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The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity

The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity / Dimas
Castellanos
Posted on June 26, 2015

Dimas Castellanos, 10 April 2015 — If by “civil society” we mean a group
of autonomous associations, public spaces, rights, and liberties by
which citizens exchange opinions, make decisions and participate in
political, economic and social matters that interest them–with no more
authorization than what emanates from the laws of the land–then we need
to agree that this institution existed in Cuba since colonial times,
developed during the Republic, disappeared after 1959, and is now in a
process of resurgence.

Early Existence

Starting in the first half of the 19th century, illustrious figures such
as Father Félix Varela, who called the constitutional studies program at
the San Carlos seminary a “curriculum of liberty and the rights of man”
and strove to provide an education in virtues; José Antonio Saco, who
from the Revista Bimestre Cubana (Cuban Bimonthly Magazine) generated
debates that fostered civic consciousness; Domingo Delmonte who, when
this medium and other spaces were closed down, found in conversational
gatherings a way of continuing the debates without official
authorization; and José de la Luz y Caballero, who devoted himself to
civic education as a premise of social change, with their labors forged
the field for citizen participation.

Upon this ground, in 1878–when Spain, in compliance with Pact of Zanjón,
granted Cuba freedom of the press, assembly and association–there
sprouted Cuban civil society: political parties, newspapers, labor
unions, societies of blacks, fraternal organizations, and other diverse
groups.

Development

With the birth of the Republic in 1902, civil society, having spread
throughout the country, took part in the struggles of labor unions,
peasants, and students, and in the intelligentsia’s debates conducted
via the print press, radio, and television, about the problems
afflicting the nation.

The importance of civil society was highlighted by Fidel Castro during
his trial for the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953,
when–referring to the limitations suffered by civil society with
Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’etat in 1952–he said, “There once was a
Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its liberties; a President,
Congress and Courts; everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write
with full liberty. The government did not satisfy the people, but the
people could change the government, and there were only a few days left
to do so. There was public opinion that was respected and heeded, and
all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were
political parties, educational hours on radio, debate programs on
television, public acts, and the people could sense enthusiasm.”

Disappearance

Having become a source of law, the 1959 Revolution–instead of fully
reestablishing the Constitution of 1940–substituted it (without public
consultation) with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, and thus
began a fatal process for Cuban society: the concentration of power, the
elimination of private property, and the dismantling of civil society.

The organizations that fought against the Batista government were merged
into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, which in 1963 became
the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution, and later, in
October, 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).

The diverse youth movement disappeared to give way, first, to the Young
Rebels Association and, later, the Communist Youth Union. Women’s
organizations of all types became the Federation of Cuban Woman. The
associations of university students became the University Students
Federation, and the pre-university-level ones became the Union of
Secondary-School Students.

The labor movement was taken over, while the principle of university
autonomy, endorsed in Article 53 of the Constitution of 1940,
disappeared under the University Reform of 1962.

Organizations of employers met the same fate. The Landowners Association
of Cuba, the Association of Settlers of Cuba, the Tobacco Harvesters,
and the National Peasants Association, were substituted by the National
Settlers Association, which was later renamed the National Association
of Small Farmers.

The print, radio and television media, the enormous network of cinemas,
the publishing domain, and cultural institutions were limited to the
boundary set by the regime, with the intervention of the Chief of the
Revolution during the 1961 Cultural Congress, when he asked, “What are
the rights of the Revolutionary and non-Revolutionary writers and
artists?” and he answered himself thus, “Within the Revolution,
everything; against the Revolution, no right.” And there would be no
exception to the law for artists and writers. This is a general
principle for all citizens.

The organizations that made up civil society before its dismantling were
not subordinate to the State nor to the administration in power at a
given time. They were autonomous, a necessary condition without which
they would have been unable to carry out the role they played in the
Republic.

The subordination took practical shape with the adoption of the
Constitution of 1976. Article 5 stipulates that the Communist Party is
the supreme driving force of the society and the State.

Accordingly, Article 53 [1] recognizes freedom of speech and of the
press insofar as these conform to the aims of the socialist society, and
Article 62 provides that none of the liberties accorded to the citizens
can be exercised against what is established in the Constitution and the
nation’s laws, nor against the existence and aims of the Socialist State.

The resurgence of a civil society movement emerges from the stagnation
and regression in the economy; from the generalization of corruption
caused by the inadequacy of wages; from the growing exodus of Cubans and
the aging of the population due to the diaspora, and the reluctance of
Cuban women to bear children in those conditions; to the point of
bringing the country to a dilemma: either change, or erupt in violence.

It demonstrates that the structural crisis in which Cuba is immersed has
its root cause in the absence of fundamental liberties, in the
decimation of autonomous civil society, and the non-participation of the
citizen.

Even so, during the process normalizing relations with the United States
— and on the eve of Cuba’s participation for the first time in the
Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Panama [April 2015] —
the Cuban Government, instead of recognizing the role parallel to the
State’s that corresponds to an autonomous civil society, insists on
proving the obsolete, absurd and unprovable: that any association that
does not respond to the objectives of the Communist Party is an external
creation and its members are paid operatives of the Enemy.

During the Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States (CELAC), in Costa Rica, on 28 January 2015, Cuban President Raúl
Castro asserted that the US counterpart should not try to relate to
Cuban society as though there is no sovereign government in Cuba. A
retrograde statement intended to continue denying the existence of civil
society sectors that are not under Government control.

And during the Ninth Extraordinary Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for
the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which took place on 17 March in
Venezuela, Castro reiterated that “Cuban civil society will be the voice
of the voiceless, and will unmask the mercenaries who will present
themselves as being the civil society, as well as their sponsors.”

In accordance with the conduct, the Party and the State have in recent
days mobilized hundreds of official associations in the “Forum for Civil
Society of the Seventh Summit of the Americas,” and in the forum, “Youth
and the Americas We Desire,” among other events, to defend an
indefensible past, without understanding nor accepting that, even in
these official associations, as was evidenced in the above-mentioned
events, voices were heard declaring that it was necessary to create an
atmosphere conducive to debate, and create sites where the views of
civil society can be confronted, so as to derive a collective
interpretation of the country’s issues.

Normalizing relations with the US will not be enough to pull the country
out of crisis if it is not accompanied by the reestablishment of
fundamental liberties. There should be no doubt that these relations
will contribute to citizen empowerment and to the reestablishment of
autonomous civil society and of citizenship.

[1] Article 53 reads, “The University of Havana is autonomous and is
governed according to its Statutes, and to the Law to which they should
conform.”

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Also referred to as “The Fundamental Law of the
Cuban Revolution”

Source: The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity /
Dimas Castellanos | Translating Cuba –
http://translatingcuba.com/the-reestablishment-of-civil-society-an-unavoidable-necessity-dimas-castellanos/

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