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12 figures reflect on the last 60 years

Lavastida: 'It is impossible to call a sterilized society [like Cuba's] revolutionary'

Hamlet Lavastida, artist.


Can we still talk about "revolution" in Cuba?

It is very evident, and even more regrettable, that our society and our State are lagging far behind the political and social standards prevailing in today's world. A sterilized society, lacking so many legitimate policies and public practices, cannot be called revolutionary. In any case, it would be better to think about the interior of the Cuban socio-political universe through the optic of "normalization", to which Michael Foucault referred.

Prolonged sociopolitical stagnation has given rise to a social imbalance, which has resulted in coercive and repressive behaviors, which are perceived as something natural, organic and normal. Decades ago the institutions of the State veered off the course of what used to be called the Revolution.

The alleged Revolution slowly committed suicide, from the inside, opting for punitive and excluding policies testing certain hypotheses about morality and ethics, which arose in concert with an institutional order full of schizophrenic legislatures and penal, civil and cultural codes that are still in place today, or at least struggling to resurface, with new façades. An example of this is the long list of decrees issued recently, and that only illustrate state institutions' disconnect from the more immediate realities that citizens must deal with.

Thinking about today's revolutionary radicalism, it must be attuned to more democratic notions, because I don't think it is prudent to advocate for a radicalism committed to exclusion rather than inclusion. Any active political leftist is aware of how Socialism in the 20th century suffered from employing a narrative of exclusion. True radicalism must seek inclusion, a true revolution and a coherent revolutionary socialist will always accommodate differences, thereby facilitating a democratic balance.

The perpetration of symbolic and political violence within the national imagination only exacerbates the apathy of the youngest members of this society, a distancing that has been taking its toll on the paradigm of the Cuban Revolution for decades.

The Revolution turned into the Communist Party in 1965, then it was institutionalized in 1976, and now, in 2019, it will be hyperinstitutionalized; that is, it will become a legal and legislative corpus plagued with civic gaps.

This, we might say, is a miniature timeline of the last 60 years.

In political terms it would not be reasonable to call the current process in Cuba a "revolution". It suffices to see what is not included in the new draft of the Constitution approved by the National Assembly and the Communist Party.

Perhaps it would be more worthwhile to collect, document what is not there, that small set of society's deferred aspirations, which have still not been recorded on paper.

What should be salvaged from the revolutionary period?

For me there are different outlines of what the revolutionary period is. One could be from 1953 to 1959, from 1959 to 1968, and another from 1959 to 1976. This depends on the different notions in which institutional aspects were established through the so-called "revolutionary process."

I don't know what could be salvaged, because it was something that I did not experience, and that, somehow, did not continue. I think we should start with the fact that the revolution, as a founding process, is something alien to my time. When I was born there was already an institution that called itself the "Cuban Revolution", but it was nothing more than a State with that name; a State, if it can even be called that, seeking to adorn itself with a high-minded label.

I don't really know what a revolution is, so I don't know what could be salvaged from it. I would prefer to salvage from it everything that does not destroy it from within; institutionalization definitely undercuts Revolution.

The Revolution would have to be saved from the State and its institutions, this institutional warping is the greatest damage that can be done to all the incredibly creative logic of a revolution.

When a social revolution is hijacked by rigid structures –whether they are called state, governmental or institutional– that is the end, and an involuntary way of waging a counterrevolution.

How would you classify the current period in Cuba?

The era that Cuba is going through today is that of an incipient civil society that is beginning to understand the tools with which civic and political debate is carried out. There is already an interplay between the two: civil society versus the State.

Technology is the bacteria that is devouring the corpus of State propaganda. That is, Granma is no longer the only thing to read, or the only source for the public's orientation. The narrative on State television lacks all legitimacy, and the issues that all the State media address continue to be remote from the imminent concerns of the average citizen.

The State has gone on the defensive. Its public initiatives are scant, and those that it manages to implement are very basic. In recent months, as a result of Decree 349, the lack of cogency by officials who have come to its defense in state-sponsored media has become all too evident. Easy targets of popular culture, Cuban officials have become laughingstocks all over Havana.

The perception of the institutional crisis is occurring in a very natural way; the deterioration of the State's facilities is not only physical, but, in the symbolic order, it is impossible to imagine them any other way. Cuban society now aspires to a whole panorama of technologies, sources of information, and competent and transparent institutions, imagining a society devoid of corruption, hegemony and a State monopoly.

Our society is absolutely drained by all these evils, as well as the new ones that have emerged. The national breakdown has pervaded the lives of those who have lived through these 60 years, and this has prevented them from perceiving and formulating responses to all these "social pathologies".

At present, Cuban society is asking many questions; but it is ever skeptical, and doubts. It is no longer a society that invariably applauds some burst of charisma, but rather a society suffering from a syndrome of suspicion.

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