ARMANDO CHAGUACEDA | Ciudad de México | 18 de Abril de 2017 – 16:03 CEST.
Years back what they call “civil society” became part of my life through
my early engagement in a combination of community activism and links to
the few NGOs working in Cuba, followed by participation in Latin
American social movements and organizations that defend an ethical
economy, the environment and human rights. Thus, as an activist and
analyst, I can say something about the matter.
Autonomy with respect to the State, a dedication to making a difference,
and ideological and thematic diversity are features that characterize
any active civil society. Leading scholars from the North and South – J.
Cohen, N. Fraser, P. Chaterjee and M. Svampa – recognize, despite their
differences, that a plurality of voices and agendas, and the public and
political nature of their actions distinguish the lower class’s
organization and mobilization with respect to the forms of social
administration. Charity, social assistance and subsidiarity exist in
every society. But they have little to do with a logic of movements and
rights. Neither does the establishment of divisive systems that
separate, within the same cause, actors whose struggles, and discourse
share points in common.
I say this because I find strange and unfortunate the decision by a
group of prominent activists and academics of the Cuban racial cause to
exclude their fellow dissidents from a forum in the US, arguing that it
was a “consensual decision,” as the latter “do not consider the fight
against racial discrimination their main objective.”
It is not theoretically or civically consistent to engage in activism on
some fronts – race and gender, gender and poverty – and then exclude
someone for their defense of an allegedly divergent (political) agenda.
It would be necessary to demonstrate that the use of race is merely
instrumental and subordinated to politics, when it gains prominence. In
each given case. Is it legitimate to exclude activists who, considering
themselves revolutionaries, perform meritorious work in the Island’s
cultural and community institutions? Should we ignore the cruel reality
of the dozens of Afro-Cubans imprisoned for their political activism?
It seems to me, in both cases, that we should not.
If we review the documents and work by groups such as the Citizens’
Committee for Racial Integration (CCIR), excluded from the forum, we
find an effort to shine a light on racial discrimination as part of a
concrete logic of power. That – and not an abstract emancipation – was
Paulo Freyre’s cause. The use of international bodies for publicity,
communications and protest are congruent with the practice of
Afro-descendant organizations in the Americas. And they are,
incidentally, an illustration of the nexus between racial activism and
use of the right addressed at the important event.
Dissidents do not constitute “civil society” all by themselves. Their
aims and efforts have as many upsides and downsides as those of any
other segment. But excluding them is not the solution. Rather, it is
part of the problem. If these activists have been rejecting the US
blockade for years, as well as denouncing racial, labor and
gender-related discrimination, and not just political repression, why
couldn’t the event’s organizers find a way to discuss these issues with
Waving the banners of the movement, activism and public education is not
consistent with embracing the logic of state exclusion, which seeks to
fragment and control to repress more easily. I have been an organizer
and taken part in similar events bringing together a whole range of
actors from Cuban society, and in my experience people have much more
in common than what the ideological intelligentsia would like to
dictate. Without betraying our ideas, we can discuss and engage in
dialogue while respecting our differences. When that is frustrated there
are rarely coherent arguments: the fear of being associated with others,
the calculation of benefits and authorizations, and the pressure of
power, prevail – just the opposite of the lexicon and aims of a civil
This article originally appeared (in Spanish) in the Mexican daily La
Razón. It is published here with the author’s permission.
Source: Emulating exclusion | Diario de Cuba –