Cuba: Being Accountable to the Public

Fernando Ravsberg

The launching of colognes with the names of Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez angered many Cubans.

HAVANA TIMES — An old proverb in Spanish says that to err is human and that only the wise learn from their mistakes. Others insist that showing one’s face, assuming the burden of responsibility and offering apologies are distinctively honest actions – the kind of honesty that ought to be a requirement for anyone who holds public office.

In the course of recent weeks, Cuba has experienced a number of situations in which government officials made mistakes and later rectified them but tried to avoid asking for apologies. These officials blame others for what happened or mend their ways without even mentioning the mistake they made.

The Cuban government pulled Labiofam’s ears for launching two colognes that bore the names of legendary Argentinian guerrilla leader Ernesto Che Guevara and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The company’s management quickly issued a communiqué begrudgingly accepting the blame and trying to accuse a foreign journalist of stirring up a “media spectacle” around the two fragrances that they themselves publicly presented.

A Cuban journalist, Omar George, replied that “the spectacle started well before, when, during a congress, to which the international press had access, incidentally, the company launched a marketing strategy whose aim could not have been other than placing the two products on the market.”

Labiofam executives tried to politicize the whole affair, portraying themselves as the victims of “the petty interests of the press (foreign) that lies and attacks them.” These statements, however, were refuted on the very web-page of the Association of Cuban Journalists (UPEC).

Cuba’s highest authorities publicly questioned Labiofam. “Symbols are sacred,” they said.

Wouldn’t it have been more dignified, and simpler, to assume full responsibility for the mistake, and to ask for apologies from the Guevara and Chavez families and the many Cubans who questioned the marketing of political icons by the company?

Labiofam is a successful Cuban laboratory that exports goods and services to many countries around the world. Making mistakes is one of the many things it must deal with – it is no sin. Attempting a political maneuver to lay the blame on someone else, however, is.

Something similar happened with Terminal 3 of the Jose Marti International Airport, where airport management had forbidden accompanying persons from entering the facilities, arguing that this was demanded by international norms.

The measure prompted protests from Cuban intellectuals, artists, academics and bloggers. Cyberspace was saturated with questioning, because nearly no one was convinced by the explanations that the authorities gave everyone through the media.

Now, as though nothing had happened, an airport executive announces in Juventud Rebelde, another official newspaper, that “the waiting areas have been reopened to those who accompany passengers at Terminal 3 of the Jose Marti International Airport.”

Airport authorities reopened the terminal without apologizing for having closed it.

Caridad Miranda, a reader of the newspaper, recalls that another high official had previously assured users that the prohibition “was based on international norms that require a certain number of square meters per passenger to guarantee that check-in operations are carried out correctly.”

She adds that “now, they give us this information – which I am very happy to read – as though no one had heard what they said before. If the measure had to be rectified, the most decent thing to do is to say so, to publicly take responsibility for the mistake and not to take the public as fools.”

Alberto, another reader, comments that “it is a question of basic respect. If they ultimately had to rectify their mistake, they should say so publicly. There’s no shame in it. It actually speaks highly of those who address the opinion of the people they claim to serve, as does asking for apologies, if needed.”

Listening to the public and fixing mistakes has never been a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a needed democratic exercise that all State officials should be trained in – for, far from taking power away from them, it adds prestige to their institutions.

  • Moses Patterson

    Accepting responsibility for one’s actions, especially in the public arena, is a characteristic that must be modeled from the top down. Fidel Castro has never apologized for any of the many fiascos he has foisted upon the Cuban people. No other public official feels safe to publicly admit their mistakes if Fidel won’t do it.

    • Griffin

      In a dictatorship, to admit to making a mistake is to contract a disease more fatal than ebola.

      • dani

        You are both utterly wrong again. Fidel Castro admitted that the 10 million ton sugar harvest had been a disaster. He fully accepted responsibility and offered to resign – http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1898&dat=19700721&id=egUhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9XUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2610,3869187. He also accepted responsibility and apologized for the UMAPS – http://latindispatch.com/2010/09/01/fidel-castro-apologizes-for-treatment-of-gays-during-the-revolution/. He also on his visit to Chile said that Cuba shouldn’t be a model for anyone as the revolution had many mistakes. More recently he apologized for not haveing foreseen the collapse of the Soviet Union and for remaining in power for too long. He also admitted that the Cuban model doesn’t “work for us anymore”.

        From now on I suggest you donate a sum of money to a charity of your choice for every demonstrable innacuracy you two make on these pages.

        • What Fidel didn’t admit to is that he destroyed the Cuban agriculture with his megalomaniac plan.
          Land basically unsuited for sugar and previously used for the production of food was given over to sugarcane with low production in sugar and a need to import the lost foodstuffs. The fact that Cuba today still has to import 80% of its food is to a large extent a result of that mistake.
          The loss in industrial production as a result of sending thousands of workers from plants to the “zafra” also resulted in extremely high immediate economic losses.
          Note that his “offer to resign” was utterly insincere and ludicrous. Nobody would dare to “accept” it.
          As far as the UMAP go: yes Fidel Castro accepted the responsibility for the mistreatment of homosexuals in the UMAP. Nothing further. He never accepted responsibility for the treatment of catholic priests, political opponents and others in the UMAP. His niece, the “gay diva” Mariela said that she was sure he “didn’t know”. Just hypocrisy.
          But based on his admission that he is guilty of crimes against humanity he should be tried in Cuba – which will never happen – or the international tribunal in The Hague – which should happen.
          A Brazilian LGTB organization files a complaint and Castro confessed. It should be an open and shut case.