HAVANA — Contrary to the perception of many abroad, political debate is a constant element in the daily lives of Cubans. It is present throughout the social fabric and is expressed in a plurality of opinions that is quite different from the purported unanimity that the main media tend to reflect.

The media’s deficit in this regard is a source of general dissatisfaction and has been criticized by the nation’s authorities themselves.

As happens everywhere, this debate is joined by the opponents of the regime. These people can be found at all levels of society and it is quite common to hear them express their opinions in formal and informal circles of discussion.

The most vociferous examples of this trend are those who organize themselves in the so-called “dissident groups,” manipulated deliriously by the international press. However, these “dissidents” have scant credibility and repercussion in Cuba, due to the primitiveness of their proposals and their organic links to the United States Government.

The most interesting aspect, in my opinion, is what’s happening inside the system. It takes place within the political organizations — including the Communist Party — and in the academic and cultural institutions, in the alternative media and in the heart of society as a whole.

There, the differences coexist or clash in a climate of freedom that might seem surprising for some foreign observers but that Cubans view as quite natural.

In this environment, the topics discussed are very diverse. In first place are the economic situation and the government’s efforts to deal with it, followed by the functioning of the political and government institutions, the problems dealing with social behavior, the condition of public services, cultural policies and international relations.

On all these topics, Cubans show an exceptional interest and preparation, when compared with other parts of the world.

It is hard to establish the matrices of opinion on which the various positions are based because, in most cases, they don’t respond to a fully elaborated theoretical body but reflect criteria on specific problems or strategic visions that sometimes blend, to the point that the real contradictions between themselves become indistinguishable.

The best we can do to characterize the various tendencies is to say that they agree on what is NOT wanted for Cuba. In them, we can find coincidences in the defense of the nation’s sovereignty that respond to heartfelt feelings of national pride. Those who adhere to these tendencies are not willing to renounce the achievements made in education, public health, protection of the individual, and fair social equity.

Those people (with greater or lesser doctrinaire clarity) are defenders of socialism as a social system, even if they differ in the way that socialism should materialize. Therein lies the richness of the debate, inasmuch as — as Fidel once said — at this point in time nobody knows exactly how socialism is constructed.

Here we see two visions that mark the intensity of the debate, although they’re not expressed in a chemically pure fashion. On one hand there are the traditionalists, those who conceive socialism in terms of assumptions that they consider indispensable for its definition, and in the other are those who propose to revise such assumptions.

As it often occurs in such cases, the extreme ends of the poles are held by the intransigent, people who are excessively dogmatic and disqualify any position that doesn’t fit their criteria, and by others who appear to be so liberal that socialism loses its essence and becomes an entelechy.

But the extremes are always in the minority — though not necessarily dismissible — and also have a right to express themselves, although sometimes they vitiate the debate and limit the possibility of consensus.

In general, the majority are positions that are well elaborated and intelligent; plus there’s an interest in debating them, a reflection of the political culture achieved by the Cuban people amid processes that are sometimes traumatic but determine the nation’s life course.

For better or for worse, in the first 30 years of the Revolution, foremost in Cuba’s political conscience was a certainty over the assumptions regarding socialism and the methods needed to develop it.

Those were years when no revolutionary doubted the impending end of imperialism and the irreversibility of socialism on a global scale. Later came the debacle in the socialist camp and certitude ended, although in the case of Cuba the majority’s desire to pursue the project at any cost was maintained.

That position responded not only to utopian views but also to the virtues of a system that demonstrated practically its ability to resist, which propitiated a closing of ranks around the most radical stances.

These virtues, however, were undermined by the emergence of contradictions thereto unknown to Cuba’s socialist society that had noxious effects on the sustainability of the economic model, amid the conditions imposed by the lack of options vis-à-vis the capitalist international market.

It then became necessary to reform the economic model, which — together with the reestablishment of relations with the United States — has brought a new dynamics to Cuban reality, whose complexity responds to objective factors that impose the need to build new forms of consensus.

This is not an easy task since, on one hand, it is difficult to change the mentality of generations of Cubans who grew up in a vision of socialism that today seems threatened and, on the other, the new approximations lack the maturity and clarity needed to mobilize the majority of the population in quest of their proposals.

Add to this the distortions generated by the new juncture, where it becomes increasingly complicated to conciliate individual aspirations with the exigencies of the common good.

Distrust grows regarding the feasibility of the goals, which has generated phenomena such as a rise in emigration, an increase of individualism, and political apathy — undoubtedly the most dangerous of all trends.

The only thing that’s clear is that these conflicts can be solved only through debate. Therefore, it’s vital to have a conscious willingness to propitiate debate and that requires a policy that will take advantage of the collective intelligence in order to perfect socialist democracy.

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