Archive for August, 2010

What Does Martí Have to Do with a Single Party?

un-solo-partido1The official Cuban press insists on justifying a single-party system. Some of the arguments are based on the fact that Martí created a single party, how lack of unity led to revolutionary failures, how the very existence of the nation depends on preserving unity, and how a multiparty system would be co-opted by imperialism. The last time these arguments were presented, they were published in the Tribuna de la Habana newspaper on Sunday, August 15, under the headline “What is the Role of the PCC in Maintaining Revolutionary Unity?”

To expose this mishmash of half-truths and absurdities, I will quote six paragraphs written by José Martí containing the core ideas that led him to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC, by its Spanish acronym).

1. In January of 1880, in New York, Martí presented a critical study on the mistakes of the Ten Year’s War which concluded with the Pact of Zanjón. In it he said: “Those who try to solve a problem can’t ignore any of its antecedents…”, and then proceeded to enumerate multiple causes, among them the negative consequences of the lack of unity.

2. In July of 1882, in a letter to Máximo Gómez about past wars, he outlined the objectives of the Party thusly: “…My sole aspiration is that by forming a visible and tightly-knit body, bound by a shared solemn and judicious desire to give Cuba true and lasting liberty, all of those selfless and strong men will appear united, capable of repressing their impatience in the absence of a means to remedy all ills in Cuba with a probable victory in one quick, unanimous, and grandiose war…”

3. In the Resolutions of November of 1891, considered to be the prologue of the PRC’s platform, he proposed: “The revolutionary organization should not be unaware of the practical necessities derived from the makeup and history of the country, nor should it actively work towards present or future control by any particular class; but rather towards the association, conforming to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the homeland; towards brotherhood and common action by Cubans residing abroad; towards the respect and aid of all the republics of the world, and towards the creation of a just and open republic… elevated with all and for the good of all.”

4. In April of 1893, he stated: “That is the greatness of the Revolutionary Party: that in order to found a republic, it has begun with the republic. That is its strength: that by the labor of all, it confers rights to all. It is an idea, not a person, that must be introduced to Cuba.”

5. In April of 1894, on the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, he said: “A people is not the will of one man alone, no matter how pure that will… A people is the composition of many wills, vile or pure, natural or grim, impeded by timidity or hastened by ignorance.”

6. In the Montecristi Manifesto, signed jointly Máximo Gómez on March 25, 1895, before committing himself to the armed struggle, Martí proposes that war is not “the unhealthy triumph of one Cuban party over another, or even the humiliation of a mistaken group of Cubans; but rather it is the solemn demonstration of the will of a nation exasperated, as proven in the previous war, and disposed to hurl itself lightly into a conflict ending only in victory or burial.”

The contents of the six quoted paragraphs demonstrate: that there were multiple causes of the revolutionaries’ failures, not just the divisions among them; that the function of the Party consists of leading the war out of which the Republic should be founded, with true and lasting liberty; that the Party should not work towards the present or future predominance of any particular class; that its strength is rooted in that the labor of all, bestows rights upon all; that a people is not the will of a single man, no matter how pure his will, but rather the composition of many wills; and that the end of war does not signify the triumph of one Cuban side against another.

The PRC was founded as an intermediate link between planting the seed of the Homeland and molding the Republic, not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties after victory was achieved, not to annul popular participation, not to declare that the streets and university campuses belong to revolutionaries, not to imprison those who think differently, all of which demonstrate that Martí’s democratic and humanist ideas have been ignored and distorted to confer upon them an ill-fitting mantle: the genesis of the Cuban single-party system.

Additionally, it should be said that politics are founded on the fact that men are social and diverse beings.  In that sense, parties, as the etymology of the word indicates, are a part of a whole that by its diverse and plural nature consists of other parts, wherein each represents the interests or tendencies of a sector of society.  This reason explains why, when the ideas of independence were not represented among the existing parties, José Martí founded the PRC.  Diego Vicente Tejera created the Cuban Socialist Party in 1899, because the interests of workers were not championed by the liberal and conservative parties.  The Communist Association of Havana in 1923, the Communist Party in 1925, and the Orthodox Party in 1947 all arose for similar reasons: because the Authentic Party did not satisfy a segment of its constituency.

The single-party system is unnatural. The best proof of this is that, in order to establish a single-party system, totalitarian regimes must destroy all other political parties or subordinate them and their interests, allowing for the most perfect and complete model of totalitarian regime, and along with it, stagnation and failure.  In Cuba, the existence of one sole party was the result of a reverse process initiated during the era of insurrectionist struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountain range that culminated in 1965 with the founding of the Communist Party as the sole political force, subsequently ratified into the Constitution; a process foreign to the ideas and work of José Martí.

From this, the necessary restoration of the right of assembly and decriminalization of political differences are inferred, so that Cubans can play the active and determinant role that they are entitled to in the destiny of the nation.  The irreducible diversity and exhaustion of the current model have created the need for a multiparty system as the order of the day.

1 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.216

2 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.235

3 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Resolutions Recorded by the Cuban Communities of Tampa and Key West in November of 1891. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.23

4 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.192

5 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.359

6 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.511

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Cuba: Toward a New Political Scenario


The elimination of civil society within Cuba — solid base of totalitarianism and source of immobility — was accompanied by a foreign policy based on confrontation. The dispute with the United States, the rejection of re-entry into the OAS conditioned on the acceptance of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which requires respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, non-entry into the Cotonou Agreement — binding relations of cooperation — the refusal to ratify human rights conventions signed since 2008 and the conflicting relationships with the European Union, form a strategy to avoid any commitment to restore civil society, respect for human rights and democratization, and closer ties with countries and institutions where these requirements do not exist or are circumvented.

In early 2010, the convergence of a set of internal and external factors made the order of the day the limiting of immobility. Attempts to homogenize the social diversity, to convert the citizenry en masse, to ignore the vital role of rights and freedoms and to determine what, when and how to do everything, to override the human person, leading first to stagnation and decline until ending in a fiasco, which translates, to paraphrase Lenin, in which the underdogs don’t want to and the top dogs can’t, and a recognition in official discourse of the decision to update the model.

Emerging from the permanent crisis has its starting point in the economy: the lack of productivity, the stagnation, the importing of food that could be produced in Cuba, the decline in exports, the inability to return foreign funds deposited in local banks, etc., among other ills. An urgent need because of the fragility of the terms of trade with Venezuela, which are based on a political relationship that could vary sharply if changes occur in the South American country, as happened with the Soviet Union.

The first obstacle to this plan, known as an update of the model, lies in the need for external sources of financing, access to which passes through the release of Cuban political prisoners, which explains one reason for the current process of release from prison. Some colleagues say that the release of prisoners is a government maneuver aimed at changing the external image to access funding sources. Although this idea has its basis in previous events, it loses sight of who we are in transition to a new scenario that precludes such a purpose.

The politics of confrontation arose in the context of the Cold War and was sustained by the aid from the former Soviet Union. The conservation of this policy after the Cold War was made possible by the cooperation of Venezuela, for other than economic reasons, which could disappear at any time. For this and many more reasons, I am inclined to think that the updating of the model consists of the introduction of some reforms that, while lacking the political will for democratization in Cuba, will form a new context. The release of prisoners and economic measures such as a generalization of self-employment, including hiring labor, point in that direction.

The new stage, marked by a turn from the politics of confrontation to understanding, the emergence of new actors, public discontent and the consensus for change, could lead to deeper economic measures and other demands of Cuban society, such as the right to enter and leave the country freely, free Internet access, or freedom of expression, to name three of the most pressing problems for Cubans. Ultimately, politics has less to do with desires than it does with what is possible at each moment. The challenge is the ability to turn that possibility into reality, and that has little to do with complaints or hasty judgments.

The weakness of the internal forces due to the absence of an independent civil society and legally recognized, have to rely to some extent on the international community, which together with the release of prisoners, the Cuban government should require ratification by human rights treaties signed since 2008 and bring domestic laws in line with these documents. That and the inability to update the model without accompany the implementation of human rights, the basis of dignity and self-interest, the purpose of leaving the economic crisis is void.

If updating the model means preserving totalitarianism, the attempt contain an insoluble contradiction, for without the participation of interested citizens as active participants in the destiny of the nation, emerging from the crisis will be impossible. The State and civil society are two elements of the same system and the field of politics goes beyond the State, therefore imposing in the short or medium term a replacement of the totalitarian model for another more democratic and participatory. In short, for socialism, in all its variants, there is only one thing it cannot do and that is deny the idea of democracy, and so this implies structural changes that can not be subject to ideology. That is the challenge of the powers-that-be, and the strength of the forces of change.

The political history of Cuba is a demonstration that changes in the absence of civic participation of citizens always lead back to the starting point. This explains how, in terms of civil liberties, we have regressed to the state Cuba was in in 1878. People’s willingness to follow this or that leader, has resulted in a politics monopolized by elite figures or characterized by the rule of personality, messianic leaders, the use of physical and verbal violence, and the control over the private domain by the public power. That story tells us how inescapably vital are the changes in the economy and human rights.

Right now, the public reappearance of former head of the Cuban state has, as a common denominator with the past, the absence of the citizen as subject of history. That is our Achilles heel. It is not about imminent or nuclear war, but about that fact that we Cubans, regardless of that war, are threatened by serious problems in our backyard and we most solve them. Perhaps our greatest contribution to conflicts in other parts of the world would be to solve our own problems to demonstrate our ability and responsibility. And this has more to do with converting Cubans into active participants, than with trying to persuade President Obama.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Quintín Banderas and the Little War of August

quintin-banderasA victim of power, violence, social injustices and racism during the Little War of August of 1906 — generated by the conflict among the political elite of the age with the goal of the presidential reelection of Tomás Estrada Palma — Army General & Liberator Quintín Banderas Betancourt, a black freeman who gave 30 years of his life to the fight for the abolition of slavery and the independence of Cuba, was killed as one of the heroes of Cuban independence.

Black, of medium stature, physical force, with an easy smile and natural intelligence, Quintin formed his personality in the Santiago neighborhood of Los Hoyos. His work as a bricklayer from an early age prevented him from learning his basic letters. He traveled to Spain as a stoker and cabin boy on a boat where he learned the trade of marine merchant. He became a soldier in the Ten Years War and ended as a Division General. He participated in the invasion of Las Villas, in the Protest of Baraguá, in the organization of the Little War, in the War of Independence of 1895, and in the Western invasion of 1897. He was judged and separated from the service by a Military Council, but once the war was finished, the Hill Assembly ratified his grades of Brigade and Division General with retroactive status.

His insubordinations, related to his rebellious character, were produced in an environment vexed by racism and intrigue. Quintín, with quite brown skin, had as his bosses and subordinates white-skinned Cubans. Figures of the caliber of Calixto Garcia, for example, conditioned their participation in the war on the leadership being in white hands. The unquestionable is that General Banderas was one of the Cubans that put his country’s interests before his own personal interests. At one point he wrote, “Never did I think of the benefits that would come to me from war, only freedom directed my steps and to its achievement I have dedicated my youth, my comfort, my entire life.” The sad outcome of his life is connected with the racism and violence in the rough process of forming our nation.

Nations, the result of complex historical processes, reach their peak at the time when awareness of identity and belonging to different communities leads to a unique and stable community. In Cuba, this process is still not complete, was looming in the early twentieth century. Spaniards and Africans, transformed into Creoles and Cubans, accelerated their identity in the midst of war. However, the great differences in social, economic and cultural rights and opportunities, consolidated over several centuries of slavery, prevented the formation of a common purpose — still not achieved — to rise above the differentiating elements.

After the war, equality among Cubans, recognized formally in the 1901 Constitution, was not accompanied by practical measures to reduce the large gap between blacks and whites. For example in Article 13 read: “… every person may freely either learn or teach science, art or a profession, and establish and support education and training facilities …” However, in 1905, they were still trying to create a center for upper primary education and secondary education for young blacks who lacked financial resources to receive such instruction. As a result, blacks were still what they were before the conflict, just black.

The double discrimination suffered — by Cubans, as compared to Spaniards and by blacks as compared to whites — coupled with economic and cultural disadvantages, was reflected in the employments. Jobs in commercial establishments in U.S. companies (telegraph, telephone, electricity and sugar mills) and also in public offices of the state were virtually reserved for whites, while blacks had to work in construction, agriculture and some other trades . The best evidence of this was the creation of republican armed forces, where blacks, who had constituted 60% of the fighters of the Liberation Army in 1907 were less than 15% of soldiers and police. Blacks moved from war heroes to unemployed in the Republic.

In such an unfavorable environment, the General of the three wars sent letters, requested interviews and tried to fill vacancies without results. The New Creole of August 25, 1905, published, as an example of racial discrimination, the refusal of President Estrada Palma to receive him. Sometimes forced to work as a carter and others in a section of waste collection, he managed to survive thanks to loans, collections and public functions organized his friends. In addition, with the justification that he had been sanctioned, he was denied veteran’s pension, a false argument, because as we said before, the Cerro Assembly recognized his ranking as a General retroactively. Faced with such a critical situation he chose to participate in politics. In 1899 he accompanied Juan Gualberto Gomez in an attempt to organize the veterans of the Eastern Province. All roads closed and in 1906 he joined the so-called Liberal Revolution of August with a small group of men, against the reelection of Don Tomás Estrada Palma.

In that contest he was the first to initiate combat actions: He raided the Havana-Guanajay train, attacked and seized weapons and supplies in several villages of La Habana. Once the armed attempt failed, from his camp he sent a letter to the authorities for safe passage out of the country. The answer was the order to assassinate him. Four bullets and seven machetes ended his life. According to the forensics, he died of accidental injuries.

The only thing we must understand, said Juan Gualberto Gómez, is that without freedom there can not be equal brotherhood. And the truth is that at the time of the assassination of Quintin, there was no economic life, culture, nor consciousness of a common destiny, defining elements without which we can not consider that a human group has become a nation. And Fernando Ortiz said: “Without the black Cuban there would not be Cuba.” He could not therefore be ignored. But sadly for all Cubans, this ignored  problem has not yet been resolved definitively.

His promotion to General was an example of black participation in the Liberation Army, and his murder, a symbol of the injustices in the Republic. After he died he was placed in the pantheon of martyrs and his figure was manipulated by political parties of the time to rally the black vote, which as we know, were more than a few.

Translated by: D. Brazzell
August 8 2010

Categories: Dimas Castellanos

Estrada Palma and the Re-election

estrada-palmaThe current state of Cuba confirms the impossibility of social progress without civic participation of citizens. The structural crisis in which we are immersed and the obstacles to overcome it, are closely related to the absence of popular participation as a dependent of history. A reality exacerbated by the fact that our country, in terms of freedoms, has receded to the point where it was in 1878. Therefore, changes in the economy are as unavoidable as changes in human rights to promote civic participation from civil society in the decisions of the nation.

The importance of the political — the scope of social reality referred to the problems of power — is that it provides a vehicle to move from the desired to the feasible and from the feasible to reality, an area that implies the State as much as society. The attempts towards progress that ignore this truth, as has happened so far, are illusory.

The relationship between what is happening right now in our country with the public reappearance of the ex-chief of the Cuban State — phenomenon which is unsustainable in the short-term for the ungovernability that it generates — has as a common denominator with previous eras of Cuba the absence of the Cuban as a historical subject. To demonstrate that continuity, I will take this opportunity to look at the first attempt in Cuba of a presidential re-election bid.

The 1901 Constitution, in Article 96, referring to the duration of the presidential term, said that the office will last four years, and no one may be president in three consecutive terms. Therefore the conflict over the re-election bid in 1906 is not in the illegality, but in something else.

Tomás Estrada Palma (1835-1908), joined the Ten Years War from the beginning, where he received the rank of General. In the Government of the Republic in Arms he served as Secretary of War, of Foreign Affairs and President. In 1877 he was taken prisoner and released after the Zanjón Peace. He emigrated to the United States, where he founded a school for Latin Americans. In 1895 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Cuba in the U.S. and was the center of the Revolutionary Council in New York. In 1901 he was elected President of the Republic of Cuba.

Estrada Palma concentrated in an important enterprise, the austerity in the management of public assets. However, while he considered that the people had no training for living in freedom, he did not endeavor to strengthen the spaces and institutions to achieve it. That decision, conscious or not, is a manifestation of Messianism, a pious hope in the ability of an earthly being to lead a people to salvation. In the absence of the general public, his administration was limited to a political elite devoid of civic culture. For example, the enactment of laws became very difficult because for approval it required the presence of two-thirds of the congressmen, whose attendance, since it was not mandatory, was exploited by political parties (Liberal and Moderate) to hinder the work of legislation in their struggle for dominance in Congress. In this situation, President Estrada Palma, who had refused to join any of the existing parties, decided to join the Moderate Party, to try, together with the work of the Executive Branch, to obtain a quorum and to enact laws and necessary measures.

With regards to the theme of re-election, Estrada Palma created the War Cabinet to guarantee victory and get a majority in the Senate and the House; he pushed it to use all governmental force, including the use of violence and fraud against the Liberal Party, which responded with the abstention, and consistent with our culture of intransigence and machete, took up arms. A process that caused heavy damage and loss of life before and during the conflict, among them the killing of Colonel Enrique Villuendas in Cienfuegos and General Quintin Banderas in Havana, whom I shall address in my next article.

The rebels, in a manifesto dated September 1, 1906, proposed, inter alia, the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of peace, freedom for those detained or prosecuted for activities related to elections and declaring vacant the positions of president and vice president of the republic, provincial governor and provincial council, covered in the last election period. Estrada Palma for his part required them to lay down their weapons first and then talk. The intransigence of the parties and accordingly the failure of the mediation of a group of veterans, among whom were the generals Bartolome Maso, Mario García Menocal and Cebreco Augustine, who rose to confirm the office of president and cancel the rest of the elected offices.

The intransigence led to the outcome. Between 8 and 12 September, Estrada Palma suspended the guarantee, requested the sending of warships and intervention; a request that the U.S. president himself considered inappropriate. According to Hortensia Pichardo, Theodore Roosevelt exhausted all available means to avoid that step. Among these the media quoted his letter to Gonzalo de Quesada, 14 September 1906 and his telegram to Estrada Palma, on the 25th of the same month. In the first, Roosevelt reveals, among other arguments, that:

“Our intervention in Cuban affairs will be realized only if it is shown that Cuba has fallen into the habit of insurrection and lacks the necessary control over herself to realize peaceful self-government, and so that its rival factions have plunged into anarchy.”

In a letter to his friend Teodoro Pérez Tamayo, dated October 10, 1906, Estrada Palma argues that the settlement through the pact with the rebels was the worst thing that could have been thought of, as the secondary problems that would arise later — so many and so difficult to solve — weakening, of not losing, the moral force of legitimate power and no authority other than the settlement of disputes, which I repeat would be so many and so difficult, these problems, which would lead to the country being kept for many months amid constant agitation, as pernicious as the effects of the war itself. So, he says, he decided to irrevocably resign the Presidency, to completely abandon public life and look within his family for a safe haven from many disappointments. His ultimate sacrifice, in his words, to make it impossible that the Government should fall into criminal hands. A decision that led him to notify the Government of Washington:

… “of he true situation in the country, and the lack of measures by my Government to provide protection to property, considering that the time had come for the United States made use of the right conferred by the Platt Amendment. So it did” …

For these reasons, on September 28, together with the Vice President and the secretaries, he submitted his resignation to Congress and the country came under a provisional government headed by the Secretary of War the United States, William H. Taft, which constituted the second American intervention in Cuba.

The lack of civic culture, the absence of the citizenry in the decisions regarding the destiny of the nation, the tendency to violent solutions and Messianism, demonstrated itself in the work of the Cuban political elite. A portrait put forth magisterially by Carlos Loveira in his republic of “General and Doctors. ”

According to Hortensia Pichardo, the first Cuban republic had been killed by its own children. I would say that at the hands of a handful of its children, because the vast majority, as in other political events, was absent from those decisions. The teaching of this episode in our history, and of others we attempt, indicates that the preparation for political participation is a long and difficult, but much safer than we have traveled so far, where the majority of Cubans have very little to do with what is happening.

Translated by uncledavid
August 2 2010