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Archive for October, 2011

Laura, the Rebellion of the Gladioli

A tribute to Laura, in her house.

It couldn’t be true that Laura had died. It was Friday and had gotten dark earlier, perhaps because lately the rain in Havana hasn’t let up, when I got that fatal message from Yoani on my cellphone: “Laura Pollán has just died.” My first thought was it couldn’t be true. Shortly after some friends called me, as incredulous as I was, “Is it true about Laura?” I don’t know, I can’t believe it, I don’t want to be believe it.

We were all sad, angry, feeling orphaned; we all wanted to confirm that this news was wrong. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it was another provocation born of the perversity from official quarters, of those repressors disguised as doctors who swarmed around her hospital bed. How can a person with so much life and energy have died?

Then came other messages confirming the fact and we had to surrender to the fatality: the little woman who, for eight hard years, headed up the Ladies in White, putting in check the forces of oppression and breaking the impunity of the government, that brave and dignified Lady like few others that had made the dictatorship tremble in fear and anger, had died.

But why, then, were the hounds still so frightened? Why did they allow only two hours in the middle of the night for the wake? Why did there have to be so many arrests in several of Cuba’s provinces to prevent Laura’s friends and fellow travelers coming to her funeral and offering tribute? Why were so many others arrested, practically kidnapped, to prevent them from attending mass yesterday at Santa Rita church?

When I signed the book of condolences, opened in Laura’s house, there were already almost 300 signatures there, and friends kept coming. I couldn’t help but think of the triumph of Laura and her near resurrection: despite the repression, the vigilance and the hatred of the authorities, her house remained open, receiving the solidarity and love of hundreds of Cubans. In the little living room, a modest altar surrounded by flowers and candles, presided over by the Cuban flag, showed the respect of her companions in the marches and all the friends who honored her memory.

I left comforted, strengthened, optimistic. Laura not only hadn’t gone, but she will rise again in the spirit of the new Cuba when all Cubans, including the children who today do not even know that they are slaves, will mention her name with respect and gratitude. We make it our charge to see that this is so. Laura is with all the Ladies and with the Cubans who carry out the civic resistance in pursuit of the freedoms they have stolen from us for more than half a century. Laura is now and forever the soul lit with faith who announces the end of the dictatorship: the rebellion of the gladioli.

October 17 2011

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Gladys Bejerano. Comptroller General of Cuba. Photo from the Internet

One of the first rulings of General R. when he assumed the enthronement to power (please allow me to flatter the younger Castro’s vanity) was to create a system to detect and to put a stop to the rampant corruption that has been entrenched in the country through all spheres and at all levels. It is suspected that corruption is generalized, but the controls and audits reach only to a point … past this point, it might cause dangerous vertigo.

The first (detecting corruption) should be extremely easy. It is obvious and jumps up at you without much effort. The second (putting an end to it), is another matter. Because the General, of course, initiated from the start a process on the surface – not exactly from above — and downward, just where the pockets of the regime resent it the most, and many illustrious heads have rolled since then, including some gray-haired celebrity ones or some that don’t even have enough hair for a comb-over and only until recently were part of the trusted court of their olive green Majesties.

The first of the renowned Band of Seven to have been sacked were Otto Rivero, Felipe Pérez Roque, Francisco Soberón, José Luis Rodríguez, Carlos Lage, Carlos Valenciaga Estenoz and Fernando Rodríguez, who apparently were some sort of threat to the higher epaulets in the palace. “Revolutionaries” of the old guard, who until recently were known for their proven commitment to the regime have joined them.

Apparently, the effects of the Finance Ministry are proving more outrageous than what is prudent, so the official press has been given explicit orders to keep silent. That is, even more silent. So the media, mainly the written press, is engaged, with zeal worthy of better causes, to bring to the light of day the misuse of resources by the manager of some bakery or some agrarian co-op, but sweeps under the rug the dirt of ministries and of other senior bureaucrats with titles that are longer than their own names.

It seems that no one escapes the scrutiny of the severe comptroller of impulses of the purifying will of the General. Personally, I think it’s like a cash count, in which the incoming treasurer makes an effort to purify the accounts so that their own gains are not resented. Because in the state we find ourselves, it could be said that comptrollers have defecated against the ceiling fans, and more courtiers have been hit with feces than their majesties had thought. From ministers, managers of firms (foreign and Cuban), aviation directors, corporate officers of various magnitudes, including the brand-new and militant ETECSA, and countless numbers of minor number of minor entourages that have indeed been publicly beheaded.

But what more curious individuals won’t stop wondering, those who won’t stop misbehaving, who wonder about everything and are always full of ill-intentions, is who will be the leaders charged with renovating a model that seems to generate epidemics of corrupt leaders? What guarantees will there be that of those who will assume the responsibilities of the deposed won’t end up corrupted? What are the chances that a government that has not been able to create morally able replacements to carry out the “high mission of the revolution” will ever succeed in putting together, in the short run, a group of responsible and honest leaders? Will they create leadership schools? Will the General be able to trust anyone under the age of 75? Can we trust (and this is the clincher) the selection capability of the General?

But, in the midst of this sea of corruption of those who used to manage just a small slice of the power and the money, maybe the hardest questions to answer are precisely those that seem more urgent and logical: Are our president and his closest cronies the only “pure” ones we have left to take the helm in the midst of so many storms? Is the General “auditable”? Who is the comptroller who scrutinizes the financial dealings of the administration of the country?

Let’s sit and wait for the answer from the brand-new Comptroller General of the Republic.

October 3 2011

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An article by a foreign news agency recently reported on the Internet, “Cuban Dissidents at a Crossroads”by Paul Haven and Andrea Rodríguez of the Associated Press, suffers from, at least, two of the most common and serious limitations of accredited journalism in Cuba: contempt for the nationals of this Island and an almost total disregard for the history and idiosyncrasies of the country about which they aim to “inform”.

Without a doubt, politically-connected jobs and those who hold those jobs enjoy fertile ground in certain press agencies, which explains how Cuba has become a haven for some who, without much effort and without risk of getting a mild slap on the wrist when they get too close to tolerance limits set by the authorities, rush to “analyze” a stage that they have barely glimpsed. It seems that, to be a reporter for “the Cuban reality,” all a foreign journalist needs is a good camera, a bag with a corresponding water bottle, a couple of pairs of shorts and some cotton shirts to better withstand the heat, a dirty pair of sandals for smudging their heels while walking on the smelly and dusty streets of our battered Havana — because, in addition, they don’t usually venture out to explore the deep and provincial Cuba, the one that suffers even more than this oblivion capital — and, finally, to report to their agencies, through Internet connections. I imagine that Cuban journalistic assignments must be comparable to winning the lottery for such press professionals. After all, they will always have an opportunity to later publish a quite different Cuban reality to the one they reported while on assignment here, thus they can reap additional financial benefits while cleaning up their journalistic dignity with this exercise of retroactive ethics.

Only thus could the following statement be explained: “When ‘Ladies in White’ were established as a protest for the imprisonment of activists and journalists in Cuba in 2003, the mission of this group of women was simple: to attain freedom for their loved ones”. And the subtlety lies is in the details and the way in which ideas are placed, because the mission of the Ladies in the beginning was, indeed, the release of their relatives, but because it is a struggle waged almost single-handedly and in a dictatorship, such a task could not be as “simple” as all that. In fact, the evolution of seven years’ experience led to a deepening in the awareness of that civic movement and expanded its horizons, raising the levels of its demands.

Another trendy suggestion points to the march of the Ladies in White as a kind of Sunday entertainment, since they move “in a quiet suburb of Havana”, as if they levitate over the city without going through Centro Habana neighborhoods or others in the capital or in the provinces, which may not be as mild as the patrician Miramar neighborhoods. In such marches, they are not attacked by ordinary people, but it is a rare occasion when they are not harassed by the pack of hounds recruited by the political police (“pro-official” groups, the referenced journalists call them, instead of defining them as what they are: government employees). In fact, the attacks against the Ladies are taking place more and more often, and the violence of the henchmen’s harassment is becoming more pronounced.

Another element that the Ladies in White and their cause base their rationale on is the persistence of the well-known “gag law” that put 75 independent journalists and many other dissidents behind bars. The mere existence of this provision in the country’s legal body legitimizes repression, abolishes freedom of expression, and allows for possible future arrests for the same or similar causes, that is, expressing ideas not in line or contrary to the stipulations of the regime. The coherence of the Ladies in White lies precisely in understanding that fixing the effect is not enough, but eliminating the causes that precipitate it is essential in order to prevent its recurrence.

Some other inaccuracies, if we must call them that, emerge in the oblique analysis of reference, as inferred from a sentence as naive as it is harmful, considering the release of prisoners a fact that “left the Ladies in White without a cause” and placed “the dissident community” at “a crossroads and challenged with redefining itself and gaining the support of a society that has never seemed particularly receptive or even aware of its message”. It would seem that these blundering journalists overlook the fact that this society’s only source of information about dissidents and opposition proposals is what’s offered by the media, an absolute state monopoly dedicated to systematically demonizing and slandering any alternative proposal, that the government employs all available resources — in particular the repressive forces — to maintain a fence that prevents communication between the dissidents and society, and that civil society which was just beginning to gain strength in the Republic was demolished starting in the early years of the 1959 revolution, and five decades of mute terror has sown in ordinary Cubans either silence or the sham of phony loyalty to the government as elemental survival strategies.

In fact, the “informal poll” conducted by the AP on 30 Cubans “consulted at random”, resulting in five (16.6%) being able to identify Laura Pollan, nine (30%) Guillermo Fariñas, three (10%) the blogger Yoani Sánchez could, in fact, be considered an achievement. These results are quite flattering for the dissidence, taking into account conditions in Cuba. Just two years ago, the corollaries of such a survey would have yielded much lower figures, virtually nil.

Cuban dissidence is truly small and fragmented, as befits a country in which, conversely, the dictatorship is huge and monolithic. But again, the mistake of making woeful comparisons is made, because civic resistance here is not comparable in any way, nor does it have any intention to “emulate” the upheavals that took place in the Arab world. Comparing Cuban social reality, not just with the Arab world, but irrationally — for its addition — with those of countries like Great Britain, Spain or Greece, can only be classified as a childish fantasy or a perversion. The aberration is further strengthened when seasoned journalists dab the olive-green autocracy with rosewater.

“And though political freedom may be lacking in a country that was ruled by one or another of the Castro brothers for over 50 years, the government left the (dissident) movement partially without argument when it allowed for greater economic opportunities in recent months, and when it promised more reforms soon”. (Parenthesis added by this author). Viewed in this way, the growing discontent, the many expressions of protest, and the demands for rights that are taking place across the Island in increasing waves, and despite beatings, rallies and arrests suffered by protesters, would seem the mere nonsense of occasional rioters and that this country should have enough with a handful of kiosk-type, pint-sized reforms.

What these foreign reporters don’t explain how to justify that the resistance has been gaining strength precisely in recent months, when we Cubans have “greater economic opportunities” thanks to the called-for and misnamed “reforms” of General R. Castro, which, rather than transforming the country’s socioeconomic plight, have become the latest government defense parapet against public opinion, and a kind of safety valve, despite their shortcomings, in the presence of raising pressure in Cuba and the irreversibility of the general crisis, barely a precarious rein to brake the inevitable end of “the model”.

And here is more evidence of a trick of the subconscious of those who, without knowing us, often look at us with condescension and qualify us disdainfully, because, while European grumblers are known as “outraged” and can afford the luxury of marching in the thousands, despite all the imperfections of democracy, they have the rights that even foreign journalists don’t question, and the opportunity to elect who their leaders will be; there isn’t much for us, the Cuban outraged, to do. But, in perspective and adapting each situation, the Cuban dissident movement would be comparable and even superior to the protests that are taking place in the free world, for theirs is a universe that has access to information and social networks, with unions, civic organizations, rights and freedoms, all the choices that are denied to us.

It is true that the “traditional” Cuban opposition has lacked in consistency, sound strategies and connection to society as a whole. The root of the evil lies in, among many other causes, civic orphanhood of a nation that was never known for being responsible and where politics is always a subject “for others” to see to. But, at their inception, European transitions have never been characterized by having brandished great political plans that hailed multitudes, or by the abundance of leaders who were of great importance or of large-scale social impact, and none of this ever deterred the changes that took place.

Obviously, some observers hope in vain for an impossible miracle to happen in Cuba, while certain accredited journalists seem to be expecting that nothing really takes place that would threaten the tropical affair of a journalism that is bland, irresponsible and without ethical commitments.

September 30 2011

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