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  • Cuba's Dead End
  • Gustavo Arcos (bio)

I was honored to receive your invitation to participate in the National Endowment for Democracy's third global conference on democracy on the 15th and 16th of April in Washington, D.C. I have decided not to leave Cuba at this time, but I would like to take advantage of your kind invitation to send you these remarks, which I hope will contribute to the noble and indispensable objectives for which the conference is being convened.

First, on behalf of the human rights activists in Cuba, I would like to join in the homage that your institution is paying to Presidents Violeta Chamorro and Váiclav Havel. In greeting these admirable champions of freedom—the one, a daughter of the Americas, and the other, a son of Europe—rather than use my own words, which are sincere but of limited range, I prefer to borrow from the Cuban Jose Martí and the Englishman E.M. Forster. In the nineteenth century, Martí called upon the Cubans to fulfill their duty and free themselves from the colonial yoke, but without hatred for Spain, the land of their fathers. Martí said:

There are men who can live without dignity. There are others who suffer as if in agony when they see other men around them living without dignity . . . . Always, when many men lack dignity, a few others will embody the dignity of many. These are the ones who, with a terrible force, rebel against those who rob the people of their liberty, which is to rob them of their dignity. These men carry the burden of thousands, of entire nations, and their human dignity.

In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Forster stated:

I believe in aristocracy . . . if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, [End Page 67] but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

I turn now to the current situation in Cuba, that part of humanity to which I belong. Let me begin by quoting two Cuban citizens describing the system of government imposed here three decades ago. "This is a negation of life," said one university professor in Havana. "This is a putrid shirt," said an artisan from a provincial town. Today, the Cuban people are paying the price for the mistakes we have made since we emerged as a sovereign state in 1902:

  • • an almost permanent administrative corruption;

  • • sham elections;

  • • dictatorships;

  • • civil wars;

  • • a second U.S. intervention--authorized by the Platt Amendment to the 1901 Constitution and unfortunately requested by a Cuban president--that contributed to the growth of a national "dependency" complex;

  • • An unsophisticated political culture, based more on the charisma of individuals than on political ideas, thus provoking adulation of the hard-fisted ruler or implacable criticism of the democratic ruler.

All this gradually led to the deterioration of the republic's political institutions. Hence the birth of the skeptical phrase: "El cubano, o no llega o se pasa." ("Cubans either never get anywhere or go too far.") Thus "politics" practically became an evil word, synonymous with corruption or deceit.

Nevertheless, since the 1930s, the national panorama has not been entirely negative:

  • • There were achievements in the social sphere that benefited the workers;

  • • in the political sphere, the 1940 Constitution, one of the most advanced of its era, was promulgated;

  • • in the international sphere, with respect to our relations with the United States, the Platt Amendment was repealed and more favorable commercial agreements were concluded;

  • • in the cultural sphere, the Cubans made their greatest creative achievements;

  • • in the moral...


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