Last Thursday, October 29th, a group of us was prevented from entering a cultural center where they were planning to hold a debate about the Internet. Most of us who were excluded were alternative bloggers.
The argument offered by those in charge for blocking our access was that the institution reserved the “right of admission.” I will not use this space to detail what happened, that has already been the subject of other blogs. I prefer to dwell on something more general which is precisely an institution’s use of freedom to determine the free access of citizens to public institutions.
I remember (I’m old enough) that before 1959 there were private clubs where the directors had the right to accept or reject new members. It is known that this was used to practice racial discrimination, because even though there were no regulations or association statutes clearly addressing the issue of skin color, the rather transparent exercise of the right of admission gave rise to the practice of these and other discriminations.
An institution is entitled to have rules and to hold events whose entrance is by invitation only. So it is in the case of congresses where one must be a member to participate. But a public cultural center where an open debate has been called is another matter.
One question I haven’t fond an answer to is if a public institution has the legal prerogative to grant to itself the right of admission and if they do so whether or not they have an obligation to inform potential users with absolute clarity what peculiarities form the basis of exclusion such as, for example, a type of clothing you must wear or if you arrive accompanied by animals.
An illustration of this is the cafeterias where they warn you, with a visible sign, that it is prohibited to sell cigarettes or alcoholic drinks to minors, or the restaurants where a certain kind of clothing is required. What is unacceptable is the existence of hidden rules that one has to wrestle with as if they were a riddle.
I am convinced that those of us who were excluded from participating the debate about the Internet, held by the magazine Temas in the “Fresa y Chocolate” cultural center, were on a list compiled according to ideology. This is the same as not selling cigarettes to adult smokers because they are communists, or not allowing someone who knows how to dance enter a discothèque because they are a Christian Democrats. Most of us were Cuban bloggers living on the island, specialists in the effective use of the limited Cuban web to exercise on it our right of free expression.
We are studying a proposal to convene a debate on this same subject in which all opinions can participate. The place would have to be indisputably public, like the sands of a beach or the benches in a park, the only requirement would be the willingness to dialog or, and it is the same thing: renouncing verbal violence and rejecting personal attacks. To this debate, everyone will have the true “right of admission” which consists of the right to be admitted and not discriminated against.