Sunday, October 2, 2016

International Day of Nonviolence: Reflection on nonviolence in Cuba

"Civil disobedience is the assertion of a right which law should give but which it denies." - Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi was born on this day 147 years ago

October 2nd is recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Nonviolence in observance of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi. This presents an opportunity to reflect on the continuing relevance of Gandhian nonviolence in 2016 and on this blog look at it within the Cuban context.  

Cuban independent journalist Yoani Sanchez interviewed in El Salvador's El Diario de Hoy, on September 29, 2016 describes the mood in among Cubans in the island observing: "Two years after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, Cubans live worse than they could have ever imagined the future would bring." Too many Cubans have passively waited for change to arrive depending on external actors: the United States, the European Union, the death of Fidel Castro to achieve the long awaited change. The reality has begun to sink in that the Castro family has prepared a dynastic succession and have no plans of abandoning power and that the international community is willing to accept their continued rule. 

Cuba has been in the news regularly since President Obama announced a new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 that could best be described as neo-appeasement. Thus far the fruits of the new policy have been disappointing, with a deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba and an emboldened dictatorship that is increasingly violent. Sadly this has led to a new mass exodus of Cubans who have lost hope in a democratic opening in Cuba.  Nevertheless, Cubans need to embrace nonviolence by not ignoring conflicts but developing strategies to confront them nonviolently not only in action, but in speech and in spirit as well. The alternative is a politics of despair that ends in desperation and violence with no guarantee of achieving positive change.

Monument to Mohandas Gandhi in Geneva, Switzerland

Following the path and teachings laid out by Gandhi offers practitioners of nonviolence an effective alternative to war that leads to liberation and the end of tyranny by becoming soldiers of peace. If Cubans want to be free then they should follow in Gandhi's footsteps and resist evil without perpetrating new evil deeds.
This presents Cubans inside and outside of the island with an opportunity to explore and exercise nonviolent discipline in the current debate at a higher level. In 2002, President Vaclav Havel addressed the Cuban people and offered words that should be heeded now:
Our world, as a whole, is not in the best of shape and the direction it is headed in may well be quite ambivalent. But this does not mean that we are permitted to give up on free and cultivated thinking and to replace it with a set of utopian clichés. That would not make the world a better place, it would only make it worse. On the contrary, it means that we must do more for our own freedom, and that of others.
Things have gotten worse since 2002. Human rights standards internationally are declining with the rise of a modernized and totalitarian China, product of a Western policy that has not and does not live up to its own democratic standards. Recognizing this reality does not permit one to abandon the struggle for freedom but demands doing more, and in our small corner of the world that means how we approach the struggle for freedom in Cuba.

3 nonviolence icons: Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Oswaldo Payá
One must consider that for 57 years the Castro body count continues to rise in Cuba and abroad. The murders of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012 is but one high profile example. Not as well known are the death threats that followed against his daughter, Rosa María Payá, and the rest of the Payá family. This drove them into exile in 2013. The same people who were organizing mass executions in 1959 are the same ones in charge today of the Castro dictatorship.
Nonviolence requires recognizing these extreme injustices and the justifiable anger that it generates but at the same time channeling it into creative and productive means to end the injustices. Some would argue that one must remove their anger, as one takes off a back pack, but that is profoundly mistaken. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a different approach that has proven far more powerful: 

"The supreme task [of a leader] is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force." 
Mohandas Gandhi spoke in 1920 of learning "through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world."
This is not hating but harnessing a powerful spiritual energy and channeling it productively. Blowing up and screaming at someone is a waste of that energy that can be channeled into creative solutions to end the injustice.

Christian Liberation Movement conversation on nonviolence
Antonio Ramón "Tony" Díaz Sánchez, a former prisoner of conscience and secretary general of the Christian Liberation Movment,  rejects hatred and forgives past injustices but refuses to forgive those that are ongoing or injustices that will be carried out in the future. Once again he does not do this out of hatred but out of the knowledge that to forgive ongoing and future evils is to be complicit in them: 
"Because what I do not forgive is that the year has started with the same repression that ended last year. What I can not forgive is that in my country, those who govern, do not recognize the need to change to democracy and allow the people to decide in free and pluralistic elections. I can not and do not want to forgive that right now at this instant there are political prisoners in Cuba and that the existing laws guarantee their imprisonment or perhaps the firing squad for others. I do not forgive that young people are living without life projects, while a group in power live as billionaires. Nor do I forgive the complicity of many interests that seek capital now in Cuba without wanting to find out today what is happening there. I do not forgive out of hate. No, no but because forgiving a present and a future of injustice and totalitarianism for your country, is not mercy but complicity with the evil of others."
Taking all the above into consideration on January 2, 2015 came across the following challenge by Stephanie Van Hook of the MettaCenter what she describes as an experiment in nonviolence
"We can train ourselves to transform hostility into its counterparts - compassion and empathy - not because we are not willing to disagree, but because we feel assured that we can disagree and still maintain the dignity of the person with whom we differ.  Like much else in nonviolence, this is an art to cultivate." ... "Listen to someone who holds a difference of opinion from you today. (This can and will be anyone.) What can you learn from them?"
Nonviolent thought can be divided into two general categories: strategic nonviolence and principled nonviolence but although emphasizing different perspectives they need not be in conflict.

Strategic nonviolence takes a pragmatic approach that is based on being more effective then violence. Non-violent resistance is an armed struggle but its weapons are not deployed to do violence or kill. These arms are  psychological, social, economic and political weapons. Gene Sharp argues with much evidence "that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence. Historical studies are cited that demonstrate the higher success rates of nonviolent movements when compared against violent ones:
University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”
Principled nonviolence looks at the spiritual dimension, and the power of an individual to change and in doing so impact the world. Mohandas Gandhi described it as follows on September 8, 1913 in Indian Opinion:
"We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do."
The advantage of principled non-violence and taking it up as a daily practice in ones life is that it gives one the strength to resist provocations and builds up the character of the practitioner that assists in carrying out a strategic nonviolent plan. Metta Center defines principled nonviolence as follows:
Principled nonviolence is not merely a strategy nor the recourse of the weak, it is a positive force that does not manifest its full potential until it is adopted on principle. Often its practitioners feel that it expresses something fundamental about human nature, and who they wish to become as individuals. To adopt principled nonviolence is not a quick and easy decision one can make through logic but a slow, perhaps lifetime endeavor. Nonetheless, we focus on principled nonviolence because we think it has the potential for creating permanent, long-term change.  Ultimately it can rebuild many of our institutions on a more humane and sustainable foundation. In the long run nonviolence is, as Gandhi said, an “experiment with truth.” We have all to experiment with nonviolence in the way that seems best to us, because in the end the world will need all our experiences to arrive at a new order based on nonviolence.
Both principled and strategic nonviolence empower individuals to be protagonists in their own future giving them both the practical and spiritual tools to be able to do more for their own freedom, and that of others.

In pursuing an approach grounded in strategic and principled nonviolence practitioners must be deeply respectful not only of themselves, their adversaries, but also of the existing law. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr explained it as follows: “I  submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." Therefore laws that are just need to be respected and followed while at the same time within a strategic framework to achieve change those laws that are understood to be unjust must be challenged. 

This is the challenge faced by free Cubans today: pursuing nonviolent change that breaks down tyranny in a way that does not harm but heals that sweeps away unjust laws while preserving just laws and expanding them to restore the rule of law in Cuba. 

"A single idea, if it is right, saves us the labor of an infinity of experiences." - Jacques Maritain

No comments:

Post a Comment