I welcome the broad range of opinions and analyses of Cuba as a totalitarian state. This is an important discussion for Cubans to have, especially because of a long history of censorship and criminalization of such arguments within the country. If a statement that I made in my last piece for Rialta catalyzed the discussion, I am glad to have served that purpose. However, I maintain that my position has been entirely misread and misunderstood. We all need to be able to discuss the subtleties of political terminology without resorting to grandstanding and demonization.
I did not state that it is wrong to analyze the Cuban government as totalitarian. I wrote that the term was viewed outside Cuba as old hat, which is different. In stating that I refer to two contexts: 1) Outside Cuba, in political science circles and conservative media, presenting Cuba as a totalitarian state has been the standard position for sixty years, and 2) The term totalitarian is part of the inflammatory rhetoric of Republicans seeking votes from Miami-based exiles. It is the main epithet tossed about by hard-line exiles that have a long history of suppressing dissent and supporting terroristic violence against opponents. The term serves the opposite function outside Cuba in that invoking it forecloses discussion rather than inviting analysis. Screaming “totalitarian” and “tyranny” at rallies in Miami is not the same as the analyses offered in Rialta, Hypermedia or elsewhere. As noted by Anna Maria Bardach in her book Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana, this rhetoric is associated with extremist sectors of the Cuban exile community that completely lost face during the crisis over Elian Gonzalez –that was an important breaking point with mainstream media in the US and also a key political moment in which the Cuban exile community in Miami revived its demonization of the Democratic Party (which started in response to JFK’s tepid support for the Bay of Pigs invasion)–. This is why mainstream journalists, Cuban studies academics and Democrats involved in negotiations with Cuba avoid such rhetoric. Parallel to my discussions with Cubans involved in the San Isidro movement, I also participate in discussions with American academics working on Cuba, most of whom conflate the democratic ideals of Cuban intellectuals with the far right extremism of powerful sectors of the Miami exile community. It is precisely the use of terms such as totalitarianism that cause them to dismiss the San Isidro movement.
That said, I applaud the analyses offered by Cuban thinkers and hope to share them with colleagues in the US and Europe. I also am very aware that the incoming Biden Administration will soon reopen negotiations with Cuba and want the Democrats to listen to Cubans on the island and act on their requests instead of pandering to exiles that have no political project beyond denunciation. But I am also aware that the United States accepts many other authoritarian regimes as allies, and has done little against Saudi Arabi for its torture and dismemberment of journalist Khassogi.
The Cuban intellectual community is in the midst of a volatile political moment. I hope we can all continue to work together to move things in a direction that is beneficial for the future of the country and all Cubans.