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In Havana A Debate on Democracy

In Havana A Debate on Democracy / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, Translator: Unstated

The narrow streets of old Havana are a blazing market. Past two in the

afternoon, the sun doesn't let up on the sellers of cheap goods,

prostitutes in their element and old musicians looking for a few

convertible pesos entertaining some chubby Norwegians at lunch.

It is a passageway of scoundrels and survivors. On Obispo Steet a line

of hurried pedestrians make their way towards the cathedral. They come

and go. Some of them look at the displays, pick up the merchandise to

examine it and, after seeing the astronomical prices,put it back on the


A heavy-set mulatto man pants while pedalling his bicycle taxi among

trash cans, people walking purposefully through the streets and badly

parked trucks. He complains to himself about the heat, about having to

haul two passengers who weigh more that 200 kilos and—though he does say

it outright—about the rules that forbid him from operating in many of

the streets in the old section of the city.

Upon arrival at the former San Carlos Seminary he looks like he's going

to have a heart attack. When he learns that in this building a handful

of intellectuals of various ideological tendencies will discuss the

future and democracy in Cuba, he turns serious. "I'm a neighbor of the

place. I've never read in the newspaper that they were talking about

democracy in San Carlos," he says. These are the contradictions of the


The national press has not dedicated a single line to these meetings,

which take place in the former seminary, now the Félix Cultural

Center. The gatherings are sponsored by the Catholic church, without

participation from government officials, but also without harassment by

the special services or verbal assaults from the system's

loyalpiqueteros, who either insult you or angrily call for a massacre

with machetes.

It's one Cuba superimposed on another. The stick and the dialog. Many

wonder if in the end these debates have any practical utility. Or are

mere trial balloons, where the government makes a note of the liberal

thinking of some of the intellectuals in its close orbit.

In any event, the management by the Archbishopric and the magazine Lay

is laudable, in the preparation and discussion of papers on the Cuba

that is upon on. At the meeting on Monday, September 10, participants

were given a publication that collects some essays and analysis about

the future of Cuba "By a consensus for democracy."

It was a spicy mixture. Liberals, neo-communists and exiles likeJorge

Domínguez explained their points of view. For anyone betting on

democracy in Cuba, these exchanges of opinion are like a fiesta.

The tone of the debate was respectful and without defamatory remarks.

The terms "mercenary" and "imperial lackeys" were set aside. There were

notable absences, though. The entrepreneur Carlos Saladrigas – a man

with a somewhat extravagant political trajectory, which has veered from

the conservative right to the center and then perhaps towards the left –

did not attend for reasons unknown.

Those who have been historically opposed, such asVladimiro Roca,

Elizardo Sánchez and Martha , do not often attend these

meetings, which are open to all. The new breed of dissidents, among them

Antonio Rodiles or Eliécer Ávila, remained silent this time.

Among the more than 170 people congregated in the room, there were only

three independent journalists and two alternative bloggers. The

opposition should take better advantage of the opportunities for

civilized debate.

The first presentation was by a panel was made up of the former diplomat

Carlos Alzugaray, Mayra Espina and HiramHermández, who discussed some of

the issued raised in Espacio Laical.

After the awards presentation for the Casa Cuba competition, in

whichArmando Chaguaceda, Félix Sautié and Pedro Campos received

honorable mentions, came the good part.

There was a dialog between the attendees and five academics of varying

political beliefs and representatives from the church.Carlos Manuel de

Céspedes, Dimitri Prieto, Roberto Veiga, Julio César Guanche and Mario

Castillo responded to questions from the auditorium.

The climate of tolerance in the old cloister left a good impression in

spite of the fact that a few meters away an obese and speechless bicycle

taxi driver was confusing with three plates of .

It would be very presumptuous to think that these meetings would lead to

the establishment of an inclusive, open and democratic Cuba. But at

least it is an attempt.

September 19 2012

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