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As year after year, in this 2009 the most important public square in the country will be the traditional scene of the May First celebration. In a country where no one earns a living wage, there will not be a single poster asking for a salary increase. Here, where it is illegal to establish an independent trade union, no one will claim the most universal goal of workers: to join together to claim their rights. Hundreds of thousands of men and women will parade in disciplined blocks, organized ahead of time, flying the banners given to them at the meeting point.
Through the loudspeakers a professional announcer will be reading the facing slogans. Probably pointing out at some point that “once more the Cuban workers ratify, by their presence in the square, their unwavering commitment to the Revolution, to the Party, to Fidel and to Raúl.” Nothing that is said through the microphones will be spontaneous or improvised. Everything has been meticulously planned in the Party Central Committee’s offices of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR). Perhaps that is why special attention will be paid to the anti-imperialist allusions, as they will be a great barometer to measure the official reaction to the goodwill offers made by the new American administration.
At 9:00 pm on this same May First, a “beating of the pans” has been called to demand the elimination of the travel restrictions imposed by the Cuban government on its citizens, particularly the elimination of the humiliating permission-to-leave and the requirement of a letter-of-invitation to travel off the island. Personally, I think this banging on pots and pans demonstration will be a failure due to the dose of personal bravery needed to make noise with a pot. The three of four sounds that will be heard won’t be able to compete in unity, discipline and organization with the morning’s parade.
It now seems imminent that a dialog between the governments of the United States and Cuba brings to the surface the thorniest of the difficult issues: that the Americans recognize the Cuban leaders as the legitimate rulers of the nation.
From January 1961, when the USA broke off relations, the treatment of Cuba by the different governments of the United States could be compared to the process a negotiator follows when speaking to a kidnapper holding hostages. It’s probably because of this that Raul Castro demanded so emphatically, at the ALBA Summit, that he might discuss everything with the Americans provided it would be on equal terms.
We must recognize that the Cuban side (except in highly ideological speeches), has never treated any American government as a usurper that took or held power against the will of the people. To make this abstraction concrete, Fidel Castro never denied that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (the father), Clinton, Bush (the son), were not the legitimate presidents of the American people. Nonetheless, they’ve all considered him to be a dictator.
Now, Obama affirms that he’s ready to take relations between the two countries in a new direction and that his administration might discuss a wide range of issues, from human rights to freedom of expression, democratic reforms, drugs and economic issues. For his part, Raul Castro, while gesturing as if he was declaring war, announced a similar agenda when he said he was ready to talk about anything, including political prisoners, human rights, and a free press.
My personal impression is that Raul Castro has chosen Mr. Obama as a valid interlocutor to debate topics he would have to discuss with his opponents, those living in exile or on the Island. To take it further they are internal political issues that would have to be discussed in the bosom of the Communist Party at its next congress or among the deputies in the next session of parliament. I understand it’s necessary to talk to the United States on many issues, like those of migration, controlling drugs in the region, and other more complicated ones such as the confiscated properties or the indemnification claimed by the Cuban government for the damages caused by the blockade, but I don’t imagine the president of my country compromising with the head of a foreign power that he will release prisoners, that he will allow citizens to freely express their opinions, and that he will let them leave the Island whenever they please. I don’t understand it. That is the agenda of the kidnappers when they are going to ask the mediator to find them a fueled airplane at the nearest airport.
These days are the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. I was three months shy of fourteen. In four months my son Teo will also be fourteen. For a long time I had the feeling that my life had an inexcusable hole in it because other guys my age came out of the Artillery School to fight in those forgotten sands. To compensate I enrolled in the Conrado Benítez Brigade, but that’s another story.
Like all boys his age, Teo plays at war. Thanks to advances in technology, you can see on PlayStation, without getting splashed with blood, how the heads and extremities of your adversaries fly off, those who are always defeated. I remember clearly the military rhetoric, the anthem of the guerrilla fighters with its bellicose rhythm inciting the vanguard. In those days, my first political doubts assailed me (what precocity!). I saw men in militia uniforms putting posters on the doors of certain Camagüeyan families. “Here lives an enemy of the Revolution,” proclaimed the signs and I wondered when and how they’d been judged to be sentenced in this way. Almost all of them left the country later, but that’s another story.
Widows and orphans on both sides cried the same tears. The pain of the mothers of those who came to retrieve their property was no less than the pain of the mothers of those who died to stop them. Today, I have other kinds of political doubts, I’d love to know how much these lands are producing, these plants and factories, in what condition they would find the apartment buildings, the shops and the other things they fought over at the Bay of Pigs.
I don’t think a story like this can be repeated in Cuba. No one will disembark armed with a rifle to recover the ruins of what belonged to his parents and grandparents, now hymns don’t inflame juvenile hearts. My son will not suffer the terror of seeing some men nailing a sign to the door of his house.
On the first of April, the website Jiribilla published a Statement from the Organizing Committee of the Tenth Havana Biennial, referring to what happened on Sunday March 29, at the Wifredo Lam Center during the performance of the artist Tania Bruguera. I had the temptation to respond, in the form of marginal notes, to this text which I originally suspected of being apocryphal, because I refused to believe that a cultural institution would be capable, in so little space, of insulting, lying and discrediting with the nerve and incontinence shown by this Organizing Committee.
The Committee’s definition is sad: “people outside of the culture” is the term they use to refer to those of us who, as individuals and not in response to any mandate, spoke from the podium that night believing Tania Bruguera’s offer of the microphone for one minute, when everyone could say what they wanted, was sincere. Someone had already warned me that it could be a mousetrap with succulent delicacies for bait. I prefer to believe that the artist is innocent and that the metamorphosis of the platform into a gallows has been the work of the bureaucrats.
It’s very easy to prove that one is an employee of some entity, it’s enough to show the list. It’s difficult to prove the contrary. Fortunately the whole world knows who pays the members of this committee and the zeal with which they defend their salary is well known. Thinking better of it, one would have to say they pay them so little so that no one can accuse them of being party-line mercenaries.
Really, I have no stomach for playing, “Critique of the Gotha Program”* with this pamphlet, and so I have only one question for the committee which I extend to those who pay them: Was there not, that night, among so many people, one party militant or member of the Young Communist Union, or a single prominent member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who would have taken the initiative in front of the microphone to “step up and call out” what the committee has called, “a provocation against the Cuban Revolution”? Perhaps those we saw and filmed there that night were some doubles for vice ministers of culture and even members of this committee, whose names I will not reveal, for a different reason than the one they had when they didn’t mention ours.
Could it be that the battle of ideas is already over and we don’t know it?
* Translator’s note: See the works of Karl Marx