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Desiderata for Cuba: Embrace Freedom and Don’t Stand with Oppressors

By: José Azel - Jul 5, 2016, 4:59 pm
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Desiderata for Cuba: why Cubans should embrace freedom and refuse to stand with oppressors. (YouTube)

Desiderata– or things desired- is an inspiring 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann. The poem has a long history in the realm of political activism. As a young man, I remember it as a poster in my bachelor apartment in the 1970s.

At this stage in the contemplation of Cuba’s political future, in light of the new U.S.-Cuba policy, it may be enlightening for all sides to outline their Desiderata for the Cuban nation. Here is mine:

  • Learn to cherish and safeguard your individual birthrights of life, liberty and property.
  • Secure the right to freely elect, in a competitive democratic environment, those who would lead the nation.
  • Pursue the learnings of freedom, and the wisdom to select your leaders wisely.
  • Conduct yourselves as the sovereign citizens that you are. Insist that all government functionaries follow your laws with honesty and transparency.
  • Recover the spiritual values, the dignity, and the civility necessary for a virtuous life.
  • Employ that virtue to build incorruptible democratic institutions to protect your freedoms.
  • Delight, as law abiding citizens, in the protections of the rule of law which is the legal foundation for liberty.
  • Aspire to enjoy the prosperity obtainable by contributing your talents in a free market economy.
  • Witness your homeland join the family of democratic and prosperous nations.
  • Proudly build a future in liberty, and of liberty, for your children and their children.
  • Remember, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;”
  • You have a right to be free.

My Desiderata are an effort to restore the Cuban struggle to its core principles. A restoration that is necessary because it appears that the consciousness of the principles of liberty has been lost in the dubious fancy of some.

This is an illusion that holds that freedom in Cuba is best attained by not talking about freedom. It is a fancy that operates under a defective theoretical principle that political and economic engagement with a totalitarian regime helps to bring about the regime’s demise. It is a fancy derived from political preferences, or personal idiosyncrasies, and not from relevant theoretical or experiential foundations. It is a fancy that fails to consider the destructive consequences of translating its values of conformity and correspondence with authoritarianism into political practice.

Max Weber, the German polymath whose ideas profoundly influenced social theory, coined the term “ethics of intention” to describe the notion that, morally, if an undertaking has the right intention, its consequences do not matter.

Under “ethics of intention,” actions should not be judged according to their consequences, but only according to the hoped for results. It is a thesis that claims that good intentions contain their own justification independent of the consequences. The ethics of intention — the offered intention is to help the Cuban people — seem to be the prevailing flawed ethics for the fancy that embracing the oppressors helps the oppressed.

But as the old proverb makes clear, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ethics we should all embrace are the “ethics of responsibility.” That is, understanding and owning that, embracing oppression will have unsuspected and undesirable consequences for the oppressed.

Advocating for freedom, as in my Desiderata for the Cuban nation, is inherently moral. Standing with oppressors, notwithstanding good intentions, is not intrinsically good. What, then, are the “things desired” when embracing oppressors?

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.