Insomnia / Ernesto Morales Licea

Sometimes I think it could be a dream. A bad dream, of those who start with innocence, stealth, even taking certain perverse nuances and making us wake up in the middle of the night, the sweat sticking our skin to the sheets. And then, a taciturn happiness that leaves us breathless, thinking, between horror and gasps, “It’s just a nightmare. My God. Nothing more than a nightmare.”

Sometimes I think we are all dreaming. All this couldn’t be happening to us. We don’t deserve it. No people can be hypnotized without end. Spells are fragile, they break down. And so I believe: sometime people will wake up, look around, feel a common shame, a common happiness, for having been in such an undignified sleep.

And they forget, also by common agreements, that while this evil dream lasted they were harming others: brothers in the Fatherland and of blood; brothers in faith, language, race. They forget, to relieve their consciences, that they once called out “To the wall!” as forgiveness is claimed, they demanded death with the music of their hands, their rhyming choruses, their laughing lips.

They forget that they bit like the worst cannibals: not those who go out to eat the flesh of other tribes, but those who stuff their guts with the flesh of their own; who once made an effort to curse and offend, to beat and exclude. To send a million of our brothers to the other side of the sea, condemning them to exile where many had to die with their hearts awash in grudges, never healed nostalgia, longing without peace.

After pulling off the sheets, at last, the country of sleepwalkers is about to wake up trying out a smile badly taken as a universal apology: the apology of the innocent Catholics on remembering the Inquisition; the apology from the Germans when their Aryan and racist nightmare finally came to an end.

One of those apologies that carried within itself the lack of decorum of many men over many years. Including those who don’t believe the apology to be necessary. Those who don’t understand the meaning of the word love: truth, sublime, the most sung and told: the love that doesn’t conceive of good for some and evil for so many others. Those who do not understand the meaning of freedom: for everyone, for those we love whom we don’t know we love, and without which some would end up bleeding to death in agony like some character of Borges, who begs his children’s forgiveness to dying so slowly.

In the name of those who know not of decorum nor spiritual superiority, the people also apologize

In the name of those who die perverted by hatred, thinking they did much good: that it was necessary to massacre the enemies of the State (may God not let you rest in peace, General Pinochet), that it was necessary to be done with the frauds (may you rot behind bars, Mark David Chapman), and who divide a dwarf country, rendering the bitterness of a dwarf country–eleven million natives: a provincial palenque–to segregate them in the name of an chimeric ideology, was the supreme duty to achieve immortality.

God does not love you, Comandante. I pity your senility and your inevitable mortality. Poor dried-up grape.

And after the pathetic dream, the end of this long night, so foul, so diluted in amnesia; this night with so many fragmented families, so many children without parents, so many Virgilios with fear and Cabreras without peace, so much hopelessly lost love, so many drowned seasoning the sea with their bodies… After this illusion of dollars and sharks, a return to real life.

The real life of a people segmented between worms and Party members, prostitutes and association members, communists and communitarians, officials and anarchists, bloggers and State security, beginning to gain strength, to lose the weakness of arrogance, the debility of the cruel, and to stroking their own heads like a kid afraid of a scolding: “It was just a prank, it won’t happen again, please.”

Sometimes I think I am the one who is dreaming. It could be. But I’m not the only one. And within me, in my brain full of real surrealism, naive and childish happiness, my floating Island is about to open its eyes after half a century’s slumber. And I want to be wide awake, like an inveterate insomniac, so that nobody has to tell me about it.

March 29 2011

From Glory to Villainy / Ernesto Morales Licea

The first time I was close to Agustin Bejarano it was in 2004, during a couple of hours of the night literary circle,and I had never seen his work. His name began to sound familiar, as a well-treated artist, but his surprising and meteoric rise that would begin a little latter was still unknown, for this man considered one of the untouchables of Cuban painting today.

My first impression of Bejarano, during that meeting at the home of the writer Eduardo Heras León, was inconsequential: jovial, shrewd, a good conversationalist, these are roughly the adjectives that would have described him at the time.

The second meeting with him, just a year ago in my native Bayamo, would have a slight difference: Agustín Bejarano came to town as the guest of honor of an event about art, preceded by his status, and then I unreservedly included myself among those who regarded him as a marvel of contemporary art from Cuba.

His works, bold and refreshing in the pictorial language of the island, seemed to me to have an irresistible authenticity.

Agustín Bejarano en su comparecencia ante la Corte

Agustín Bejarano in his appearance before the Court.

So now that this Camagueyan appears in the Miami news without his admirable aura, his status shredded, wearing the orange uniform and a face with the typical expression of the common prisoner, I put the two concepts together and tell myself, “The Agustín Bejarano whose works fascinated from the very first time, and the one who is now behind bars in the Pre Trial Detention Center, facing charges of sexual abuse of a minor, are the same person.”

A sad way to make himself known to the American public: today, even those who knew nothing of his contributions in prints, or his highly prized paintings in the international market, know him from the news of the Cuban pedophile who came, invited by the Pan American Art Projects, and molested a five-year-old boy–Good God–the son of his friends in their own house.

Formally, this is the accusation against Agustín Bejarano. Carl Zogby, a spokesman for police in Hialeah and in charge of the arrest, said in essence: “The defendant confessed to the crime, is very sorry and claims he felt an inexplicable weakness that led him to commit this act.”

According to the official version, the boy told his parents five days after the alleged incident: the distinguished visitor and friend of the couple had placed his erect penis between his little hands, and kissed him on the mouth when the adults were not present.

Terrible. Maddening. I think in the Cuban cultural universe, a story as amazing as this one had never featured, starring one of those who, when they appeared in news, it was always to inspire admiration. Never disdain.

It’s worthwhile to steal away a hurried analysis of the incident, on some points in particular.

First, the conspiracy theory.

Agustín Bejarano, tras ser detenido por la policía de Hialeah

Agustín Bejarano, after being arrested by police in Hialeah

After a telephone conversation I had yesterday with another talented artist on the island, I knew one of the theories circulating about this case in Cuba: Could it be a Machiavellian trick, or a manipulated exaggeration to discredit Bejarano, to end his career, or to get a lot of money out of him?

Some, pragmatic, merchants of the art world point in Miami. Others, detectives, look toward bad politicians.

I personally do not see the point of either motive, but still, I confess: I would love to hear that it is a mistake, a deplorable stunt, and if that were the case, I would defend the artist with the same vehemence with which I will applaud his hard sentence if he is indeed guilty.

Nor do I understand how they could make money, the supposed art ruffians, with Bejarano behind bars for 20 years or for life (it could be either if he is convicted), nor do I understand what political interest could raise a man who, unlike actors or musicians, has no media presence outside his guild, and does not represent any discord or discomfort for the establishment of this country.

Worse, the argument that would weigh against him, most of all, is the powerful story of a boy of five. Why? Well because psychologists and those in charge of questioning the little boy say, without exception, that is almost impossible to invent a story like this at that age, when even the concept of lying is not part of consciousness. In conclusion, the experts say, five-year-old children never lie. Much less with such complexity.

The second vital aspect in this dramatic case, is to clear the political implications that may arise from it, and that could affect the damaged bilateral relations in the field of cultural exchange.

If we take into account the existing malaise in the Cuban exile community, which claims, with justice, that this is euphemistic exchange is only in one direction, and if we take into account also the incidents of Silvio Rodríguez advocating in New York for the Five Heroes or Spies (the reader can click on the nickname he prefers: interactive reading); the disastrous concert of “Gente de Zona” in Las Vegas, with brawl included; and now with a Cuban artist accused of committing such a heinous crime, I suspect it could revive the discontent among some sectors, and could become dangerous with little reason.

As this case has only just started, and how much–I am sure–we’ll find out in the coming days as to the veracity of these disturbing allegations, to establish an accurate view about the morals of this painter, yesterday glory, today villain, is unwise and unnecessary.

But about something I have no doubt: from now on we will attend the Olympic ascent of an already memorable career, if Agustín Bejarano emerges unscathed from this unforgettable case with the reputation that would earn him a name in the media; or, terrible reality: we will know the tragic end of a Cuban artist who lost in the United States not only his vast career, but his status as human being deserving of the most elementary respect.

March 31 2011

…And Cyber-Justice For All / Ernesto Morales Licea

One

Wael Ghonim

Wael Ghonim

The sui generis Egyptian revolution which occurred very recently changed the status of two people in particular. The first, Hosni Mubarak, moved from an everlasting and plenipotentiary leader of the African nation, to swell the list of dictators happily overthrown. The second: Wael Ghonim. A name unknown until recently and who would soon be considered by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world, in its list of 100.

A professional in computing, a Google executive, and a fearless activist, Ghonim inscribed his name in the history of his country by developing an effective campaign of information and organization against Mubarak, employing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Two

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Strongly related thematically to the previous name, another name that a few years ago could have been mistaken for a football player, or a professor of anthropology; not only does he share a place among the 100 characters that move the planet today, but he possesses one of the most mouth dropping fortunes, with nearly 7 billion dollars: Mark Zuckerberg.

Thanks to him, the globe grows smaller every day, I talk with my Cuban friends across the sea, and Egyptian revolutionaries–including Ghonim–taught the tyrant Mubarak to the times of the eternal pharaohs are in the distant past. The word “Facebook” must be one of the most used in all the languages we speak today.

Three

Yoani Sánchez

Yoani Sánchez

Not long ago, a Cuban in her thirties outshone the stardom of almost all the enemies of the gerontocratic of the regime that governs her country. Yoani Sánchez shares the now historic podium with those who belong to the Castro family, their acolytes and gatekeepers, considered the most visible faces of evil.

What has been the terrible work of this driven woman from Havana? Simple: to dare to have a blog. To dare to use Twitter as an unclosable door of freedom and expansion. And to spread the virus of cyber-expression to Cuban souls who will, in the future and to a greater or lesser extent, integrate themselves into this axis of evil (from the official point of view).

It doesn’t surprise me that some of the Island’s traditional opponents, brave as borders, have a grudge against this girl of Generation Y: she has unwittingly become Public Enemy Number 1 of the tropical dictatorship.

Four

Sohaib Athar

Sohaib Athar

In the early morning in his peaceful region, a night owl twitterer was surprised by the noise of helicopters in an area where the only thing that flies in the heavens are birds of prey. Seconds later, hearing the sound of bombardment, continuous shooting, Sohaib Athar realized that what he heard in his district of Abbottabad was not a product of his fertile imagination, but something momentous, worthy of being tweeted, happening a few steps from his home.

What this Pakistani never would have assumed is that in that instant he became the first person in history to cover a momentous event via Twitter: almost step-by-step this man informed the world before anyone else, before any powerful television channel, of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Five

Rest In Hell

Rest in Hell

During the structural planning of the concealed bunker that would host him as of 2005, the protectors of the world’s most wanted terrorist thought with devastating logic: one of the simplest ways to capture a pursued man is through communication devices.

In his residential complex of high walls and extreme vigilance, the mega-millionaire and mega-assasin Bin Laden survived peacefully, without telephone, television or the Internet. He believed he was more protected without these communication media, and

What his strategies found impossible to provide is precisely this detail that would turn irremediably against him: an enormous house valued at one million dollars, that turns its back on communications, technology, could only be a place that is hiding something. And hidden within it, was someone very important.

According to the CIA reports, their lack of any telephone, television or Internet services was one of the determining points to conclude who its terrible inhabitant was.

Epilogue

There are those who still do not understand that technology has become the best ally of the free and democratic mentalities in the world. People who distrust the devastating power reached by an invention without pretensions, as the Internet once was. Those who can not explain why the totalitarian governments that still swarm around the world, furiously insist on controlling, with an iron fist, the access of their subjects to advanced technologies, be it cell phones, satellite antennas, or a World Wide Web connection, must know: the balance of forces, the global picture has changed. And the modern era, with its creations of science fiction, and something like an implacable cyber-justice, increasingly complicate the impunity of terrorists and dictators in either hemisphere.

May 3 2011

Cuba Yes, Dictators No / Ernesto Morales Licea

I recently heard Carlos Alberto Montaner in a presentation on art and literature in exile which I had the good fortune to attend.  According to Montaner, one of the points on which the Cuban regime undoubtedly has been shrewd, is the negative connotation they have managed to associate with the terms “anti-Castro” in global eyes, through a sustained and effective propaganda machine.

For example, to publicly say one has been, for many years, an intellectual anti-fascist, or anti-Pinochet, leads to immediate applause, but the same does not happen when you call a man of thought and action “anti-Castro.”
With luck, your declaration would be taken with a dismissive silence. In other cases, some of your audience’s chairs would quickly empty and your public could be notably reduced.

This is a complex puzzle, the structure of which can be inexplicable for those who, like me, use logic as a fundamental tool in shaping judgments: many of those who have suffered and fought against tyrannies of different colors and different ideologies take an incomprehensible position with regards to Cuba, halfway between cowardice and hypocritical silence.

Thus, for example, we see respectable intellectuals, artists, influential men, using acidic terms to refer to General Franco who decided the destiny of the Spanish nation for forty years, while with respect to the satrap who steered the Island according to his will for fifty years, they are silent or, much worse, they smile with pleasure.

I will say just a pair of names: Miguel Bosé, Luis Eduardo Aute. Spaniards of good background who don’t skimp on scalding adjectives whenever they dig up the bones of their own dictator; but when they take into their mouths their name of ours, they chant it in flowery poetry.

I would ask them, for example, what they think of the recent declaration of the elder Castro supporting, in writing, his brother’s declaration with respect to the limit of two terms of five years.

In the future I don’t thing I’ll take any notice of more possibilities for their possible responses: either one has an extra dose of imbecility to ignore the cynicism behind this phrase, the support of a leader-for-life for a measure to restrict the terms of those who come after; or the intellectual dishonesty is too great to even consider.
Quite recently I asked the journalist Max Lesnik what he would think if suddenly the American government prevented him, after leaving Miami, from returning to which had been his city his entire life. The answer can be read by those who consult my interview, published in this blog.

Well, I would be delighted to ask this same question of Benicio del Toro, let’s say. As admirable in his profession as he is questionable in the causes he embraces. To say to him, for example: “You go out and film your Guevara film. You offer your sovereign statements, in Cuba, with respect to the embargo and the interference of the American government, and suddenly, when you go to buy your ticket home, this government has closed the doors of your country forever.”
So what gives?

Let’s adapt a Creole aphorism, and say there are causes that deserves sticks. And there are silences that also deserve sticks. And every time I hear intellectuals like Eduardo Galeano and Noam Chomsky criticize the historical excesses of tyrannical governments in Latin America, and ignore the fact that before their eyes the country continues to be administered like the private plot of a small family, I’m convinced that a creative reputation doesn’t have to go hand in hand with ideological honesty.

Every time I read the teary-eyed petitions to free the Five Members of the Wasp Network, from artists like Danny Glover and Danny Rivera, and don’t hear their pronouncements about the thousands of children separated from their parents because

Apparently it’s quite pleasing to denounce to the four winds the shameful conduct of American soldiers in Guantanamo, but when it comes to saying a word, just one, with respect to the thirty elderly demented  Mazorra patients massacred, it is good to keep the purest silence.

The forcibly exiled Cuban writer Norberto Fuentes–rescued from the country’s cells by the intercession of the patron Garcia Marquez in the wake of the “Cause Number 1″ of 1989 which led to the execution of General Ochoa–was about to speak. He had done so for the newspaper El Pais. And from respect for his literary work, not stunning but still valuable, I believe he had to shut up.

Because to say of a Politburo with an average age of 67, that the Island does not continue to be dominated by a military gerontocracy, and to assert the contrary, that Cuba is being ruled by young generations, is to make a monumental fool of someone who’s written books as good as, “Hemingway in Cuba” and “Sweet Cuban Warriors.”

Or Norberto Fuentes, a writer beloved by the Fidelist nomenklatura in the past, has secret information that the rest of us don’t know, or to say something so outrageous is worthy of applause: suddenly an improvised harlequin is erected.

Worse yet, he has said, and I quote: “In 1989 the Revolution was castrated, because they eliminated the bold, the untamed. In that moment the Revolution was fucked. Then came a period of gray functionaries.”

Those who know of his deep friendship with Tony de la Guardia and Arnaldo Ochoa, the most famous in our national history to face a firing squad, know what Fuentes is talking about. But the question that then absorbs the entire cerebral function is: Where was the writer Norberto Fuentes during the worst of the Five Grey Years?

Where was the author of the “Autobiography of Fidel Castro”, when homosexuals were beaten, or slept in police cells for listening to the lads from Liverpool?

The answer is clear: walking with whores on nights of excess, enjoying the honey of the same power that would later throw him off the cliff.

For this reason an honorable author like Carlos Albert Montaner can’t approve of the gray connotation which the term anti-Castro calls forth in much of the world. For this reason eternal intellectuals such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Jesus Diaz, who in a moment of their lives stopped halfway and knew that faced with the verticality of the same cause they had previously defended, they would never win approval in the eyes of the leftist academics for whom it is all very well to have been at odds with Leonidas Trujillo, but not with his colleague Fidel Castro.

It’s not about a supernatural effectiveness of official Cuban propaganda. It is about–the doubt is less every day–an ideological hypocrisy too widespread, in times when the words artist or intellectual, and honest thinking, are no longer necessarily synonymous.

27 April 2011

The News of the Decade / Ernesto Morales Licea

A different new article was to appear in this blog today. But the big news, never-expected nor announced in advance. It simply appears. And to distort or ignore it is folly.

The electrifying announcement of the locating and death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, at the hands of U.S. soldiers, I believe occupies the place of the “News of the Last Decade.” I have no doubt.

In the second when the avalanche of news began, I can only publish a few paragraphs that express my pride as a simple human being who loves his life and that of others, for this victory over a mass murderer, as aptly described by President Obama in his official statement.

It comes in all languages , in every possible and impossible way, my embrace of solidarity for all those who suffered from the action by a criminal who no longer exists. And it arrives to the memory of the first passenger on the first plane, and to the fireman who gave his last breath in the Dantesque ruins, my simple tribute to the memory of these beautiful people.

I invite all commentators and readers of this blog, to let their words as a mark of the joy we, good people, feel on this date worth marking.

May 2 2011

Letters (Unencripted) From Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

Fernando Ravsberg, BBC correspondent in Cuba

It’s not the first time an article by Fernando Ravsberg, Cuban correspondent for the honorable BBC, left me feeling frustrated, bittersweet, as a result of, in my judgment, certain skin deep and inconsistent analyses established by him.

But it is the first time I’ve decided to comment in writing. Now, after reading his last blog post, I break the ice.

Of course I knew the wide acceptance “Letters from Cuba” has among some readers in my country, including among my personal friends; and I knew, also, the notorious discredit this journalist has among the community of independent bloggers, and among many Cuban intellectuals who, in addition to exercising their right to disagree with official dogma, take the written word as a fundamental means of expression.

His well-read blog, also followed by those who see in him an approach different from the national daily’s, is criticized by others who brand it complacent and vaguely hypocritical, the velvet glove with which Fernando Ravsberg draws the reality of the Island for the world. Let no one doubt it: a blog hosted on the BBC has readers of course, and this implies a responsibility in capital letters.

In which of these two factions — if that is the split — do I include myself? Well from time to time I pass through his website, “hearing” his particular view of the facts, agreeing or disagreeing, and always I respect, as a colleague, the intellectual exercise implied in wanting to reflect a country as convulsed as Cuba, in just a few paragraphs.

To be perfectly strict I have to say, also: I’m sure that the BBC could find better professionals to send to the Caribbean nation. Fernando Ravsberg is not a significant journalist in our language, today, and serves in one of the most complex and challenging theaters (Cuba) that can be found in the world today.

On my personal scale, he’s a craftsman of words, someone with an academic style, grammatically correct, but without something inherent in every practitioner of memorable journalist: a refined style. His writings, even the best and most poignant, exude a clerical preparation, that of the report. Fortunately they always have the virtue of brevity.

However, this is not so now, after reading “Honeymoon, the virtual war, real life,” compels me to write about the Uruguayan journalist who has wandered, for a long time, slowing and with pen in hand, among the ruins of our singular Havana.

Fernando Ravsberg does not understand why independent bloggers, or classic opponents, need to encrypt their messages to send them off the Island, or even to communicate within its walls.

To this I, a Cuban as he is not, add: not only the disaffected, millions of ordinary citizens also need to compress and encrypt their communications, if they want to keep a minimal personal privacy.

I quote Ravsberg unfortunate text, “The dissident bloggers have reason to say that in Cuba privacy is not respected and so encryption techniques are criticized. It could be, but I bet that in these times encrypted messages raise suspicions even in the most democratic nations of the world.”

And then he adds, “Maybe it’s that I know few people but there isn’t a single one of my friends who uses encryption keys to communicate on the Internet.”

Carefully considered, analysis such as this is what generates my lack of confidence in the intelligent thought of this communications professional. Or, still worse, his commitment to the truth.

Because supporting such a thesis, Fernando Ravsberg forgets, doesn’t know, or hides, a great truth: in democratic nations individuals not only don’t encrypt their dissident messages, but they wrack their brains looking for ways to make them public.

I will never forget my fascination, three days after stepping on American soil, seeing an old man at a stoplight with a sign — Republican — that read: “How much more will it take for Obama to understand he’s not eligible to be President, let alone for a Nobel Prize.”

In democratic nations, only those who place bombs in metro stations, smuggle organs and drugs, or harm society with their criminal acts, need to protect their electronic or telephone communications. Not law-abiding citizens.

And if the BBC colleague says that not one of his friends uses encryption keys to communicate online, his statement leads to two possibilities:

1. The man chosen by the British to sniff out the essence of Cuban society, doesn’t have among his acquaintances a single “ordinary” Cuban, of those who set passwords for their archives using WinRAR to communicate privately with a family member living abroad, or to arrange a trip to escape.

2. The man chosen by the English doesn’t have the slightest idea of what it is to use a clandestine Internet connection with protective passwords or anonymous proxies to hide the sites he wants to visit.

And he doesn’t know for a key reason — the essence of my disagreement as a colleague and as part of the burdened nation he has decided to recreate — because Fernando Ravsberg seeks to establish well-informed judgments about a country which, in its essence, he does not know.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, to not tar him with the brush applicable to so many journalists who, in order to continue their stay in this Jurassic and exotic scene which is Cuba decide to use the soft tones of a tourist watercolor to paint their written portraits, I prefer to call him a poorly integrated foreigner. Not an opportunist.

But the same tropical Cuban oxygen isn’t breathed by the person who emerges from a debate sponsored by the magazine “Topics” in the narrow Strawberry and Chocolate room in the capital and runs to his page to post cheers to a perceived tolerance, to progress on freedom of expression, on the same day that Stephen Morales was expelled from the Party for criticizing corruption and I lost my job for dissenting from the national information policy.

Serious in a journalism of respect: shortly after a new post, backtracks from his raucous joy, and admits the gag imposed by the organizers of the civic debate, which banned him if he wanted to continue attending, from writing about what happened there.

More serious still: Week later, the correct Ravsberg accepts the rules of the game, and in order to preserve his permission to enter the little debate in the capital room, he publishes a post as a wink, about “nothing happened” there. The wink is this: “It’s agreed that I say nothing, they don’t close the doors, right?”

Above and beyond my very personal opinions, above and beyond my true respect for his way of exercising our so complex and subjective trade, and above and beyond my transparent evaluations with regards to his basic handling of the journalism tool, the written word, Fernando Ravsberg posits an ethical and moral view that, if he is an honest man — which I think he is — needs to be addressed very soon, and sharply: “The Cuba that I describe, is my Cuba — that of a semi-assimilated and well-favored Uruguayan, or is it the Cuba that a demanding and truthful journalist should write about?”

There is no intense journalism without conflicts. Anyone who wishes to remain on good terms with God and with the Devil should change their profession. Or, merciful alternative, move the context and write a blog entitled “Letters from Switzerland.” I’m sure that there they will not know citizens who need to protect themselves from the great eye that sees everything, encrypting their messages.

Pardon the absolutism, but writing about Cuba is far too much for them — those who do not respectfully suffer the ailments of an aching country, or those who have not engaged themselves in an extra dose of commitment, ethics, and bravery.

March 23 2011

Decalogue for a Cuban Blogger / Ernesto Morales Licea

From their literary Mount Olympus, where they had already given the world their tremendous fiction, Borges, Monterrose, Quiroga, Bukowski, wrote Decalogues for young writers. Decalogues and, perhaps, subtle warnings.

Others, not content with brevity, took it more seriously; Rainer Maria Rilke published his “Letters of a Young Poet,” and Mario Vargas Llosa, balancing genders, his “Letters to a Young Female Novelist.”

I share only one aspect with them, the disease of writing. I’m not an Olympic winner, although I blatantly desire it. But I have an advantage over them in one way: these gentlemen of deserved immortality (saving the recent Nobel Prize winner, who is still alive), never knew the word “blog.” Not even a fantasist like Ray Bradbury could envision a future of digital spaces where one can publish with demonic freedom.

So today I wanted to perpetuate the tradition. This time, outlining a Decalogue that, sadly, lacks universality: I wanted to dedicate it to a potential Cuban blogger who, perhaps, at this precise moment, is assessing the possibility of opening his defiant blog.

1. You have already decided, and given it a name. You’ve launched it on the great web. With luck, some colleague will promote is in his own space and earn you your first readers. Well then, you know: you just took on a tremendous weight. Your blog does not become a pet, it becomes your child. And the difference from a pet is that you can play with them for a while and leave them at home whenever you like, but children won’t tolerate the distancing. You know that, like Cortazar’s text about the clock, you haven’t given yourself a gift of a blog: you’ve just become the gift for a blog that from now on will keep you on your toes.

2. The day you publish your most painstaking text, you might count ten readers, of whom half will have come to your site by mistake. The day you publish your most mediocre and unfinished text, you could attract the attention of someone very well-known on the web, and be recommended. This day you will have thousands of readers to whom you won’t be able to say, “Please, when you finish this one, go read the other one, it’s better…” First conclusion: never publish fillers. Second conclusion: pray that the day on which you publish the filler, the text that you couldn’t improve, no one with credentials will decide to visit you.

3. As you live in Cuba, freedom of expressions sounds like a hollow expression to you. However, you know you need it. And you try to procure it swimming against the current. This will always be admirable. Infallible rule: readers can tell when something is written honestly, and when it is written obeying orders from above. Spaces written from the need to express oneself, will always have incomparably more followers, people who consult them, readers in general, than ones written because it’s your job. Perhaps this answers your question about why official Cuban bloggers can only count on their family and friends as faithful readers.

4. Your daring will earn you immediate followers. They will applaud your courage in facing the regime you disapprove of. It’s beautiful. But take care: don’t believe all the applause is sincere. Many applaud only when your posts match their own points of view. Some alleged democrats who will cheer you on will also be the first to throw you into the flames, if something you write with the same honesty as usual goes against ideas that to them are nonnegotiable. The lesson is: Remember you are all alone. Remember you must obey yourself, your vital impulses, And you should be less and less interested in applause.

5. And as you are alone in the conceptual, so you are in practice as well: it doesn’t matter how many times you ask for financial help to sustain your blog. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of people take it as a reference. In the instant in which some of those thousands of readers have to make a contribution for your work, you will become fully aware of your quixotic solitude. Fine irony: the same ones who demand that you update, who demand certain themes and approaches, they are the one who, once they finish reading, lose all interest in your page even if you say you need some economic support. The loneliness of the writer and of the blogger are flesh of the same flesh.

6. An interesting point: never doubt, despite the loneliness of the previous point, you will find supposed administrators of your blog, censors, directors of your editorial policy. It doesn’t matter that you affirm, over and over, this is my space, here I say what I say, for this I created it. It doesn’t matter. Someone will always come along to tell you, “I think you shouldn’t write on this topic, but rather on this one.” Someone else will come along to tell you, “You are completely wrong, what are you thinking to say this?” And you will come to doubt, between responding that you are the author of this page, that you don’t ask permission from a reader to write, just as you don’t ask it of the government; or you will respond with your silence. There are times when silence is better. Don’t waste resources defending your right to say whatever you like. Those who at times wear us down, we have to accept that they’re a lost cause: they don’t understand that your freedom of expression is the truth.

7. The other side of the coin, which must be dealt with squarely, is the employees of Power. The diligent workers on the web, who find funding from the Island’s government, and whose only function will be, from now on, to fight your space. How? The methods are infinite. Get ready for a war without quarter, and without principles nor codes of ethics. These same people will post comments saying you are a child molester, that your sister is a lesbian, that they’ve heard verifiable rumors: for example that you are State Security. This is a brilliant tactic against which you can do nothing: there is very little harder to prove than innocence. Get ready to see photo montages of yourself, to know that your friends now reject you from fear, and that many doors will now be closed to you. Some in a literal sense. Ask since when Claudia Cadelo has not been able to pass through the doors of the Chaplin Theater. But you know what? There is something against which the employees of Power have no weapons: against your will to be dignified, your will not to remain silent. This is what will rob them of their sleep, not yours.

8. Don’t wonder how, because at times you won’t understand it, but rest assured that the people around you, even those you don’t know, will be reading your blog. Exotic phenomena attract attention. And a fearless blog in a county filled with cowards is an exotic phenomenon. When you think you are writing only for the world, be aware that your neighbor, though he won’t tell you, as a precaution, is reading and printing your texts. And secretly, he admires you.

9. Patience with human stupidity. If you accept that other people, your followers, are going to add their opinions below your writing, you should arm yourself with a solid shield against insults and nonsense. If you don’t have the iron constitution to deal with this, better that you turn the comment function off. It’s a simple thing: send them to the trash if they’re obscene or offensive, or approve them if they’re feisty but friendly. As you are alone in this, you don’t have to consult or ask for votes for and against. Your blog is your democracy, and don’t forget that since you suffer it, you decide.

10. Ask yourself, as Rilke asked the poets, if you could live without writing your blog. If the answer is yes, don’t take the trouble to start it. You will abandon it very quickly. If the answer is no, if your need to express yourself is unstoppable, if you think you really have something to say, ignore the nine points above and inscribe only these words in your mind: you will have no greater happiness than knowing you are true to yourself. Your blog will be a cry of freedom that we will from both sides of the sea.

April 18 2011

Another Stretch of Sea Between Us / Ernesto Morales Licea

There is a question I’ve formulated on more than on occasion, and that I have recently revived. It goes more or less like this: “If I, who detests with every particle of my being the North Korean dynasty, for example, suddenly gathered my intentions and provoked an attack that killed dozens of North Korean civilians, would this effort be enough to call myself, from now on and proudly, an anti-Kim fighter?”

And if, for example, my firecracker in Pyongyang causes collateral damage and sacrifices a European tourist, then can I call myself anti-dynastic, a fighter against Kim-the-father or Kim-the-son, and be treated like a hero, even though I haven’t touched a single petal on the iron dictatorship, which continues on its course without the least disturbance?

It’s something that’s returned to my mind now that Luis Posada Carriles is in the news again. For some, a hilarious story. For me, bitter news: I do not like his immediate and complete acquittal, I don’t like it at all, and I say this with the verticality of one who is not trained in the art of silencing what I think.

I have two reasons for not celebrating even one iota of this news. The first is: I don’t like this character. I could never sympathize with those who have death in their background, and who brag about it. Whatever its cause might be. And especially: whoever has the death of innocents in his background, poor unfortunates who were in the wrong hotel, or the wrong airplane, the day Luis Posada and friends decided to realize their “anti-Castroism” sui generis.

As a teenager I remember the long Cuban television broadcast dedicated to the bombings of 1997, the trial of Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, the despondent face of an old Italian whose son, Fabio Di Celmo, was hit by a piece of glass that inevitably cut his jugular in the Copacabana Hotel.

And, since my untainted adolescence, I keep the memory of those days fresh: in the midst of devastating famine, in the midst of dissatisfaction and disgust for a country drowning in nothingness, a silence of anger and pain reigned everywhere.

The bombings of Havana hotels, the death of an innocent tourist, not only failed to topple the regime of Fidel Castro, not only did not precipitate the collapse of the Cuban Revolution, but rather it caused the opposite effect: in those hallucinatory days the Cuban people (even those who opposed the government publicly or privately), closed ranks with the establishment and approved almost anything they did.

The reason is very simple: Cuban society was hurt, its nerves were electrified. And where protection is sought in these cases, as always, is in the State. Let the Americans say otherwise: the country never vibrated with a greater sense of patriotism, never had a greater affinity with an administration, just as with Bush-the-son after losing three thousand and some lives in two New York towers.

Posada Carriles tras ser absuelto

Posada Carriles after being acquitted

But in 1976 I had not yet been born. I could not experience, as in 1997, the national horror. And it wasn’t just any kind of horror: it had to have been much worse than the one I did know. Between an Italian, a young man for whom he mourned, but, at the end of the day, a foreigner, and seventy-three Cubans, some of them teenagers, there is no comparison in pragmatic terms. I’ve seen the painful television accounts, but I have no life experience of it.

And still, I know perfectly well that any people who lose so many innocents, massacred by fanatics, irrational people who in their delirious warmongering are not capable of differentiating between a fighter jet and an airplanes filled with a beardless fencing team; I don’t have to have lived those days to know that Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, not only are by their own confessions responsible for this crime (enough of tricks and rhetoric: have they confessed or not? Do we or do we not know that it was them?) They are, also, responsible for ensuring that a society in mourning gave more respect and power to a dictator who, in the future, would have more justifications, more scapegoats, to engage in his business of hijacking the national freedom.

But I have a second reason to find this news of Posada’s total acquittal bitter: the ugly scenario it presents to those who believe that the reconstruction of unity, of our history as a country torn apart, must start with a coming together between exiles and the Cubans over there.

How to convince those on the island, as a part of this second, that many of the stories offered on the Roundtable TV show, in the newspaper Granma, about the exiles of Miami, are nothing more that clever manipulations to further widen the breach that separates Cubans from here and from there? How to convince, for example, a Cuban of my generation, who grew up hearing the title os “Mafia terrorist of Miami,” that this demonization, that encompasses millions of exiled people, is only applicable to an ever-shrinking handful?

A single example: whenever I say publicly, here, that one of the strongest fears held by Cubans on the Island today is that, if there is a reconciliation between the two parties, the former owners will come and reclaim their old properties, dislodging people, displacing schools and clinics, many look at me with a smile of incredulity.

The truth is: I don’t know of a single octogenarian who left his home in Cuba, at the triumph of the Revolution, who still wishes to recover it. Not only because after so much time everyone has forgotten these losses — though not their resentment against the perpetrators — but because they know well the conditions in which they would find these old properties would require them to dynamite them and start from scratch.

But let no one doubt: is this one of the arguments most repeated by the regime. And what is its purpose? Well, very simple: to divide. To widen the gap between the two sides. To continue to stimulate the conflict and divert attention from a vital issue: the Cuban exile has nothing against Cuba, against Cubans, against that country that they love as few natives in the world love their countries. Cuban exiles, especially the historic generation, what they have declared war against is the government of the Castros, who know this very well.

But how do I explain this to my friends, as a solution to the strategic error so favored by the establishment, if suddenly a nation of eleven million people discovers that the alleged anti-Castro fighters do not kill tyrants but fencers in short pants?

How does one explain to the millions of Cuban television viewers that this beautiful march in support of the Ladies in White organized by two worthy siblings, true pride of our land, when the Roundtable simply put Luis Posada Carriles in the picture with them, neutralizing with a single image the message of peace and solidarity emanating from that initiative of the Estefans?

What Castro, member of the Castro family, friend of Castro or henchman of Castro, did those recalcitrant fighters kill with their attacks and their planes? I only know of one. One victim who feeds their egos. A solo victim to justify the title of heroes, if such a thing could be justifies, for example, as with those who shot the dictator Trujillo, in an act of death that would save so many lives.

But no. These gentleman who are honored and freed of any guilt, have only damaged one faction of this story: those who determine nothing. Big favor they have done to the cause of freedom.

I accept neither stories no half-measures: When, on April 8, the El Paso jury determined, in just three hours, that Luis Posada Carriles was innocent of everything, the strip of sea between Cubans of both sides grew thicker. And that, for those who have faith in a future where most exiles will not die without being able to visit the house where they were born, and where we will erase from our consciences — as the Germans have done — this shameful past of distance and pain, is a motive for indignation.

And, in my case, reason enough to write.

April 14 2011

Terry Jones in Norway. Twenty Years Later. / Ernesto Morales Licea

In the early ’90s, the Reverend Rolf Rasmussen, minister of the Asane Church in Bergen, Norway, received an unexpected telephone call on Christmas eve. A mob of “Black Metal” music fanatics with clear satanic affiliations had set fire to his two-hundred year old church and reduced it to cinders and ashes.

The fact that no one died in the incident was a true miracle.

The testimony of Rasmussen was collected in a fantastic documentary by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden about the history of Heavy Metal titles, “A Headbanger’s Journey.”

I think about it now that the incendiary torch has changed hands, and he who wields it doesn’t play the guitar or worship Satan. Rather it is presented as the continuation of the Christian word.

Personally, I see no difference between the barbaric acts carried out by the Norwegian rockers, and the show that is put on by the protestant minister Terry Jones, burning a copy of the Koran in his sacristy in Gainesville, Florida, careening new souls to his Lord.

Strictly speaking, it’s not the same. It’s much worse. The acts of those dark musicians only damaged the architectural patrimony of Norway, while the burning of the Islamic sacred text has caused, so far, some twenty deaths and numerous injuries in Afghanistan.

It was common knowledge. Mr. Terry Jones can not claim surprise. When he announced his intention to burn the Koran commemorating the September 11, 2010, the international and internal uproar seemed to make him desist from his crazy action.

The "Good Shepherd" Terry Jones.

But last March 20 he “condemned” the book in a symbolic trial, and presided over the cremation ceremony. A few days later, an angry mob broke into the UN office in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, and ended the lives of seven innocent officials. In the days that followed, the protests have ended the lives of many more people.

Some analysts focus their attention on the overreactions of the Muslim fanatics, who haven’t even adhered to the instructions of Sharia, and the Supreme Law, making an “Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth,” perhaps charring some edition of the Bible.

For me, it’s no more than stating the obvious. To censure the extremism of a handful of fanatics (calculating the handful: close to 1.5 billion people in the world profess Islam, and only this Afghan mob took justice into their own hands), is as futile as it is repetitive. We can count on that.

But the extreme irrationality of a westerner based on the words of a peaceful God, and living in one of the most plural and tolerant societies on the planet, is truly astounding and troubling.

Now, the arguments of Pastor Jones are the most interesting part of this unfortunate scene. He has said, “No one can stop me from expressing myself freely. The burning of a book is a form of self-expression, guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

And like it or not, he’s not mistaken.

No legal entity, government or religious, could stop this from happening, for a reason like a temple: in a country where freedom of expression is an untouchable concept, there is no way to stop an act like this, provocative as it comes, but harmless materially speaking: burning a book. It is not a human being, nor even a pet.

In democratic societies, respect for individual liberties, however controversial or objectionable they may be, is sacred. And the cause of this sacred respect rests on a humanist foundation: confidence in the ethics and good behavior of civilized citizens.

Should this right to expression be amended again, as a notable Muslim political analyst in the United States has suggested, in hopes of safeguarding security and keeping the peace?

And, with pain in my heart for the victims of this fatal act, and with anger awakened in me by this caveman-like conduct of the Christian Terry Jones, I say no. I say that the circumstantial modification of a section like this could be a gray precedent such that, in the future and with other interests in play, new modifications would begin to mutilate the freedom of expression that, speaking frankly, is strict or it does not exist.

Not even the shocking reaction of a group of blind fanatics, not even the anomalous conduct of a priest — whose action seems equally fanatic to me, though he does not wear a turban nor proclaim jihad, nor listen to heavy metal — should determine this crowning achievement of democracy that is expressed with true freedom.

It is the evil murderers who, in the name of Allah, wrapped explosives around their chests and went to blow themselves up in an airplane, who should be amended. It is the outrageous religious, who burn books and provoke distant deaths who should be amended.

The infamous Terry Jones carries in his consciousness the bitter weight of their dead, and those of us who assume  freedom of expression as a supreme commitment, are comforted by knowing that nobody, not even for worthy causes, can cut off that right.

That’s right: What I wouldn’t have done to have had the services of Mr. Jones (having been Catholic) as the pastor of that church burned in Bergen, Norway, twenty years ago. I would have been delighted if the midnight call received by the good Rasmussen, he had taken it.

Perhaps those innocent people in Afghanistan would still be alive today.

April 5 2011

Twenty Million Doubts / Ernesto Morales Licea

As one would expect, Senator John Kerry’s statement that he opposes the U.S. government’s $20 million budget proposal to promote democracy in Cuba has created quite a stir.

Analysts from different ends of the spectrum criticized his words, using adjectives ranging from “political opportunism” — linking his declarations with the possible conditioning of the Cuban government, during Carter’s recent visit to Havana, for the release of Alan Gross — to “traitor” to the United States’ commitment to democratization of the Island.

Even his senate colleague, the Democrat Bob Menendez, spoke up strongly against the decision of Kerry, who presides over nothing less than the influential Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

But what were the controversial statements of the former presidential candidate with respect to these economic funds. He said, in essence:

“Before this $20 million is committed, a full review of the programs should be undertaken and the Administration should consult with the Congress. There is no evidence, however, that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people.”

To explain my point of view, I take as a starting point the fact that I am a Cuban who has recently left his country, who lived there for twenty-six years, and most of all, who has recently gotten to know a significant number of opponents, both traditional and of the new kind, and members of an incipient but exemplary civil society.

Without mincing words, and begging your pardon for the arrogance: Nobody has to tell me how ordinary Cubans live, or think, nor how peaceful opponents carry out their struggle for respect for freedom on the Island. One of the most frequent mistakes I’ve noticed in exiles with good intentions, is to think in the name of people who, at times, they do not know.

And with this knowledge of the facts I say: If the American taxpayers have paid $150 million dollars so far to support the admirable efforts of some Cuban dissidents; if they have been told that their money has been decisive for the Cuban cause, I think they should demand a refund. They have been somewhat cheated.

As a committed journalist who knocked on the doors of defiant people, I can say that save minor exceptions, the vast number of the Cuban opposition, of alternative bloggers, of these new kind of guerrillas, whether public or camouflaged, suffer from an economic insecurity that is not consistent with the aid funds approved, year after year, by the American government.

And I’m not talking about the scandals. I’m not talking about the embarrassment of the Government Accountability Office’s inspection in 2006, which discovered that these funds to promote democracy on the Island were spent, in large part, on chocolates, leather coats, chain saws, crab meat and Sony Playstations. (I don’t think even a Marx Brothers film could bring together such a list of products to defend liberty.)

Better I should ask a question that could rightly be that of millions of American citizens in the midst of a worrying economic crisis, wondering where these tax dollars end up. The question is: What has been the real impact of that money on the Cuban cause?

Putting myself in the shoes of a native of this country, what have I gotten in that country for my money?

What I’m really interested in is hearing the response of those who see these funds as an indispensable help. To educate me with proofs, with facts, not with romantic suppositions, what is the real benefit of these dollars to the fight for democracy in Cuba.

Because I, like Senator John Kerry, suspect that those millions — which, by the way, are impossible to send directly, in cash, because the embargo prevents it — an imprecise number but no small number of them, have swelled the pockets of intermediaries, functionaries and presumed defenders of the cause of my country

And then comes the awful circumstance: Cuban opponents are sent flash drives, portable radios, some chocolate and some crab meat and the Cuban government says: “This is financing the internal counterrevolution.” And gives another turn to the screw of repression.

And while some sharp schemers on this side of the sea benefit from these projects, on the other side, at “the center of things,” they receive a few crumbs from this capital, along with all of the consequences.

No matter what they say: It’s not fair.

So I approve of the mistrust and the sharp interest of Senator John Kerry in reviewing what have been the uses of this budget, which is not out of this world considering the amount of other United States programs, but, in times of crisis, I don’t think anyone has it to spare.

And above all, it’s worth reviewing not only the capital itself, but the mechanisms by which it is invested in indirect aid. Who knows if the great fissure lies in the deficient apparatus of implementation, with too much bureaucracy that takes advantage of the loopholes, burdening an intention that in principle, as a Cuban, I appreciate and admire.

Let no one forget: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

April 10 2011

Among Dissidents (II. Final) / Ernesto Morales Licea

EML: Mr. Lesnik, we’ve already talked about the Cuban opposition, where does your aversion to these political activists come from? Why can’t you, a man so markedly political, not accept the right of these people to belong to parties that oppose the only official Party?

ML: It stems from, among other things, that for me the Cuban opposition has chosen the easiest path: receiving a check from the U.S. government, for which, with good reason, the Cuban government calls them mercenaries, and accuses them of being a fabrication.

I told you before that I can’t believe in the political militancy of fabricated leaders.

Tell me this, sincerely: Do you really believe that Yoani Sanchez is one of the 100 most influential people in the world?

EML: At the time she was included in that list, probably not. Now, yes.

ML: But not even Fidel Castro is one of the 100 people, boy!

EML: No, but for me it’s more than obvious that for a long time now Fidel Castro has ceased to be influential in the world. We’re not talking about fame, about historic importance. We’re talking about influence. And to say that Yoani is not one of the most influential people in the world today, is to ignore reality.

What this is about, Mr. Lesnick, is that the government has designed a tremendously effective machinery to that there is no legal way to exercise opposition.

Let me ask you: Does there exist any way of being an open opponent in Cuba, and being respected as one, not being denigrated by the communication media (without any right to respond), not being imprisoned or excluded from society. Does there exist even one way?

ML: I don’t know how many receive money or don’t receive it, how much more honorable some are than others. But what I do know is that those who present themselves as leaders of the opposition are probably financed by this government, And of the 75 who were put in prison in 2003 it was shown at their trials that they received money from the United States government.

I don’t want to make a categorical statement about all of them, but it’s true that nearly all are of this type. And if the Cuban people don’t respect them it’s because they don’t deserve resepct, because there are things that many of them don’t support about American policy against Cuban and they don’t dare say it publicly.

For example: Don’t you think there are many of them who don’t approve of the embargo? Don’t you think there are many who don’t support it and still they remain silent?

EML: Mr. Lesnik, there is a very well-known letter of May 2010, that has come to be called “Letter of the 74,” where a group of opponents and well-known members of civil society, among them Elizardo Sanche, Dagoberto Valdes, Guillermo Farinas, and Yoani Sanchez herself, wrote to the American Congress to suspend the embargo.

ML: Of course, but Obama’s is a different government. Please…

EML: You told me no one had done it and I am responding.

But let me emphasize: Why don’t you or I know even a single Cuban opponent whom the government respects, whom they don’t demonize on TV programs, and simply take as an opponent with the right to disagree? Doesn’t common sense say something’s not right there?

ML: Look, to me the History that I have learned since 1959, is that the Americans tried to use the Cuban opposition and paid them. I am a witness to how, from the beginning, the Americans put the government opposition there to control it.

And this has been the same policy up to today: they have corrupted the Cuban opposition to the point where the people don’t believe in it. The result is that today we have a Cuban government with an enemy so large, that it allows the Island’s government to accuse everyone in opposition of being traitors.

What I want to say is that this a product of American policies. Is the United States hadn’t intervened in Cuba from the year 1961, and if it hadn’t declared Cuba “the enemy,” and hadn’t used all its resources to bring down the government, there would have been no reason nor pretext to take measures against people who honestly cold have been within their rights to disagree.

For example, can you think of a civil society sector that historically confronted communism more than the Catholic church? And when the Pope met with Fidel Castro the Vatican declared peace in Cuba?

Is it true or is it a lie that from then on Catholics had freedoms that had never been enjoyed under a communist government?

EML: Provided they do not take any positions of disapproval against what happens in Cuba, Lesnik. Provided they remain silent about what they see around them. When Catholics take positions as dissenting Cubans, not even an institution as powerful as the Church can save them. And if you don’t believe me, look at what the police did to Father Jose Conrado in Santiago de Cuba in December of 2007, when they dared to enter his parish and use violence there during a mass in support of political prisoners.

ML: But Conrado is a provocateur… I know Conrado from before you were born, and what he’s looking for is a show, to be the enfant terrible of the Catholic Church in Cuba.

EML: I don’t agree with you at all. Are all the Cuban priests who maintain positions confronting officialdom provocateurs? Is Archbishop Pedro Meurice also a provocateur for reading that fantastic letter of welcome to the Pope in Santiago, where he denounced the suffering of many Cubans?

ML: No, but those who reprimand them are not the government, it’s the Vatican. Whoever has sanctioned them I suppose it to be th Vatican, for saying what they shouldn’t according to the Institution…

EML: I don’t know what sanction you’re referring to. None of them have mentioned suffering any sanction from the Vatican, Mr. Lesnik. Father Conrado, who right now is visiting the United States, exercises his profession currently in the parish of Santa Teresita, and Monsignor Meurice is retired due to his advanced age and lives in El Cobre.

ML: Fine, but what I wanted to tell you on theme of the Church is that the Cuban government has smoked the peace pipe with the Church, because they are no longer conspiring as they did before. And because of this the Catholics have their full freedoms on the Island.

Now, in the case of the United States, they have not made peace with Cuba and what’s more, returning to the dissidents, in the measures that the government of the Island sees that some of its nationals adopt positions that could be used by the American government to maintain its war with Cuba, they can’t have more freedoms for them.

Although you don’t know it, you were an agent of American policy there.

EML: You’re wrong in that assessment. I have always exercised, and I continue to exercise, my irrefutable freedom of expression. The problem is that the government of my country, whether this bothers it or not, whether they believe that it coincides or not with American positions. I leave that up to them. What I do, I dictate my thoughts to myself.

And look, the cynicism of the authorities in my cities got to the point where, as I said in a post, the official who “looked after me” for State Security came to my house expressly to tell me, “We are the ones who issue the Exit Permit. We know you have a Visa for the United States. If you stop writing, there won’t be any obstacles, if you don’t, look out for the consequences.”

Does this seem to you to be the fault of the American government? Do you believe that this is a valid way to fight American policies?

MJ: OK, and did you stop writing?

EML: Not only did I not stop writing, but I responded to them in my blog itself.

ML: But they let you leave! So where’s the problem?

EML: What is horrible is that they have the power to decide, Mr. Lesnik. What is horrible is that they have the mechanism in hand, the mechanism to decide for the lives of others. Whether they use it or not.

This reminds me of the film “Schindler’s List” when Schindler convinces the cold-blooded Amon Goeth that real power is not in ordering the death of someone, but in pardoning them. And I will tell you this: the leaders who possess the power to decide about the lives of people at will, on a whim, at their convenience, have only one name: they are called dictators, Mr. Lesnik.

ML: Look, I’m not going to defend the things that you and I both consider negatives. But I wonder what is the alternative given the this fact: Do we try to change these mistakes through dialog, and bit by bit manage to build a humanist society that we all support? Or do we try to destroy this process that is so valuable in many other aspects?

For me, I have no doubt about the answer.

Let me ask you something, for example: Do you or do you know believe the Cuban government with respect to the case of Zapata?

EML: Naturally, no. Remember that this was one of the reasons, supposedly, that I was left without a job in Cuba.

And now that we touch on the theme, of course, you said in the article To live on dreams is to die disillusioned, also published in Cubadebate, “A prisoner named Zapata, according to the Island’s government a common criminal, and to the anti-Castro opposition a true political dissident.”

I regret to tell you that you are wrong. Not only the Cuban opposition declared him a dissident. Also in 2003 one of the official “Bibles,” the book “The Dissidents” by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Baez, included Zapata among the political opponents, with photos and precise dates. You can look it up. What happened is that latter it was convenient to say that no, he never was, he was just a common criminal…

ML: Did I say in this article you cite that Zapata was a criminal?

EML: No, but I dare say that you believe it. Correct me.

ML: Yes, I think he was, but I don’t say it because I don’t have proof. But everything seems to indicate to me that he was. And you, doesn’t it seem to you that he was involved in those common criminal acts that he’s accused of by the Cuban government?

EML: Do you know why I don’t believe it? for two reasons: 1: Because I said a bit ago that the government has never recognized a single opponent as worthy of respect: they always demonize them morally, and 2: Because I myself, in my own flesh, suffered the most degrading defamation in the world being accused of being a pimp, and that I sold the bodies of several women. You didn’t know that?

ML: No, until now, no.

EML: I humbly suggest you take a turn through my blog and read my text there about it. I’d like you to see what State Security does to “protect itself from American policies.”

I really appreciate your taking the time for this dialog, Max Lesnik. Although we both know there were too many issues on the table to cover everything in just two hours.

ML: And I say the same to you. Hopefully some day you will understand that in the end, where I have come to in my thinking, Ernesto, is that in order for us to see changes in Cuban policy, we have to fight for changes in American policy. If not, the war is lost for people like me, who support a Cuban society that is more just and perfect than what exists today.

March 22 2011

Among Dissidents: My Interview with Max Lesnik (I) / Ernesto Morales Licea

I saw him before me, for the first time, in a television studio in Miami. He had been invited to debate an incident in which he had been a protagonist: A billboard, in an anti-Castro city par excellence, that for twenty-four hours spoke out on behalf of the five Cuban members of the “Wasp Network” who are considered heroes in Cuba and spies in Miami. Shortly after being installed on a central avenue, the billboard of discord would be removed in the face of protests from radical groups.

The “Marti Alliance,” an organization headed by Max Lesnik, had paid for the placement of this sign.

I believe this aroused my curiosity, my particular interest, in interviewing one of the most controversial and least-liked public figures in south Florida. For many, he is the leader of pro-Fidel and pro-Communist movements within the exile community, regardless of how much he insists that he doesn’t defend a doctrine based on Communism.

Our meeting took place without protocols or restraints on his part: an email asking for an interview, another responding affirmatively. After, the address of the radio station where this man, a militant of the old Cuban Orthodox Party, dedicated a part of his life to the media.

Next to this small radio station, its walls decorated with images of Martí and Chibás, Antonio Guiteras, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, a small Chinese restaurant served as the stage for a two-hour interview, after the lunch to which Max Lesnik treated me.

How can I introduce this man, bound by ties of friendship to the leader of the Cuban Revolution, defending some of the most criticized positions of the Island’s government. As a young journalist, a recent arrival to this city, opposed to the regime that runs my country, but possessing a democratic vocation that allows me to hear the arguments of everyone who wants to share them with me.

Seen very clearly, Max Lesnik is nothing more than a dissident in Miami. And complex exhilarating characters, those who generate reactions — for and against — due to their unfettered advocacy of their positions, will never cease to interest me.

I reproduce below the first piece of this lengthy interview.

Ernesto Morales Licea: In the documentary “The Man of the Two Havanas,” filmed by your daughter, I remember you telling a reporter in a public protest, “Do not divide the Cuban family.” This was in relation to the limitations imposed by the Bush administration of three years between each visit to the Island. My first question is: in your view, who has divided the Cuban family more? The American government or the government of Cuba itself?

Max Lesnik: The Cuban family has been divided over time for different reasons. Both the Cuban and the United States governments have responsibility for this. But the seriousness of this is that when Cubans began to communicate again and there was a distension between the parties involved in a conflict, then the American government, pandering to the extreme right in Miami, took measures affecting not the Cuban government, but the Cuban people and the exiles who live here.

And I think Cuba does have responsibility with regards to the division of families, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and therefore the responsibility of the American government is totally immoral: when the Castro Revolution took measures that led to an exodus, they did it for reasons of principles that, right or wrong, had a self-justification.

But when the government here took measures to divide families they didn’t do it for honest reasons or ideological beliefs: they did it for electoral interests.

EML: But for many years the United States government didn’t touch Cuban-Americans traveling to the Island because it was the Cuban government who wouldn’t let them enter. It has been a trip of no return. In fact the Cubans who were left on the Island had to hide their links with the exiles, lest they’d face consequences. Does that strike you as more understandable and legitimate than Bush’s decision, which on the other hand I don’t share? It is more reasonable?

ML: No, no it’s not, but we have to recognize that this practice ended long ago. And in politics, like in daily life, the past must be understood and studied, because always when we work towards a better future we must start from a base of what it is, not what it was. And today Cubans on the Island do not suffer reprisals for having family abroad, nor do they have to hide them.

In the same way I recognize that the position taken by the current Obama administration is positive: eliminating all the obstacles established by Bush for traveling to Cuba, and if there are huge things in Cuba widely criticized like the so-called “white card,” then I believe it should be eliminated.

But I want to clarify that the Permission to Leave is not an invention of the current government; in the 1950s it was already a requirement to go to the Foreign Ministry and request a permit…

EML: Yes, but you will agree with me that we are talking about the Batista dictatorship, and supposedly this Revolution was to do away with all the bad practices. Or was it to continue them?

ML: That’s correct, I agree. But I just want to reaffirm that it is not a new procedure. And to be honest I will tell you: it was not widely applied at that time. It was in selective cases, with people of great interest to the government.

Anyway, if there are restrictive measures in Cuba for leaving the country, I am against them, and I said it there: I am opposed to limiting the right of people to leave the country.

EML: Call things by their name, Mr. Lesnik, these are not simply restrictive measures, These are violations of human rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where it says in writing that “every individual has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their own country.”

Let me ask you: What if you suddenly left Miami, which is not where you were born but it is the city where you have lived most of your life, went to Cuba and made statements contrary to U.S. policy, and suddenly the American government prevented your from returning to your house in Miami?

ML: It would be very regrettable.

EML: We’re in agreement. So tell me then, what do you say to people who are not terrorists, drug smugglers, who have not tried to assassinate any leader, nor to introduce any plague, who are not fugitives from justice, and whom the Cuban government prevents from entering the Island for life only because of their opposing views?

ML: Well, if I were the Cuban government I would let them enter. Absolutely. But I am not the Cuban government.

That country should let anyone who wants to leave, leave, and anyone who wants to return, return. Of course with the limitations you yourself have clarified: there are people who have been to Cuba and committed crimes and some are caught and some are not.

But you can’t fail to understand that freedom from the point of view of governments is always in direct relation to State security.

What does this mean? Well, when a State, for internal political reasons, feels insecure about the harassment of an enemy, it is clearly more restrictive in terms of public freedoms than when it feels solidly established.

In the United States a lot of people can say, “How much freedom!” But the American State is a secure State. But during McCarthyism when they imagined some Americans were sympathetic to the left, they were persecuted and imprisoned. Simply because the State wasn’t secure that it was in control of the situation.

EML: The problem, for me, is that Cuba has manipulated the issue of security at its convenience. It’s unacceptable that citizens, among whom I include myself, who never committed any crime nor have any links with violent organizations, cannot enter their own country because those who have seized it take reprisals against them.

ML: Have you applied for a visa to enter Cuba and been refused, or are you pre-judging?

EML: No, so far I haven’t applied, I’ve been in this country three months. But I’m reasoning based on well-known experience, Mr. Lesnik.

ML: Well, then let’s wait until you try it before judging, wouldn’t you agree? To me, you’re biased. I’m asking if you know any of these honorable people who are not allowed to enter Cuba just because they think differently about Cuban politics.

EML: I don’t have enough time in this interview to mention names, Mr. Lesnik. From ordinary people I’ve talked with here in Miami, to others who have become known precisely because of this, as in the case of Fernando Delgado Duran, a Cuban living in Austria, who recently staged a brief hunger strike to call attention to his case, that they will not allow him to visit his family. I’m sure that in Miami we could collect hundreds of thousands of similar testimonies, which I’m surprised you don’t know.

So I think that if your attitude is honest, you should not only defend some legitimate rights that the government of the island has on behalf of its sovereignty, but also defend the respect for universal rights which are continually violated.

ML: But look, what I do know is that many would be allowed to enter Cuba and they are the ones who don’t want to, who proclaim that they do not want to go to Cuba as long as this regime is in force.

EML: In that case, it is their right. What is impossible to explain, for example, is why writer Amir Valle, today in Berlin, has written hundreds of letters to the authorities of the island demanding an explanation of why he has been denied his visa, even though his children are there, and after he reached a dead-end Valle put pressure on by saying that if they did not let him take his children or go to Cuba, he would mobilize the international left in a “reverse Elián” case. And only then he was allowed to take his children, but not to enter the country.

ML: Well he is saving himself from being called a traitor by extremist sectors here (in Miami) thanks to all that trouble. Because the other problem is that when you are not allowed to enter Cuba you complain that there is a dictatorship, but when the government of Cuba lets you in you are called a traitor here.

EML: That is quite a pickle, at least for me. Being branded a traitor by people who don’t concern me the least.

ML: Over there it’s wrong that you are not allowed out or in, and here they do the same but in reverse, calling people traitors if they travel to Cuba.

EML: But there is no comparison between a laughable insult and a restriction to travel to your own country Mr. Lesnik.

ML: I am not saying it is the same thing, but Miami’s extremist community slanders and denigrates anyone who doesn’t follow the official stance of stigmatizing Cuba and saying that everything coming from the island is evil.

EML: But the evidence that this extremist community has no impact on anything is yourself. If this community had any control over things, any determination over anything, and any power other than uttering pointless insults, you wouldn’t be allowed to return to Miami when you appear on Cuban television praising the Cuban Revolution. This is the immense difference: the small group of extremists, as you call them, determines nothing. The Cuban government determines everything.

ML: Well, but if they have a way of controlling things they obviously wouldn’t let me back in. Because the facts are there: the Cuban community in the south of Florida, for electoral reason, pressures and conditions everything that has anything to do with Cuba.

Then the policies of exile don’t fully translate to the America policies towards Cuba, but that is the intention. I don’t tire of saying that to reach an ideal society it is easier to start from where Cuba is today than to change everything and go back to yesterday’s Cuba with all the ingredients that those in Miami would prefer.

That’s how I see it, as I declare myself a democratic socialist and averse to any form of dictatorship.

EML: I deduce from your words that you don’t consider the current Cuban government a dictatorship.

ML: In my view there is a government that maintains an evolutionary system capable of changing in any way if the Cubans desired to do so. But not because of outside pressures.

In that case, if Cubans wished, Cuba could be transformed; what will never be transformed is Cuban exile. Not even with your arrival here in Miami. Because people come from Cuba with a different flare and with a critical position against everything they’ve left behind such as yours; but, without intentions to make improvements of the Cuban society through terrorist acts or military action, they are left with not but one choice: to fold and adopt that position, contrary to their initial ideals, or they suffer the consequences of being considered communist or similar.

I believe, for example, that there are people in Cuba that also fold. People within the government who see with critical eyes many of the things happening around them and say nothing. Rather they stay the course in order to survive.

And there are some here who do the same; who fold to the interest of irrational and intolerant monsters who are in control of power.

Do you want a better example than what happen to the billboard we put up on a street in Miami asking for the release of the Five? I would have rather had it stay, to demonstrate that we do have democracy here. But no. What they accomplished was to demonstrate that there is more intolerance here than there is in Cuba, because there at least you can argue that the State has enemies that threaten its stability.

EML: I am glad to hear you speak about tolerance. In 1968 you started the magazine “Replica” here in Miami, which in many ways dissents with the United States policies. It is well-known that there were attempts to shut it down, either via violent ways as well as political campaigns. But you were able to keep it going, nobody threw you in jail nor did the government shut the publication down by force.

Today, you have a radio show that doesn’t agree by any stretch with US policies, much less with Miami views. Nobody shuts your radio station down or throws you in jail.

ML: Yes, but when “Replica” was first published, where, by the way, I allowed all parties to express their point of view, from leftist to rightist articles, the most obstinate sectors in Cuban exile wanted me to editorially abide by their position.

My declining, and the publishing of an editorial where I denounced terrorism, resulted in my being threatened with bombs, not just at the magazine’s offices but also at stands where it was sold. It also served to have all of those working, promoting, or supporting the publication be personally threatened.

EML: Nevertheless, just a bit ago you said we shouldn’t judge Cuba’s reality based on mistakes made in the past, right? You said that Cuba has overcome many things of the past and must be given credit for that. But I say the same thing here. This country has also overcome, and rapidly, many of the ways of the past, and if you don’t believe it tell Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, that decades later someone with the same color skin as hers would be president of the country.

Currently there is not a single case of violence or explicit threats against people in this city who exercise their right of free expression, Mr. Lesnik. If you and I started a magazine now that didn’t agree with official government policy, nor with the extreme right of this city, no one would put a bomb… Correct me if I’m wrong.

ML: OK, I don’t know if they wouldn’t place a bomb because they’re afraid of the FBI. If they would use other methods. And terrorism isn’t only about setting off bombs. If the restaurant where we’re sitting now advertises in your and my magazine, and they get a telephone call accusing them of being traitors and communists, and the owner has to call our magazine and withdraw his ad because he’s afraid, that’s also terrorism.

EML: This is too subjective for me to understand. What is objective is that we could open that magazine. In Cuba, no. In Cuba it would cost us a prison sentence to fund and distribute a magazine against the interests of the government. The Penal Code includes explicit sanctions for those who distribute enemy propaganda.

ML: And then what about the blogs written from within Cuba against the government? Why has no one been imprisoned for that based on the same Penal Code?

EML: Very simple, because there’s a loophole in the law which, incidentally, will no doubt be filled very soon in some way. The blogs are on an ethereal platform, intangible, the internet. In addition, independent blogs are not “distributed”: they simply are. An author loads his post and users access or don’t access the site: there is no distribution. It’s as if I write a journal and leave it in the doorway of my house, and passersby come into my house and read the magazine there. Who can be charged?

Then, returning to the starting point, I find it incomprehensible to affirm that there is more tolerance there than here, when for me, for publishing a text that departed from the official posture regarding the case of Zapata and an interview the blogger Yoani Sanchez, I was notoriously expelled from my place of work, and they hung a sign on me automatically labeling me, “enemy.”

ML: Seen like that, it’s true, you’re right, but that’s not what we were talking about.

EML: We were talking about intolerance, Mr. Lesnik, which you said was worse here than in Cuba.

ML: What I said to you just now was that tolerance and freedom are in direct relation to the security of the State. I am free to express my points of view because in fact my comments have no repercussions with regards to changing the society in which I live.

EML: And then why, in Cuba, is there so much fear about articles that don’t share the official position. Isn’t the Cuban process supported by the masses, by the people? Then where does the fear come from?

ML: I’ll explain it to you: if I, for expressing my points of view, in a blog, a magazine, a newspaper, receive money from a foreign government, be it Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, obviously the American state would not tolerate it.

EML: And you receive nothing for your column in Cubadebate?

ML: No man, no. I don’t even send them those articles. They take them from Radio Miami and post them there, for which I thank them, just like I would thank Channel 41 if they took my radio commentaries and introduced them in their programming. I would be very glad to give them the rights.

But I repeat: If I were paid for what I do by an enemy foreign government, the United States would not allow it.

Thus, when the U.S. government publicly sends $20 million to help, support and maintain the Cuban opposition, how can we think this freedom of expression of supposed independent journalists and bloggers is clean when we know they receive this “help.”

EML: Mr. Lesnik: I never received a single penny for writing my articles.

ML: Fine, but it follows that the Cuban government suspects through associations of ideas that everyone who publishes ideas of this kind is financed by the enemy.

EML: But this “suspicion” is absurd, Mr. Lesnik. There’s nothing else to call it.

And speaking of dissent, if the government doesn’t allow me within my own country to have a position contrary to theirs, and at the same time to survive, to keep my life, I have two options: 1. To desist from this contrary position, to submit, to use their own expression, or, 2. To accept economic help which in this case can only come from the exterior. It’s a trap, a dead-end that leads to no one being able to speak in opposition.

ML: Then for you this practice is justified, this buying of the dissidents.

EML: No, what I’m saying is that this is a consequence of a mechanism designed so that Cuban dissidents cannot exercise their political arguments. If a Cuban with a lot of money, within the Island, would like to finance the political activity of an opponent, as happens all over the world, or if at least the dissidents could engage in their activity but sustain themselves economically within Cuban society itself, I think this problem would not exist: the United States could keep its $20 million.

ML: But in the Revolution of the ’30s, and in the fight against Batista and Machado, and in the War of Independence in 1895, not one patriot received money from foreign governments.

EML: No, but Martí came here just to raise funds for the struggle.

ML: Among the people in exile. Not from the government.

EML: Fine, but today’s opponents cannot leave Cuba as Martí could.

ML: Boy, they receive it by other routes, today there are thousands of ways… They can get it from Western Union.

EML: And in your view would that be legal? Let’s see: if I was now a successful businessman from Miami without ties of any kind to the government, and as a Cuban I wanted to finance the political career of Oswaldo Payá, Dagoberto Valdés, Oscar Elías Biscet… then what?

ML: It has already been published that Mrs. Pollán and the Ladies in White receive money from a gentleman here with links to terrorism. And for this she hasn’t been imprisoned…

EML: You aren’t answering my question. If the American government eliminated these funds, and if independent institutions — which also exist — were those who sent money for the cause of these opponents, just like exiles here gave funds to Martí for this fight against the Spanish, would you consider this fine, and from your perspective should the Cuban government accept it?

ML: I don’t know if the Cuban government will take measures against individuals from there who receive money from individuals here. My answer to you is: This is valid. What is not valid is to receive money from a foreign government.

March 17 2011