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Cubanthropy: a compass post

Armando Chaguaceda 

Nor is a village refounded, General, as a palate is installed.

Iván de la Nuez 


Cuban essayist and curator Iván de la Nuez has just published his long-delayed Cubantropía. In the work, in his own words, the author reviews "the cultural effects of the policies that have tried to bind or liberate Cuba in recent decades. In addition, the book combines a look from the politics of culture -that specific form in which Norberto Bobbio placed the public incidence of the intellectual- and a diagnosis of the political cultures -of different ideological sign, republican affinity and mercantile devotion- that characterize the Cuban transnational subject.


Cubantropía can also be read as an intellectual biography, since de la Nuez is one of the exponents of that generation -simultaneously reformist and rupturist- that burst with force into the socio-political and artistic panorama of Cuba in the late 1980s. Seeking to "conquer the esthetic contemporaneity where their parents had petrified the political contemporaneity" the children of the Revolution -university professors, plastic artists, rockers, poets- discovered then that this "had become the State, that The Enemy, with a capital letter, also served (as in the story of the wolf) for an authoritarian hierarchy to crush the least attempt to change from within". A sad story that repeats itself, from time to time, fertilized by that anemia of Memory that makes possible, at the same time, the repetition of heresy -with its mixture of hope and errors- and the perpetuation, barely disguised, of closure. As revealed by the razzia currently underway against the very new artivist movement on the island.


We are before a post compass. Compass because the book allows us to locate and move, diachronically and synchronically, through the social fabric, political narratives, poetics and borders of the Cubas lived and dreamed. Post, because the processes of that country that is narrated constitute a marriage -undoubtedly complex, but not so exceptional if we talk about globality- between the forceps of a State of Soviet matrix, a Market moved by the capitalist dynamics -whether Chinese, Miami or Havana- and a Society that changes every day at the pace of the onerous inequality and the healthy diversity. Post-communist and post-liberal are the realities and beings that Iván portrays in his collection of small -and substantial- texts.


Postcommunist and postliberal is the author himself. An exponent of that fringe -socially residual or politically invisible- of the Cuban diaspora, identified with a democratic progressivism, capable of recovering and rethinking truly republican practices, in the face of the dominant inertia of Leninism and neoliberalism. The post here implies inclusive overcoming - rather than dogmatic negation - of the ideals of justice and freedom - and of their grossly quartificial and mercurial mutations - characteristic of the modern paradigms of socialism and liberalism. De la Nuez operates in the intellectual and civic registers of that post wave; the same that today animates much of the best global analysis and activism.


In its dynamic journey -the book resembles a railroad car that travels through dissimilar stations, some of which invite you to get off and immerse yourself, in situ, in the wild and picturesque landscape- de la Nuez tackles key issues of cultural policy, political culture and the politics of culture in Cuba over the past 30 years. He reviews the statized recovery of nationalism, with which the Cuban leadership -denied to Perestroika by mandate of its Maximum Leader- faced the ideological collapses and psychological complexes of 1989. Amalgamating Identity, Homeland and Revolution, in a scheme where, the author reminds us, "the right to diversity that it claimed on a global scale was not usually fulfilled on a national scale."


In its dynamic journey -the book resembles a railroad car that travels through dissimilar stations, some of which invite you to get off and immerse yourself, in situ, in the wild and picturesque landscape- de la Nuez tackles key issues of cultural policy, political culture and the politics of culture in Cuba over the past 30 years. He reviews the statized recovery of nationalism, with which the Cuban leadership -denied to Perestroika by mandate of its Maximum Leader- faced the ideological collapses and psychological complexes of 1989. Amalgamating Identity, Homeland and Revolution, in a scheme where, the author reminds us, "the right to diversity that it claimed on a global scale was not usually fulfilled on a national scale."


Unfortunately, that post-communist and post-liberal lucidity did not nest in the heads of the Egocrat and his loyal insular bureaucracy. They condemned the generation -intellectual, in a restricted sense; broad, crossing all social strata- to escape from Paradise. To invent, from a Mexican postgraduate scholarship, a Catalan beach bar or on the rafts of the Strait of Floria, a place and a future. Anything that would make up, in the portable nation of a bookcase, a table or a laptop, for the country that was stolen from him. "The year 1989 ended -recalls the author- with the closure of the most interesting projects of Cuban intellectuals born with the Revolution and who, through culture and art, had asked for the conjunction of their cultural growth with a political opening that was up to the task".


In El destierro de Calibán, from 1996, the essayist reviews the problem of exile, a phenomenon that marks -in history as in the present- a Cuba obsessed with its great, quasi-providential destiny. Because "Dominated by The Revolution, The Homeland, The Exile or The Cause, Cubans have lived in demand, to the point of saturation, by the great problems (...) That is to say, they have lived in front of history". This puts us in a complex reality that "is not only a flight from a precarious economic reality (as the Cuban government usually says), nor an exclusively political dissidence (as the official exile hierarchy is accustomed to say). It is, above all, a rather dramatic cultural phenomenon". A phenomenon that leads the Cuban to escape from a time and a space confiscated to the point of asphyxiation by politics; which generates in the diasporized mass a cancellation -equivocal, restorative- of the political. Corroborating what was seen and described by Claude Lefort, around the same time, in the scenarios of post-totalitarian and post-communist societies.


In his text Democrat, post-communist and leftist, Ivan declares the impossibility of "separating my position on Cuba from the one I have about that world". Advancing his vision of the post-communist condition as one that seeks "to use the critical energy employed in the old system to act, also critically, in the face of the current apotheosis of capitalism and in the face of the cultural failure of liberal strategies in the countries of the East." Something in tune with the ideas of the recent book Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes (The fading light...), in which they summon democratic citizenship and enlightenment to a self-critical examination of the promises and disenchantments of post-89 utopias. However, the writer clarifies, the focus of his polemic is not his conservative or liberal peers. Because he is interested in "directing it to the interior of the left. On the one hand, towards that left that is solaced in the academy and in the curricular transfer of the Cuban issue from the exile campuses. On the other hand, towards some ideologues inside the island". And he does it from the coordinates of a "new left -that understands democracy not as the ultimate goal of politics, but as the zero degree for the direct action of the civil society in the making of political decisions".


The against-current temporality of Cuban historical processes -that which makes us arrive badly and late to decisive global events, from the Spanish-American Independences to the post-dictatorial transitions- reappears in Spielberg en la Habana: un reporte en minoría (Spielberg in Havana: A Minority Report, 2003). Here the author argues that "it will not be enough to promote democracy in Cuba as it exists today in the West, because the country will reach it when it undergoes a critical review in all areas, not only those of the left". The fact that this thesis is put forward so early -when the alert about the world crisis of the mass liberal republics was gaining consensus only at the beginning of the following decade- is another proof of the analytical -and not merely opinionated- sharpness of the essayist.


This depth reappears in Apotheosis Now (2015), framed in an extraordinary explanatory synthesis of the raulist reforms, which the author understands as something substantially opposed to political openness. For "Its immediate objective advocates an adjustment of the system based on connecting it with the market economy, relaxing a migration policy typical of the Cold War, reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States or changing the discourse of the rigor of sacrifice for that of the benefits of work. That is, to tune up Cuban socialism for the 21st century without compromising the power of the top leadership or yielding in the political sphere what is tolerated in the economic sphere. A version of the Chinese model, as in other times a version of the Soviet model was bet on".


En su reflexión, de la Nuez inserta la apuesta del suigéneris gatopardismo criollo dentro de una proliferación de iliberalismos globales, que abarca las dictaduras tradicionales, las oligarquías poscomunistas y las monarquías petroleras. Coincidentes todas bajo el esquema de un capitalismo selectivo, que “se incrusta en las élites y en unos gobiernos que legislan para él (que no para todos los capitalistas) como premio a su lealtad (que no a su capacidad competitiva)”. Situación esta, que le lleva a ubicar el presente cubano en la posible transición entre la predemocracia y la posdemocracia. Estación esta última donde, a su arribo, los neonatos ciudadanos cubanos encontrarán con los primos encandilados por el populismo de Donald Trump. Quién (ver La trumpada, 2016) parece significar el “puntillazo a una tradición liberal que ha ido dimitiendo de las libertades en nombre de la economía, y de los derechos humanos en nombre de la seguridad”. 



The book closes (Interrupción: dos futuros se te van pensando 2019-?) as it begins: with a doubt pregnant with risks, but also with contained possibilities. Putting on the table the variables of socialism, capitalism and democracy, the author wonders "In what proportions will all these doses of the future be mixed? And what destiny will such equations have in store for Cuba?". And while he characterizes the present order as "the mixture of single party with private economy, a certain official envy for the Vietnamese model and a generation of millennials for whom neither messianism as a political style nor sacrifice as a vehicle for future redemption works," de la Nuez does not gloat with cynical resignation, disguised as intelligent posturing. Because while he tells us that "today's Cuba is presumably not obliged to make another revolution" he also points out that "the new generations are obliged to set their clocks on time, to channel their anger and to become the political contemporaries of their own project". Such an undertaking, should it come true, will find in Cubantropía a road map -false but authentic, imperfect but sincere- so as not to get lost in the always confusing paths of emancipation.


Cubantropia: a post compass

Iván de la Nuez

Editorial Periférica, 2020

376 pages

  

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Armando Chaguaceda, Political scientist and historian. Member of the Academic Council of the Centro Convivencia, he is part of the research team of the Félix Varela Spain-Cuba Center.

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