And Telesur Says So / Miriam Celaya

surtvTo my readers: As has become customary, our has been hacked again for several days, therefore, I have not been able to update the blog. To my surprise, today I found out it could be accessed, but since I did not have a post ready to be uploaded, I will duplicate an article I wrote, published May 7 by Diario de Cuba.  Hugs to all, Eva-Miriam

And Telesur Says So

At first glance, it would seem that the Telesur TV channel — now live in Cuba — is the same as any other news program on national television. On Telesur, as in the regular channels in Cuba, the U.S. government is the great villain, enemy of peace and prosperity of the people, and equally villain are its allies, the government of Israel and the ever-evil “western powers.”

On Telesur, broadcast reports also indicate that the good-natured and just FARC vigilantes have the government of Juan Manuel Santos up against the ropes. He has been forced to sit at the negotiating table, while Bashar Al Assad is the paradigm of kindness for the Syrian people and the hope of Arab countries against Western domination.

Telesur shows how the hairy ear of the interventionist US imperialism hides behind all the conflicts of the world, with provocations against North Korea –- which for that reason has been forced to use the threat of nuclear war — or with its peculiar way of recruiting mercenaries to overthrow democratically elected governments around the world, mainly in Latin America.

Thus, for example, it could almost be said that there is no opposition in Venezuela, though in the recent elections it won almost half the electorate votes, but a fascist clique spurred from Washington, some of them Venezuelan congressional representatives, who had the audacity to “incite violence” when they were deprived of their right to speak and protest against it, the result of which was a brawl in which — curiously — those same “traitors” were the ones seriously injured by the violence of the ruling bloc.

All very simple, as in the old Western B-movies, the world is divided into good-just-because and bad-to-the-end.

This last weekend Telesur broadcast a report from China, where its correspondent in that country presented as a true gender advance that now Chinese women with larger incomes can have two children instead of the only child that the strict birth control stipulates. That is, couples with lower incomes than that officially established will not benefit from this change. Without a doubt, establishing social differences according to income is something that has become common in systems called “socialist.”

But Telesur is not exactly like Cuban TV, as some claim, because since, at the end of the day, it is a channel that broadcasts to the entire region, where the press is not the exclusive monopoly of governments, it is required to transmit images and events that occur daily in the world, and we know that images speak louder than words.

It doesn’t matter if figures and information are manipulated, the fact is that, for the first time, Cubans have seen and heard Barack Obama’s complete swearing-in speech of the oath of office, and we have also taken part onscreen in free and direct elections held legitimately in “sister countries,” such as Ecuador, Paraguay and even in Venezuela itself, complete with electoral campaigns, opposition, international observers, returns, complaints and all the ingredients of a democratic recipe that we have been denied for generations in our country.

In some twisted way, Telesur is a small chink in the boarded window of Castro’s totalitarianism. When there are contrasts, some light is cast. That is why so many Cubans watch some Telesur areas incredulous and in awe, such as a show called “Atomun” which, by detailing the latest technological advances that occur in the world, has the rare virtue of placing the natives of this island face to face with our enormous lack of computer technology and our appalling isolation compared to other XXI century societies which, paradoxically, have not had the advantages of half a century of “revolution.”

Whether they like it or not, Telesur reports to us from disinformation. And it appears that no one can say they are trying to deceive us. Their intentions to confuse are openly declared, even from their own presentation slogan: “Telesur, our North is the South.” And I say let whoever wants to be confused be confused.

Translated by Norma Whiting

10 May 2013

Neither so Educated nor so Superior / Miriam Celaya

clip_image001HAVANA, Cuba, May, I’ve heard it said that hunger can affect vision permanently. For a while, I thought that this sentence was just a popular myth based on superstition, however, it turns out to be absolutely true. Hunger and other deficiencies cause, additionally, some distortions, such as lack of perception of reality and total lack of perspective.

This explains why, for many “inside” Cubans, almost everything is irrelevant and nothing transcends beyond the narrow confines of daily survival. Decades of material shortages and of totalitarianism have ruined the ability of a large segment of the population of the island to discern, despite the high levels of instruction exhibited by official statistics, turning subjects into slaves of their own elementary needs.

An example of this was the recent electoral process in Venezuela which showed, by comparison, how far we Cubans are from even reaching the first step of this difficult stairway filled with obstacles called democracy. While Venezuelans offered us a true example of civility by exercising their right to vote and to assert the power of suffrage — an unknown experience for millions of Cubans — the main concern of people on the island was the possibility of the start of a new era of blackouts and a new “Special Period” if the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, won. Paradoxically, many Cubans refer to Venezuelans as “crude,” “illiterate” and “ignorant.”

The combined action of the monopoly of information and direction, the lack of freedom of association and the manipulation of the press have been three basic mainstays which — together with the material precariousness of survival — have plunged the Cuban population in a deep ignorance that does not reflect the benign statistics. The Cuban case demonstrates exactly how the use of statistics has allowed the government to misinform the population and feed the national vanity. The farce, often repeated, has spread alarmingly, to the point that even many prestigious international organizations have recognized the “achievements” of the revolution in education and health and other indicators of social development.

The numbers, however, are fickle, and mask a reality very different than the image they project. Decades of incomplete, distorted and biased information have resulted in only a minority of Cubans possessing the ability to analyze issues related to politics, economics, or any event occurring in the world. The “masses,” meanwhile, form opinions from indoctrination and emotions… when they form opinions. Usually, the standard displayed among people faced with any matter not related to their daily subsistence is limited to an apathetic shrug of the shoulders.

The indifference and ignorance grow, while each year the statistics are more triumphant and less reliable. Let’s take the case of the training of doctors and other health specialists. The graduations are massive, but the quality of the graduates is generally very low. The levels of professionalism are often extremely poor and only a few dozen will stand out amid thousands of new doctors and technical personnel in each group.

The same applies to general education. Officially, it is stated that there is a teacher in every classroom, which is a lie. However, the worst thing is that there are hardly any teachers able to educate and instruct students, so both, the levels and the quality of education have declined dramatically over the years, particularly since the 90’s.

The proverbial ignorance of many of these “teachers,” coupled with their failure to educate, has forced parents to search for alternative solutions, such as hiring “tutors,” teachers who have been generally separated from the formal education system due to terrible wages and deplorable working conditions, and now teach in private education. This option has proven the effectiveness the official system lacks, and is marking a major schism among students whose parents can afford the expense of hiring the services of a private teacher and those who must make do with the meager knowledge they receive in classrooms.

But, in the meantime, the numbers and the official press continue out there. The statistics support the government fanfare about the advantages of the Cuban system, yet deceive public opinion by distorting, at the same time, society’s general opinion. The media revels, jubilant, in the advantages of the system. Perhaps this explains why Cubans see themselves as highly educated and intellectually superior to many other people in the region. Another deceit that, in some way, constitutes a small consolation after half a century of dictatorship that has erased the memory of a nation’s population.

Translated by Norma Whiting

10 May 2013

Solidarity with the UNPACU Activists and with all the Hunger Strikers in Cuba /Miriam Celaya

Image taken from Gabito Groups

While Telesur and the official Cuban media distract us these days with Venezuela’s political brawls and other conflicts elsewhere in the world, I received a Twitter message on my mobile about the hunger strike just started by 46 Cubans from  National Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a coalition of opponents that groups members in several provinces of the island, especially the eastern region.

Yesterday, they informed me that activists of the Pedro Luis Boytel National Movement, of the Rosa Parks movement, and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo FN have joined the province of Camagüey sit-in. Indeed, from this very blog I have expressed, more than once, that I do not approve of hunger strikes as a method of struggle, but today I cannot but express my solidarity with these fellow travelers and respect and support their sacrifice.

The initial demand for the release of Luis E. Igarza Lozada, imprisoned and on strike as of 13 days ago, has even spread to some parts of the province of Matanzas. Posters, leaflets, graffiti and pot-banging protests have been supporting the strikers in various cities and towns of eastern Cuba, amid repression manifested in arrests, beatings, threats and suspension of cellular service to prevent the world from knowing about what happens in Cuba.

The best weapon the activists of the opposition can now count on in their just demand is our support and solidarity. Let’s use the means at our disposal so that they are not alone.  Let’s not allow the cymbals of the Palace of the Revolution, praising their Venezuelan ward, silence the peaceful struggle of our brothers in arms. Let’s boost their voices by spreading the truth about what is happening, and by demanding the release of all political prisoners. We can all be activists against Castro’s repression; do not forget that silence, fear, and indifference are the main allies of the oppressors.

Let’s make a difference.

Translated by Norma Whiting

22 April 2013

Hatuey and Guama are the Parents of the Dissidence / Miriam Celaya

The torture of the opponent Hatuey

HAVANA, Cuba, April,   On Monday, April 8th, Cubanet published an article by colleague Jorge Olivera Castillo (Equilibrar la Balanza), which was as surprising as it was regrettable. A fellow traveler who has proven his courage and integrity in the fight against the dictatorship and shared spaces with numerous members of the independent Cuban blogosphere should be more serious and careful when expressing himself.

Perhaps Olivera may have had a bad experience and some day he will understand that lies and veiled criteria do not replace opinions and arguments, but neither do I think it fit to keep silent in the presence of what I consider at least unfair and inaccurate, so to speak. I’m a blogger and freelance journalist, so I feel alluded to in his article and make public my displeasure.

Optimism should not be confused with “triumphalism”, as my colleague Olivera refers to the expectation triggered by the blogging activity of over five years, and also unfortunate is his question about “what the impact could be (of blogging) within national boundaries, when the vast majority of Cubans do not have a computer or internet connection possibilities”.

That observation is doubly unfortunate because, first, although most Cubans don’t have free internet access and that hinders full dissemination of our work, I do not see that any other dissident faction has better possibilities to present their proposals quickly and effectively, and second, because a significant number of bloggers have been the voice of many Cubans, which has proven useful when reporting violations and mobilizing solidarity for all repressed, including political prisoners, and especially the prisoners of the Black Spring.

Olivera asks “how many Cubans would be able to become tweeters, when each transmission costs a little just over a dollar in a country where the average salary is around $20 a month”, and I would ask him how many he thinks would be willing to march through the streets following opposition leaders, demanding their rights or protesting the against the excesses of government. I would also ask him why all those opponents, whose mobile phones are regularly recharged by friends and supporters from outside Cuba, are not tweeters, and what prevents a freelance journalist from opening his own blog and a Twitter account, thus strengthening his voice and those of others to the extent they are willing to do it.

It is possible that the ignorance of the complexities of the blogger phenomenon continues to produce some fears as to the feeling that this is a privileged caste. Many are unaware that maintaining a blog from Cuba has been a source of expense, rather than income, for us. We don’t charge for posting our ideas in a blog, but we have to spend our own money on cards to connect from public spaces in the city so we can keep our personal sites updated.

Our efforts aroused the sympathy and support of many friends who began to give us cards, helped open up many doors, and there even appeared some who were trained to upload our posts when we could not do it. Interestingly, before the renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez won her first Ortega y Gasset award, nobody seemed perturbed that there were at least five active independent blogs in Cuba, or worried about how we managed to post regularly on our web platform. In fact, hardly anyone knew what a blog was around here, and still there are those who are completely unaware of the use of this tool and perhaps that’s the reason they prefer to discredit it rather than to learn how to utilize it.

Another error is believing that the independent blogosphere is “the culmination of a process that spans more than three decades of sustained efforts on the part of hundreds of human rights activists, political opponents, independent journalists and librarians …”, not only because all social or political processes are heir to the accumulation of multiple previous experiences and circumstantial factors, but also because the blogger phenomenon does not represent a culmination in itself, but a conveyer of its own dynamism, barely a phase that will inevitably continue to transform itself into the evolution of civic struggle against the regime.

In fact, for a long time, several bloggers were previously in the process of developing intense dissident activity, either as independent journalists (as in the case of Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas Castellanos and this writer, among others), or as editors of the first digital magazine, edited and directed from Cuba, which -by the way- did not pay for the contributions of collaborators, since it absolutely lacked any funds or funding, which is why many independent journalists who today attack bloggers refused to collaborate in it then.

Therefore, it is not about that “bloggers reached dissidence”, but exactly the opposite: many dissidents -some hitherto unknown- became bloggers.

Of course, everything has a history, but not necessarily that which colleague Olivera indicates, but the key point is to understand who is considered sufficiently qualified or licensed to narrow historical margins and the inferences and influences of each phenomenon. In that vein, we should recognize the Indian Hatuey and Guamá as the parents of the current Cuban dissidence, for they were “first” in insubordination … We need a bit of contention, don’t you think?

Among the bloggers who now are now the focus of so much discredit -and not only from the authorities, apparently- there are some who had even belonged to opposition parties from before. It is not only about our “new generations” of dissidents. I take this opportunity to make a timely comment: there is no dissident pedigree that allots special merits to those who have been imprisoned or have “arrived before,” as the term is applied by the government, depending on whether or not someone came over on the yacht Granma, was in the Sierra Maestra or not, etc.

To my knowledge, no opponent has been imprisoned by choice but by the arbitrary and repressive sign of a government that we all fight against, that attributes itself the prerogative to select how, when and to whom to apply it, without anyone -before, now, or after- being able to consider himself a sort of supreme magister or chosen one because of it. I, for one, do not aspire to a “merit” that doesn’t even depend on my political performance, but on the sinister tricks of the Castros. The goal is to reach democracy, not the dungeons.

The alarmism that Olivera oozes in the mentioned article seems to derive more from a mixture of animosity and frustration than from some genuine concern, when referring to a supposed “over-dimensioning” for the use of the Internet as an anti-dictatorial tool, or when -at the opposite end, under-valuing such activism- he slips in the phrase “the main question takes route in intramural influence, and that probability is far from realization through the use of the web”.

With all due respect, it turns out to be more hilarious than offensive, but we need to be realistic: the existence of blogs does not block anyone’s dissident path, and we bloggers have never considered that the simple use of the Internet constitutes a kind of secret weapon capable of influencing, by itself, the collective consciousness within Cuba.

However, I would dare say that, since it is capable of creating solidarity networks, up-to-date underground information, and establishing bridges among the different forms and “political and civil entities”, such as Olivera terms them, the blogosphere has demonstrated ample capacity and efficacy. No wonder there have even been special programs dedicated to blogging activity and tweets broadcast on Cuban radio stations abroad reaching a large listening population on the Island. Perhaps the journalist should have researched beforehand with the dozens of tweeters in Cuba whose best weapon for protesting and personal defense has been precisely a cellular phone with a Twitter account.

I firmly believe that if Olivera had heard “rumors that could be the seed of unfortunate ruptures in near future”, he should have stopped them. Rumors only thrive on the receptive ears of those who are willing to pass them on. That may be why no one comes to “rumor” anything with me. I would not allow anyone to speak ill of the efforts of my fellow travelers, whether journalists, figures of the opposition parties, librarians, bloggers or tweeters. Anyway, the “reasons” for a scam are never as “obvious”, as the colleague claims.  The tangles are simply not rational, but emotional, and in all cases, counterproductive.

We could expand into a debate that, far from harmful, would be useful for banishing such an attitude, but it might be better to summon the “preoccupied” to a face-to-face discussion, without “rumors”. Suffice it to remind the colleague and those who have not heard it yet, that, to date, since its inception, the blogosphere has not only consolidated, but in its midst are people who are generous enough to share their knowledge and to multiply it in a community that increases the voice of numerous sectors of Cubans of all beliefs and leanings, thus shaping many who are now able to spread a whole spectrum of opinion and information that otherwise could not be accomplished in such a short time.

Personally, I would never dream of putting the work of any dissident group, or of that of any rebellious brother, on a “scale”. The efforts of all Cubans, on any shore and position, to achieve Cuba’s democracy seems invaluable to me.  It would be truly more productive for us not to worry so much about the visibility or the awards any of our colleagues receive.  Let’s celebrate their well-earned victories together, and above all, let’s take care to balance the underlying emotions.

Translated by Norma Whiting

19 April 2013

Licentiousness of the Press / Miriam Celaya

Preliminary Note to readers: For reasons way beyond my control, I did not have the chance to update the blog for many days. The page was hacked twice, and Yoani Sánchez and other friends are still trying to get it fixed. I am posting a new article, and I hope complete service will be established soon.  Thanks and hugs to all friends.

Nobody listens to his stories any more. Work of Cuban painter Abel Quintero

It’s true that in Cuba there is no freedom of the press. In its place, press licentiousness, as prolific and thorny as the invasive marabou weed, has developed. It is a peculiar way to “report”, and, as crazy as the results are, (or perhaps because of it), it’s very consistent with the system.

The press is one of the indicators that most markedly evidences signs of change, a constant that has an influence even in societies such as ours, where secrecy rules.  Some of the readers with sharper memories will remember that, during the period of Castro I, we experienced an absolutely triumphant press: all  the milestones of the three first decades of the revolution were positive, crop and livestock production grew each year, indicators of health, education, sports and culture marked an unstoppable upward course, the harvests were huge, and so were all the line-entries that heralded an economic splendor always knocking at our doors, without ever entering our lives.

Not even the 1990’s crisis was able to destroy the vibrant spirit of a kind of completely alienated optimism.  So the press repeated each inspired and inflamed phrase of the Great Orate, and we didn’t have food, clothing, shoes or fuel… but we did have “dignity”.  We also had the celebrated battle for Elián, one of the most resonant Pyrrhic victories in Cuban history, in which substantial resources were spent while people went hungry, and a while later we had “Five Heroes”… who, some day, will “return”. Then came the open tribunals each Saturday in different municipalities throughout Cuba, squandering what we didn’t have, and the absurd Round Tables were instituted.  The press had the mission to inflate the balloons that substantiated the indestructible success and the indisputable superiority of the tropical socialist system, despite the collapse of the USSR and the abrupt disappearance of subsidies.

But it has been under the period of Castro II that licentiousness of the press has reached its climax, especially in the heat of the “opening” marked by the so-called government reforms, where the economic parameters sealed the full apogee of an original way to “report” under which things are not what they seem, but something completely different.

This explains why, for example, official figures reported a modest GDP growth at the end of 2012, and, paradoxically, at the barely ending first trimester in 2013, an expanded meeting of the Council of Ministers acknowledged hereto unspeakable evils in the Cuban economy: lack of productivity, inefficiency, defaults, lack of organization and lack of discipline, among others, that prevented the fulfillment of the plans.  Nobody bothered to explain this strange way of “growing” by being unproductive.

Indicators of the progress of the harvest and sugar production were recently published, with very poor results, and, compared with the same period last year, a decrease in foreign tourist arrivals has been reported for the month of February, 2013 (full peak of tourist season). However, the press ensures that the investment plan will continue for that “priority sector” and that an increase in revenue is expected on this line-entry of this important economic sector.

The Moa nickel plant ceased production, however, the General-President insists on “the need to work to guarantee the assured external income, including those derived from the export of nickel and sugar”, although the country is forced to import sugar just to meet domestic demand. In his words, “we are moving at a great pace despite the obstacles”. With such news, it seems clear where progress is moving, but there is no doubt that this informative coven lurching between chaos and optimism is the mirror image of the national condition.

In short, the press turns out to be more licentious the more representative of the Castro II “transparency” it is. But there is nothing to wonder at, according to the dictionary of the Spanish language, some synonyms of the word “licentiousness” are: impudence, obscenity, indecency, dishonesty, shamelessness, among others. I guess that, once the terms are known, nobody will deny that licentiousness of the press in Cuba is enjoying perfect health.

Translated by Norma Whiting

8 April 2013

To Root Out the Remnants / Miriam Celaya

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Yoani Sanchez, MJ Porter in New York City. Photo from Penultimos Dias

Many of my dear readers have written asking for a comment on the long tour of Yoani Sánchez through several countries, and the travel abroad of other figures of internal dissent such as Eliecer Avila, Rosa María Payá, Berta Soler and Orlando Luis Pardo, just to mention some of the best known, and the significance this could have for the opposition on the Island

The topic requires, perhaps, a long essay, but it’s enough to follow the statements of the dissidents mentioned as published in various media, the packed agenda Yoani is covering on her journey, and the links that have been strengthened between Cubans critical of the Castro government on all shores, to understand that there is a before and after with regards to these journeys. The issues raised by all of them range across all the problems of Cuban society today and the crisis of the Castro model.

Rosa María Payá (Another promising young person of the Cuban opposition)

Most significant in this case could be the variety of opinions expressed by them and the fact that, despite differences of nuance, there is a consensus on the need for democratic changes in Cuba and that these must be achieved through peaceful and concerted means. I dare to suggest that, save for some specific remnants of some opponents who feel disenfranchised or who refuse to make way for new ideas and figures which have emerged in the political spectrum of resistance, there are many more who identify with and feel represented in the statements of all these young Cubans who are traveling the world.

Just recently I received a bitter critique from a longstanding opponent who felt diminished in importance because I didn’t mention her in an interview I did with my colleague Pablo Pascuel Mendez which was published in Cubanet in January. She did not understand that the questions put to me by the journalist had nothing to do with her activity, much less did my answers encompass disrespect for any of my fellow travelers from before or now.

The are no pedigrees nor privileges in the Cuban opposition, only fighters for democracy; it doesn’t matter who came before or after, we all matter. At least as I understand it. For that reason I have no problem promoting debates, which I consider essential, because a lack of transparency is nothing more than repeating the patterns of the government we condemn.

I think, in the end, that the words of our compatriots abroad will not only strengthen us by offering a more dignified and truthful picture of what the Cuban opposition is in the light of these times, but will also serve to further understanding and support for us within Cuba, which perhaps would be one of their most important contributions. Yoani, Rosa María, Eliecer and Orlando Luis are offering a magnificent example of the true variety of citizen awareness on the Island. Rooting out the remnants among ourselves would be a chance to feel that in them, somehow, we are all represented.

18 March 2013

Lie to me again, your wickedness makes me happy…

The vision of the demonstrations of mourning of the Venezuelans who just five months ago voted for the president who now stars finally in his own and absurdly long death, arouses both respect and compassion. Respect, for every genuine expression of regret deserves it, beyond our individual ideologies. Compassion, because the crowds of mourners who parade before our eyes in Caracas are behaving like a deceived lover, who although faced with evidence of infidelity insist on denying it.

As announced on Friday, March 1 in his Twitter account, the Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has revealed that Nicolas Maduro and other Cabinet members lied about the state of health of the president. The irreversibly serious state of the President’s health and his impending death remained hidden in the rigged reports and medical details, murky and full of inconsistencies, designed to maintain political control at all costs and despite the inevitable extinction of the caudillo.

On the other hand, the prolonged absence and invisibility of the President was so scandalous that many sectors of the opposition demanded a proof of life, a factor which had a decisive influence on the public declaration of his death. It was curious that with the growing demonstrations of the opposition and the justice of their demand how suddenly it came about. In just a few days they adjusted the planned program with the extreme seriousness of “the emergence of a new respiratory program” followed almost immediately by the death of Chavez.

Most likely, as has happened in history with the death of other caudillos, we will never know the exact date that the Venezuelan president died. In fact, the serenity of his daughters during the wake suggests a knowledge well before the event, far beyond what they expected as a logical outcome.

But there are other great lies in this saga. Chavez lied maliciously when he declared himself cured by a miracle, after two operations for the same illness, to be eligible for re-election and to take on the electoral campaign that would place him once more in the presidency of Venezuela. He lied with all his energy and at the cost of his own life, to remain in power, proof of enormous irresponsibility, because in the end the voters, without knowing it, voted overwhelmingly for a prospective corpse. If, as some argue, the late caudillo followed directions from Havana, the acceptance of such interference would only prove a major deception to his people.

Overnight the king has been left naked and it is obvious that “the right, the oligarchy, the empire and Chavez’s enemies” were telling the truth. However, tens of thousands of Venezuelans mourn his death. Many times before in history other peoples have mourned their dictators and then quickly forgotten them. The people are fickle, because they need to survive all the passing conflicts. At the end of the day, a good share of the Venezuelan people lie “perhaps in good faith,” when they say they will defend with their lives Chavez-style socialism, a paradigm of 21st century justice.

And so the embalmed corpse of Hugo Chavez, which will have a permanent place in the new Palace of the Revolution will be, along with a twisted and sick perception of worship, a way to keep him among the living, even if it’s all little lies.

For my part, as I’ve watched so many tearful faces cross my TV screen lately, so many slogans and testimonials of loyalty to Chavez, I could not but recall that old bolero that played on the Victrolas so many years ago in the bars my Old Havana: “Who cares, life is a lie … lie to me again, your wickedness makes me happy.”

8 March 2013

Walesa: Counsel and Realities / Miriam Celaya

1362008912_lech-walesa0_1_1467669cLast February 6th a note was posted on the digital space Cubanet regarding a TV Martí interview with Lech Walesa, the renowned Polish trade union leader and undisputed trailblazer of the democratic transition in his country, during his recent visit to Miami. This note summarizes some thoughts Walesa put forth apropos freedom in Cuba and the role of the internal opposition on the island, which has caused mixed reactions among some members of Cuban dissident groups.

Overall, we may or may not be in agreement with Walesa’s opinions, but I don’t think that his interests were particularly directed at mocking the dissidents. This is not an exceptional event either: with regard to the review of the situation in Cuba we know that from time to time someone appears who “knows” better than we do what must be done to end the dictatorship. Interestingly, that someone is seldom a Cuban.

But the matter comes up repeatedly, and this case brings with it other lessons, since the person rendering opinions is a recognized international leader, which implies that he enjoys the self-assurance of authority, in virtue of which his opinions may be assumed by others as absolute truths, or, at least, accepted as priori judgments. continue reading

That is why, at the risk of upsetting those who worship the sacred cows of politics and, at the same time, favoring my admiration and respect for Walesa’s extraordinary merits and leadership in the democratic transition of his country, I want to go over his words and discuss them on a personal level. I’m barely one among the thousands of Cubans who nurture independent civic organizations in Cuba, but every citizen is a political subject -even those who are not aware of it- and each individual’s opinion is worth, at least, as much as that of the most prominent leaders.

I do not think, however, that Walesa’s role in Poland’s recent history turn him into a de facto “expert opinion” to assess the Cuban case. In fact, his opinions display great ignorance about Cuba’s situation, about the nature of totalitarian power and about our history and idiosyncrasy.

I seem to feel a certain degree of arrogance, or perhaps a tad personal vanity in the phrase “I tried to give advice to the Cuban opposition but, for some reason, they won’t listen to me”. Without wishing to dismiss the value of Walesa’s political experience, I am not aware that anyone, in the name of the opposition here, has asked him for advice. His position is, as it were, the authoritarian father’s punishment towards a misbehaving child who does not follow the rules, and I must confess that -far from bothering me as a member of the Cuban opposition- at first I thought it even funny: Democratic Cuban colleagues, let’s not toil any more in our long resistance against the regime, we only have to follow Walesa’s advice!

Having said that, in a debate mode, I would like to know how the Polish leader could have commanded such a powerful syndicate as Solidarity in Cuba; a country in which the very government took it upon itself to terminate almost to the core the port movement, plus swept off all which once was industry. Mr. Walesa seems to have no idea that there are no laborers on this Island, only those who survive in the few sugar mills or in the very few shops or factories that have withstood the destructive power of the regime. We don’t have great trade to encourage the existence of port syndicate activity. We can’t begin to compare Casablanca, the modest shipyard in Havana bay with the gigantic complex of shipyards in Gdansk, with thousands of workers, the critical main stage of the Polish transition. Cubans don’t even have a merchant or fishing fleet.

There are only minor vestiges remaining in Cuba of those great cigar factories that were the cradle and the kiln of Cuban syndicalism between the end of the XIX and the beginning of the XX century. How could labor unionism and a labor leader exist in a country without a labor force where the government lays off 20% of the active labor force without a second thought? And we are not just talking about unions: here, even mere free association is taboo, because, while Cubans have not historically been strong carriers of civic traditions, the Castro dictatorship undertook to void any possibility of social autonomy from the first years following the seizure of power in 1959.

It seems unreasonable to move mimetically the experiences of a process of transition from one nation to another. The Cuban situation is neither better nor worse than that of Poland at that moment. It is simply different. It’s enough to remember that in the political arena, the Polish opposition was able to count on the firm support of such an ionic figure as that of Karol Jozef Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, and the Catholic faith constituted a unifying element of the spirit of the Polish people towards democracy, which –coupled with a long tradition of struggle for independence and a solid civic culture- contributed decisively to the opposition’s victory. The struggle, in addition, not only went against a puppet government, but ultimately against a foreign power, the Soviet Union, at a time when the tensions of the Cold War were being undermined by the collapse of the East European communist models. So, at the end of the decade of the 80’s all factors came together which, taken together, led to the transition to democracy not only in Poland but in all the countries of the former socialist bloc.

Cuba, on the other hand, shows a very different scenario, though there are common elements in our circumstances of transition, such as the existence of a regime calling itself “communist” and a centralized power that controls the economy, the politics, the military, the enforcement agencies and the social structures. The fight is against a national dictatorship that has gone through several phases over half a century, including satellite status of that same Soviet power.

For its part, the Cuban Catholic Church is far from having a close relationship with most of society, but we must recognize the (local) civic community work of many priests in many parishes. We need to understand that we Cubans, in general, are not very zealous in matters of faith, and that the best known national paradigm of spiritual unity, José Martí, has been widely manipulated and quasi-prostituted from all ideologies and interests. As for the leadership of the religious institution, it is a very distant elite, very far from the politics of change that are evolving from independent civil society and the opposition. We have a Church of spiritual formalities not truly committed to the struggle of resistance. In fact, its tendency has been to fold under the power of the ruling autocracy.

I don’t think it’s a problem that there are “too many leaders within the opposition” in Cuba and no one among them who is “strong enough” to lead all of us. Actually, I think the variety of ideas and projects that exists suggests the possibility that one day we will have to choose among many proposals. Variety does not necessarily mean “disunity”, as shown by the trend of mutual support that has been occurring in recent years between different projects and teams. Perhaps the diversity -not “disunity”- is precisely the most practical and possible strategy in a country where power has cornered every area of society, including families.

Thus, operating as small cells and concurring on greater common endeavors, dissidence is uniting to meet the changes of the Cuban transition. Today we perceive many open fronts of the civil resistance inside Cuba that include both so-called traditional opposition parties, such as the independent press in all its forms and multiple civil society projects, which have demonstrated they are capable of collaborating with each other and of promoting common approaches, regardless of their ideologies. If that process is ever consolidated, or if it succeeds, the future will tell, but, at any rate, the variety of the Cuban opposition spectrum, far from making me worry, seems to me like a reflection of democracy in its midst, an idea which is shared by many representatives of the dissidence. At any rate, magnifying the advantages of what it insistently being called a “union” is as harmful to the opposition as it is opportune to the dictatorship.

We don’t need to found a monolithic union around a “powerful” single leader in order to reach democracy in Cuba (we have had too much of that in the last 54 years). In any case, the power of the Cuban dictatorship has been so complete that any action that appears will constitute an important factor to undermine the system without necessarily having to be subordinated to a particular leader. Experience shows that the power of a leader lies not only in his ability to summon, but in a combination of many factors, among which, his capacity to act is essential. Today, the actions of several local and regional opposition organizations are showing both their ability to fight and the summoning power of their leaders.

Another one of Walesa’s statements demonstrating his ignorance of the Cuban situation is one in which he said that “in cities and towns and people should have offered to fill new positions, new duties already, in the transformed situation. In two years, there will be democratic elections (in Cuba)… we have to be prepared, because what will happen after the fall of the Castro regime will be chaos”.

I would dare say that in almost every city and town in Cuba social actors do exist who will play an important role in the zero hour, i.e., at the moment of time of the definitive changes, and, at every instance, there will be many more. The government’s inability to overcome the structural crisis of the system is, paradoxically, the main source of the general desire for change. Certainly, the Cuban transition has already begun and the system began in a process of erosion years ago that has been accentuating gradually, but permanently. However, reality still has not been processed to the point that it is possible to occupy the posts of local governments and participate in decision-making from legal structures that are strategically designed to avoid such an occurrence. Maybe not even our changes will take place that way.

No one knows if in just two years there will be democratic elections in Cuba, though I hope so. But I can assure Walesa that, by then, there will be more Cubans, today’s opposition and citizens of that near tomorrow, who will be prepared to meet the challenges of democracy after more than half a century of totalitarianism. We are striving for that.

Personally, I appreciate the good wishes for our country’s freedom expressed by the Polish trade union leader, but he really does us a disservice when lending himself to coin such a cliché. I also reject the dire predictions of social catastrophism: there will be no such chaos in Cuba because, at that moment, above all our differences and reservations, the love for our nation will be asserted among us, the will to rebuild on the ruins and the experience gained by several generations during long years of struggle, to finally found institutions that will prevent the return of a dictatorship. Believe me, Mr. Walesa, on these pillars will be born a most enduring union, not of the opposition, but of all Cubans.

Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

(Article originally published in Cubanet on February 22, 2013)

February 27 2013