be blinded by their desires—and so both left and right (and especially in this country what passes for its intelligentsia) can be easily managed with the appropriate inducements. And Cuba has been an ideological fetish object for consumption by global intellectuals (of all political schools) since 1959. The current situation in Cuba has produced a stability (with the appearance of dynamic possibilities) that serves those who have made careers or fortunes or achieved positions of prominence on their maintenance. The cultivation of hope, and the jabbing of the status quo at the margins is a very profitable endeavor for everyone on all sides of the conflict. The overarching themes are frustration. And the undertones of that frustration tend to be avoided precisely because of the ideological investment in the resolution of the "problem" of Cuba by the antagonists on both sides of the Straits of Florida. Those undertones underline the constant disjunctions between what the antagonists say (their discursive positions) and what they do (their performance of meaning).
On the other hand, and here Domingo and I tend to disagree; I still believe the Cuban state apparatus will follow some contextually appropriate variant of the Hong Kong playbook (because that is what they want and because the utility of that approach is likely being whispered in the ears of those with authority over such matters in Cuba by those whose whisperings tend to be influential). That playbook involves patience, provocations on the ground to change the optics, a strong focus on discourse and optics (the listening sessions with local academics was a nice touch); and then discipline of everyone identified as a "troublemaker" or "instigator" certainly since 11 July, especially those who it may be worth making an example (and those who have not made some sort of accommodating arrangement with the state or PCC). And the efforts of intellectuals to foment some sort of "internationalism form below" will meet the same fate as the similar movement toward international autonomy within sovereignty movement at the heart of the Hong Kong street protests--especially given the anemic support from international actors "from above." But again ideology and the fantasy-fetish that is the "ideal-ideal" of Cuba drives these actions on both sides.
I think that Domingo's objection that might be made to this line of reasoning also has power: that Cuba is not HK and the local conditions and historical circumstances will not produce a similar result. That also is correct I think—but it will not prevent people from trying the HK approach—especially those very panicked members of the Cuban nomenklatura
who refuse to face the changing economic and social conditions that their lack of vision since the VIth Congress has produced. For them this is personal, ironically in the same way that it has become personal for the masses on the streets (once one wades through the post hoc ideological discourse that is packaged for the consumption by prospective allies). And it ia always worth remembering that Raul Castro and the Cuban military establishment (FAR) have not yet disappeared. Domingo is absolutely correct in noting that this is a problem brought on by the stubborn intransigence of the Communist Party itself--not merely one of implementation, but of a deliberately rigid dogmatism that refused to acknowledge the emerging realities even as other Marxist Leninist states showed that this was not merely possible but power reinforcing in ways appealing to the sensibilities of developing states (discussed at length HERE
). What made this intransigence tragic was that any number of officials have understood this since almost the beginning of the 21st century but have been unable to move the core Party leadership. U.S. policy provides the cover. . . and the excuse (echoed by nomenklatura
sympathizers in the US Congress and the social movement intelligentsia in the US. . . an ironic pity) . . . but is it its cause. That lies squarely with the leadership whose choices and ideological risk aversion has brought current conditions to this point.
Domingo's discussion of this point is worth careful consideration. His closing suggestion, that "The short term will be decisive, and it will be undertaken on the basis of the forgotten premise that: 'We change or we sink'" is nicely juxtaposed against the action of decades by the state and other actors. It is a reminder that explosions occur in an instant, but that its character is the product of layers of decisions, of personal and institutional politics, of changes caused by or exogenous to, the society now confronted by the central contradictions all of this actions finally bring to their decisive stage. In this case the central contradiction is not those critical to the development of Chinese Marxist Leninism (class struggle to the development of productive forces to the more equitable distribution of social goods). It is instead this: the alignment of the political vanguard with its people, and of its ideology with the conditions of the present historical era.The failure of the Party's leadership to do either (or to do them well, even though its leaders know very well what must be done) will contribute to the factors that will determine a decisive outcome in the short term.
The essay was originally published in Spanish in the blog La Joven Cuba
, auspiciously enough on the 26th July 2021 (a very important date in the Cuban revolutiobary calendar which marks this year the 68th anniversary of the Fidel Castro led raid on the Moncada Barracks that marks the start of the revolutionary movement). La Joven Cuba was started by students at the University of Matanzas in 2010. It describes itself
as "un proyecto
de análisis e incidencia política en Cuba con más de una década de historia. Sus miembros
y colaboradores se extienden por varias provincias de la isla, América Latina y Estados Unidos." (a project of analysis and political events in Cuba with more than a decade of history. Its members and collaborators can be found in several provinces of the island, Latin America and the United States. LJC emerged in 2010 as a blog based at the University of Matanzas).
It is republished here with permission, along with my translation of the original Spanish into English.
Domingo Amuchastegui has had a long and distinguished career. He has served as Cuba's Chargé d'Affaires in Guatemala, was Department Head of Socialist Countries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department Head of the Organization Departament at the Tricontinental Organization (1960s-70s), Chief Analyst in the Intelligence Directorate and "Liberación", and a Professor of Contemporary History and Regional Conflicts at the Universidad Pedagógica and the Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales (Cuba). He is the author of Historia Contemporánea de Asia y Africa
(4 volumes), Palestina: Dimensiones de un Conflicto
, Angola in the XX Century
(1988)and the co-author of Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis
. In addition he has written hundred of articles and essays for Cuba News, Cuba Standard, and various Cuban publications. He participated in fact-finding missions throughout Africa, Asia and Chile, served as Chief analyst during Fidel Castro's visit to Chile and adviser to the Angolan Government (1986-1988). He has resided in the United States since 1994.