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An Academy for Civil Society

An Academy for Civil Society / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on March 18, 2015

14ymedio, Víctor Ariel González, Mantilla (Havana), March 12 2015 –
Fifteen minutes until class begins and the students that have been
arriving converse under the shade of a tree. Once a week, Carlos
Millares’ humble patio hosts a very peculiar meeting. It’s the
headquarters of the Fundacion Sucesores, or the “Successors Foundation,”
an academy created to members of civil society in the use of tools
for leadership.

Professor Millares directs the program, but the idea – which gave way to
a pilot course in 2013 and since then has been repeated three times –
came from a young man called Frank Abel García, the coordinator of the
academy, who waits for students and guides themhrough the steep streets
of Mantilla, a neighborhood situated in the south of Havana.

Once seated in the classroom, both relate how they came up with the idea
of starting this . “I worked for Hablemos Press (“We Speak Press”
– an independent press group) and interviewed opposition figures like
Carlos, for example,” says Frank Abel García, who is also an executive
member in the Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana (Cuban Youth
Roundtable), a project aimed at strengthening youth dialogue and
leadership to propel Cuba’s democratization. “When I got here, I took
the time to voice my concern about civil society and he made me realize
that what I really wanted was to teach a course on leadership.”

“In that moment I only expected to take a group of young people and
offer them the possibility of learning about topics like democracy from
some of civil society’s personalities,” adds Frank Abel. “We began a
pilot course with five students. Then we prepared the first course
itself, which welcomed ten participants. From there, eight graduated.”
In total, the academy already has around thirty graduates.

For his part, Carlos Millares knew many independent leaders who might be
interested in such a project. “Indeed, that’s how it was,” recalls this
veteran of the opposition, also director of a center on civil society
studies. Political analyst and opinion columnist, Millares recounts that
he studied Sociology at the when, in 1974, he was expelled
for “talking about what he wasn’t supposed to talk about.” Those times
were too dark for an opinion of even slight skepticism. His courses on
leadership are the academy’s main dish.

The necessary “succession of the past generation of the opposition by
new young people” came to light when looking for a name that would make
the idea concrete. That was how the Fundacion Sucesores was created.
“The objective is to prepare young people with the characteristics
needed to lead civil society,” Frank Abel García points out, “to prepare
people to be able to continue and improve the work of their organizations.”

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the
bizarre case that someone might be interested?

“Yes. The academy does not make a distinction based on political
inclinations.”

Professor Millares describes the program as “an element of cohesion” for
diverse groups whose members take part in its conferences. “An
interrelation is created between students, who at the same time exchange
with prestigious leaders.” Here we don’t mind where the student hails
from, be it from the political party Cuba Independiente y Democrática
(CID – Independent and Democratic Cuba) or from the Juventud Activa Cuba
Unida (JACU – Active Cuban Youth United), an anti-government civil group.

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the
bizarre case that someone might be interested? The Foundation’s
coordinator and vice- responds: “Yes. The academy does not make
a distinction based on political inclinations. We admit all those who
want to take part in the course because the goal is not to impose a way
of thinking, but to offer knowledge on which to base individual opinion
and work.”

The proposal has been growing in popularity. The current semester
welcomed twenty registration applications for only ten available spots.
Carlos Millares favors focused attention, and thus favors fewer
students; of course, they must be able to put in effort and prepare very
well.

The authors of the program are well aware of the pressure that State
Security forces tend to exert. That is the reason why initial enrollment
can reach twelve, to account for the eventual “losses” throughout the
semester. “Last semester there was a married couple that came to
classes, but they worked for the Public System and they were
threatened with being removed from their jobs if they continued with
us,” the leadership professor relates.

They have also received citations and suffered detentions here
and there. Although they “do not bother us behind closed doors,” says
Millares, “for government authorities, we are part of that civil society
they accuse of being fabricated.”

“Last semester there was a married couple that came to classes, but they
worked for the Public Health System and they were threatened with being
removed from their jobs if they continued with us”

In spite of the harassment, the academy has continued to consolidate. It
already has several sessions and boasts a community of graduates. In
addition to Millares and García, the Executive Board also has two
vice-presidents: Saúl Quiala for public relations and Maikel Pardo for
the press.

Fundación Sucesores maintains relations with international organizations
that support the development of its courses. Its future perspectives are
to expand into Cuba’s interior, and they have already begun to achieve
it with the enrollment of students from Pinar del Río province.
Additionally, they are working to prepare a multimedia library. In the
long term, the academy aspires to become a sort of “university of the
opposition.”

Enrollment is by open call. It is necessary to posses a High School or
technical diploma as a minimum, given the level of the content discussed
in the conferences. For the course’s final evaluation, a project for
civil society must be conceived, and it’s not just a mere academic
exercise; some of the ideas developed in past courses have been
successful and are currently being applied.

Courses are forty semester hours and are taught in two-hour weekly
sessions at the Foundation as well as the headquarters of affiliated
regional organizations. In addition to the subject of leadership, there
are conferences about economics, political parties, anti-segregation
movements, new technologies, and many other areas, all discussed by
guest experts, among which are renowned opposition figures ranging from
political leaders to LGBT activists.

The program is updated each year. Recently, the topic of Cuba-U.S.
relations has been added, and, for this upcoming April,
observers will be trained in coordination with the Cuban Human Rights
and National Reconciliation Commission led by Elizardo Sánchez.

Back in the patio of that Mantilla home, while Carlos Millares teaches
his course on leadership – the current semester’s second meeting – Frank
Abel García finishes explaining the functioning of the school.

Speaking with students at the end of the conference, one can perceive
the diverse stories that shaped each of the course’s participants.
Eliosbel Garriga, from Pinar del Río, is a member of the Movimiento
Integración Racial, or “Racial Integration Movement”: “We come in
whatever we can,” he comments in reference to the difficult mission that
is waking up in the early morning in order to from Los Palacios,
where he lives, “but I want to develop leadership skills.”

There is also Josué, a young member of the CID party: “I have the
intention of becoming a leader and my dad told me that this was a good
course.” His father, Esteban Ajetes, is next to him. “Within our
movement, knowledge and training are lacking. It’s the first thing
needed to be influential in these apolitical times,” he reflects on.

Another Esteban, but surnamed García, is an independent and
editor of the JACU’s bulletin. He notes, “In our current circumstances
[as a nation] it’s difficult to be a leader because even a sportsperson
exhibits more leadership than a political figure.” They all agree on
that leaders are not only born or made, but are actually little bit of
both things.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Source: An Academy for Civil Society / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez |
Translating Cuba –
http://translatingcuba.com/an-academy-for-civil-society-14ymedio-victor-ariel-gonzalez/

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