Although I don’t dare to assert that the original idea belonged to Frederick Engels, I was studying his work when I learned that “a right has a material base.” I remember a professor of Marxism in the seventies who gave the example that a country without schools could not dedicate itself to the right to an education, regardless of the political will of its leaders.
Ruminating over the concept, I introduced into the mastication the evolution of the right of free expression in Cuba. There are two truths very difficult to deny: the first, that in the first decade of the 21st century Cubans are exercising the right to speak out with an intensity and extent unprecedented in the preceding forty years. The second truth is that these advances are not in accord with the political will of the leaders. So then, what has happened?
What seems to explain everything is that the material basis for exercising this right has developed at a vertiginous velocity. The existence of a technology that democratizes expression and the consumption and diffusion of ideas means that today a Cuban citizen doesn’t have to wait until they open the doors of the radio or television studios, nor until they allow him to occupy a space in the pages of magazines or newspapers, to broadcast information or opinions—even those that don’t conform to the narrow information criteria or ideological aspect of the Communist Party—to half the world.
Digital cameras, recorders, computers, flash memories, CDs, DVD players, though obviously not available to all who would like to have them, have gotten cheaper and entered the country in the hands of friends in an ever larger flood. Internet, this tool almost unknown in Cuba 10 years ago, today extends its use among us despite the unaffordable prices and the inability of ordinary people to have accounts at homes.
Curious case—Frederick would say—this of Cuba, where the material base of a right precedes the government will to proclaim it.