Something is lacking, however, in the rapprochement between our two peoples. Cuba affirms that it is socialist, and that it is and has been constructing socialism based on democratic principles. However, it does not explain the character of democracy in its socialist society, as a political system that puts power in the hand of the delegates and deputies of the people, and not in the hands of political representatives and political parties that are under the influence of corporations and elite foundations (“Human rights and Cuba’s reasons” 10/8/2018). In the evolving rapprochement, Cubans explain and defend many aspects of their society, including their gains in such areas as health, education, sport, and culture; but there is a strong tendency among Cubans to avoid the theme of their alternative structures of popular democracy.
I think that Cubans are not fully aware of the extent that they avoid the theme, for they do indeed endeavor to explain their principles and many features of their society, insisting on their right to sovereignty. The avoidance, conscious or not, is rooted, in my view, in a desire not to offend. There is, after all, a certain indelicacy for a Cuban to say to persons from the representative democracies, “our Cuban system is more democratic and more advanced than yours, because it was forged by the people and not by the elite and their surrogates.” Indeed, it is hard to avoid this indelicacy, inasmuch as the socialist structures of popular democracy cannot be explained without invoking a contrast with the bourgeois structures of representative democracy, from which popular democracy evolved.
Meanwhile, North Americans tend to avoid the subject. Even the supporters of Cuba, including those of the Left, have been influenced by many of the distortions about Cuba, and they assume that Cuba has some deficits when it comes to political and civil rights. So they too are reticent about discussing such political themes, not wanting to offend.
But we must move beyond this impasse. Even though no political system in a particular country can function as a model that should be replicated elsewhere, the Cuban political system is an exceptional example that has many insights to teach the world. In order to offer its wisdom accumulated from its practical experience, Cuba must explain its system, if there is to be a meaningful conversation. Exchanges of ideas on the meaning of democracy could be the most fruitful benefit of the emerging historic reconciliation between the peoples of the United States and Cuba. It would occur in a historic moment in which socialist nations like Cuba, China, Vietnam, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are finding their way; and the representative democracies, not able to defend their nations and peoples nor to resolve the contradictions of the unsustainable world-system, are experiencing a crisis of delegitimation.
During the Obama opening, an educational program was developed in the United States, in which Cuban youths were brought to the USA for a few weeks to be educated with respect to U.S. “democratic” values. Members of the Cuban press criticized the program, implying that it was an interference in Cuban affairs. I was not in agreement with this criticism by the Cuban press. I think that the United States has the right to offer programs to youth from other nations, educating them is its values. To be sure, the United States does not have the right to employ Cubans to engage in political activities in Cuba, as it has been doing for many years; such comportment indeed is interference in Cuban affairs, and Cuba consistently demands its cessation. However, the United States does have the right to offer scholarships and education to Cuban youth, and to send them back to their native country more enhanced by the experience.
Furthermore, Cuba has every right to do the same, to educate youth from the United States concerning Cuban history, the Cuban political-economic system, Cuban culture, and Cuban values. Cuba would not have a right to finance and politically support a Cuban-inspired vanguard political party in the United States. But Cuba does have the right to exchange ideas with U.S. youth who are admirers of Cuba. Such an exchange could appropriately include the characteristics of a vanguard popular political party, discuss and the characteristics that such a vanguard political party might have in the United States. And it could include exhortations that the U.S. youths return to their native country to try to form a vanguard political party, with best wishes from Cuba. In accordance with its respect for the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other nations, Cuba would send with the U.S. youths only its best wishes, and not money, political advisors, or arms.
Such educational programs in the two countries competing for the hearts and minds of youth from Cuba and the USA could be a dimension of the normalization of relations. Each country would create educational programs for the youth of the other. And as part of the financial settlement for the damage caused to Cuba by the U.S. blockade, the USA could agree to pay for scholarships for programs in Cuba for U.S. youth, with the number of scholarships proportionate to (taking into account the different sizes of the two nations) the number of Cuban youth being educated in the United States. It would be a civilized conclusion to the economic and sometimes military attack of the United States against Cuba for a half century, transforming the conflict to the battle of ideas. I have no doubt, having lived in the heart of the two nations, that Cuba would emerge with greater strength and prestige in such a battle of ideas, because Cuba’s reasons are much more scientifically informed and much more in accordance with the values that humanity has proclaimed. But let the USA try to prove otherwise.
In any Cuban effort to explain its political system, it ought not necessarily focus on the Congresspersons and businesspersons that travel to Cuba seeking commercial possibilities. In relating to such representatives of U.S. society, the current Cuban approach of diplomacy, but firmness in principles, is the politically intelligent road to ending the blockade and normalizing relations. However, with respect to its relations with U.S. youth, the Cuban Revolution ought to rethink its approach. This is especially true with respect to the U.S. Left, as will be the subject of my next post.
P.S. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the initiation of the first Cuban war of independence, which the Cuban Revolution understands as the initiation of its revolutionary struggle, a continuous struggle from October 10, 1868 to the present. Cuban television in recent days and weeks has been full of educational programming commemorating the event, stressing the heroism of the patriots of the War of 1868-1878 as well as the historic continuity of the revolutionary struggle. For more on the Cuban Revolution, understood in historical and global context, please see “The Cuban war of independence of 1868” 6/17/2014; as well as my book, The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The Light in the Darkness (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).