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On the afternoon of August 13*, at the corner of Obispo and Habana Street, the young Marcelino Abreu took the initiative to shout slogans and toss anti-government leaflets. In the brief minutes his demonstration lasted — until the police arrived — not a single passerby was outraged, not one stepped into Fidel Castro’s street** to stop a citizen from shouting “Down with the Tyranny!”

The concept of “due obedience” has been maintained as an argument by military personnel who have been involved in punishable acts. “Just following orders,” said the Operation Condor pilot when he was tried for having thrown opponents of some military dictatorship into the sea. The same argument was made by the interrogator who lent his hand to the torture session, or the head of the firing squad who limited himself to screaming “fire” and giving the humanitarian coup de grace. “Just following orders” repeats the soldier who shot into the demonstration, whose survivors ended up being his empowered accusers after the overthrow of the regime.

Another case is when the bosses claim they know nothing of the acts of their subordinates. There, where “everyone knows what to do” without having to be given precise orders. There, where those responsible of enforcing the law equally for all are not seen, precisely, to force anyone to harm another, at the very most they say, “safeguard the right of people to defend the street as a space for revolutionaries.”

Then there are the bosses who will say they were innocent, that those below them felt they had the prerogative to insult and beat people, to paint the facade of a house with tar and to enter the house to break everything and that they couldn’t do anything to stop them. Due obedience to the most elementary norms of civilized behavior on the part of the mob, of the horde, will be the argument tomorrow from the repressors of today.

Seeing is believing.

Translator’s notes:
* August 13 is Fidel Castro’s birthday
** “This street belongs to Fidel” is a common slogan shouted by the mobs gathered by State Security to harass dissidents and independent voices.

23 August 2010


On Friday, August 10, the journalist Anneris Ivette Leyva published an article in the newspaper Granma where she urges citizens to voice their critical opinions about the wrongdoings. She goes on to say that the consequences of mistakes not criticized in time “weigh heavily on everyone’s shoulders.”

At the height of the tenth paragraph, and indirectly quoting the General-President, she clarifies that “compañero Raul has stressed the need to exchange views, to bring out the best ideas of a dialog between diverse interlocutors with a common purpose.”

So as to maintain the old rules of the game: If someone doesn’t have the same purpose as that which guides the Communist Party, they will not be recognized as a valid interlocutor, nor will they have the right to dialog, nor will they be able to point out or discuss civilly the worst of the mistakes committed: the introduction of an economic, social and political system discarded by history.

To use a model example, one may criticize the quality of the bread, but there is no desire to hear a proposal to allow a private bakery to be run as a small family business.

What our Granma colleague doesn’t quite understand is that as long as there is not a sufficient degree of freedom of expression that allows proposals, without fear of reprisals, the opening of a small or medium sized private business will continue to be a source of fear, as will denouncing the corrupt practices of a State bakery. The boundaries of dissent cannot be limited to the path that leads to the same end. We need to discuss different possible paths and in particular the various destinations where we want to go.

Dear Anneris: 25 years ago now I published, in the newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) a piece similar to yours. It was titled, “The Optimism of the Discontented.” For writing articles of this nature I was stripped of the right to practice my profession in the Cuban media. I wish you the luck I had and may you some day throw off the heavy weight of censorship. Here are three paragraphs from that article. Tell me if you would not subscribe to them.

I think that Revolutionary optimism translates into the assurance that everything can still be improved, and paradoxically this is what I want to say, more or less, that nothing we have done is yet perfect; that the work undertaken is always susceptible to being submitted to the most severe analysis with the objective of enriching it.

This is why someone who, in an assembly, expresses his critical opinions about the progress of his workplace or school should be considered an authentic optimist, because he has confidence that his opinions are going to help correct the errors and because he has faith that what he says will be heard, that his participation will be decisive.

However, he who is thinking the same thing, and who doesn’t dare to make his disagreement public and knows to say only that to him it seems that everything is going very well, it is because he believes — pessimistically — that in fact it is not possible to improve the situation, or that it’s not worth it to try, or perhaps it can be too costly to oppose the wrongdoing.

13 August 2012

I missed the events of August 5, 1994 because at that time I was out of Cuba. Some friends invited me to Germany and on the morning of the 6th I woke up in Frankfurt looking at some images in CNN that seemed to be of Havana, but I didn’t want to admit what was happening there.

Two days later an article was published in the newspaper Tages Zeitung, under the title Ich züruck nach Cuba, or I Return to Cuba, and I commented that the exodus seemed like madness to me and I wondered, “Where is all this going to end?”

Today, I now know that it’s not over. I don’t know how many of those 35,000 Cubans who braved the currents of the Straits of Florida on the most unimaginable crafts have returned to the country as tourists, surely fatter and better dressed; I don’t know how many of those who didn’t dare then later chose a raft, a marriage of convenience, a desertion, a refugee visa, or one of the many ways in which Cubans continue to escape their country. Nor do I know the number of the repentant. Sorry to have left, sorry to have stayed. I only know that that, this, is not over and that the probability of something similar happening again remains a threat.

In the last year some 30,000 people abandoned the country by different routes. In these 18 years — without appealing to official statistics — at least a quarter of a million must have emigrated, who knows if it’s half a million. Enough to fill a plaza. I don’t know what would have happened if those people had stayed. I don’t know what would happen if suddenly we all left.

I do know that I returned to my country and so far I continue to think of staying, with great respect for all those who make the decision to leave.

6 August 2012

Link to Original Blog in Spanish

Please help translate

Reinaldo Escobar (1947), an independent journalist since 1989, writes from Cuba where he was born and continues to live. He received his degree in Journalism from the University of Havana in 1971 and subsequently worked for different Cuban publications. His articles can be found in various European publications, and in the digital magazines "Cuba Encuentro" and "Contodos."

Desde Aquí/From Here is a personal undertaking born from the need to write about those topics that fill my head every day but that cannot find a space in the official Cuban media.

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