Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
I don’t know Manuel Cuesta Morua personally. I never met him while I lived in Cuba. Until the 90s we lived in different spaces. And since then we went close but separated. At that time Cuesta Morua did his first steps in the Democratic Socialist spectrum, and I was working on an intellectual project which was called the Center for American Studies and was brutally decimated by the Communist Party in 1996.
By then I was a victim of the top-down fragmentation from which the Cuban society is suffering, and which prevents some citizens from connecting with others, and getting to know each other. But it is also likely that even if I had come to know Cuesta Morua, I would have flinched from getting to know him personally, for I also was a victim of submission to the authoritarian rules of political correctness that makes being in contact with an opponent a reason to lose the permission necessary for giving an opinion in the brief space of public opinion.
Anyway that ended in 1999, when I was expelled from my job and the Communist Party (in this case because of "treason"), I was forbidden from travelling abroad (Cuban leaders have always believed that remaining in Cuba is a punishment) and was threatened with legal proceedings under a law with an extremely long name that has been shortened by a graphic one: the Global Gag Rule. And it was from late 2000, when I was exiled in the Dominican Republic, when I began to read Cuesta Morua, then engaged in the founding of the Social Democratic Convergence Arco Progresista and the operation of the Mesa de Reflexión de la Oposición Moderada, the most ambitious project of the opposition, finally dissolved in 2003.
Having read his work and having followed his political career, and because somehow I am aware of how the Cuban political system works, I understand what others consider nonsense: his submission to an interim measure under the Article 115 of the Penal Code accusing of violating international peace. That is why Cuesta Morúa could not leave the country for 10 months and 15 days and had to go to a police station to sign a document that just proved his staying there during the whole time. I also understand that, contrary to the law itself, the measure exceeded the time limit of six months without starting a legal case, so that at the end the process was dismissed, in a system, as the Cuban, which not only works on the basis of draconian laws but on their arbitrary violations when convenient to power.
Of course Manuel Cuesta Morua never attacked international peace. He is a supporter of peaceful agreement and has the valuable quality to differentiate shades and tender hands. That is precisely why Manuel Cuesta Morua is quite dangerous for the Cuban political totalitarianism.
It is, obviously, because he has been a tireless opposition activist for 25 years. But it is also because he has managed to do so avoiding binary polarizations, and assuming that there was a revolutionary event marking the Cuban present and should be incorporated as constitutive reality of the present and the future. Because he qualifies politics and is able to perceive "definitive mutations" in the society of which it is required to take note and on which to act. Because he is able to testify without blushing that a statement of the official newspaper Trabajadores is "an event in the official media that deserves a closer look". But above all, and herein lies the uniqueness of Manuel and his team, because he understood that it’s not that easy to produce a democratic opening or dismantling the locks on the economy, but it is necessary to raise a holistic alternative that involves, above all, a new culture of coexistence. This is precisely what the reader will find in the 14 articles, writings and essays in this volume that the author wrote between 1997 and today.
Unable to summarize each of these documents, I want to dwell on what is one of the leitmotifs of the book: the issue of building democracy. For obvious reasons, the issue crosses all articles, and captures all the attention of some of them.
In Institucionalidad política y cambio democrático, written in 1999, Cuesta Morua makes a dissection as politically scathing as intellectually provocative about the issue of transition. The transition - a process he perceives as multidimensional and not tied to voluntarism - was already in process:
"Cuba, he says, is in transition because of definitive mutations in the ideological, cultural, sociological, economic and political dimensions... That’s why we talk about post-totalitarianism; but these mutations are occurring in important areas on the sidelines of the real influence of alternative movements; without creating a significant response by society and under the apparent continuity of the political regime."
Obviously, many of the reasons that led to this result “continuista” are located in the weakness of the opposition and in the nature of a political system that generated a dramatic uncovered space between "moral certainty and political citizenry caught by totalitarianism". But the way the Cuban issue was dealt internationally and internalized by the dissents also conspired in this direction. "The democratization strategy that internationally predominates is a double brake for the Cuban transition" he highlighted, and in particular the US political leadership "discredits the construction of an institutional minimum of democratic change and doubly legitimizes the current political model in Cuba", weakening the options of civil society.
Cuesta Morua returns to the topic later on, when he will refine his holistic perception of the democratic transition, and focuses on what constitutes a strong point of his meditation: the construction of citizenship.
As I mentioned before, Manuel has never been a consumer of the Carl Schmidt binary description of friends and enemies in politics. Probably because he has known about the repeated failures of some sectors of the opposition -internal and emigrated- when they have turned to Manichaean models of explanation and action. And surely because he knows of the damages that this has generated for the post-revolutionary Cuban elite. And from there he has achieved to propose a suggestion for the construction of citizenship that not only exceeds the 19th century vision of the Cuban state, but the same formulations that have emerged in the range of Cuban civil society which elsewhere have been called " critical complaisant companions ". By the way this is a space that gathers a substantial part of the best Cuban intellectuals.
In his article "Towards deliberative democracy: radical democracy in progress", he criticizes the traditional liberal views of representative democracy and the use of majorities. And instead he proposes what he calls an incremental vision of democracy that rests on three basic ideas: multiculturalism, distributional equity and individual auto-recognition based on human rights. Although the article mainly aims to analyze some Latin American experiences, he makes vital references to the Cuban society where political totalitarian regime cannot coexist with substantial differences, so it has been forced to make them invisible, or discipline them when it has been forced to accept them, for what the current governmental LGBT movement is an obvious example.
The proposal for a radical democracy based on the pluralist perspective of cultural citizenship and identity is a step of theoretical and political advance of first order, due to revalidating the original notion of citizenship as a commitment to the Republic and break the holy Westphalian trinity territory / people / state. Revalidation as Chantal Mouffe provided for the "return of politics": "citizenship as a form of political identity created through identification with the political principles of a modern pluralist democracy, that is to say the assertion of freedom and equality for everyone."
I do not think that Cuesta Morua - politician and intellectual- had other theoretical options after not only criticizing the political monism, but also the prevailing racism in Cuban cultural elites. About this topic a brilliant dissection can be found in the essay "the racism carried inside." To view ourselves as the result of “pluriform grafts” highlighted by Manuel, is the only option to be aware for the emergence of the ethnic, generic, etc identities in the Cuban society based on the egalitarian consensus. And it opens a door to prepare the Cuban society for an inevitable fact: its transnational character.
I could go on for many pages, recreating what was a joyful reading of refreshing thoughts that say much about the Cuban and Latin American contemporary society. But it would be vain of me to think that I can do better than Manuel does in this interesting book that CADAL has wisely published. Hopefully these ideas will circulate widely in the awakening Cuban society that deserves, in order to decide about its future, to know these other viewpoints that are withheld from the public, sometimes by repressive vocation, others by opportunism, others by a loyalty that has turned into shameful complicity.
As Manuel Cuesta Morua himself says in one of his articles and practices it from a tireless activism which now focuses his work in organizing public debates on the need for a new constitution and a new civility:
"That is our alternative. To provide some tools, horizontal, non-hierarchical, neither bosses nor caudillos, without important people nor arrogant wise men, through which citizens, inside and outside Cuba -Cubans outside matter for more than sending or bringing money-can define how they want to express their rights, their concerns and how the state and the government should treat them."
Something very democratic and therefore very dangerous for a political elite that in the name of socialism and of the nation prepares the authoritative restoration of capitalism and its own bourgeois metamorphosis. As the General / President usually says: slowly but tireless.
Santiago de Chile, November 17, 2014