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Archive for April, 2011

Nursery school children. Photo taken from the Internet

Readers, allow me to tell you a recent anecdote. Zamira, a close friend whose son started attending Kindergarten just a few months ago, was very alarmed when she received guidance from the director to teach her four year old toddler who Fidel, Raúl and the “Five Heroes” are. Appalled, Zamira flatly refused, to the amazement of the director, who did not understand how a mother could refuse to comply with what was stipulated. “You will make me look bad with the inspectors” insisted the teacher, and to convince Zamira that it was not a personal whim, the good lady (she really is) showed her the teaching agenda for three and four year olds, a worthy rival of the Surrealist Manifesto, that – indeed — makes clear that indoctrination is a goal of educators in order to instill “patriotic values” in kids who only yesterday opened their innocent eyes to the world, little people who will leave their place in line in pursuit of a toy, candy or ice cream, who do not have the faintest idea of ​​the meaning of the word homeland, and whose main ambition is to play and romp. But Zamira would not budge an inch, “Look, ma’am, try to have the inspectors ask another child and not mine, because I want him to be a child, not a political laboratory mouse.”

This was at a Kindergarten in the capital, but it also goes on throughout the Island. All is needed is to visit any of these centers to notice the presence of wall murals of leaders of the revolution, many dead celebrities, the yacht Granma and even violent scenes of the assault on the Moncada Barracks. A recurring image is that of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas with guns raised and faces fierce with screaming expressions, subliminally encouraging violence as part of the revolutionary culture. A real crime.

The fact is neither an exception nor a novelty. The fierce indoctrination to which children are subjected in Cuba since the early years of their life is widely known, as it’s endorsed in primary school textbooks, including those textbooks with which students in first grade, only six years of age, learn to read.

Unfortunately, almost no mother is as courageous as my friend Zamira. It is common for parents to tolerate in silence the violence of the doctrine and the implementation of methods, because “What the heck, children do not know about that. Back at home we will make sure they think about other things”. And that’s when a dramatic clash of values ​​in which the children receive twice the impact of a controversial discourse: Fidel Castro and the “Five Heroes” in the morning, in daycare or at school, and Mickey Mouse, Donald and Spiderman on video in the afternoon, upon returning home. No need to clarify which of the messages is more attractive (and appropriate) for children. In fact, in private life, all children want to be like Ben 10, like Superman or Zorro, never like Ché. No one has ever seen a child in a private costume party dressed as the legendary Argentine guerrilla fighter, as Camilo or as Fidel Castro. These “heroes” do not belong in the children’s repertoire, but are only used to meet the requirements at the official venues.

But, simultaneously, without adults trying, they are planting in very young children the hypocrisy of the double standard that the system has fostered, the false belief in something that even they don’t believe, thus supporting a process that our friend Dagoberto Valdés has defined as anthropologic damage, whose harmful effects will long survive the regime that produced it.

For my part, I think that even protesting sectors in the country have ignored for too long the relevant details of the rights of Cuban children. We have prioritized our rights to freedom, democracy, to participate fully in our own individual and collective destinies, but we have neglected the most vulnerable sector of society: children. We assume that, by giving our children our love and guaranteeing them food and material wellbeing, we are doing our part. We are thus committing the same error as our own parents: we are allowing the State to carry out the sacred mission of educating our children morally and completely instead of doing it ourselves, as we are able to and as we can freely choose to. We thus prolong in our children the saga of slavery of thought, of pretense, and of corruption of spirit of which we were victims, and which we so condemn.

Children are born with the right to be educated, but it is a flagrant violation of their rights and those of their families to plant an ideological doctrine in their minds. It is an appalling distortion of human nature and it should be denounced in the strongest terms, so that we may finally banish the collective consciousness of violence, submission, and lies that half a century of dictatorship has sown in Cubans.

April 27, 2011

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Kaos: Two Chaotic Articles

The General, in the framework of the Central Report to the Sixth Congress, made reference to the need for new journalism. Picture taken from the Internet.

A friend of mine, knowing about my quest for information and of my online time constraints, is kind enough to send me, from time to time, items he considers “interesting”, published in places that I don’t usually visit basically because of the above reasons and for my preference to prioritizing other venues within those limits.

Recently, the same friend has brought me two works published in Kaos on the Web, a site commonly classified as “leftist” and heavily visited by fundamentalists of various stripes, judging by the tone of many of the comments they dump there. These articles (“Cuba: Raúl’s worst enemies,” of April 4th, 2011, and “Yoani Sánchez and Cuban TV compete in their clumsy Manichaeism” of April 7th, 2011) are signed by a person calling himself Orlando Pérez Zulia, a Cuban with no other details, who, under apparent critical presuppositions about the reality of the Island, only succeeds in throwing dirt in the readers’ eyes, a practice much employed by more than a few collaborators of such a website.

I think I should stop and briefly explain two points about this issue: 1 — Why, if the articles mentioned seem so biased to me, do I waste my valuable time commenting on them? And 2 — Why does my kind friend classify these articles as “interesting”?

The answer to the first question is very simple: It’s clear that Kaos — voluntarily or otherwise —  serves to support the authorities’ campaign of demonization against Cuban dissident sectors, in particular against the blogosphere, though its support for the government is presented — as happens in this case — masked in a language apparently critical of official sectors, in what constitutes an insult to people’s intelligence and an infamous manner of contributing to the chronic misinformation that affects Cuban society. It’s imperative, therefore, to denounce the exercise of media hypocrisy hidden behind this maneuver.

Regarding the second question, the answer is that my friend has undoubtedly become a victim of the illusion projected by Kaos: he wants to prove to me what he considers a sign of change. According to him, these types of articles seem “interesting” in that they indicate, at the very heart of the revolutionaries, the emergence of a critical group that openly and courageously points out the faults of the system. My good friend thinks that this official sector could help in transitioning a future Cuba into a more democratic and inclusive country. Such naiveté!

So it’s not exactly a useless waste of time to analyze in brief the result of the neuronal outgrowths of Orlando Pérez, without inferring intent to exhaust the subject completely, or attempting a theoretical positioning of someone who seems to consider himself a thinking bombshell. I do not intend to ascend to such a high level of intellect.

I couldn’t begin to enumerate here the number of words and empty phrases deployed in both his writings, which stand out for their lack of substance. I’ve become bowlegged in the face of some that I have found truly novel, but what is incredibly sinuous is the discursive strategy of attack against both dissident writers (independent journalists, alternative bloggers, etc.), as against the official media, including the regular press and Cuban TV, the latter charged — or so Orlando tells us — with spreading false social and economic achievements of the revolution and giving credit to dissidents for devoting space to its stoning. I admit that, in this, we have some common points. Either way, this position also curiously coincides with the criticism that the Gray General directed at official journalists in his Central Report to the Sixth Congress of the CCP … Pure coincidence?

However, a position as “condescending”, yet energetic, on Orlando’s (?) part, with its masquerade of justice, tends to sanctify as tested truths certain lies that also circulate through the official media, born of invocations from the constant repetition of “information” about internal dissent, particularly their mercenary character with respect to the ever-satanic Northern Empire (the “wealth” of some of these mercenaries, stemming from payment of their salaries reaches fabulous figures, judging from these and other means, which Orlando also asserts). But the writer fails to go beyond the exclusionary nature of the system and its representatives, when one attributes the ability to determine how and who can disagree with the government. The subliminal message is clear: “the right to dissent is for revolutionaries”. Without a doubt, the desperation of this regime is making its lackeys give birth to truly amazing subterfuges.

Of course, the direction of the revolution is still being presented as immaculate in the writings of this champion of fair criticism who — as any other follower of the dictatorship — shows signs of generous and profuse flattery: “President Raúl Castro has undertaken a Cyclopean task to route Cuban society through the trails of efficiency, which will culminate into a minimum state of welfare, always promised to our people but frequently postponed. His speech at the closing session of the December 18th, 2010 National Assembly of Popular Power was impressive by his clear and forceful self-criticism”. This is stated by the writer as a premise to a new generational Messianism, according to which “Cuban revolutionaries” are being summoned at this dramatic hour to assume “a commitment of historic dimension”. It’s the new “Now, indeed!” of the hour, which assures us, by the reforming hand of the cabinet General, his exemplary punishment of the corrupt and deceitful leaders (like himself, I would add), the advent of the promising future with which the regime has gripped our lives for the past 52 years.

It turns out that Orlando Pérez, like his ancient olive-green idol, is also a reformer, something like a reformism theorist. That is why he considers it “a mistake” to attack all internal dissidents alike, since they are not all “pathetic hustlers”, “brainless puppets”, or “mercenaries without values” (the latter suggests the existence of “mercenaries with values”, a complete tribute), so he asserts that Yoani Sánchez — paradigm of evil, witch among witches — should be allowed to leave Cuba so she can show  “the shallowness of her analyses” (she is “a lesser being”). That is why Orlando (“a higher being”, for certain) also wonders: “Are individuals who have been or are still imprisoned for unclear crimes menacing enemies, who are often limited to express different ideas, though some of them have flexed their muscles in the foreign news media? Are those who have done so without being jailed also menacing enemies? And in the next sentence he states that they are not a menace, which has been demonstrated by the “unilateral” liberation” (?) that they have been receiving. It might seem that political prisoners released in recent months — due to the many pressures on the Cuban government, both by foreign governments and institutions, and by civil society groups and dissidents within the Island, and not by the political willpower of the dictatorship — belong to a faction that is also holding government representatives imprisoned and has not agreed to give them their freedom in turn.  Or that independent journalists in Cuba waste opportunities they are offered to publish in the national media, so they publish (muscle-flex) in the foreign media.

Orlando is a very sharp guy, so he arrives half a century behind with the discovery of “the serious errors leading to the prevailing precariousness and its consequences: corruption and absurd and ubiquitous prohibitions, both born of the glaring incompetence of the methods used, to date, to produce confidence and prosperity”. And only a group of corrupt officials, notable among them, “the sons of Acevedo, of Guillermo García, of Maciques, of Lusson and of Torralba”, among others, are responsible for those evils that dissidents point out in such vile and opportunist ways. So easy and simple. Not the Castro brothers. They are not responsible for anything. Because, without a doubt, the writer knows the golden rule of the tricks of the trade: play with the chain, but don’t touch the monkey, so he takes good care of not reporting the names to the nouveau riche, the original sin that accuses Yoani and El Nuevo Herald. As you can see, he is indeed a convincing guy.

I must admit, however, that Orlando (why does that have a false ring to me?) is right, at least to the extent that the official media are liars, boring, tiring, manipulative and insistent. However, he avoids basic issues: whose media is it? Is the national press better than the media trash he criticizes so much? Why doesn’t he mention that the eyesore Cuban TV also illustrates the “cultural decadence” that affects our nation? And, as far as the alternative media, specifically the blogosphere, why does he try to present Yoani Sánchez as dissident analyst of the Cuban reality, a title that she has never claimed for herself, instead of mentioning a space of such serious and substantial analyses of our history and our reality as, for instance, El Blog de Dimas? (this is a rhetorical question. Obviously, reading that website would leave the referenced writer standing in his underwear on his lofty platform of media purity).

Maybe Orlando Pérez Zulia — who would be more credible and respectable if he had presented himself with his true identity in any forum — may be part of a new and devious official strategy born out of impulses of the much publicized and artificial “media war” a new conflagration designed by a government that thrives only in confrontations. At any rate, with or without a pseudonym, he has shown with these two deliveries that he still has a lot of imperfections to polish in his worn-out race of web misinformation. May he forgive me if I don’t wish him luck in his endeavors.

The General, in the framework of the Central Report to the Sixth Congress, made reference to the need for new journalism. Picture taken from the Internet.

April 21 2011

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Reasons for an Injustice

As if the proverbial mediocrity of the usual television programming weren’t enough, in recent weeks there is a new series, incredibly badly made and edited even worse, that has been presented on the screen. “Cuba’s Reasons,” is the title of this latest garbage, which clearly intends to disinform the national population trying to create a state of negative opinion around the use of new information and communications technologies. To accomplish this they are using old methods that everyone knows don’t work: demonizing the dissidence as “mercenaries in the service of the empire,” presenting “hero” agents infiltrated into the heart of it, and showing “proofs” — which is never presented — of the activities designed to destabilize the revolution and betray the people.

The official demonization of the Internet in a country where people have a miserable level of access would seem an absurdity, which is reinforced if we consider that this campaign takes place in the era of computers and in the midst of a true global revolution in communications technology.

However, if we analyze the current global context and internal conditions in Cuba, the fact is perfectly logical. The Cuban government may be too late, archaic and decadent (as it is), but its attitude is consistent, given that its ultimate goal is to retain power at all costs.

I will try to present an explanation of what appears to be the desperate resort of the island’s government: disinformation as state policy.

New scenes and new actors

The year 2011 debuted with a new scenario. At the international level, the processes of transformations that are occurring in North Africa and that continue to widen their influence over neighboring regions, have demonstrated the functionality of the technology in support of democratic interests. Long-standing autocratic regimes have collapsed or are in the process of extinction faced with the push of innovative ideas that have flowed through social networks and have been able to mobilize crowds. A new world landscape is being drawn, which necessarily influences the emergence of new global and national politics. There are clear signs of the coming of other times, not yet clearly defined, but generally showing a trend: The era of dictatorships, as we know, seems to be coming to an end.

At the national level, the Cuban landscape has been gradually and quietly evolving in recent years. It would be useful to mention the fundamental elements that indicate these small apparent changes, or that have influenced them.

  • A growing feeling of popular frustration faced with a permanent socioeconomic crisis that has translated into a general apathy: the regime has lost the power to call on people. Instead of the old voluntary and massive mobilizations, it’s becoming ever more obvious that participation in “revolutionary acts” is being achieved through the setting of “quotas” — for schools and workplaces — to achieve a significant volume of people to attend these public rituals.
  • Official recognition of the inability to indefinitely maintain the so-called “subsidies” (social benefits), such as the ration book and others; as well as the announcement of the layoffs of 20% of the working population of the country. The government itself has confessed that “the model is broken.”
  • The growing significance of the activism of civic groups since the imprisonment of the 75 independent journalists in 2003 (The Black Spring) in a wave of repression what received wide international condemnation and that led to the rise of the Ladies in White, an example of peaceful resistance, of the ability to act and of the force of ideas, even in a closed society.
  • The events of the Havana Psychiatric Hospital that resulted in the death by cold and mistreatment of more than two dozen patients there, which led to a number of criticisms among the population and accented the lack of confidence in these institutions.
  • The death after a long hunger strike of the prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the following hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas, events that unleashed an international movement to reject the Cuban government. For the first time in many years, different sectors of the dissidence, without articulating a common program, showed unanimity in support of the release of the political prisoners.
  • Growth in the sector of active dissidence, refreshed by the growth in activity by independent journalists and in the rise and rapid development of the independent blogosphere and social networks.
  • The sudden and extemporaneous announcement of a Communist Party Congress, which was eight years late and held in secret, admitting only the base of Party militants.
  • Forcing the release of the political prisoners of the Black Spring, an undeniable achievement of the forces of independent civil society, particularly of the Ladies in White and Guillermo Fariñas.

Other factors of a diverse nature have influenced the emergence of a scenario in which new social actors are breaking ground with alternative proposals to the national stalemate. An interesting variable in this scenario is, undoubtedly, the fact that a share of the recently released political prisoners have decided to remain in the country, and to continue their activities within the peaceful dissidence. This not only puts to rest the government’s argument that “dissidents are only interested in emigrating,” but shows the power of the widening focus of alternative views of civil society in virtually all regions of Cuba.

The government’s “reasons”

To try to understand the government’s new disinformation strategy, one has to start from the essential premise: it is a strategy of survival. The regime has run out of time in an irreversible way, and is incapable of recreating even its repressive methods. This puts it in an extremely fragile position, to the point that the mere use of technology as an alternative option to create and develop citizen journalism and social networks accelerates the crisis of a system that has been able to rely, until recently, on monolithic control of the media.

The closed nature of dictatorships is, paradoxically, their most vulnerable point, given that anything that alters the monolithic nature of the system can pierce its structure and precipitate its fall.  So the Internet is now a crack through which what up to now has been half a century of totalitarian power could begin to drain away, forcing the authorities to implement an urgent campaign against “the free flow of information.”

As if the critical position of the regime was not already sufficiently compromised, the recent arrive of the fiber optic cable in the country — via Venezuela — will allow an exponential multiplying of the capacity to reach the network of networks. Thus, it is urgent for the Cuban government to create a social climate that justifies the maintenance of controls on the use of technologies, establishing a rigorous system of selection to determine who merits (revolutionaries-faithful-reliable) receiving this service and at the same time using this as an excuse not to allow general access.

Arguably, then, the series on Cuban TV — for which four programs have been produced to date — is only the phenomenal external expression of the creative weakness of the government, as well as a scandalous demonstration of its incapacity to renew its methods and discourse, forcing it to remain barricaded behind obsolete formulas proven to be ineffective.

It is obvious that there are objective reasons not only for the authorities to systematically obstruct access to the Internet, but to try to convince the masses of the great harm that flows from freedom of information. It is because of this that the entire information spectrum must pass through the purifying hand of the government and its most loyal servants who will determine the relevance — or not — of each news item before it is consumed by the population. To orchestrate this campaign — a medieval crusade against what has come to be called “cyberwar” — the authorities count on the media, in their absolute control, and the relative technological illiteracy and lack of access of the masses.

The effects of injustice

What the authorities obviously did not count on, is the effect on the population ideological fatigue, caused by the general decay of the system at all levels, which manifests itself for the most part in the total lack of impact of the programs already broadcast and in the result contrary to what they hoped to achieve. The ordinary Cuban tends to reject the informers, hence the antipathy aroused by the real or supposed “agents” who infiltrated the dissidence. On the other hand, the haste and the hatchet job of the makers of the series, flagrantly present a product so badly made that it offends the natural intelligence of ordinary people.

As a result of these questionable shows, some Cubans I know have more questions than answers, among them one finds with great frequency the following:

Who can believe the testimonies of the “agents” of State Security and some paper scrawled with numbers as proof of alleged payments to the “mercenary” dissidents?

How can they support the idea that the dissidents are seeking to benefit from the United States Interest Section if the TV series clearly shows that it was an alleged Cuban government agent with which the officials of the “enemy” county conducted their contacts with citizens of this country?

Is State Security working now to create more national mercenaries, or “counterrevolutionaries”?

Who is “fabricating” new villains, the Empire of the government of the Island?

And another rhetorical question which arises from an overwhelming logic: When an agent of the Cuban government lies on Radio Marti, is it the station that is lying?

The official media manipulation that occurs in “Cuba’s Reasons” is so obvious that people quickly incorporated it into the repertoire of jokes that characterizes the Cuban people. “Did you see the third season of Castro’s espionage soap opera?” asks one friend to another. And there is no shortage of newspaper vendors who use the show to encourage a sale: “Hey! The agent in Granma!” a proclamation that at the same time expresses a covert irony: the real “agent” is the official press.

However, beyond the ill-fated attempt to “stuff” viewers, the price of this staging is expensive in other equally counterproductive ways, because fabricating imaginary enemies from the screen also has promoted the activism of dissidents, which is gaining recognition. In a country where the media is in the hands of the ruling class it could be argued that  facts do not exist until they are reported by the media. If we add to this the increasing loss of credibility for that class and the social need of finding new spaces of expression — as developed in the sustained growth of the alternative niches of civil society — it could be argued that disinformation as a new government policy is doomed to defeat.

Now we must wait for the new episodes already being advertised on Cuban television. Surely in some of the chapters to come they will try to keep the promise, so often postponed, of showing us the actual payments of imperial emoluments on the part of the greatly debased home-grown mercenaries, be it a leader of the opposition, an independent journalist or a blogger.

They will need more than the reliable testimony of their own paid agents and, of course, they will have to completely renovate the production team for the series to see if they can give us a more finished product. Still, it won’t do to create too many expectation, the genre of suspense requires, in principle, a range of possible finales that the Cuban government is unable to offer. It turns out that the end of this process — a few chapters more or less — is already known by nearly everyone. In short, the ideological architects of the amendment to the Constitution were right in 2002 when they decided that socialism in Cuba is irreversible: it’s true; precisely in the static nature of its sentence.

April 18 2011

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Osmel Does Not Have “Permission”

Terminal 2 at Jose Marti airport. Photo from Internet.

Recently I received a message from a reader who says his name is Osmel Camino, a Cuban “deserter from a medical mission in Haiti from ten and a half years ago,” in his own words, and who states he currently lives in the Dominican Republic. Osmel’s message refers to an interview Arleen Rodríguez Derivet, a journalist on Cuban television, did with the ex-U.S. president Jimmy Carter, on his visit to Havana March 28-30. In the transcript of it, alluding to the 5 spies imprisoned in the United States, Carter raised as an argument as a reason to pardon these Cuban State Security fighters, “These men have suffered greatly and lost family members without being able to be at their side…”

Osmel, rightly outraged, expressed his indignation at so much cynicism, and asked me to make his reality public, writing this paragraph in his message which I quote: “I want people to know of my case. I have never been able to enter my country since I decided to emigrate for economic reasons in 2000. The government will not let me, despite the fact that I’ve never engaged in any kind of political activity or committed any crimes.

Exactly a year ago my father died in Guantanamo City, and I asked the Cuban consulate to travel to his funeral. The Cuban government once again refused me entry into my own country. The Cuban government violates my rights every day by refusing me permission to travel to Cuba, which I have asked for on three occasions. Tell me what human rights they are talking about!!!”

I don’t think I can calculate how many cases similar to Osmel’s have occurred over half a century of dictatorship. One of the most well known is that of the beloved Celia Cruz, whom the government refused to allow to attend her mother’s funeral in Cuba, and she finally died herself without ever returning to the Island, but surrounded by the love of her fans on both shores, and with the hatred of the Castros unable to prevent millions of Cubans mourning her loss and greatly honoring her burial.

But in reality, there are countless anonymous Cubans who have been victims of such violations on the part of a government that hijacks all the rights of its citizens and applies this type of punishment — selective and unjustified — with impunity, at its whim and discretion. Many natives of this Island have died in exile without ever returning to visit Cuba, or have lost loved ones on the Island without the consolation of taking leave of them.

But I say again to out compatriot Osmel: Regardless of the political sympathies of any person, no government has the moral authority to restrict the free flow of citizens in any way. This is the essential truth of the problem. Neither you, nor anyone else, should have to “behave” to please the regime to have the right to freely enter and leave their own country. That is, what is truly humiliating is not permission or not to enter Cuba; what is degrading is the very existence of the “application or entry permit.” This is the essence of evil. That they deny it is nothing more than the effect.

In your case, as in so many others, it’s obvious that you are being punished for “betrayal” when serving a “humanitarian mission” fabricated by Fidel Castro as a part of his hallucinatory ideological crusades. Other cases are even more inexplicable, like that of a young friend of mine, recent University graduate, who “stayed behind” on a work trip before starting her “social service.” More than seven years have passed since then and she’s been denied entry into Cuba on several occasions. She, who as a successful professional abroad due to her own efforts has traveled to several countries; but she has never been able to return to the country of her birth. Fortunately, she will outlive the system that is punishing her, but the price of her personal independence has been — as for thousands and thousands of Cubans – tremendously painful.

Some day we will have to do the math on how much damage has been done to the national sensibility and to the Cuban family, how much personal pain the arrogance of the ruling caste has caused, how much talent we have lost that could have been put into service for the progress of Cuba, and how much uprooting we owe to this long Antillean satrapy.

For now, Osmel reminds us once again of an aspect almost forgotten in the midst of so much tragedy; a crime that could not speak more to the infinite contempt this regime feels for the Cuban people. We will not forget.

April 14 2011

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Counterresponse to the Comments

Photo: Orlando Luis

As my regular readers know, as a rule I don’t participate directly in the comments; my poor access to the Internet doesn’t allow me that interactivity. I prefer to return to the debates posted, after carefully reading every comment off-line, using the method of public rejoinder if it seems to be necessary to clarify certain aspects that shouldn’t be left without a response in order to avoid future misunderstandings.

In past days I allowed myself to comment on an article by an opponent of the regime, Darsi Ferrer, who, as is common when this topic is raised, has awakened in some readers certain considerations that would be useful to air here, in the space in which they were raise.

To do this, as usual, I will put my cards on the table. I have no intention of offending Darsi Ferrer; I use the virtual space rather than personal communications, in the same way he used it to publish his article where, among others, he mentioned my name, which calls even more for me to reply. In my capacity as a citizen journalist I allow myself the right to question any program, posture or opinion, come what may — be it the government’s the opposition’s, a national or foreign journalist or another blogger — with the same honesty with which I shine the public light on my own opinions with the intent to be questioned.

I do not understand how some consider this “an attack,” a “skirmish,” or something similar. That is, how long will we avoid transparency and debate for the sake of a poorly understood and worse interpreted “unity”? If an opponent, whomever it might be, feels it is damaging to have his views questioned, his leadership (if he has any), or his prestige, must be very fragile.

Are we proposing a perpetuation of the secrecy and conspiracies, in the image and likeness of the regime’s methods that so many of us reject so strongly? However, I know that the author of the article referenced has met occasionally with bloggers to whom I never stated such views, and I respect it: it was his choice.

The disagreements of some readers, however, don’t worry me — after all, we’re not a church choir — but some others display conceptual blunders that show how little idea they have about the nature of the Cuban alternative blogger phenomenon, for example, when they say that the mistake of the opponents is “not having been served by the blogosphere.”

I never tire of repeating that as a blogger I resist subordinating myself to anyone, that the essence of the blogger is total independence and I’m not a spokesperson for parties or individuals, making it impossible for them to “be served” by my journalistic activity.

I have no interest in “working in coordination”with any of the opposition groups I know, which has not caused the least offense to some friends who have spent years working within opposition groups.

On more than a few occasions I have submitted my opinions about some of their proposals, and, respectfully, I have expressed my views in private: I do not divulge political programs of any kind, nor do I sit down with anyone to develop a “common platform”; that is not my mission.

Oh! And do not be surprised if the day comes when this famous platform exists, and I also question it, as the free citizen that I am. On the other hand, I insist that nothing prevents opponents from opening their own blogs, as some already have done.

There are those who say that when I respond to what Darsi posed I am “diverting from the main objective” (I don’t know what this objective is; in fact, I am unaware that someone has attributed “objectives” to me that I myself have not enunciated). The same reader believes that if there are no objectives — I assume that he refers to the particular, supreme and sacred objective of “overthrowing the government” — then “I am writing just to write, as if freedom of expression was legitimate only when we criticize the Cuban dictatorship, and public opinion would have to have an orchestra in concert under the interests of the opposition.

I don’t feel myself authorized to speak on behalf of the blogosphere, given that we are not a homogeneous block, but as far as I’m concerned I don’t accept the simplicity encompassed in the hackneyed phrase, “They are fighting for the same thing.” It is a distorted view of reality. While the desire for a democratic Cuba is the shared dream of many Cubans, beyond those in the dissidence active in any denomination, we are not the same, we don’t project ourselves in the same way, we don’t “struggle” exactly “for the same thing.” And now I will say it again: Blessed be diversity!

Another reader rightly says that “everything is political.” I share that view, because each action by man in society in search of solutions is a political exercise. But it is one thing to have political opinions and something else very different to belong to a political organization. Especially in the case of Cuba, plagued by uncertainties and conflicts of every type of those who don’t escape some opposition groups; and where the lack of civic and political culture is a failing endemic to the social level.

In this particular, the blogosphere may, perhaps, be more related to the work of establishing bridges between different opinion groups and among the various sectors of society, than in political exercises itself with its corresponding ideological commitments.

Some bloggers, with our mistakes and successes, seek from the practice of virtual citizenship, to assist at the birth of true citizenship. It is a long-term effort, not an immediate one; it is a civic target, not an ideological one. A political group usually says: “think of me as a solution”; but an opinion blogger prefers to say, simply: “let’s think.”

As I see it, this can be useful to politicians if they are truly honest; because in the end, politics is a profession of SERVICE TO THE CITIZENRY, and thus the politician must be subordinated to it, and no vice versa. In this case, the citizen is me and the opponents are the politicians; where is the sacrilege?

There is no lack of paranoia about the ghost of State Security. The truth is that I care very little about what G-2 thinks about differences of opinion among dissident sectors. What’s more, that we publicly and respectfully disagree is a practice that greatly distances us from the frequent masked intrigues between people and groups of the nomenklatura, who are so accustomed to the State Security agents. What is their weakness can be our strength.

I love that in their “barracks” they are noticing the differences between their methods and ours. On the other hand, the supposed “gulf” between Darsi and I only exists in the minds of some readers with too much imagination. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to defend Darsi’s rights, like any other dissident or ordinary citizen; and I’m convinced he would do the same for me.

I think it is also important to clarify for the reader who says that virtual space allows those who write to hide their true identity. That’s true, but almost the all of the alternative Cuban bloggers use their own names.

Perhaps it’s surprising to know that some Cubans who have signed complaints about the opposition have refused to put their identity card numbers, much less to legitimize their signatures through a notary, as required by law to validate each document.

I know several of the signers of opposition projects who also signed, in 2002, to the irrevocable character of socialism in the Constitution of the Castros. This is not a criticism, they are both phenomena of countries ruled by dictators. I only mention it to point out that social dissimulation is not a characteristic inherent in virtual space, but in the entire Cuban society as a whole, a fruit of the despotic nature of this regime.

Nor do we write on the web to save ourselves from repression. The censors and their minions know who we are and where we live, ergo, we are as exposed as the opponents.

Finally, some reader referred to a phrase of Marti’s about the exercise of criticism which must happen “face to face,” The grave problem in decontextualizing Marti is that generally we forget that his Titanic political and patriotic labor — of astonishing force in many respects — took place in the 19th century. His principles are commendable and his example magnificent; but I am convinced that if Marti had had access to a tool as useful as the Internet, he would not have hesitated to use it as well to exercise his sharp (and often poignant) critiques.

That is the benefit of the technology is now within our grasp. So, my friends, forgive me if I suffer the mania of opinion; I have a critical eye and prefer to offer my points of view rather than remain silent. I don’t have the opportunity in life to go door-to-door telling each person what I think, so I have a blog. Don’t forget that in this case, neither did anyone knock on my door, nor was I the one who threw the first “stone.” I am in peace, there are no grievances.

April 11 2011

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Thanks! You have opened... a blog... and can now begin... to post. (Cartoon from the internet)

Just four years have elapsed since the emergence of the blog Generación Y, which soon started a proliferation of the presence of independent citizens on the web, an effect that is known in the media as the blogger phenomenon, or the Cuban alternative blogosphere.

Much has been said among the dissident sectors and opposition groups in Cuba about the alternative blogosphere, however, few know the true nature of such a phenomenon, therefore, quite erratic, inexact or unfortunate opinions appear frequently about something that is obviously not well understood. I think that, first of all, we would have to start from a premise: the Internet exists, though it is not accessible to many, and it has well-recognized access limitations. Beginning a few years ago, before Cuban blogs were born, several members of the opposition already managed their respective web pages and some independent periodic publications in digital magazine format also existed.

Practically all members of the opposition and dissidents whom I know, or know of, already had their own e-mail accounts and had many friends and collaborators abroad, which is fine with me. That is, by having friends who are ready to give support –- let’s say, to lease an internet domain to launch a digital platform — using templates or free software, acquiring a minimum of computer knowledge, and applying themselves to work and offer proposals, almost any individual of average intelligence can have a blog. So, what is the problem some people have with the existence of the blogosphere? Why do some feel that the alternative bloggers are grabbing something from them or stripping them of some legacy?

I recently had access to some of Darsi Ferrer’s work, published by martinoticias last March 30th (Alternative Bloggers, a lesser evil for the Castros), which might well indirectly illustrate what some others, with a sense of proprietorship, may be gossiping about. I will address some points of the article only as partial reference and not as foundation, so this post absolutely should not be considered as an outline of his. I insist that the alternative bloggers are not the adversaries of the opponents and vice versa, as was demonstrated on the episodes of the TV series “Cuba’s Reasons”, an offensive against all individuals and groups criticizing the government, and not against one of their sectors.

The independent Cuban blogosphere is, as the name implies, a phenomenon unrelated to either government or the opposition. That is, it does not respond or belong to anyone, it lacks programs because we are not a political group — or a group of any nature — we don’t have leaders, but are, instead, about a totally free and individual phenomenon, which means that opposing bloggers may exist or that some blogs (like this one) may choose to publish opinions about matters related to politics.

But beyond all this, some common interests may lead bloggers to share views, knowledge of digital technology, information, and many other issues, so it’s not unusual that we meet informally, without compromise, without impositions and without mutual obligations. This has created an atmosphere of empathy and, in some of us, the feeling of belonging to a common phenomenon these days: the spirit that comes from the flow of information, the use of computer technology and the civic will to exercise freedom of expression.

We practice a particular and innovative way to address the lack of freedom imposed by the government in a venue that, until now, for whatever reasons, had been underutilized both by the government and by opposition groups: the virtual space. The Internet is neither our monopoly nor our feudal property.

Ferrer stated in his article that “the work of the alternative blogosphere has achieved significant external impact, but less of an internal impact in the country, given our particular conditions”. Certainly, the Internet access limitations and the technological lag slow down the blogosphere’s influence in Cuba. Nevertheless, real webs, not virtual, have been created spontaneously among our Cuban followers, who covertly divulge our blogs by means of CD’s or flash drives, having them circulate from one computer to another; readers outside Cuba have also volunteered to be activists in our spaces, conveying our work via e-mail to their relatives and friends.

And I must mention Radio Martí, many of whose programs spread the Cuban blogger activity. I can’t see how the limitation of bloggers to publish their work is any more difficult than that of opponents to spread their proposals or move their initiatives, nor can I understand how blogger activity on-line is less deserving of credit or does any more harm than what opposition groups do in the streets.

Also, the projection of the opposition has been more outwards than into the country — the reasons are obvious — therefore, to say that “a virtual dimension” in Cuba “has a popular limited and controllable impact in general terms” is relative, because, in that respect, the opposition has not demonstrated having a greater “impact” or being less “controllable”, in spite having been in existence longer than the blogosphere.

Another distinguishing feature of the blogosphere with respect to the so-called “traditional opposition” has to do with the supposed “objectives” that they attribute to us. The opposition parties respond to agendas, statutes and guidelines that correspond to the vertical structure of that type of organization, and in order to comply with them, adherence to certain objectives is expected. The blogosphere is just the opposite: each blogger determines what, when, and how she does it; there isn’t a “blogger structure”, blogger objectives, or, even less, a hierarchy.

The greater or lesser visibility of a blog depends more on the empathy achieved with the readers, the quality of its design or of its posts, and the personal status reached among those readers. Viewed from the proper perspective, I don’t know of any blogger who has been nominated to “overthrow the dictatorship” from the virtual space, although it would be childish to ignore that undermining the government’s monopoly on the media threatens its structure… and let’s not forget the power of information and circulation of ideas, hence the official attack on the blogosphere is actually not so “surprising” or so “unusual.”

Instead, what does seem truly bizarre is that some opponents feel that bloggers are taking away from them even the hatred that the government should direct only towards them; it’s one of the most pathetic things that I could have imagined three years ago, when I started this blog.

As for “standing our ground”, I would like to know specifically what Darsi Ferrer was alluding to. I prefer to think that everyone stands their ground in his own territory. For example, the blogosphere took advantage of its “outward” visibility to support the marches of the Ladies in White, denouncing the abuses they were victims of, and demanding the release of political prisoners, among other campaigns.

Guillermo Fariñas’s hunger strike recently reached international dimensions due, in good measure, to the coverage the blogosphere gave to it, which Fariñas himself recognizes. I will take this opportunity to note that the Ladies are not a political or an opposition party, according to their own statements, and they have met with and maintain good ties with the alternative blogosphere.

I also don’t remember any independent blogger who has attacked, from his blog or from other means, an opponent or colleague, as – unfortunately — the reverse has indeed occurred; nor do I know of any blogger who requires unification around him or around one of his proposals, or one who considers whether he is not taken into account for some meeting, event, interview or program. To do so would constitute complete failure. More than one opposition member would be surprised at how many issues alternative bloggers have disagreed on without involving feuds, personal attacks, or hostility among us. We practice peaceful disagreement with healthy regularity, and we enjoy it.

There is a persistent habit of mentioning “the alternative blogosphere’s young people”, ignoring that it has a large group of the “not so young.” For example, of its first year founders, only Yoani is young, the rest — Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas, Eugene and I — span from 51 to 68 years of age. Subsequently, even some bloggers over 70 years old have joined in. As can be seen, we are young, but not so much so.

Today, just entering the platforms Desde Cuba and Voces Cubanas is evidence that the faces of most of the bloggers have left the freshness of their youth behind, though we have retained our freshness of spirit. It also is not true that notices of our meetings are posted regularly on Twitter, or that access to our virtual platforms (not only “the Generación Y blog”) has been “unlocked.”

In fact, the filter that blocks access to the administration of our blogs was only lifted during the days when the International Computer Science and the International Book Fair events were held in Cuba, evidently to indicate that our complaint of the blocking of said platforms is false. Sometimes they unblock those pages for a day or a few hours, intermittently and irregularly. Apparently, the government disinformation tricks also work for some gullible people here, who unwittingly join the chorus.

I fully agree with Darsi Ferrer in that “the vehicle for social mobilization in Cuba will not be the Internet or the social networks because of their limited presence”. In fact, I have published several articles in support of that view, not only in my blog, but also in the Voices magazine and the Diario de Cuba, which, of course, brought me quite a few detractors.

I would only add that I don’t think that the supposed “social mobilization” has the traditional opposition groups as its driving force or as its “trigger and coalescing force”. I can’t see, right now or soon, what the social factors and actors of a mobilization that I doubt will take place would be, for reasons that are irrelevant to repeat here because I have exposed them extensively in the mentioned publications.

As to the alternative blogosphere being an “elitist phenomenon”, the same, and with equal justness, could be said of the opposition. In totalitarian regimes, individuals or groups who dare to oppose and confront power in any way always constitute elites, minorities. So that the term “elitist” envelops a precise connotation, completely extraneous to the blogosphere, because that word implies “being in favor of the elites.” I guess the author’s bad use of the Spanish language in this case may be involuntary. If our vocation were “elitist,” how do you explain the explosive growth of the blogosphere with authors, subjects and interests of the most varied tendencies?

Once again, we are linked to the popular uprising that was actually summoned from abroad through Facebook, not the Cuban blogosphere on the Island. I must confess to Mr. Darsi that I am not aware if any of the thousands of internet users who joined the web of potential “insurgents” was an alternative blogger in Cuba. At least, the ones I know did not take part in the campaign, so that no one should be surprised that we were not present at the place and time of the appointed date.

We did not summon nor felt obligated to respond to summons without previous consultation, except if a blogger, on his own, wants to join in, for each is free to decide. Here is exactly what some do not understand: we are not a herd, let’s not put on cowbells, let’s not be charmed by slogans nor be obedient and complacent.

As for me, I congratulate myself for the release of the Black Spring political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. Anyone who confronts the regime with his best willpower, talent, and bravery deserves admiration and respect, and I will always support him from my little virtual space. Their activities, like ours, embrace peaceful actions that challenge the dictatorship and aim to democratize the Island.

At the same time, though, in my capacity as citizen journalist, I feel I have the right to respectfully question any plan aimed at proposing the future of a nation that belongs to all and not to one or another group or leader. As several opposition members so brilliantly once enunciated, “The Motherland belongs to ALL”; except that, seemingly, some feel they carry within them their own, distinctive, personal Motherland.

Regardless of my sharing with many dissidents of the most diverse trends the hope of changes for Cuba, some bilious views within the opposition make me suspect that the official control patterns some claim to be against inexplicably repeat themselves in them.

The psychology of exclusions is thus maintained, according to which, a sort of dissident pedigree exists that establishes hierarchies according to what activity is carried out by whom, exactly the same as a system of meritocratic government.

Such a waste! It would truly be healthy indeed to overcome so much angst so that – each in his own way — everyone contributed to a pluralistic and inclusive Cuba. For now, it appears that the activity of alternative bloggers is, somehow, indeed affecting the regime’s slumber… and also, painfully, that of others.

5 April 2011

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Some suggest that, in Cuba, the sustained and increasing harassment of dissidents and independent civil society groups responds to a government offensive strategy designed to eliminate pockets of resistance to the dictatorship, marked at times by a preponderance of alternative civic sectors and the use of information technologies and communications. For my part, I don’t share this view. Far from being an “offensive”, I think this is a desperate defensive strategy to try to stop the unstoppable.

After watching the four television broadcasts of the pitiful series “Cuba’s Reasons” aired so far, there should not be any doubt that the blogging activity developed in recent years is hitting the regime’s ideological structure. The “cyber-war”, the central theme of the latest chapter in this series (Monday, March 21, 2011, 8:30 pm) was specifically about bloggers, in an unsuccessful attempt to make us subject to American Federal resources which, according to them, reached us through awards won by Yoani Sánchez and, as the result of the tricky official math, amounts to the fabulous amount of half a million dollars. As usual, this time they failed to present any evidence, so they were forced to offer their supreme action: deceit.

On this occasion, the clumsy manipulation began with a macabre introduction: the US government (who else!) is developing a frightening new war: the cyber-war, for which it has trained its agents in Cuba (that’s us, of course), called on to destabilize the revolution and the country, to subvert and destroy the people’s gains, which subliminally suggests the fragility of a “deeply rooted people’s process”, jeopardized by a scant group of “cyber-warriors” in a country with an almost nil level of Internet access.

To reinforce the lie, the written press tiresomely repeats it, asserting that the external enemies “are trying to promote the so-called ‘independent bloggers
“in order to demonize the country before international public opinion, so that they may offer an image of cyberspace as the genuine and only world, from which to speak and act” (Granma, March 22, 2011, p. 4). The truth is that the government has already has made great strides towards that mission of soiling itself before international opinion by keeping the repudiation brigades active against defenseless civilians; imprisoning journalists and others for expressing and defending differing ideas; allowing a political prisoner to die in a hunger strike; killing completely defenseless psychiatric patients through malnutrition, cold, lack of care and several other niceties. I don’t think that blogging activity could surpass that record.

Incidentally, the press omitted one small detail: the blogosphere uses the net because it is the only channel available to citizens since the government has a monopoly on the press; in contrast, we do not have a monopoly on the Internet. This detail is what allows the government to unleash a major campaign against independent bloggers based on a sack of lies absolutely counter to the spirit that has prevailed in the blogosphere –- which defends peaceful changes and civic principles before ideological ones — designed for the ongoing deception of the people. “Bloggers have appealed to uprisings in Cuba during interviews, they encourage violence, support the Cuban Adjustment Act, justify the blockade, deny that the most reactionary exile sector in Miami is an enemy of the Cuban people, state that Luis Posada Carriles’s case is a smokescreen, and even openly express the change of the political system … ” (Ibid, pg. 5)

Particularly poignant in the TV series is the revisiting of the bogus reference to Luis Posada Carriles as one of the alternative blogosphere links in a vulgar attempt to touch a sensitive nerve in people still moved by the memory of the dead from the heinous Barbados crime, an event that the aforementioned character has been systematically accused of by the Cuban authorities. Only a very sick government may so unscrupulously manipulate the sensitivity of the people. Seventy-three people, mostly young Cubans, were killed on that fateful day, and the regime has made use of this tragedy for nearly 35 years. They should show more respect for the memory of those killed and their relatives.

However, despite everything, we should be grateful to the Castro media for the free propaganda. It is very possible that, even with low ratings of the series, some sufficiently apprehensive Cubans –- some of those that we seem to have too many of — who, until now, were unaware of the blogger phenomenon, might begin to explore on their own and arrive at us and at the reality of what we are. Maybe the new breed of cyber-warriors will be composed of some of those young students to whom the anti-cyber TV chapters are directed. For the time being, it is noteworthy that this is the first time they have not presented a new infiltrated agent, which may be due to the transparent character of the alternative blogosphere, where we express publicly what we think in private. We have repeatedly publicly expressed a clear interest for whatever agents they want to assign to us to participate in our courses and meetings, without having to go through the cumbersome process of their infiltration, but they have never responded.

Definitely, the alternative blogosphere has conquered, alone, a place on the Internet. The system is surprised at the freedom call of a handful of Cubans that has managed to remain on the net based on will and modesty, and has enjoyed the understanding and support of thousands of its exiled countrymen, as well as of many other citizens of the free world. Authorities fear, logically, the spread of this terrible virus, the feeling of civic freedom. And since this is our own achievement, beyond governments, assumed financing, and interests outside the pure exercise of freedom of expression that moves us and which we practice without asking anyone’s permission, I am speaking on my own behalf and not as a representative of my colleagues, because independent bloggers have the additional quality of not being affiliated with a common platform or the guidelines of any institution.

This cannot be said about the official “blogger” block — created and controlled by the government to angrily reply with the same old slogans — which stays comfortably protected, without any risk, under the shadow of the longest dictatorship in the Americas. Alternative bloggers are not slaves to any power, and we represent only ourselves as individuals. Paradoxically, that, far from weakening us, makes us morally strong before the colossal repressive government machinery that plagues us.

And, though some readers believe that it’s futile to try to disprove so many lies born of the insecurity of a regime that is past its glory days, I want to challenge the government, from this small venue for a people’s forum, to show its intended strength and its conviction of people’s faith in the revolution by publishing at least part of our posts, or to broadcast the blogger-video “Citizens’ Reasons” (http://www.vimeo.com/21317045) in its media. Although, of course, it is clear they will not have enough courage to do so.

Or, on second thought, perhaps it would be enough for the people of this country to have full access to the Internet so they can see for themselves the “lies” that we the “cyber-warriors of the Empire” publish. That way, they would have an opportunity to fight us with true knowledge of cause, without intermediaries. For my part, I would gladly assume the consequences of such a risk.

23 March 2011

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