[Marxism] Extolling Moderation to Get Cubans Talking About Politics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 22 08:14:06 MST 2014


NY Times, NOV. 22, 2014
Extolling Moderation to Get Cubans Talking About Politics
By VICTORIA BURNETT

MEXICO CITY — FROM a lectern covered in a lacy, white cloth at a 
provincial Cuban church center last month, Roberto Veiga González and 
Lenier González Mederos took turns talking before about 60 intellectuals 
and activists about the value of political dialogue.

Not, perhaps, the most electrifying topic, but if politics is the art of 
the possible, it is a skill that the pair hope Cubans can master after 
wearying years of bombast and vitriol.

“A plurality of views can coexist,” said Mr. Veiga, a lawyer and former 
magazine editor who, with Mr. González, has come to represent an 
emerging, less confrontational, approach to Cuban politics.

Looking over his reading glasses at the opening of a two-day seminar on 
Cuban sovereignty, he added, “It is possible to think differently but 
work together.”

If that is a difficult view to peddle in Washington, it is an even 
tougher sell in Cuba, where the state has, for decades, stifled debate 
and the government and its opponents are bitterly divided.

“We Cubans are the enemies of moderation,” said Mr. González, a former 
journalist, by telephone from Havana.

Mr. González, 33, and Mr. Veiga, 49, have been criticized as too timid 
by some in the opposition. But their dogged efforts to get Cubans 
talking have won them a strong following in Cuba’s tiny civil society.

They are leading figures in an incipient culture of debate that has 
taken root in recent years, largely as President Raúl Castro has allowed 
greater access to cellphones and the Internet, and lifted some 
restrictions on travel, but also as the United States has lifted 
restrictions on Cubans’ visiting their relatives.

The pair reflect a breakdown of the binary politics of pro- and 
anti-Castro Cubans that dominated for decades, and the development of a 
more diverse range of opinions, especially among younger Cubans, as they 
look to the era that will follow the Castros’ deaths.

As editors, until recently, of a Roman Catholic magazine, the pair have 
created a space where dissidents, dyed-in-the-wool communists, artists, 
exiles, bloggers and academics can discuss national issues, both in 
print and at seminars held in a Catholic cultural center in Old Havana.

Their new project, Cuba Posible — part forum, part online magazine, part 
research organization — aims to do the same, and will test the 
government’s threshold for debate as well as Cubans’ appetite for 
finding a third way.

Serious and circumspect, Mr. González and Mr. Veiga lack the caustic 
eloquence of Yoani Sánchez, whose blog Generation Y has millions of 
readers, and the daring of some dissidents. They tread carefully, 
advocating political change without rupture and keeping some distance 
from the Castros’ most outspoken adversaries.

THE two have become a double act, hosting debates together, traveling 
together for conferences and studying together in Italy for doctorates 
in sociology (Mr. González) and political science (Mr. Veiga).

Both are Roman Catholics. Mr. González was raised in a religious family, 
and Mr. Veiga joined the church as an adult. Their faith, they say, 
fuels their quest for solutions.

“We saw that there was a whole range of people who didn’t have anywhere 
to express themselves,” Mr. González said, adding, “We have a Christian 
calling to try to mend something that is broken.”

Still, their styles are different: Mr. Veiga, a lawyer from the city of 
Matanzas, about 60 miles east of Havana, is preoccupied with issues like 
constitutional overhaul and chooses his words carefully.

Cuba Posible does not advocate democracy, he said in a telephone 
interview, but promotes dialogues that incorporate “discernment of the 
question of how to advance toward fuller democracy.”

Mr. González, who studied media and communications at the University of 
Havana, is more direct than Mr. Veiga and, acquaintances say, less patient.

Cubans and political analysts say the pair are trusted and respected, 
even by those whose posture is more confrontational. Katrin Hansing, a 
professor of anthropology at Baruch College, who has known both men for 
years, said they were thoughtful and courageous.

When they took over Lay Space, the Cuban Catholic magazine, in the 
mid-2000s, Mr. Veiga and Mr. González refocused it, to include essays 
from academics, economists and political scientists. They wrote 
editorials on the timidity of the government’s economic overhauls and 
the options for a transition to democracy.

Their debates drew a spectrum of voices that Philip Peters, president of 
the Cuba Research Center in Virginia, said he had found nowhere else in 
Cuba. Some discussions were slow and academic, others surprisingly frank.

The impact of their efforts to broaden debate is hard to determine. Mr. 
Veiga said officials had told him they followed what was said. Still, he 
said, “we need many more spaces, mechanisms and guarantees so that 
citizens’ opinions can effectively interact with the public powers.”

Mr. Veiga and Mr. González are not the only, nor the first, Cubans 
debating national politics. Publications, including New Word, the 
magazine of the Archdiocese of Havana, have bluntly urged much faster 
economic changes. Temas, a cultural magazine, has for years held monthly 
discussions that are open to the public.

Antonio Rodiles, a physicist, has gained recognition for hosting 
discussions and jam sessions that are broadcast online under the name 
State of SATS — an activity for which he has been arrested more than once.

The middle ground, too, can be fraught. Mr. González set off a fierce 
debate among bloggers and intellectuals last year when, at a conference 
in Miami, he advocated a loyal opposition — one, he explained, that sees 
the government as an adversary but not as an enemy.

MR. Peters said the stance was “very practical,” adding: “They want to 
see great changes in their country, but they don’t want to start by 
tearing down the system and starting over again.”

Others disagree.

“I cannot sit and debate with a government in a position of weakness, 
where I am not their equal,” said Walfrido López, a government critic 
who has been living in the United States for six months.

Mr. López said that, although he appreciated Mr. Veiga and Mr. 
González’s efforts, he thought they were too timid and should have a 
more open relationship with dissidents.

“A space is either free and open, or it’s not a space,” he said by 
telephone.

Mr. Veiga shrugs off such criticism.

“There are people who believe that acknowledging the other is a 
capitulation, and you’ll find them at either end of the political 
spectrum,” he said. “That’s the price you pay for making some effort for 
the common good.”

In May, that price was to lose their space in the church. Mr. Veiga and 
Mr. González resigned from Lay Space, citing the polemic that they had 
caused within “certain sectors of the ecclesiastical community.” The two 
refused to comment in a telephone interview and in emails on their 
reasons for leaving the magazine.

The storm that ensued was a measure of their following: Bloggers and 
academics reacted with dismay, quibbled about whether they had jumped or 
been pushed, and argued about what their departure meant for civil society.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Veiga and Mr. González now hope to weave a new 
strand with Cuba Posible.

The fuss that erupted after he and Mr. Veiga left Lay Space took the two 
by surprise, he said, and convinced them that their work was worth 
continuing. Not that Mr. González particularly liked the attention.

“It’s nice to be stopped on the street and someone salutes you for an 
article you’ve written,” Mr. González said. “But, actually, we’re both 
pretty shy.”



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