Reconciliation is a word still met with skepticism by Cubans in both the island and diaspora. Our political divisions follow deep grooves long carved into our national narrative, making it difficult for one side to recognize the merits or grievances of the other.
Yet, as Cuba embarks on an ongoing process of change, and the diaspora increases its footprint inside the island, our decades of polarized political convictions call for a process of national healing and reconciliation.
While Cuban families have already begun this process in earnest, there is much more that needs to happen in order to build an inclusive, just, free, and prosperous future for Cuba.
The Cuba Study Group views national reconciliation as both a process and a goal. We recognize its difficulties, but are convinced of its necessity.
For these reasons, we launched The Reconciliation Project, which seeks to present various reconciliation processes from around the world so that Cubans on both shores can draw on lessons they think may be relevant.
We explored the South African and Irish reconciliation processes during our inaugural conference in 2012, and the German reunification process during our second conference last month, both hosted by Miami Dade College.
After examining these diverse experiences, certain common themes have emerged.
I summarize them below by paraphrasing our conference speakers, Father Robert Schreiter, South African Ambassador to the United States. Ebrahim Rasool, Former Sinn Fein VP Pat Doherty, Georgetown Professor Dieter Dettke, former East German dissident Günter Nooke, and Cuban civil society leader Dagoberto Valdés.
• Reconciliation requires forgiveness and justice. To the extent that we are unable to heal because we continue to dwell on our pain, we are rendered incapable of crafting a new future. Forgiveness requires that we not allow the future to be doomed by the past. The violence caused by both sides needs to be remembered and addressed, but without degenerating into revenge. Requiring that change bring about justice before anything else only serves to delay the very process of change, thereby causing greater injustice.
• Reconciliation is not a linear process.
Reconciliation cannot consist of a series of predetermined sequential changes. On the contrary, each of the cases explored show that all changes must all be allowed to happen as opportunities present themselves, because they illuminate one another. As Valdés stated, “It does not matter how the Cuban puzzle is put together, what is vital is that all the pieces be on the table.”
• Reconciliation cannot be a competition of wounds.
Reconciliation cannot turn into a competition of whose wounds are deeper. The most important shift in identity through this entire process is to divest oneself of the identity of victim. The pain of victims must be respected and remembered, yet we are ill-served if we allow it to become an obstacle to paving a better future.
• Dialogue is more important at the onset than trust.
As we saw in Ireland, a critical component of a successful conflict resolution process is the absolute need for inclusive “good faith” dialogue involving all parties with all issues raised on the agenda. While trust will not be there at the start of talks, it may and likely will develop during or beyond the process. The critical thing is to have trust in the process, and trust that each party is serious about creating a better future. “To bring about change one must empower one’s opponents and not paint them into a corner,” said Dettke.
Rasool concurs. “We understood the need to give our antagonists . . . enough to go back with to comfort their constituency. Because we understood one very important principle: We are each other’s keepers.”
We need to begin to look at Cuba not as a conflict to be won, but as a problem to be solved.
The Cuba Study Group will continue to explore reconciliation processes through conferences in 2014 and beyond, and will not discount the valuable lessons that can be learned from each experience.
Anyone interested in attending our upcoming conferences is welcome, since all Cubans, both in the island and diaspora, are part of this important conversation.
Ricardo Herrero is deputy executive director of the Cuba Study Group. He lives in Miami.