I’ve written before about the Cuba Study Group’s Reconciliation Project, which aims to study and debate how reconciliation processes in deeply divided countries have been successful, and the lessons that can be learned for Cuba.
Their second conference just took place in Miami, with the participation of key players in the processes of reconciliation in South Africa, Germany and Ireland. Ricardo Herrero, deputy executive director of the CSG, summarizes it nicely in the Miami Herald:
• 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.
A while ago, I was having lunch with two very experienced political operators, and naturally the conversation turned to the Cuba issue. “It’s a puzzle” they said “lots of smart people with decision power know that Cuba policy simply doesn’t make sense. Many of them are even proponents of the isolationist policies who privately agree hasn’t worked. Yet they can’t break the inertia”. It is a puzzle to me as well, I answered. So many people acting out of the worst possible impulses, afraid to cede an inch, distrustful and isolated, and half heartedly insisting on goals and preconditions the other side has no interest or incentive to meet.
Well, these conferences are precisely the type of creative thinking that can break the inertia. If we understand the reconciliation process, then we can offer the Cubans a workable plan towards national healing.