Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cuban society: the monologue disguised as dialogue

Cuban society: the monologue disguised as dialogue

"Cuban society is not white or black, it's not a matter of zero or 100."
Rafael Hernández, Cuban professor and Temas editor

"I look around and it is the other blockade which affects us most, that of censorship, intolerance and punishment to those that opine differently."
Yoani Sanchez, Philologist and blogger

There have been two events over the past two weeks that I would've liked to have attended. The first was at Florida International University two Thursdays ago. The second this past Thursday in Havana at the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center.

On Thursday, October 22, 2009 Rafael Hernández a University of Havana professor and editor of Temas delivered a lecture at FIU, according to The Miami Herald titled: Catharsis or Debate? Critical Thinking in the Public Sphere of Cuba Today. According to the Miami Herald the professor argued that "catharsis" or emotional arguments leads to "a denial of alternatives, personal reprobation, verbal aggression . . . a monologue rather than a dialogue." This is a redefinition of the word that flies in the face of thousands of years of history beginning with Aristotle and sets catharsis on its head.

Casually looking at the definition of the word it refers to the "purification or purgation of the emotions through art" that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension by affording its expression leads to the "elimination of a complex." Psychologists say that catharsis offers a way to vent feelings in an appropriate manner. One approach to catharsis in the realm of theater uses negative experiences actively reliving them on stage in order that "participants can develop the creativity needed to find new solutions. " Perhaps a better title would have begun with "debate or dialogue" rather than "catharsis or debate" although in either case all of the terms: debate, dialogue, and catharsis have much to offer within the Cuban context and should not be demonized or marginalized.

When Professor Hernández argues that "If it was only Fidel Castro, it would not be a problem" referring to the denial of alternatives he ignores a half century of history not to mention constitutional and penal law. Now if what he means by this answer is that if others were not following orders and that having the brothers Castro spouting orders with no one to carry them out would end the problem then I would agree, but if the argument is that there are many who deny alternatives and engage in their own monologues and are unable to come together with a constructive program I would respectfully disagree.

In Cuba it is not a question of zero or 100 but rather one or nothing. Either you accept as laid out in Article 5 of the Cuban constitution that the Communist Party of Cuba is "the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the highest leading force of society and of the state, which organizes and guides the common effort toward the goals of the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society" or you do not. No other political party is legally permitted or recognized in the current system. It is one party or nothing.

Furthermore the term nothing or zero applies to the freedoms recognized for Cubans who are in opposition to communism and advocate an alternative socio-economic-political system according to Article 62 of Cuba's constitution along with the warning that attempts to exercise those freedoms to advocate alternatives is "punished by law."

Professor Hernández's swipe at Yoani Sánchez and her Generation Y blog not meeting his vision of critical debate stating that "by definition, it is not an analytical debate ...unfortunately, it has more of catharsis than debate. Sorry,'' and arguing that there is "too much cyber-chancleteo'' [ gutter-level discourse] was both unfortunate and perhaps indicated a lack of familiarity with the material. Yoani's blog has been blocked from viewing in Cuba by the dictatorship.

This brings me to the second event I would have liked to have attended. On Thursday, October 29, 2009 the magazine Temas organized a debate about the Internet at the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center. Several bloggers, among them Claudia Cadelo, attempted to participate and were denied access with the phrase: “The institution reserves the right of admission.” Nevertheless clad with a blonde wig Yoani Sanchez was able to get in and briefly participate. This is an exerpt of her account of the event:

"A young writer asked to speak and lamented that so many had been prevented from entering; then someone came and mentioned terms such as “enemy,” “dangerous,” and “defend ourselves.” When finally I was called, I took the opportunity to ask what relationship there is between the limitations in bandwidth and the many websites censored for the Cuban public."

The questions she raises are concrete and refer to problems that impact most Cubans, and the actions by the organizers to restrict participation by those with a different point of view indicate a monologue disguised as a debate.

Instead of monologues disguised as debates or dialogues and ad hominem attacks disguised as detached criticism the internet offers a virtual space for catharsis, debate, and dialogue which can be the basis of a more open, pluralistic, and democratic conversation on Cuba that in the realm of ideas brings an end to the legally enforced totalitarian monologue.

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