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Without Free Speech, Cuba Remains Trapped in Totalitarian Unanimity

By: José Azel - Jan 22, 2016, 2:39 pm

EspañolThe Hour of Unanimity” is the title of a courageous article in defense of free speech published by Luis Aguilar Leon in Cuba in 1960. As it turned out, it was the last defense of free speech permitted in Castro’s Cuba. Two days after the article’s publication, the publishing newspaper was taken over and Professor Aguilar, who had been a classmate of Fidel Castro, was forced to leave Cuba under threat of execution.

In his prescient piece, Lundi — as his friends called him — reminds us that the tolerance of ideas is essential to advance lofty goals, and warns of an impenetrable totalitarian unanimity developing in Cuba. When unanimity of thought arrives, there are no discrepant voices, no possibility of critique, or of public refutations.

Lundi forewarns the arrival of an hour of unanimity that will silence the voices of freedom. He cautions that totalitarian unanimity is worse than censorship. “Censorship coerces us to silence our own truth; unanimity forces us to repeat the lies of others.”

Shortly after Lundi’s warning, the US policy towards Cuba of economic sanctions was enacted, when President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order in response to the Cuban government’s expropriation without compensation of American assets. Nearly six decades later, the issue remains unresolved, and the topic still dominates the rhetoric surrounding US-Cuba relations.

Today, Cuba’s totalitarian unanimity still forbids a free press, and nothing in the new US-Cuba policy argues for a free press in Cuba. Yet, the administration is forcefully pursuing an unconditional lifting of the embargo, and those of us committed to the ideals of freedom are labeled as intransigent for not supporting the new course of unconditioned rapprochement with the regime.

The president and his supporters believe that diplomacy and increased commerce should be the new guiding lights. The new approach to US-Cuba relations makes it clear that liberty for the Cuban people is no longer the primary objective or moral compass of the administration. The natural consequence is the legitimization and, perhaps, perpetuation, of the Cuban tyranny. Totalitarian unanimity is to remain intact.

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Very well, let’s see if we can bridge our differences. It appears that the administration and its supporters are not prepared to ask the Cuban government to change its ways. They agree with General Castro that Cuba should not be required to embrace democratic values, and change its single-party political structure or its centrally planned economic system.

I disagree. Yet both sides concur that Cubans should decide their own future, and we can agree to support ideas that seek to improve the well-being of the Cuban people.

We also agree that information is a high-value economic good that improves our lives at an infinitesimal cost. Information creates value, and plays a key role in decision-making and economic development.

Information is a marvelous good that is not depleted when used and does not take anything from any one. Clearly, there is no better way to improve the well-being of the Cuban people that by improving their access to information.

So, for the sake of argument, here is a compromise deal sure to improve the well-being of the Cuban people: offer lifting the embargo in exchange for a totally independent free press in Cuba, and uncensored access to the internet.

Notice, General Castro is not being asked to step down, or to change his chosen political and economic systems. Nothing is required of Cuba. Yet, millions will be invested in the infrastructure for a free press, and thousands of new jobs created in accordance with the objectives sought by the new policy.

What better way than a free press to help Cubans decide their own future? Under what moral compass can anyone demand tolerance and a free press in one cardinal point, but fail to demand it in another?

Of course, General Castro would never allow a free press. And I am the intransigent one?

That is precisely my point, and the question raised by Professor Aguilar in his historic article: “Why is it necessary that in order to defend the justice of our cause, we have to make common cause with the injustices of totalitarian methods?”

It would be much more beautiful and worthy, Lundi wrote, to offer the example of a people committed to defending its liberty without impairing the freedom of anyone.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.