This is a painful column to write. My title, Cuba and the Future of an Illusion, paraphrases the title of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical book “The Future of an Illusion.” In that work, Freud describes religion as an illusion concerning conditions of external and internal reality. His categorization of religion as an illusion is based on the idea that religion derives from human wishes.
Similarly, my wishes for Cuba’s future are based on principles for a free, prosperous, and sovereign nation with a polity moored on the values and ethics of classical liberalism. Today, given the external and internal realities of the Cuban nation, I am no longer confident of the future of my illusion for the Cuban nation.
I specify “nation” as distinguished from “state,” because in political science nation refers to a group of people bound together by a shared culture, values, folkways, religion, and language. A nation is a cultural entity identified by its unique character. In contrast, a state refers to a territory with a sovereign government. A state is a judicial entity identified by its independent rights. When a nation coincides within a state, we use the composite term nation-state for clarity. Cuba is a nation-state.
Unfortunately, and contrary to the notion of some, Cuba is not a failed-state. The Cuban totalitarian state remains a viable entity. The indicators of state fragility are: a weak and ineffective central government that has little practical control over much of its territory, the non-provision of services, rise of factionalized elites, intervention of external political agents and foreign states, suspension of the application of law, and more.
Since 2005, the think tank “Fund for Peace” has published an annual Fragile States Index using social, economic, and political factors to determine the fragility rating for each state in the world. In its 2019 list, the five most fragile states are Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cuba ranks way down in the fragility list at number 118 of 178 states rated. For reference, the United States comes in at number 153.
Cuba may not be a failed state; but, it is populated by a failed nation. Parenthetically, I do not recall where I first came across this distinction with regards to Cuba, and thus I am unable to properly credit authorship.
Some time ago, in my column Invertebrate Cuba, I referenced the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s description of how the Spain of his time had ceased to be “an active and dynamic reality” and had become a society without ambitions or illusions. He defined nation as “a project suggestive of life in common,” and argued that Spain “invertebrates” itself by the intellectual poverty of its political class and of individuals that have stopped being free-thinking. These de-individualized masses have been dissolved into an amalgam that thinks and acts for them. It is in this sense that Cuba has become a failed nation.
This was not always the case. The heroism of the mambises in Cuba’s wars for independence, of the heroes of the urban resistance of the 1960’s, of the Bay of Pigs invasion, of the uprisings in the Escambray mountains, and of today’s peaceful opposition, speaks eloquently of the angst for freedom of multiple generations of Cuban patriots.
But today, the Cuban nation, intimidated by six decades of totalitarian rule, seems incapable of standing with a small valiant opposition that continues to fight peacefully with minimal resources. It is a nation that fails to join each Sunday when the Ladies in White march peacefully. And, when opposition members are repressed by Cuban security forces, it is a failed nation that shows social behavior lacking in civic virtue and looks the other way.
Some day the Cuban nation will form a new government for the Cuban state. Yet, the success of a free republic hinges on the civic virtues of its nation. My illusion for Cuba remains one of a nation-state of tolerance, kindness, respect, humility, gratitude, honor, industry, courage, fidelity, and more. But somedays it feels more like a delusion.
Dr. Azel‘s latest book is “Liberty for Beginners.”