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Cuba and the Silence of Hegemonic Progressivism

Carolina Barrero has shared her testimony and condemned the repression in Cuba before her peers in Latin America, who have responded with silence.

Carolina Barrero at the Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles, 2022.
Carolina Barrero at the Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles, 2022. Infobae

Its ability to administrate its revolutionary mythology, together with its effective internal repression and international influence, make Cuba a historic case, a state model, and a geopolitical agent with a deep-rooted presence throughout Latin America. It is a historic case whose disasters are rendered invisible, a model that is venerated, a geopolitical agent that is invited, and its presence is extended over time by its protracted duration, geographical scope, and penetration into specific societies and groups, such as left-wing politicians, activists and intellectuals.

Incredulity as to how a small, poor country can exert so much influence - and not just through its" revolutionary example"- reaches those who dismiss any warnings on the subject as "paranoia." It should suffice to recall the influence of East Germany's Stasi on its much richer neighbor, suffusing German-Western political activism and leadership; or the capacity of Russia's propaganda and disinformation media to shape the opinions of much of the Latin American population (Kathryn E. Stoner, Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order, Oxford University Press, 2021); and, if one wants to take the bull by the horns, he need only look at the experience of Cuba's consensual invasion of Venezuela. (Diego G. Maldonado, La invasión consentida, Debate, México, 2019).

It is not a question of seeing a conspiracy behind every crisis and event in Latin America's political processes. Neither facile progressivism nor hysterical anti-Castroism explain the complexity of the region's  evolution, but it is worth understanding the very specific and recognizable authoritarian influences projected from Havana on regional political actions and ideas. In Latin America Cuba's asymmetrical influence intersects with the lopsided presence, within Latin America's intelligentsia, of a hegemonic progressivism that clings to particular positions and spurns the constitutive plurality behind the agenda of human progress. If being left-wing means adherence to certain concepts, values and practical policy options, its outcomes — in terms of freedom, equity and prosperity— do not justify any self-assigned moral superiority. The same thing may be said of their right-wing counterparts. Any political leadership, movement, and program must be measured based on its accomplishments, not normative assumptions defined ex ante.

Today, activists like Carolina Barrero, whose intellectual lucidity and extraordinary civic merit are recognized in Cuban civil society and among exiles, are fighting against this authoritarian Cuban trinity: the case, the model and the agent. After her forced exile in early 2022, the young woman shared her testimony and condemned the repression in Cuba before her peers involved in politics, academia and progressive activism in Latin America. but the prevailing response to her denunciations has been silence.

Let's be clear: the art historian should be assigned no more legitimacy to speak based on her ideology; no one today has any more right to denounce repression from one or the other "ism." After a 20th century in which the authoritarian Left and Right left millions of victims, no one can claim moral or civil superiority in the defense of democracy, but some noble souls might have been forgiven for suspecting that, at a time of "progressive" regional expansion, Carolina's message would have received a warmer reception in today's "pink tide" Latin America.

"Speak to the left!" the intellectuals of regional progressivism tell young Cuban activists. But when these —in Miami, Mexico or Madrid— meet with liberal or conservative figures and parties, harsh reproaches follow, almost in parallel with the anti-intellectual diatribes that the most reactionary members of the community of exiles (rarely the internal opposition) hurl at Carolina Barrero and her colleagues. But, when the latter's attempts to dialogue with the Western Left are met with impregnable walls, the progressive wing falls silent, and the anti-Communist cave celebrates too, the two sharing an attitude where analytical simplicity, political complicity and a lack of solidarity converge.

When young people of a generation born after the fall of the Berlin Wall embrace truly progressive causes —with regards to redistribution, identity and democracy— they do so without the sectarianism of their left-wing and right-wing critics. This is so in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and they do so under the official repression and faced with the silence of their "allies" of Latin American hegemonic progressivism, because their agenda does not involve pleasing anyone, but rather fighting for freer and fairer societies.

Those who should take a good at themselves are those who, out of intellectual arrogance, or political illiteracy, insist on prescribing the choices of those who dispute a future lying, as Raymond Aron says, between the preferable and the detestable.

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