Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ramy: The Dialiectics of Consensus

Yes, but no. No, but yes.
The dialectics of consensus

By Manuel Alberto Ramy

If Shakespeare had lived through this Cuban moment, he would have exchanged his quandary of "to be or not to be" for the title of this article, in which I attempt to answer questions that motivated my previous article ("The process of changes is ongoing".) The most-frequently-asked question is "Why is a consensus needed to make reforms if everything in Cuba is done by unanimity?"

Almost all of the people who ask that question live in the United States. It figures.

The image held abroad of Cuban society and our institutions is one of absolute unanimity. In good measure, this image has been fed by our own information media, which can provide various explanations for the phenomenon.

But reality does not match that projection, and in passing I say that I wouldn't be surprised if several municipal organizations of the People's Power have in the past (and on more than one occasion) rejected candidacies submitted by the National Commission on Candidacies for the Provincial Assemblies and the National Assembly. If this happened, it wasn't reported. But let's go on.

The need for consensus (the reaching of accords among parties that differ on specific topics), which interim President Raúl Castro has referred to in his latest speeches, reveals that while there is unanimity on basic issues -- the defense of the national sovereignty and the essential achievements of the Revolution; the need to concretize Cuban socialism -- there is also a diversity of opinion as to how to maintain those achievements and to advance in the current domestic situation and the tangled international context.

There is a diversity of opinion both in the established structures and institutions and society. The "how" and "how far" to develop the process of inevitable reforms demands a consensus among the different tendencies, because we must avoid fractures. It is a question of reforming within socialism, not of restoring the capitalist system. It is a question of making the citizens' participation in decision-making more effective and real, and of having greater control over political and administrative actions.

It is also inescapable to make certain structural reforms that, no matter where they begin (inevitably in the economy), will have repercussions in political circles. Let's not forget that a greater economic democracy (and here I refer to a greater socialization of the production-and-services sector) will bring more political democracy. This would force us not into a multiparty system, as some people might think, but into a plurality of opinions, which, in addition to being respected (as has been the case) will have to be "consensualized," harmonized.

Reality demands reforms. The people demand them with a foot on the accelerator. So does the intellectual sector within society (academicians or not) but with a full realization that we must use the clutch and the gearshift as well. This sector shows discrepancies as to the measures that could be implemented, especially in the depth and direction of the changes, as well as the mechanisms or levers that must be used in the economic field.

If the reader has any questions, he should access the Web page of the magazine Temas and read the articles by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker and Juan Valdés Paz about the interview that months ago I conducted with sociologist Aurelio Alonso, published in "From Havana" under the title "Less fear that people might make money."

There, we see that in the bosom of society there is a need to reach a consensus, an accord, a need to find points of coincidence that harmonize. And in the Communist Party of Cuba? Well now, with Raúl Castro's recent statement that because there is only one party, the party needs to be more democratic, the doors to diversity of opinion have been flung open. A free discussion, collective analysis, consensus and a consistent behavior.

But "will this party-based democracy work? Is it working?" These are other questions I've been asked. I respond with one example.

Exactly one year ago, there was a colloquium about the "Gray Quinquennium," a period characterized by censorship and alienation in the world of culture. The debate included e-mails, discrepancies, and proposals. The magazine Criterios, which is not funded by the government, offered its small office for debates. That office was too small and the Casa de las Américas, an official institution, offered one of its halls. The topic of the Quinquennium overflowed the strictly cultural boundaries and invaded the political terrain.

The Communist Party and the National Union of Writers of Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) reached an accord and achieved consensus. Debates took place in educational centers; they were very harsh and critical and I reported on them.

Did the consensus satisfy all the parties involved? Not altogether, but there were strong debates and strong criticism. Was it reported by the press? NO, but partly YES, because the subject was treated in two articles by Granma, the party's official publication.

Even more recently, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, a national TV channel showed the controversial documentary "Out of the League," which -- even though it had been nominated for the national award in its category -- had been shelved for five years. The controversial part of the documentary is that it interviews famous Cuban baseball players -- among them the stellar "Duke" Hernández -- who left the country and play (or have played) in professional baseball, mainly in the United States.

In the interviews, those players affirm their Cubanness and their feeling of belonging to the national team in which they once played. And the statements by their fellow players, back in Cuba, were not at all hostile.

If athletes and artists are opinion leaders, how can we accept those images and statements on TV?, asked some people in important sectors and institutions. Others, especially in the sector of culture, disagreed with that reaction, and remained consistent with the achievements of the debates about the Quinquennium.

The result? The program was broadcast thanks to the maturity of achieving a consensus of opinion. How? I imagine that one sector asked that it NOT be broadcast on a national channel but YES, it might be broadcast in the City of Havana channel. Another sector opined: YES, we should show it, but NOT nationwide.

The dynamic (or dialectic, whichever you prefer) of the YES-but-NO and the NO-but-YES was successful. Neither position won 100 percent, something very difficult in consensual processes, but the important thing is that the program was shown, and the trend to an opening prevailed. Moderately, but it prevailed.

The process of reforms, which must result from a consensus of society as a whole, will not develop in a lineal manner, as I have written previously. It will move forward, retreat, zig and zag, but it will advance by a consensus of positions. Short-term, no one will come up with 100 percent. But whoever can create the conditions to support his demands will come out ahead.

Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana bureau chief of Radio Progreso Alternativa and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.

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