With this panel, the series of debates on the Último Jueves [program] closes its 19th year. Every month since 2002, a panel composed of experts and an engaged public have met to discuss a cultural, economic, political, ideological or social issue.
Since this is not an academic event but a collective intellectual exercise, our panelists have consisted not only of researchers and professors who study a topic, but also practitioners, who live it as a concrete experience, artists and writers who have addressed it in their works, government functionaries and advisors who are involved with it, journalists, religious people, NGO representatives, residents of Cuba and of other countries, Cubans and non-Cubans, who meet for the first time to exchange interpretations and perspectives that are very different. This debate takes place as a dialogue with a public that responds to an open invitation to anyone interested, and that asks to speak not only to ask a question but also to question the panel.
The Último Jueves are not sessions of catharsis, tribunals, wailing walls, concerts of cats and dogs, but rather spaces to learn collectively, where problems are presented and analyzed, where everyone who asks to speak is heard, where the capacity to hear different opinions and to reason is exercised.
Throughout these nineteen years, its transcriptions have been published in every issue of our magazine, in selected compilations distributed by Ediciones Temas and other publishing houses, in printed and electronic book formats and videos published in conjunction with ICAIC [Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos] and, more recently, through the electronic networks in our Catalejo blog, live through our Facebook page and in audio (podcasts) circulated through iVoox.
In this year of the great pandemic, the physical meetings have been replaced by a virtual space, in real time, through a WhatsApp group. In this way, we have been able to include panelists and public who live in various Cuban provinces, and in countries like the United States, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.
With today’s panel Ultimo Jueves celebrates its 190th panel, on democracy in organizations, which had been scheduled since 2019, and we thank everyone who has joined us in building a culture of discussion, especially those institutions that have supported us, like ICAIC and MinCult [Ministerio de Cultura], state organizations, Cuban and foreign NGOs, churches and organizations, universities and research centers, whose representatives have led open, polite, and hardball discussions. Thanks also to those who are dissatisfied, those who have questioned us and positioned us on one or the other side, because their comments have helped us grow and progress in the development of the ability to build a public sphere through real dialogue, in spite of pressures and aggravations.
Thank you all for allowing us to be able to get to this point.
The Panel of Último Jueves, held via Whatsapp on November 26th, 2020.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo. Economist. Professor at the Universidad de Murcia. Member of the Advisory Board of Temas.
Karen Brito. Journalist. Audiovisual proucer and television presenter. She was Vicepresident of the Federation of University Students [FEU] of the Universidad de La Habana.
Silvio Calves Hernández. Industrial Engineer. Full Professor and Consultant at the Universidad de La Habana. Vicerector of the Graduate School of Management.
Fernando Luis Rojas López. B.A. in Pedagogy and M.A. in the Teaching of Humanities. Investigator at the Cuban Institute of Cultural Research Juan Marinello.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui. Catholic Priest. Parish priest of the Diocesan Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity. Professor at the Félix Varela Center.
Rafael Hernández. Political Scientist. Director of Temas magazine.
Rafael Hernández: This is the last panel of the year; we have done six through WhatsApp. Today we will center on the topic of democracy in organizations. Almost always, when we speak of democracy, we think of citizens’ participation in governmental institutions; however, this participation is based on the political culture that a particular society has. It is sustained by a culture that is based on values, on patterns of behavior, of beliefs, customs, ways of thinking, and of course, on social relations, which are the tangible part of a democratic culture. It is on this culture that representations are built, that attitudes are assumed, and that actions are taken that allow for the democratic functioning of a society.
So, the purpose of this panel—for which we are relying on a very special group of panelists linked to our WhatsApp group—is to analyze the place that organizations occupy in this democratic functioning within today’s society. By organizations we include a wide spectrum: those that include workers—for example, unions, but also public and private enterprises— students, professionalis, young people, women, neighbors, organizations that are political, religious, ethnic, fraternal, and any other type of association.
The first question we will pose is: Does a democratic culture exist in society? And how can we measure it?
Silvio Calves Hernández: I am one of those who believe that in our society there exists a general comprehension of what democracy means—nuanced by individual and group perceptions of the different actors and of their different social levels and strata. The exercise and progressive assimilation of conscious participation is the key factor in the democratic dynamic. To participate is to take part; individual or collective presence is not enough. Participation generates a mutual commitment between society, its organizations and people, and creates positive feelings for the work that is being done; people feel that their presence is recognized.
From its beginnings, the Cuban Revolution implemented partcipation as the way of doing things, as benchmarked by the volunteer campaigns and the people’s commitment to class struggles; as seen in the militia, in the Literacy Campaign, the agricultural mobilizations, the connection with the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution] and other points in the history of the first years of the revolutionary process.
During more recent years, fundamental democratic events have taken place, fostered by the top leadership of the country, such as the discussion on the Guidelines on the Economic and Social Policy and on the Constitution, where millions of citizens expressed their opinions with complete freedom on every one of the aspects of these documents. Their ideas were considered, and many of them produced modifications in the proposed texts. Unstable situations and contexts, like the Special Period, produced limitations to this democratic way of doing things, which became diluted at the lower levels of the State, the sectors and organizations.
Not all people, social groups, authorities and organizations understand and accept the democratic values of our society equally; some to exercise them, and others to bestow them.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this panel. I assume that, in the case of a Catholic priest, what is expected of him in this panel would be the presentation of a view and experience of the issues that we are debating here from within the Catholic Church. Before anything else, I want to explain that the Catholic Churchs is a “sui generis society,” i.e. unique. The term society is only analogically applicable to it, because the visible elements of the reality that is the Catholic church, its leaders, structures, organization, legislation, and habitual practices, only have a value if they are at the service of communicating something invisible, which we—in a language also very much ours—call the Grace of God or, to say it another way perhaps, the life of God for human beings. Everything that exists in this such diverse “society” that is the Church…. [sic] exists so that men and women can live their life in communion with God, participating in the same life of God. So therefore, the Church is recognized as a Gift of God to mankind, to allow them to realize this goal that I have just described, which means that the Church is not a human invention; people did not establish the Church, nor do we reinvent it or reestablish it in every generation. The Church has been “given” by God to the people. And in the two thousand years of self-understanding that this Gift has, there is a hierarchic structure in the service of the communion of all God’s people. Therefore, strictly speaking, the Church is not a democracy, nor does it function according to the parameters of modern or contemporary democracies, because the source of its vitality and efficacy does not depend on the decisions or the exchange between people, but on listening and putting into practice the love of God for us—a love that we know never overwhelms or manipulates people, but is profoundly liberating and humanizing. So, this listening and putting into practice requires ever more that there is dialogue, involvement and contribution by everybody. And these elements, which are somehow closer to the culture and the values of a democracy, have been developing progressively in the heart of the Catholic Church, especially after the observance of the Second Vatican Council, which took place from the end of 1962 to 1965, in St Peter’s Basilica.
Karen Brito: From my point of view, yes, there is a democratic culture in Cuban society. The citizens of this archipelago know they have rights, and they demand them from the most varied spaces—be these institutional, organizational, etc. There is a sense of popular empowerment which, in my opinion, is related to the very nature of the social process in Cuba which, from its beginnings had as its practice and mission to conquer all justice. When a national project proposes such ambitious and revolutionary goals, and when during more than 60 years it has the backing of the majority of its people, it necessarily has to have been built on democratic foundations (also inside its organizations). You cannot make a revolution by force [a la cañona]; a revolution is made in freedom.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: To begin with, I appreciate the invitation to the venue of Último Jueves of the Temas magazine, and the exploration of this topic.
I consider that democratic cultures—in plural, yes—exist in Cuban society today, on the understanding that there exist various perceptions and ideas as to what is (or should be) a democratic society, how democratic, or not, is contemporary Cuban scenario—in its relationship with the inernational context—and which would be the elements of consensus to be able to speak of the existence of “a democratic society.”
So no, I don’t believe that there exists a broad consensus in this sense. Occasionally, the discussion seems to be limited to elements of great importance—legal, institutional, political—to guarantee that which in the presentation of this panel was identified as “citizens’ participation in the government institutions.” At the same time, it seems that elements related to the views of the people, what dominates in the common sense and the wealth of perspectives, acquire a secondary place.
This is why, in order to mention defining characteristics of the democratic cultures that are present in our society, I would note as a starting point: 1. Its diversity and heterogeneity; 2. The lack of consensus on its “central” components—I would say its “bridge” components, to broaden the content of what is understood as “democratic”; 3. The plurality and relative antagonism—in some cases—of the paradigms and models to forge the idea of what is “democratic”, which goes from empty comparative exercises—not because of the comparative part but because of the lack of precision of the markers for this exercise—such as “the most democratic country in the world”, to making a specific variant of the paradigm absolute.
On the other hand, these initial characteristics, in my view, reflect what should be another characteristic basis and which is profiled in the very question that Temas is creating: hearing sentences like ”I speak in the name of the people” when in fact personal, group or sectorial ideas are being presented, and this happens in quite a broad sphere that goes beyond the formally accepted institutions.
For me it is not a question of a false ecumenism which applies to everyone, without even specifying what are the basics of this “applying to everyone”. It is a question of identifying, as a first step, the point from which we defend a perspective on what is “democratic,” which can be personal, and that is acceptable. It is a question of being transparent in this sense.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: I will use this first question to thank Temas for continuing to function fully, in spite of the pandemic, because in many countries of the world, especially in mine, which is Spain, culture is always the little sister who, when there are economic crises, severe crises such as COVID, can always be trimmed and restricted. So congratulations for your efforts in maintaining the cultural debate in spite of the current economic and structural difficulties.
In relation to Spain, I consider that there really is no democratic culture. There are rules in the democratic game that touch very varied spheres, from how to elect the leaders of the country and political parties, even those of sport clubs, but there are wide spaces of co-existence, like the business world—remember that a large part of the workday of a Spanish citizen happens in that environment—that escape the democratic game. Even where there are these game rules—in political parties, unions, all kinds of organizations—they are usually only applied in the intermittent participation of electoral processes. In my country there is no culture of daily participation in the public sphere; there is what the classical Greeks would call idiotization, an abstention from participating. After his working day, a Spanish citizen may have some time, but this time is very commercialized, very colonized by commercial activities and buying things and, at least at the moment, according to the basic ways that a capitalistic society functins, there is little time for democracy. Because that implies participation, and to participate implies spending personal time on public issues, and yet what we are being taught is to be competitive, that is, to use our personal time—our resources—to obtain personal benefits, not community or public ones. So you cannot say that, in spite of the forty or so years that there is a bourgeois democracy in Spain, there exists a culture of democratic participation.
Rafael Hernández: With what criteria could we judge the democratic character of organizations? In which sense do those we take as benchmarks have a democratic way of functioning?
Silvio Calves Hernández: As a criteria for a democratic system, there should be true participation of the people in decision making in a society and in any organization, just like there should be a transparent and suitable accountability of the authorities of every organization and of society. Democratic behavior is always desirable, although it is not always considered to be the way towards better results. For example, in the small and medium businesses and organizations, the role that the owner or boss performs is contrary to participation and democracy. In order to see whether or not there is a democracy, we need to see the existence of real participation in the making of decisions, in the systematic accountability of bosses facing subordinates, users and other interested parties, an absence of informal groups in the organization who don’t see their interests and needs reflected, and form what we would call in good Cuban, the “piñas” [cliques]. The commitment, the feeling of belonging and empowerment of its members is an important element of measurement, and are reflected in the high productivity and efficacy of the people, and their passion for the work they do.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: As I mentioned before, starting from the Second Vatican Council the Church emphasized the cognizance of responsible participation of all members of the Church in many issues. I also want to clarify that the fundamental constituents of faith or of Christian morality can never be put into question in the Church, because these constituents have been transmitted by Jesus Christ, who for us is God made man. But among all those elements that God asks us to do there are some that we can and should look for. For example: How can we make real the announcement of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the many continents, cultures and peoples that are so different, without the presentation of this message and the work of Christians constituting a negative or disrespectful interference of the values of these cultures? How, from our Christian faith, can we participate in building a better world, more human and fraternal, more solidary, more respectful of nature and the climate, more concerned with the poor people and with the fostering of every human being’s dignity? How can we collaborate with other Christians and with members of other religions so as to have the different religious traditions be elements of cohesion, peace and harmony among peoples? How can we present the human and moral values that Christianity has always defended so that our contamporaries can also discover that these values can be universally shared, although they do not share the same religious views or faith? What should be the attitude of the Church and of Christians before those who are different, hostile, those who prevent us from expressing ourselves, and offer testimony of our life-style? What role should Woman have in the Church; have we recoganized all her brilliance and her specificity? And would there be a proper Christian word for authentic feminism? What is the relation that Christ wants between priests and their faithful, between the bishops and his priests, between the bishops and the Pope, between the pope and the leaders of other religious communities? Should the priest decide everything in his parish? Believe me: on all these questions there is a wide debate in the Catholic Church. I don’t think I am wrong if I even state that the current pontificate of Pope Francis encourages it.
Karen Brito: In order to evaluate the democratic character of our organizations, the first thing we need to do is to take care that this character be one of the pillars of an organization’s functioning. We cannot simply accept thinking that because it is in the by-laws, things will work democratically. There should and must be stipulations in the architecture of the organization, but also in the vocation and the credo of those who constitute it. Because if not, it’s a dead letter. If an organization lives its life democratically, if its members know that what they say, what they do, they dream, and articulate by their words the facts and the dreams of others thanks to this process, there will definitely be strength in its own existence. The feeling of taking part in something greater than oneself, the commitment and the satisfaction of BELONGING would go beyond the organization itself with a greater social activism in accordance with and benefit to the nation’s project.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: From the start I choose right away to respond Yes. It is desirable for organizations mentioned in the panel presentation to function democratically. However, there is another issue that is worth talking about.
Is it exactly the same for a society to function democratically—with the added complication that was already mentioned of the various forms in which “democractic” is understood—as for a society in which its organizations function democratically?
The presentation takes into account a wide array of these type of oganizations. There could be cases—even when two labor union or religious organizations, or those that assert identity demands function “democratically”—in which aims are proposed or positions assumed that are in conflict when set before concrete problems. So beyond the specific functioning, the democratic progress of a society in general actually occurs in the scenario of cooperation—or the lack of it—of this organizational mosaic.
In other words, we can find ourselves with an organizational scenario that works democratically in the making of decisions and vindicates the right to religious affiliation, but at the same time does not support the proposals of other entities that seek to win “all rights for all people.” There can be a space for discussion and decision established in a union of workers who are under contract in the private sector that decides its practices democratically.
In the interest of referring to the other questions, I do consider that the more democratic organizations have a better potential to fulfill their role. What happens is that their own practice is mediated by these democratic cultures that are decentralized and, often, without dialogues.
I don’t believe that this analysis is limited to questions relating to deciding everything by vote, or that it is considered that the leaders reduce the democratic potential for the taking of collective decisions, or that the educational practices are always indoctrinations.
And there is something else: the specificity of those organizations for which the fulfillment of their “role” and functions is directly related to non-democratic forms of management. This is a situation that can happen. Maybe the challenge of a democratic society is to participate in defining which ones are these organizations, and that again leads to the issue of transparency. This is fundamental also when it comes to defining which are those that should be characterized by their democraticity and yet are not democratic.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: It is well known that there are basically two procedures: the formal and the material elements. The first consists of the existence of some type of rule of democratic functioning, where the participants in an organization, or a society, can decide who will direct the organization, and what its agenda is. The material element relates to the extent to which this is fulfilled.
As an example I could present the city in which I live. During the nineties, Murcia, which has a population of 450,000, began a very interesting process of democratic participation, of decentralization. A decentralized structure was created in which the local authority or municipality handed over part of the budget to each of the town’s neighborhoods, which then decided how to spend it. Formally this was very democratic; materially, it turned into a replication of the models of bad behavior that, at city-, province-, or national level were happening, because at the end, instead of the citizens in every area participating, only those who were affilicated with one or another party did so. The governing party wanted to carry out those policies which had been selected from above, and the opposition mechanically refused them. And the same oligopoly that existed at the provincial or state level was replicated at the local level, and the great majority of the citizens abstained from participating.
Rafael Hernández: What problems affect the democratic functioning of organizations? What factors have an impact on this?
Silvio Calves Hernández: The democratic functioning of organizations is affected by bad habits, by a tradition of authoritarianism, erroneous paradigms, the absence of a delegation of authority out of fear that others will do it better, or that if the boss doesn’t do it it won’t be done properly; by ignorance and a lack of knowledge of why and how to propose participation and by using it as manipulation or management to hide adverse realities. Many bosses refuse to listen or will not accept outside opinions. On the other hand, there are too many standards, procedures and rules; if everything is regulated, why participate? There is a sustained deterioration of good manners in society, which affects the relationship between people, and between people and organizations.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: I think, fundamentally, the lack of ability to have dialogue and to listen respectfully that at times characterizes us. The result of fear, of insecurity, of the pride of believing ourselves to be in possession of the whole truth. Especially the preconceptions or prejudices, when there are ideological views of man and of reality, also prevent sincere dialogue, because they cloud the consciousness, damage the indispensable humility, which is necessary to find consensus and to let us be enlightened by the positions or arguments of others. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, number 203, states this in an unparallelled way. Allow me to quote him: “Authentic social dialogue implies the capacity to respect the point of view of the other, and accept the possibility that it contains some legitimate beliefs or interests. From his own being, the other has something to contribute, and it is desirable that he goes deeper and expounds his position so that the public debate may be even more complete… In a true spirit of dialogue the capacity to understand what the other says and does is nourished, although one cannot assume it as one’s own conviction. In this way it becomes possible to be sincere, to not disguise what we believe, not stopping the conversation, but looking for points of contact and above all, working and struggling together” (end of the quote). At the same time, dialogue is not an end in itself, but a way to find ourselves in the greater Truth. When the question of Truth is eliminated and the relativism of “anything goes” is accepted, we end up falling into the reign of opinions, in which, saying it nicely, we will end up imposing the opinion of the strongest. If the Truth is not accepted—and now I will say it more frankly: the big fish will eat the little one. Only if there is a Truth above the oceans, and to which everyone bows, is there a possibility that the little fish will live. The Truth is the only guarantee that is left to life and to the rights of the poor people, the defenseless, most fragile and vulnerable ones.
Karen Brito: In order to try and list the problems that affect the democratic functioning of organizations, I think that bureaucracy is part of that hit parade, like an illness that eats away the democratic efforts. Figures, statistics, papers, forms, manuals, models, flood the drawers and the file cabinets, without any further concrete manifestion in the life of the organization or of its members. So, why do it?
The preparation of the leaders of these organizations is another key factor. With a population that has a high literacy level, with an educational level well above ninth grade, with access to culture in all its manifestations, to technology, to the internet, our leaders cannot afford the luxury of not being at the level of the people whom they lead. And I’m not talking only of the highest levels of the organizational hierarchy but also of the middle levels. We have to study, we have to get better, but doing this not only in a class on such and such a subject, but as part of a daily exercise of intellectual growth. The science of the example begins with the management teams (See∕Read Che).
Many of our organizations are historical: they were created by the great men and women of our nation. This constitutes a deep and priceless legacy. But, careful: to pretend that those who are of a very advanced age are the same today than at the moment of their creation is to deny the historical evolution of society. It is to deny the marxist essence. Sometimes, our organizations have structures that have become stuck in a particular time and have not tried—without denying their beginnings—to change with the times. There is only one way to be a man of all times—to paraphrase Martí—and that is to have been a man of his own time. If we can change the noun man for organizations, we will have organizations for all times.
There are other issues, but I think they will come up during the debate.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: I will try to present some issues in a clear manner.
The first is associated with scenario. At the national level, in the model organizations (those that in other places are called “traditional”, or those begun with the Revolution), there does not exist a favorable predisposition towards democratic functioning. This is important if we consider that many people who belong to other associative spaces also serve, with different participatory levels, in those organizations. And in addition, the practice of these “historic” organizations does not recognize the wealth that also exists in their foundational structures, where it is not rare to find, for example, labor union locals that implement practices with this democratic quality.
From an external viewpoint, it is needless to say that there is a democratic paradigm that reaches into Cuba and takes as its unique anchoring point the political structures and electoral premises at the national level. From critical positions of the democratic (or not) experiences in Cuba, it is more common to see allusions to the functioning of national institutional structures than to democratic organizational practices which would be resisting those external institutional structures. That is not always the case, but I see it as being dominant.
The second point I see relates to the accumulated institutional culture. I think it isn’t necessary to go further into this considering the verticalist practices that predominate in many of the organizations considered ”historical”, and very large. Another issue of interest is to what extent these methods also seep through to parts of the recent forms of associationism. Related to this that is that, from its “top” management structures, this verticalism transmits a homogeneity (of opinions, practices, etc.) that does not correspond exactly to what happens at the lower levels.
A third issue would be bureaucratization, seen from the practices that encourage it and that are reproduced in different scenarios. Among these practices we can mention: 1) The excessive presence of structures and levels of managements; 2) The staffing of many of these structures with professionalized managers; 3) Bureaucratic recycling; 4) The profesionalization through responsibilities like advisors, consultants, etc. and others.
A fourth and last issue that I want to mention refers to the perspective of the national project to which we aspire and the way in which the social web is articulated around these objectives. I think that plays a fundamental role in the collective and popular government actions.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: Among the issues that affect the democratic functioning of organizations, there is an obvious one, which is the existence of, or lack of, rules for the democratic game. As has been demonstrated in Spain during the last forty years, these rules are not enough. For example, within a community we can elect which deputy will represent us in Parliament, but from there on, the representation is commercialized. Theoretically, this deputy should represent interests like: making sure that the electric energy that is prrovided to the city that he represents is offered at the lowest possible cost, or that this electricity is produced in the cleanest and safest way possible. But the truth is that commercialization causes this deputy to be a hostage to other interests—for example, the electricity companies—that will offer him a professional way out—remember that parliamentary representation has a time limit, so at the end of his mandate, in a company, with a high salary, in exchange for him to—in the meantime—not defend an economical price, or ecological sources of electrical energy, etc.
Therefore, the rules of the game need to be very well defined so that the voter cannot only elect his representative but can also oust him in case he doesn’t fulfull his job. In the case of Spain, this possibility does not exist. Whatever the level of participation, it is not possible that a representative who does not fulfill what he promised will be ousted. We have to wait for the next elections.
Rafael Hernández: To what extent does the practice of a democratic culture depend on the functioning of the organizations? To what extent can this culture exist without there being a democratic functioning of the organizations, or in spite of them being less than democratic?
Silvio Calves Hernández: The practice of a democratic culture in a society and in an organization takes place, or it does not, whether it is the will of the State or of the management of the organization and a priority in the processes of all their sectors. It is not only a question of this happening for events central to the country. Democratic areas or organizations that are in an ocean of authoritarianism in any type of society can be excluded if there are no policies that promote democratization. Discipline and control weigh more than new ideas to solve old and new problems. This idea of the development of a culture of democracy has to be taken to political and state organizations, beginning with primary schools, universities and families, sectorial and other public policies. The more cultured and developed societies are not necessarily the most democratic. When they are, it is because they have had democratic leadership and it has been a social tradition present for many years in the culture of the masses.
I personally had the privilege to work with a supervisor who encouraged participation and promoted enthusiasm, commitment and loyalty to the tasks that he assigned. One particular way of operating characterized his behavior. I remember that in the Management boards or meetings of group analyses, he was never the one to speak first; he listened to the opinions of others, and in his conclusions he took decisions that were enriched by the proposals he had heard. He said that if he spoke first, everyone at the meeting would agree with him, and so meetings would not have been necessary. I also remember that when I was his consultant, he said: “If you and I always have the same opinion, you would not be any use to me, you would let me make mistakes.”
This participative, democratic, transparent and systematic process created a positive environment with a high commitment to the organization, to the people who sensed the empowerment that was given to them. This produced an impact in the workers, who felt that they were heard and that their opinions were considered by the management. By their actions and opinions the workers expressed their desire to participate and let go of the apathy because they participated in the decision-making.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: This depends in a major way, because the functioning of an organization is what provides a direction, let’s say. It makes viable, concrete, it “sets down” the way to exercise the shared responsibility and commitment of a particular group. I will offer examples from the ecclesiastical world. After Vatican Two, different stuctures for dialogue, research and making unified decisions were created. The Episcopal Conference in every country, the Synods of the bishops who assist the Pope in publishing issues that have to do with the church and the world, the pastoral and economic Councils, which should function in every diocese and every parish. Let’s take as an example one of these latter, which is something in which I work, because I am a parish priest. The parochial council, which consists of those responsible for the different groups and activities of the parish: cathechism, adolescents, young people, married people, those who visit the sick, lithurgy and choir, charity, the pastoral of the sanctuary, administration and economics. If the parochial council is just one place in which the priest commands and the rest obeys in silence, this way of functioning manifests a clerical conception of the workings of the parish. It will end up as being irrelevant, boring, a waste of time or a mockery of the lay people. On the other hand, if the parochial council is a place of exchange, of shared contributions of ideas and projects about life in the parish in its various worlds, a space of communion and fraternal and reciprocal accompaniment in which we all learn from the others and we all feel that we are part of it, then being and doing in this parish will be much more lively, enthusiastic and committed to the life of the people, with the people of whom we are a part and whom we wish to serve.
Karen Brito: Democratic culture is NOT exclusive of organizations. It is constituted in the public space and in the social relationships that are being formed. It is not a process that comes by itself, but it could be better nourished through education, in the family, the community. There are experiences from popular education that lead institutions like the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, which have shown the validity of more participative methodologies in community work in Cuba. In this it is also necessary to become literate within the organizations, from the educational and comunication perspective. Find other models that give new breath to the way in which we do things and that do not in any way deny the principles of our Revolution. Then we would be contributing to this democratic culture that we need to conserve and enrich.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: I referred to these issues before. We are talking about a country in which organizations co-exist that are very different from the point of view of their history, their objectives, their ways of functioning and the people they assemble. Membership in several organizations is not rare, even if there are a number of important entities that are emerging as counterparts to other already existing organizations.
And yes, in communal spaces, families, and study centers there are practices, and a way to “educate” on the topic of democratic culture is taking place. But I believe that, given the Cuban organizational web, a democratic culture should be developed that takes advantage of its potential, and not “in spite of it.” This also exposes a problem, because from the moment that we plant the issue of democratic development alongside existing organizations—or some of them—the obligation to rethink the usefulness of these organizations imposes itself.
From my perspective as a citizen, I would like to take this opportunity now to refer to another phenomenon that I feel is strongly associated with the development of a democratic culture in Cuban society. It has to do with communicative space, to which I relate—not as a specialist but as an “amateur.”
In a scenario that was broadened for Cubans in a positive way, it is usual to find messages sent by associations, groups, organizations and individuals who refer to issues related to the democratization of Cuban society. This implies the challenge for us to every day confront practices, contents and messages that are organized not necessarily according to the quantity of people and problems they broadcast, but by the communication networks they generate. So a message coming from a personal perspective can take hold with greater force than one coming from a group. This also touches on another problem that organizations must face: their capacity to take a stance, and to what extent this capacity (or lack of it) is a reflection of certain weaknesses.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: The recent experience of the political situation in Spain offers a unique example. Five years ago a movement appeared known as 15M (because on the 15th of May several civic, popular mobilizations occurred that first tried to denounce the enormous corruption and impermeability of the political system—then governed by the Popular Party). It was almost impossible for one person, and what is more, a young person, to have his demands assimilated by any political organization. A large part of this generation formed a new political party called Podemos, that tried to overcome the limitations of the traditional left-wing parties, and fundamentally based on the workers’ movement. And what happened is that the very corrupt system that they were denouncing was able to absorb them, to the extent that citizens of this movement succeeded in obtaining public positions—thanks to the democratic vote—and began to demobilize their own bases and renounce their program or political agenda.
Unfortunately, as we can see, organizations can play a role in disbanding the very movement that put them into power. This has happened in Spain. The 15M gave birth to a party like Podemos, that today forms part of a government that is practicing policies totally contrary to those promoted by 15M. It is a government that represses immigration from Magreb, Morroco, Algeria and Mauritania, that promotes a process of dislocating enterprises, that represses 15M itself by law enforcement, etc. So we are seeing a practical case in which the very organizations that emerged from a popular democracy alienate themselves from it, and even repress it.
Rafael Hernández: How do we achieve a more democratic functioning of organizations? Will it be viable to do that? On what will it depend? Will it be enough to propose it to the organizations? In some more than in others?
Silvio Calves Hernández: There has to be political will for the development of a democratization culture of society, of its organizations and the public administrations’ entities. Accountability policies are necessary, as well as control that this is done properly and with transparency, that the citizens feel that it is important to participate, that they are heard and their opinions taken into account. Participation has two components: the one who manages and those who have to participate, and both should be able to feel their importance. It is necessary that effective and transparent mechanisms of data gathering and feedback be created regarding the opinions on fundamental aspects, and that people are able to know what is being done with it. The polls themselves are not participation, unless the one who was polled knows that his opinion was heard and taken into account. Citizens and people of the organizations should be offered information so that they can participate in a positive manner. I consider that it is necessary to de-bureaucratize society and its organizations; why partipate and give opinions if everything is regulated by legal norms and instruments that make participation unjust, and if it is done it may look like manipulation. The conception of annual general meetings of organizations should be modified, both those of the public sector and those in which the top authority of the organization offers its report and the very people who did the tasks are present, but not the citizens, users or clients who could have different points of view on what is in the report and in which the decisions were often preconceived. The democratization should be systemic, should reach all areas of society, and be supported by a transparent policy of communication and information. Ever more there is a need to educate, qualify, and train the supervisors, the citizens and users on the concepts of participation and accountability, because these are strategic actors. By means of his participation, the person as a social actor acquires the real identity of being a citizen, with its duties, responsibilities and rights.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: I think that it depends a lot on the frame of mind and the patient commitment of the leaders. And also on the honest and loyal involvement of all those who make up the different organizations. Democracy supposes responsibility, and as I said before, responsibility is a way of placing ourselves before the Truth, the Truth with a capital T, which goes beyond us and transcends everyone; the truth with a small letter is the one that every human being is discovering and, hopefully brings to his equals with humility. In his recent interventions, Pope Francis has emphasized that he wants the style and way of work for the church to be synodal. The word synod, from the Greek syn, meaning with, and odos, or feet, literally means “to walk together.” The courage of the Pope has reached such a point that he has asked a committee of theologists and thinkers to study the biblical and theological roots of being synodal. And in addition, the next Synod of Bishops that will be held in Rome next year will have as its subject: “For a synodal church: communion, participation, and mission.” There are truly valuable articles that are being published during these days, in the framework of a symposium titled “Francis’s Church,” which is being developed virtually in Rome. You can consult very interesting items in the official site of the Vatican News. And in conclusion, I would like to remember that from the mouths of many wise and good people I often heard that: “Alone maybe one arrives sooner, but together one goes further.” This panel in which we are participating is a way of walking together on this path of our lives. I ask God to allow us to go further in the dream and realization of a more human and fraternal world. Thank you very much.
Karen Brito: In order to democratize the functioning of organizations, proposing it is not enough; we need to go further, we need to review the structures, the way in which they work, and if something has to change, we need to dare to do it. Of course this depends on diagnosing what and where the probems are that could affect the organization, in the sense that we are discussing. Feedback from the bases of an organization is important: what do the members think? What can be done differently and better? How would that be done? For what and why does the organization exist? These questions should be asked more often, in order to avoid being intimidated and to not let the opportunity pass that good ideas, and better dreams can contribute to the collective project.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: In my opinion, the answer to this question rests on three analytical scenarios:
- There is a group of organizations that develop democratic practices that, strictly speaking, could be extended, shared and perfected;
- Others are focused on a process almost like a reorganization in this sense;
- And then there is the scenario of a society and the way in which it articulates itself and relates to (or not) this unequal organizational maze.
I will concentrate on the second case. A group of organizations, especially those of the longest historical date and which coincidentally bring together the largest quantity of people, is confronted with the following dilemma: dissolution, restructuring, or reorganization?
Given this dilemma, two issues are put on the table:
- There exists the real possibility that the distorsions and problems expressed in organizations cannot be “resolved” within their own framework because of the dynamics that they embody: their ways of functioning, the quality of the relations that they maintain with the State, with the Communist Party, its affiliates and the rest of the social and political network of the country; the characteristics of its leaders, its structures, its statutes and rules…
- To promote changes from inside the organizations themselves.
Although the possibility that immobility will continue to be replicated is always latent, the second scenario is the lesser conflictive—and therefore more probable—in the current national framework.
In practical terms, the following steps can be taken:
To promote a discourse of reorganization that would be like a recongnition of a “change of scenario.”
Actions towards the conciliation of a platform that is common with other actors. That would imply the identification of these other actors who have specific demands; the organization of meetings to agree on lists of demands and common work; the promotion of communicative actions in which these meetings will be set and agreements achieved; the conciliation and proposals of rules (legally generated) that would include the demands of these actors, to which the organizations would agree.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: With respect to the topic of how to democratize organizations, well, that would be what in Spain we would call “la madre del cordero” [sic], the crux of the matter, the central problem. I honestly don’t have a definite answer, but in my experience of forty years in political, union and social movements, the most important thing is participation. We are citizens before anything else; worthy of rights and obligations, but the system always tends to alienate, push away, annul, discourage—and that’s the key word—citizen participation.
To democratize also depends on every society. Cuban society is not the same as Spanish society. In the case of the latter, it would be a case of guaranteeing that citizens have access to real political participation, and the desirable thing would be that dissociation between organizations and people elected to represent them would not be possible. When this does happen, representative democracy gives way to substitutive democracy. Because of technical questions, it is normal that there is a representative democracy, that for example, within a college, a group of people is elected who represent the others. Something else occurs when those who represent us impose an opinion that substitutes for the voice of those who are represented. What is the solution to avoid this? Participation and protest, including going outside the law. The final judgment is not the law; in my opinion, it must be that of the citizen.
Rafael Hernández: We have heard the panelists, who have responded from very different perspectives and experiences, with opinions and ideas that enrich and help us to have a view that is much more three-dimensional—to say it in some way—of this truly complex issue.
As of this point, we will give the word to the participants who have asked to pose questions and make comments.
Marta Pérez-Rolo: (Professor of the Universidad de La Habana). In reference to the last question, I would like the panel to dig deeper into the importance of training, including how to teach people to participate, and specify how this can be achieved in learning how to debate, so that it contributes diversity of viewpoints and helps in the innovation of revolutionary ideas.
Wilder Pérez Varona: (Researcher in the Institute of Philosophy of Cuba). I thank Temas for the idea of convening us and thank the panelists for their interventions, which are filled with relevant elements that promise a good debate.
I note that the panelists seem to accept a thesis, which was perhaps implicit in the notice of the meeting: Cuban society is characterized by a democratic culture, in spite of the limitations held by the organizations that typically constitute the institutional framework of the country. In other words, Cuban institutions, for other kinds of reasons—perhaps relevant—are not at the level of the democratic hallmark that the revolutionary process established into the social fabric. There does seem to be a consensus in this respect—with some nuances. I do want to note, however, that sustaining this thesis leads to underestimating the influence of the political culture on political institutionality.
However, we need to consider another position, which is opposed to the previous one. The democratic deficits of the Cuban institutional metwork are conditioned by the lack of a democratic cultural tradition. Taken in a broad sense, this thesis refers to the existence of models of social relations, from family to the political system, of authoritarian roots, which persist throughout our national history, and which the Revolution has replicated, in spite of its indubitable social achievements.
This strongly culturalist thesis, together with the lack of economic development, has often been used to explain the nature of the political system which, while obtaining a social order that is an alternative to capitalism, also implies a clear setback or distorsion in terms of democracy. And this has not only been brought forward by the defenders of the liberal universe. Taken to its extreme, this thesis supports the idea that some societies can be democratic, and others cannot.
Between these opposing attitudes, one that gives a defining role to and one that underestimates the role of the cultural representations and perceptions of organizations, it seems to me that it would be good to see the relationship in terms of interdependence.
What do the panelists think? Thank you again.
Carlos Alzugaray: (President of the Historical-Social Literature Section of UNEAC [Union Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba]). I have heard the interventions of all the panelists, but I have not heard two concepts mentioned which, to me, are fundamental for democracy. One is the deliberation, defined as the process to argue for a specific policy before taking a decision or choosing a path to follow. An example of this is the popular consultation on the Cuban Constitution. That was a process that was truly deliberative, and in which moreover, people were encouraged to say what they thought. Not everybody understood this, because here, sometimes, there is some fear to say things that might be controversial; in general, however, we can say that there was deliberation, beyond the criticism we could make of what happened after.
The second concept is tolerance. That is to say that those who participate in an organization should know that there is tolerance of any idea or proposal, however crazy it may seem. I say that because I think that practice has shown that where there is no such tolerance, people will remain silent, they will go with whatever the majority thinks, and not confront them. This tolerance also implies the acceptance that minorities form part of the process and should not be excluded because they have a minoritarian opinion.
Maikel Pons: (Professor of Sociopolitical Theory, University of Camagüey). I speak from Belo Horizonte, in Brazil. I thank you profoundly for the possibility to learn together with you. I think these issues are very stimulating and opportune. I will try to make a brief contribution and leave a question for the exchange.
The first thing that worries me is the multi-versality and multi-functionality of a term like democratic culture. To begin with I won’t confirm its existence—or non—in Cuban society without asking myself whether I have this democratic culture and whether I practice it. In this sense, I question myself on three characteristics of this culture that I dream of, and of which I want to be an active subject. The first: horizontalist practices in social, institutional, organizational and governmental relations. Second, the visibilization of popular knowledge and decolonized and antidiscriminatory experiences. And third, the effective exercise of the popular mandate that I delegate to the institutional, political and organizational authorities.
I recognize that the democratic consensus of a society must take into account the perspective of every subject that is part of the citizenry and of that democratic culture, but which will not always be the desired consensus for the individual interests of every one. Because of this, the building of a consensus, out of dissent and disagreements, out of uniqueness and differences, out of unity and diversity is vital. I would like to think that the most democratic society, the ideal democratic culture, will be the one that encourages and stimulates the uniqueness of its subjects to be manifested in its full authenticity, with emancipation and also with a sense of responsibility of what it brings and contributes, so that the other person—man or woman—can also feel pride in being themselves, and being part of a common space that will always be diverse and ethereal.
In addition, I would like to include an issue that derives from the fifth question: Do we want to democratize the functioning of our organizations? Do we feel this to be necessary?
Julio César Guanche: (Attorney). I have a very minor reflection and then a question. The reflection has to do with democracy in organizations, specifically in the Marxist tradition. If we look at the different discussions around this topic, we can find one between Rosa Luxembourg and Lenin, about whether conscience can be produced outside, or is inevitably inside the workers movement; others, on Entryism and its legitimacy, find in Gramsci the celebration of associationism as the foundation of the socialist culture. It seems to me that in this type of discussions there is always a logic of recognition of the foundational autonomy of an organization—in this case workers or proletariat—in order to exercise from inside their interests and demands for representation. In Cuba during the last decades the logic on this followed a different path, maybe related to the dynamics of Soviet Marxism, which had a different understanding of the autonomy of social organizations and, at the same time, of the relationship between State and society.
Time has passed, and there are a lot of Marxist explanations on this issue; time has passed of its praxis in Cuba, with the model that has been followed of the type of organization that we have. And so my question is: In light of the experiences lived and of what the Marxist tradition has been, how do you evaluate this need for an organization that should be autonomous with respect to others and achieve internal democracy, starting from the strength of its own bases and not from the strength that a specific legal order could confer it, because it would set it in a privileged position? I mean, how do you evaluate the autonomy—as a principle—of those organizations that make up a political sytem, for example those of workers or students, as related to the rest?
Rafael Hernández: The public has established issues of central importance, and we hope that they can be recovered by the panelists following up.
Before letting them speak again, I want to ask them another set of questions—just for their reflection. The first is linked to one of the interventions, that of Wilder: Can we have any institutions that are more democratic than those which national culture and history have let us experience as concrete practices? Can we have a democratic culture in organizations that would be able to situate itself beyond social relations and its defects with respect to being democratic? Can we have organizations that are more democratic than we ourselves are, than our real cultural heritage? The issue of a cultural tradition that is democratic is not theoretical; it has to do with how our practice is realized and how we are—or are not—prepared to work democratically. We could mention here the Spanish colonial cultural heritage, which had its own particular style—and I am happy to have a Spaniard on this panel—and which, both at the societal and at the institutional level, represents a highly vertical style; an academic education—including the Catholic schools that existed in Cuba, where generations of Cuban citizens were educated—which had, on the one hand a patriotic objective and content, but which, at the same time, were marked by a pedagogy that does not favor participation. This deals with a historic problem: the lack of effective development of a democratically representative institutionality during the half-century that preceded the Revolution, and the circumstances in which this Revolution took place. In one way or another, ar we not heirs, apparently—and this is a challenge I offer to the panel—to democratic elements which may not only be in philosophical and political thinking, but also in the concrete experiences and practices.
My second question has to do with the presence of authoritarian and democratic practices in areas that have a fundamental importance in the reproduction of life; for example, work centers. To what extent are labor relations marked by hierarchical dominance and verticality as opposed to participation and the iniciative to listen and take decisions collectively? Even if we are not talking about a cooperative, even if we are speaking of private enterprise, and not only of a State enterprise.
Another issue that has to do with democracy of organizations is what Father Ariel mentioned on how to project the message and the values through the perspective of different cultures, of collaborating between religions, on the capacity for interreligious dialogue, generating communication between different beliefs, beyond faith, relating to society not only through faith or shared ideology, but also through media that make all citizens’ participation effective in spaces where the common denominator is not necessarily a faith or an ideology.
Some panelists have referred to authoritarianism as bureaucracy. How to deal with the necessity that society be ranked, organized, legaly regulated, and at the same time would offer a space for partcipation that is not innocent but that goes beyond the regulations? I mean, that it be possibe to develop citizen participation, not reducing it to what is established but making it into creative formulas that can be generated from below, that help their manifestation, help to make it effective and efficient, and not to confuse it with replication of participative juridic rules.
And finally—I’m taking advantage of the fact that the participants have been very concise and punctual, and that we have been given the possibility of more time—I would like to ask about the construction of participation from inside organizations, and beyond them. To what extent can a Synodal style be developed—as Father Ariel would say—beyond institutions, schools, political organizations, churches, which would be reproduced at the level of social relations? What can we do for organizations to develop and democratically practice a culture that would have applicability outside of them, that goes beyond them, and which would allow access to concrete participation through practices that involve all citizens?
After this merciless onslaught of questions, and taking advantage of the fact that on the panel we have very diverse experiences, it would be worth it, facing these issues, to find perspectives and nuances that would report on them. So I invite you to make comments and answer any of the questions as you wish.
Silvio Calves Hernández: I think we are at a point in which people have to unlearn intolerance, the sense of taking revenge, particular fears, bureaucratic rules that have almost become a tradition. We are at a point in which debate and listening to others, those not like us, is important. There is always something useful in the ideas of others.
I also have very recent experiences. In an organization in which I worked I saw how a colleague was harassed because he had a different opinion than those in the management, and he had to quit. If there is a feeling and an intention in society that is democratic, and endorsed by documents, it’s like any symphony, in which one issue is how it is composed, and another is who interprets it. On this problem we have to carry on the debates and make them more public and more transparent. Thank you very much for making my particpation possible.
Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui: Thank you to all the people who participated in this panel, for the interest and the friendly and gentle courtesy with which they have read our reflections and for being motivated to share theirs.
I would especially like to refer to the topic that Rafael noted on interreligious dialogue being a fundamental element of cohesion, and sharing ideas among the great religions. But I first would like to emphasize that Christianity, in its beginning, or when it became a historic event, had two components that are very interesting in relation to today’s topic. First, Christianity was an enormously inclusive, or participatory moment in the history of humankind. It began in the midst of a Jewish world, and as a religion, Judaism was nationalistic. As a principle, the Jews believed—and that was true—that in the Old Testament they were “God’s people”, the chosen people, and they referred to other people with a certain disdain. In the Temple of Jerusalem, for example, non-Jews could only go up to the atrium, and after a certain point only men could continue intside. Women, children, slaves, lepers, and certain marginal groups could not enter into the main Temple areas. For the first time, Christianity received everyone. In a typical Christian meeting—mass, for example—for the first time in a religious setting, children, women, diverse races, different peoples, slaves, etc., all could enter. We could say that this was the first inclusive revolution in history.
Another important element: one might think that Christianity—born in a Jewish context but reaching the Greco-Roman world—being a religion, would become allied in some way to the existing religions, but to the surprise of everyone, that was not the case. Instead, it became allied to philosophy; strangely enough it was linked to reason, to thinking, to intelligence, and to what all men and women could have aside from sharing or not a religious faith. Benedict XVI said that Christianity is the religion of the logos [sic]; he called it an “enlightened religion.” That means that it conects with the rational questions of a rational being, of the human being—questions about life, feelings, values. Without Christianity it would have been very difficult, almost impossible, that Western culture would have recognized the value, the dignity of every person, the respect for liberty, what every human being means, regardless of his race, gender or social condition.
Therefore an interreligious dialogue, to which Rafael referred, is fundamental for us today, because in all religious traditions there have been moments in which this has been lost, when we expect to impose onto others the truth that we believe in. This is a distortion, because then religion stops being enlightened, stops being suitable for reason, liberating for mankind, it stops becoming a factor of humanization, of empowerment of the best that humans have. To express this in a very concrete way: the so-called Holy Wars are an aberration; wars are not waged in the name of God; when properly understood, religions are spritiual forces in the world; in men, they are paths to humanization, and it is there where interreligious dialogue is very important.
During a previous intervention I alluded to the Fratelli Tutti Encyclical letter of Pope Francis, and it is very interesting that in this document the Pope begins by saying that part of the inspiration to write it was his meeting with the Muslim world, and again, when he spoke of nature, creation, climate care, these very important ecological topics, he also wanted to say in the Laudato si [sic] that he had been inspired by the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch, his friend and brother Bartholomew I. These examples tell us that in the real history of the occurrence of Christianity there is a desire for inclusion, for dialogue and communion with all men, even including all creation.
Rafael Hernández: While Father Ariel was speaking I thought of the importance of cultural diversity and how Christianity in the West, and religions like Buddhism in the East, create different civic and political cultures and also different ways to cope with conflicts. In fact, it is difficult to understand participation and the sense of belonging that peoples who practice religions like Buddhism have, without also understanding to what extent these peoples are influenced by these values, which mean coexistence, and not only a relation with transcendence but also a way of living. Just like Christianity in its own context.
I would like to give the word to Karen, who has noted an aspect that was not completely defined in the other interventions: the historical quality of organizations, the existence of a historical context in which they are created, and their subsequent times, the need for them to transform in order to respond to their historical moments. I would like her to refer to this in her response to the comments made by the public.
Karen Brito: It has really been a great lesson to listen to all these comments and questions, to which we will obviously not be able to respond, but at least we will be “workshopping” them, with these concerns that affect us.
I mentioned the historical quality of the organizations because I believe there is a mystical quality—and I’m suddenly thinking of the FEU [Federacion Estudiantil Universitaria} —in belonging, which I’m not going to explain because this is well-known. This gives it a very positive mark, very romantic, but also, in some cases, trying to adhere to structures, to ways of doing things, to readings of things that keep changing in time could become a burden. I think that there is a challenge there: if we don’t feel the need to democratize organizations beyond the point we think they can democratically be, things will not change. No serious and profound change will happen if the need to do so is not felt or perceived by the people involved. Here we have spoken of the verticality in the schools, but there are also families that are vertical in their structure, in their dynamics, which the schools will also replicate, so then how can the same thing not happen in the work environments or in universities? So therefore I think that it is necessary to open up to other educational and communication paradigms, because communication media and social networks—old and new—replicate these same dynamics that can be antidemocratic and that we are here trying to demolish. I always think of popular education, of popular communication, which are methodologies with a system that could be analogous to many of these efforts. There is a sort of belief in not letting them out of certain spaces where they have produced results but which, if we think a bit more about it, could be very useful to many of these same organizations that understand the need to shake off the dust and change the internal ideas and dynamics in the desire to be much more democratic.
Professor Alzugaray challenged us with the topic of deliberation. Obviously, this has to be a permanent exercise, but in many places it is not. As many of you here probably know, there are organizations that in certain circumstances have used this type of discussion.
The term tolerance really does not attrract me, because instead of “I tolerate you because I am in a position of power and you are subordinate”, I prefer respect. It would speak of much more horizontality in any type of debate or of the presence of minorities. And hence the need to get training in the use of these not so new paradigms, because if we don’t know how, if we don’t study them, we would definitely be speaking in vain. And I’m thinking not only of the leaders but also of the very foundations, because these cannot really be empowered to the things they could aspire to if they looked for more and better democratic dynamics within the organizations—if they don’t study and prepare themselves either. I think that for an organization to be durable, useful, for it to make sense, it needs to be have complete feedback and understanding of these bases which give them their reason to be and make sure they are not an empty dream.
Rafael Hernández: Thank you, Karen, for reminding us that communication is not only exercised through the media but also from within society, and that what is generated in the family environment and interacts with other institutions, with schools, with the working environment, is of primordial importance. That also has to do with an inherited political and civic culture, and with the analysis of this context.
Fernando Luis Rojas López: I thank the panelists and those that Rafael calls “the public.” Even if their comments were very concise because of the time requirements, they did open up many topics and points of view that would be impossible to exhaust.
Rafael and Wilder mentioned something that has to do with the relationship between political culture and organizations, and Wilder also spoke about the thesis that he saw as related to the existence of a democratic culture that is complementary to Cuban society. I spoke of democratic cultures so as to try and present them in a plural but at the same time a more effective way, and to speak also of ideas, of the understanding of democracy. We are proposing an environment that aspires to a democratic society, and because of that perhaps we are rather leaving out the possible existence of perceptions in today’s Cuban society that are not necessarily democratic, and which, in my opinion, also exist. I would like to point out the historical component of this question, that is, how this discussion could take us to try and overcome the macrohistorical periodization practices. For example, the idea of making a division in order to speak of these democratic inheritances (or non-), is quite accepted—the analysis that Rafael proposed went beyond that—to mark the triumph of the Revolution in 1959: a before and an after. I think that this could lead us to lose sight of experiences that have happened more recently, as answers to specific problems, like those that happened with the tornado that passed through Havana in January of 2019, and that had at its base a certain form of organization and reaction before a concrete situation, but which would be interesting to bring to this space.
I also think Carlos’ notes are very useful, when he referred to an example of very global deliberations, very general, which is the constitutional consultation process. I spoke of the need to articulate a platform for joint action between different organizations. That would undisputably lead to an important ambiance of deliberations.
With respect to Rafael’s challenge on the existence of democracy in work-centers and other spaces of life reproduction: what happens is that these practices are articulated with the gaps and limits that were established from their very articulations, in the sense that on many occasions there is the idea that in a work-center a stop can be put to certain authoritarian practices at the administrative level, and that can be the organizations’ task. That leads us to a discussion that goes through what we have proposed in this panel, which I think will be complemented with others that Temas has done.
And as to Maikel’s commentary, I would like to salvage the idea of the tensions in the construction of a consensus, because seeing it as a final result could give us the idea that this practice is free of tensions.
And so as not to extend myself too much, I only want to refer to two topics that have been mentioned. One has to do with what Guanche said on democracy in organizations, as it is seen in the Marxist tradition. He proposed a very interesting example, from the debates that occurred in the European social-democratic environment at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, but that we could apply to a much wider setting, not only the Marxist tradition with other perceptions, like anarchism itself, as referring to organizations or their autonomy, and at the same time, the same debates that occurred in Cuba during the first years of the sixties, and the articles that were written—for example on the role of the unions in the process that was beginning at the time.
Finally I would like to comment another problem that Rafael mentioned and that has to do with the transmission of communications from different positions and how this happens in a context that, in my opinion, is very marked by the polarization of some positions in the current Cuban setting. And that is also an element that should be indicative of the meaning of the discussions that need to be undertaken.
Rafael Hernández: Thank you, Fenando. We could spend another several hours discussing these issues, including those you mentioned on the democratic cultures that, for me, is one of the central aspects: some practices are recognized as being culturally democratic and others as culturally anti-democratic, but they end up not being the same, according to the group or to the attitude and position of the people. I mean that the one who reflects the point of view that is not one’s own is disqualified as antidemocratic, which really does not get us any further.
José Francisco Bellod Redondo: In the first place I want to thank the organizers and the participants for giving us the opportunity to discuss these cultural topics in a time of crisis. I am happy to see that in Cuba, cultural activities are continuing in spite of such serious circumstances.
I agree with Rafael on a very important point. When I hear Cuban friends talk about the problems they are going through there, in spite of the structural differences in the political and economic oganization of your country and mine, I can assure you that the similarities that exist astound me; for example, when I hear talk of problems of habits that endure over time and are not corrected, or of a certain apathy in participation. This, if applied to Spain, fits exactly.
I would like to refer to Carlos Alzugaray’s comments. I have realized that my intervention as panelist has quite a few gaps, and one very important one: we speak of society, and we sometimes forget that it is composed of individuals, and therefore we would have to see what characteristics they have to have for society to be democratic. It cannot be democratic if its members do not behave democratically. He spoke of knowing how to deliberate—and absoutely, even given my age, we have never had a process of deliberation like what you have done with the Constitution; we don’t have those here—of tolerance, and that seems fundamental to me. In this sense, it is key to speak of participation, but not any type of participation. I am convinced that in a democracy there is a high dose of altruism; I mean, the person has to participate, invest his time, present his ideas, even when this may mean the deterioration of his image for people that have a different impression of him, of erosion in his personal relations with people who do not share his ideas—all in exchange for trying to improve some aspect of the community. In Spain this is badly understood. And keep in mind that in a capitalist society, personal success is greatly valued. This means that, if I make efforts, and with a good dose of luck I am able to prosper economically, I will make a good model. What is not understood here is someone who invests time to attend a meeting at night of a political party or a union or a neighbourhood association, to improve the community. And that leads us to the problem of democratic education. As you know, we could split education into two large sectors: on the one hand, the formal one, which is school in a wide sense. Here teachers should use their classes—in mathematics, economics or any other subject—to teach democractic values, tolerance, the rejection of homophobia, of xenophobia, of racism, etc. In practice, although these rules exist, they are not applied. So a democratic education is planned, but not carried out.
And then there is the informal education, off the record. We spend a large part of our time in business—which in Spain are private enterprises—and there the education that is acquired, in a non-scheduled way, is deeply anti-democratic. I will give you an example: Spanish law guarantees any citizen to be a member of a union, and no one can force upon the person which union, nor penalize him for belonging to one. But in private businesses there is penalization, by not raising the salary, by not promoting the person, because the directors don’t want to have anyone in the company that participates in union activities. If one lives for eight hours per day in a context in which a non-democratic culture exists, it is normal for a person to take that attitude home, or to the neighborhood.
So we have a serious problem. Basically democracy works through inertia, because in reality on the part of citizens there is no serious commitment to it. And even more, the organizations with the most members are not political parties nor unions; soccer clubs have more members than both of the others together. In fact, the soccer club FC Barcelona has 145,000 members; the Popular Party, which has been the ruling party for many years, has 70,000. Parties don’t expect much of the people, except that they vote, and people only hope that the parties won’t steal much. We have a deficiency—and I suppose that Cuba has a similar problem—in the education towards altruistic participation.
Rafael Hernández: Many thanks, Bellod. Listening to your points of view has been a pleasure as well as an exercise in understanding.
I’m not saying anything new when I say that this has been an extraordinary panel, which has broached a complicated, thorny, sharp subject, and one that manifests different views, all of which it has done with equanimity, equilibrium and usefulness. This topic, which we have not exhausted, takes us to the issue of the right to disagree, and the exercise of dissent as a reflection of a culture that listens to those who don’t think the same way. This issue has run through all the interventions. Sometimes one disagrees with what are seen as autocratic practices, with good reason, but one uses a unilateral style that tends to qualify the other as “officialist,” “deviant,” “traitor,” or any other label, and that obviously does not encourage dialogue. It is a style which, even when it lauds the importance of democracy, and even though it acts as if to support the practice of debate, is constructed on a civic culture that is more exclusive than inclusive. In order to represent, in order to deliberate, democracy, and the democratic functioning of organizations, should develop the capacity to commit to dialogue.
The view of those who instead of saying “I don’t agree with you” say “you are very wrong,” is very typical of the so-called culture of debate; they defend deliberation, but only share with those who think like them. To learn to debate—and we have seen that through these nineteen years of Último Jueves panels—doesn’t only require listening, but also an attitude for learning and deepening the understanding of the problems and their solutions, by listening to those who even think very differently. This is an idea that has been a vertebral axis of these exchanges, and to express it in the words of Jorge Bergoglio, our Pope Francis, authentic social dialogue means respecting the point of view of the other, and accepting the possibility that some convictions and interests of this other are legitimate. Not only tolerating them, but being able to learn from them.
We thank everyone who has been connected with this panel, and also those who have made possible the opportunity to have met together during these two hours. The panel will be made public, with all its nuances, details and different views, in the digital media and social networks of Último Jueves and in the Temas magazine. Thank you very much.
Translated by Catharina Vallejo