Thursday, March 31, 2011

Forum Calls for Decentralisation, to Boost Participation

Forum Calls for Decentralisation, to Boost Participation
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Mar 31, 2011 (IPS) - The annual Critical Observatory Social
Forum discussed the need for new spaces of dialogue, debate and
participation in Cuba, including the use of information and
communication technologies (ICT) and decentralisation to empower local

"If we are going to make a revolution that is consistent, many Cuban
bloggers are committed to the idea of improving the situation, not going
backwards," said feminist blogger Yasmín Portales, who attended the
forum held in Havana last weekend. "And the way to improve things is to
be critical in a systematic way," she said.

"Blogs are for talking about whatever we want; we have to exercise that
right because this is our country and we have the right to talk about it
however we want," added Portales, in whose view creative uses of ICT and
social and political activism should not be seen as incompatible.

The sharp polarisation between government opponents and defenders in the
Cuban blogosphere, and the extension into cyberspace of the five-decade
political conflict between Cuba and the United States, occupied one of
the sessions at the Observatory Forum, which declared itself in favour
of expanding ordinary people's access to the internet.

In the view of participants, the so-called "cyberwar" denounced by the
government of President Raúl Castro in a documentary serial titled "Las
razones de Cuba" (Cuba's Reasons) should not be used as an excuse to
avoid opening up internet access to the population, once the island has
better connections to the global network.

Under the trees in the courtyard of playwright Manuel González's house
in the Havana neighbourhood of Coco Solo, Observatory Forum participants
shared opinions and experiences on subjects as diverse as communication
between genders, sexual diversity, the current debate on racial issues
in Cuba and real opportunities for citizen participation.

"The Forum is above all a place where meetings, encounters and groups
can be planned, and social activism can be constructed freely and
independently," Mario Castillo, the coordinator of the fifth edition of
the Observatory Forum, which attracted 60 people under the slogan
"Create, Show Solidarity, Revolutionise", told IPS.

Castillo said the Critical Observatory, founded in 2006 as a convergence
and coordination mechanism for the Haydeé Santamaría Critical Thought
and Emerging Cultures Collective, has managed to "remain a living
organisation, without owners or fixed schedules, through the
determination of a group of people."

This sense of freedom is one of its characteristics to this day, and "is
what makes it interesting to young people," he said.

The Haydée Santamaría Collective is a social and cultural project,
attached since 2005 to the Criticism and Research Section of the Saíz
Brothers Association (AHS), an organisation of young creative artists.
Under AHS sponsorship, it held its first Social Forum in 2006, and over
time has opened the event to projects and people from all over the country.

In 2009 the Critical Observatory Activist Network emerged as a natural
development. In addition to promoting different activities and projects
all year round, it sends out a regular e-mail information summary about
a wide variety of controversial topics in today's Cuba.

For the first time, this year's Forum was truly self-managed, and
transcended the narrow confines of an academic meeting on social and
cultural research and criticism to become "a real social forum,"
according to its organisers.

Among the projects that come together in the Network are the Cofradía de
la Negritud, a citizens' association that promotes debate about racial
discrimination in Cuba, El Guardabosques, an environmentalist electronic
newsletter, and NotiG, an independent news service on sexual diversity

As well as the democratisation of internet use and the media on the
island, there were debates on the changes in Cuba's economic model and
institutional responsibilities and procedures to encourage
self-organisation and popular freedoms, self-management and cooperatives.

Decentralisation as an effective means of citizen participation was the
first topic of discussion at the Fifth Critical Observatory Social
Forum, held ahead of the Sixth Congress of the governing Cuban Communist
Party announced for mid-April.

Researcher Jorge Luis Alemán, a member of the Haydée Santamaría
Collective, said decentralisation in Cuban society today implies the
transfer of power to small local bodies capable of self-management, and
the creation of effective opportunities for participation at
neighbourhood level.

A larger role for people like elected delegates to the local government
so that they can sign contracts with other local actors, like
self-employed workers, and wide opportunities for citizen participation,
will be essential for achieving decentralisation, said Alemán.

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