This February 23 marks the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after suffering a hunger strike that lasted 86 days. The official press hastened to say that it was just another fallen mercenary in service to the empire. But not everyone in the general public subjected to this propaganda saw it that way, even some avowed communists revealed their bewilderment in remarks circulated by email: can one give their own life, coldly, in exchange for money?
The old discredited argument against dissent, against differences, continues to transmit the classic standard of proof: supposedly all “others” are lacking not only good sense, true motives, but also lack the most minimal ideal or altruism. But now its lack of logic has left this argument without a leg. This victim was different, he had crossed the vast threshold of the pain of an entire people until he entered into death, carried forth by his own sturdy will, over to where Cubans, because of their culture and distinctive characteristics, do not charge or demand, but instead offer to give themselves freely to their fellow man. Apart from puppets, that other cartoonish idea of masochistic dissidents, that they are looking for ostracism and repression in return for a few perks they are thrown from the outside, does not even remotely fit the case. Zapata gave everything. He gave, and here this word acquires its full meaning, his life.
Absolute power, which is always marked by rigor mortis, does not permit even in theory a social actor who dissents legitimately. Seemingly the most elemental human condition is lost when a person questions or doubts the vertical power, receiving the exclusion that is reserved for monsters, that’s why the revolutionary songbook is full of dehumanizing terms such as “worm”, “scum”, “faction”, it has been used over the long course of Cuban history to institutionalize an overwhelming fear of disagreements.
One might ask the tribunal of untainted pure censors this question: what is the prototypical dissident for which they have planned, do they concede to a life the right to question, that those who choose to live could believe that a monolithic social model is unsustainable or impossible. Given this abundant reality and the ideological contradictions why don’t we see an opponent worthy of minimal respect emerge in the national arena, someone permitted to share the same space with them minus the stigma, and a judge that is chosen who will accept all parties: does some type of a priori approved opponent exist? A person who authentically challenges power and its axioms? Is there an application process to follow, some conditions to be met, at least on paper, which won’t cause oneself to deserve punishment or to have oneself compared to rats? Well no. This very complex reality and national history gives us the answer: it has not been planned for. In a Revolution, supposedly more sacred than the existence of the people caught in its vortex, one where the means disrupt the ends, simply put, a good citizen is “revolutionary” or they cease to be a citizen.
They corner and they crush the “vermin” on the pretext of preventing harm to human beings and the community. Denied as individuals the reasons or lack of reasons of the State that enforces a degraded standard of living, what mark of our uniqueness are we left, what tacit humanism, what borderline is there which can be used to avoid mistaking ourselves for the blind murderous deformities that illustrate the official bestiary. Harming oneself is the extreme attitude test, but also practically the only one that comes to a person already cornered and crushed in order to argue for their harmlessness and their human rights: actions like separating oneself from the sheep kept secure in a pen, the renunciation, the fasting or a tragic suicide… Zapata crossed those boundaries. Clearly, not even that was sufficient: official spokesmen cataloged it as perverse. Without a doubt, he made himself a martyr.
To continue the story starting from the same place. They had also wanted this February 23 to be for Pedro Arguelles’ birthday, one of the few prisoners who are left of the 75 condemned in spring of 2003, in spite of causing the government to promise last year to free all of them in November later that same year. So Arguelles had planned his visiting day, which occurs approximately every month and a half, for this date. Yolanda, his wife, had the bags prepared to bring to him, when she received his call: He decided to renounce this visit in order to pass his birthday in complete fasting as an homage to the memory of Orlando Zapata. He who has nothing, but still finds a way to find the strength and express himself civically, sacrificing the little that he still has.
Yolanda must wait another 45 days to see the man she loves and who makes her feel proud. “Stateless” usually encompasses peaceful dissent, here it’s synonymous with traitor and monster. Arguelles has seen his imprisonment prolonged including after the promise of the government, until arriving at that day which shared his birthday and the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata, precisely for rejecting the only condition which until now they have given to him in order to leave the jail: Abandon his homeland.
We are having a wake for our cadaver and, at the bottom of the deep future, trembles a flame, an idea much more daunting than the open eyes of a dead man: the soul in torment from the nation “with all and for the good of all.”
Translated by Dodi 2.0
February 24 2011