A Sign of Hope? Cuban Opponents Engage in Civil Debate

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A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of speaking in a Havana hotel with a foreign journalist who had written a long article against me. The chat was very enjoyable, although I reproached him for having written such a long article without having interviewed, beforehand, the object of his diatribe, a living person easily reachable in Havana. After two hours of questions and answers, we realized that we both want essentially the same thing: an atmosphere of respect for our ideas. He engages in a campaign against the prevailing hegemonic media in his country, and I work so that Cubans can rid themselves of the State's information monopoly. Seen in this light, our aspirations are similar.

Among the strategies most used in the official discourse in Cuba is to compartmentalize citizens. To the extent that each disconnected group refuses to listen to the others, they cannot see that they have similar observations about their reality and a shared desire to improve the country. Thus, criticism is demonized and is not allowed among the official journalists invited to television studios to participate in those boring panel discussions where everyone has the same point of view. Repeating the tactic of "pitting one against another," people sitting over a cup of coffee would confirm their similarities rather than examine in depth their differences. Every time I hear someone denigrated with incendiary adjectives such as "mercenary" or "traitor" I realize that the person tossing out these calumnies is afraid, inside, of any debate where they would have to stop shouting and instead make the case for their ideas. The offenders are generally those who fear healthy debate because they are lacking in reasons.

I read with surprise and optimism the exchange of letters between Silvio Rodriguez and Carlos Alberto Montaner. When two figures who have been placed at the far extremes can engage in an argument without resorting to shouts or threats, it is a sign that the injections of tension are no longer working. Suddenly we have seen how the singer of "Utopia" and the "archenemy" of the government have begun to correspond and debate their views. I wonder if this is a sign of a new start, that a member of the Communist Party from within the country can sit down to a dialog with someone belonging to an opposition group. Are we witnessing the collapse of the interior walls that isolate us from each other? How many more would be willing to set aside insult and sit down and talk? I would like to believe that yes, the mere fact of responding to an opponent is proof that he is respected, the best way to validate his existence and his right to express himself.

Translator's notes:
Silvio Rodriguez (on the left in the photos above), born in 1946 in Cuba, is one of Cuba's best known singer-songwriters. He lives in Cuba, where he serves in parliament.
Carlos Alberto Montaner (on the right in the photos above), born in 1943 in Havana, now lives in exile in Spain. An early supporter of the Cuban Revolution, he is now best known as an anti-Castro journalist and author.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.