State of SATisfaction / Reinaldo Escobar

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to participate as a spectator at the most recent edition of the Estado de SATS event where a group of young art promoters met to discuss alternative projects and censorship. The presence of an attentive and respectful audience, despite the threats that loomed from the authorities and their intentions to discredit a narrow sector of the opposition, was significant.

It was made clear that anyone who intends to undertake any independent project in the area of the arts will have to be willing to live with the anguish of a permanent state of war. The institutions whose ultimate goal is supposed to be promoting culture function as braking mechanisms, not only in terms of their pretensions to audit content, but also through the petty jealousies of their prominence.

In the year when the home-grown intellectuals have celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of “the words to the intellectuals” many of them have tried to clarify that maxim: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing,” does not mean a state of “being outside” the Revolution, but only one of “being against it.” However, the testimonies expressed in this discussion clearly showed that the process of institutionalization resulted in substitutions for the elements of the equation, leaving an unspoken rule: “Within the institutions some things; outside the institutions, nothing.”

Nevertheless, the oppressive force of this rule has not achieved its purpose of extinguishing the yearnings for freedom that dwell in the natures of creative people. Sometimes through playing with ambiguous language, other times appealing to clandestine tricks, or in some cases openly defying the censors and repressors, numerous Cuban artists have made their own a phrase attributed to José Martí: “He who is not able to create, is not obliged to obey.”

An End to Eternity / Reinaldo Escobar

I already know that eternity has no end, or a beginning, but let’s be dialectic and apply the theory of relativity to the concept. If, from the time you begin to develop a notion that the country where you were born has a leader who remains in power until he retires and all our projects finish, then that, in terms of the finite of human life, counts as an eternity.

That’s why I felt a passing crisis of optimism when I heard Raul Castro announce that from now on, the government and party positions could only last for a maximum of ten years, which is the same as two periods of 5 years with only one reelection allowed.

All those I tried to fill with my enthusiasm stared at me with either pity or indignation. I even was upset with myself when I remembered that assembly which took place before the 4th Communist Party Congress in 1991 when they gave us permission to give our opinions on whatever we wanted, and I came up with the idea of proposing the same idea which has now been approved. Is it possible that I was ahead of my time, as befits a great visionary? Or perhaps it has to do with a measure which has been passed too late, for it should have done 20 years ago.

Had it happened that way, the then First Secretary would have had to start counting his term from that very moment, and in 2001 the second would have passed on to be the first, and, interestingly enough, in that same year Raul Castro would have finished his second mandate, supposing that he’d be undoubtedly been reelected in 2006.

Will we have to wait until 2021 to know the name which will be chanted and acclaimed by the delegates of the 8th Communist Party Congress, or will a hole open up in time and we will jump ahead, without any previous warnings, into another dimension?

Translated by Raul G.

20 April 2011

Orlando Zapata’s Inconvenient Corpse / Reinaldo Escobar

Not content with deporting the recently released political prisoners, the Cuban government is now expelling from his land the exhumed remains of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The procedure has been the same: make life impossible for the family and offer them the tantalizing solution of exile. They repeat, in this way, the well-known recipe of launching the pack against defenseless people in order to appear themselves, at the perfect moment, to save them from the irate claws of their front line troops disguised as “angry people.”

The foreign press accredited in Cuba, eager for their reports to lead the news, will enjoy the privilege of interviewing the martyr’s mother at the airport to confirm the falsehood that, ultimately, all the fuss was just for this. With the intention of organizing this scene, unauthorized people have assured Reina Tamayo that everything is already arranged for her to travel to the United States, when in fact the Interest Section of this country hasn’t even received a formal request for the visa.

Representatives of the Cuban Catholic Church collaborated in the task of persuading Orlando’s mother that everything was ready to end the ordeal that the political police had condemned her to: facing the organized pickets — Sunday after Sunday — who prevent her from going to the cemetery and the temple of Banes. They absolved her of continuing her sacrifice, pardoned her sins, and showed her that the path to her cross led in the opposite direction. The day of the exhumation will be the one year anniversary of the beatification of Padre Olallo, and also one year since, in a punishment cell in Kilo 7 Prison in Camaguey, Zapata Tamayo chose immolation over submission.

Time will pass, and one day we will receive, as if we earned it, what remains by then of the inconvenient corpse of this man, who left not a single memorable phrase in writing, nor was he the leader of anyone, but he made us ashamed of our daily cowardice.

November 29, 2010

Fidel Castro Refuses to Discuss Upcoming Communist Party Congress / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel meeting with the students. Reuters.

If I were a Communist Party militant, I would be shocked and disappointed to see that Fidel Castro, meeting with a group of students for four hours, gave himself the luxury of suggesting that the solutions to Cuba’s problems had been dictated by him five years ago, on November 17, 2005, without any mention that the Party has just presented a platform for a new model of socialism that will be discussed at its Sixth Congress.

True, the event announced for April 2011 will be something less than a Party Congress, lacking a central report where what has happened in the last three years is critically analyzed, lacking a commission to air appeals, lacking a renewal of terms, and lacking any ideological approach or analysis of the world in which we live. True, a formal call hasn’t even been publicly issued, only a simple announcement — as if it were an incidental matter — in the midst of a ceremony marking the anniversary of the treaties with Venezuela; and obviously nothing will be said about civil rights or political openings. All that is true, but to snub the event by not even mentioning it, when it is assumed to be the priority of all Cuban communists, that tops everything.

The comandante admitted that his work in recent weeks has been focused on other issues, such as his interview with Michel Chossudovski, the elections in the United States, the world crisis, the G-20 Summit in Seoul, the APEC Summit in Yokohama, and the upcoming NATO Summit in Portugal… the Guidelines for the Congress? “I pass,” as they say in the game of dominoes.

A student at the Tourism Faculty had the immense ingenuity (hopefully it was wisdom) to say that the students were engaged in a study of the Guidelines and to remind him that he was the first secretary of this organization. His brother was probably following the live meeting on screen and must have been rubbing his hands in suspense. I imagine him with his eyes closed, praying to his gods, or to the spirit of their common mother, while anticipating the desired phrase, something as simple as: “Yes, of course, the Guidelines are the key,” or perhaps: “You should know that we worked very hard on this and that I am in agreement with everything.” But no. With a smile known well to those who have been humiliated by his pride, he said only, “I am not here as the First Secretary of the Party,” and clarified that he had already finished with that long ago.

Those who should be delighted are those who have asserted for some time that relations between the brothers are in crisis. Perhaps that is why it couldn’t be done before the Conference charged with choosing a new Central Committee, and perhaps it is one of the reasons they have managed to limit the debate at the Congress to the subject matter of a thematic committee. So there is no commitment to share or challenge the alarmist approach of the Maximum Leader, who will have to postpone the date of his prediction about an imminent nuclear war as many times as he has been obliged, in 50 years, to postpone the advent of the construction of socialism.

This article originally appeared in Diario de Cuba on November 22, 2010.

The Most Uncertain Hypothesis / Reinaldo Escobar from Voces 3

IN ONE OF THOSE endless debates where we try to outline how we might exit from the current situation, some colleagues were discussing the possible scenarios, the innumerable variants of each one, and the final outcomes of the hypothesis considered.

But first there was some light-hearted speculation about the presumed decency of our leaders who, in a demonstration of their goodwill, will recognize their failure and call for a dialog among all Cubans to re-found the Nation. This forecast was restated, with the decency converted into pragmatism and the goodwill reduced to their desire to remain in power, leading to the usual introduction of cosmetic changes devoid of self-criticism and political commitment.

Shuffle all the cards. Then arose the variant of a social explosion, with its undesirable share of bloody revenge. And, bordering on insolence, we considered the possibility of a coup d’etat, including the surprised televised announcement: “We, the National Salvation Junta…” And not to leave anything out, we contemplated the worst outcome of all: foreign intervention and its traumatic aftermath.

Someone who had been silent throughout the whole discussion, said that we had forgotten a hypothesis — the most uncertain, surely — and almost apologetically enunciated it in the form of a long rhetorical question:

…And what if our current leaders, taking advantage of the Marxist laws of economics, manage to stabilize the production of food to the point where the needs of the population are satisfied. And, applying the formulas of centralized planning, resolve the problems of housing, transport, energy generation and distribution, and the fair and equitable distribution of appliances. And if, rigorously applying exigencies and controls, they remove the cancer of corruption and follow up with actions to eliminate its causes. And if, with strict adherence to the ideological canons, they manage to banish the false values prevalent among today’s young people, and inculcate the love of work, stoicism and spirit of solidarity that are typical of the New Man. And if, taking into consideration the uniqueness of Cubans, they are able to actually build socialism, so far unknown by any other society, where work is a pleasure, where culture flourishes in the fertile ground of freedom, where sport is practiced more for the health of the body than from the ambition to win medals, and recreation ceases to seem like a vice and vulgarity. And if we finally realize Utopia, in order to bring prosperity and human fulfillment to all Cubans…

We didn’t know whether it was a joke or a provocation, until the author of the stirring conjecture, in a tone half ironic half scientific, finished his contribution with this sentence: We cannot forget this hypothesis, because just by mentioning it we come to realize its unviability, which forces us to find other alternatives.

November 14, 2010

Posted in Voces Revista 3, now available on a new website.

Countdown to Freedom / Reinaldo Escobar

Last weekend I conducted an interview with Guillermo Fariñas, which can be read shortly in the journal Coexistence. Among the questions that might become old news by the time the conversation is published, is this one which I am putting here on my blog. I share Fariñas’ optimism and apprehensions on this subject, and consider it a topic of enormous importance, because the release from prison of the final opponent would mark a milestone on the path to a claim we have made so many times: Let differences be decriminalized!

Reinaldo Escobar: With only a few days left to comply with the government’s promise to release all the prisoners from the Black Spring, there are still 13 of them behind bars. They are those who have declared their intention not to leave the country. What is your point of view on this situation?

Guillermo Fariñas: With regards to the thirteen still in prison today, I would like to abuse your time and mention all of their names. They are: José Daniel Ferrer García, his brother Luis Enrique, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Librado Hilario García, Angel Moya Acosta, Diosdado González Marrero, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Guido Sigler Amaya, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Arnaldo Ramos Lausurí and Oscar Elías Gonzalez Biscet.

With regards to these people, all variables are possible, especially now that the European Union decided not to lift their Common Position with respect to Cuba which, from my point of view, was one of the government’s objectives for these releases. I’m going to risk telling you that I am hopeful they will be released from prison even though they do not want to leave the country. The Government is already aware that if they do not fulfill their promise, at least six of these thirteen will declare themselves on hunger strike as of November 10. That is, they will give the government 72-hours grace to comply with the offer, and if it is not met, they are going to take a stand along with some wives and other opponents.

I have the impression that the authorities are going to do everything possible to avoid an international scandal putting Cuba back in the public spotlight. I am hopeful, but I do not forget that the exercise of power, over more than fifty years, creates a sense of arrogance that at times makes those who want to exercise absolute power in this way lose track of reality.

November 5, 2010

The Journalist Reinaldo Escobar Enters the Debate / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

“The Little Email War,” “Little Glasnost,” “Rebellion of the Intellectuals” or “The Created Situation,” have been some of the names used to baptize this phenomenon which I prefer to call, “words of the intellectuals” (with the “of” in bold and underlined). Evidently a hole has been opened in this Pandora’s box (which was a gift from Zeus himself), where it is not the evils that populate the world that are escaping, but rather the outrages committed against freedom of expression.

I promise not to use this space for personal complaints, in the first place because I feel a profound gratitude to those who, in December 1988, banned me from practicing the profession of journalist. To them I owe my freedom, which I exercise from Cuba, although sadly not in the media permitted in Cuba.

As it is not possible to answer, argue or support each deserving idea, because that would imply writing a book, I will limit myself to giving my opinion about what I believe is fundamental in this issue, which after all is not, not even remotely, the appearance on the small screen of those who once were the obedient adherents of a policy. What seems to be clear to everyone is that there are open wounds, self-criticisms to make and discussions to foment.

I can understand the horror of the newly vindicated, faced with the renewed vindication of their executioners; what I cannot seem to understand at all is the simplicity of confusing the systemic with the causal.

Just like a bus that is already full, those who are already on the first step of the discussion ask to close the door because there isn’t room for anyone else, but those of us who are left behind, those who here are below, we think differently.

I believe that the basis of all the wrongs that have occurred is the intolerance of difference, which is not limited to the nearly defeated intolerance of different religious beliefs, or to the repudiation of different sexual preferences. I am speaking about the unconquered intolerance of diverse political opinions. I would like to know on what general principle we can build tolerance for one particular kind of diversity without applying this to other kinds of diversity.

Since that fateful day in which the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution was subjugated to a sectarian phrase — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — the abyss opened. Because from that moment a group of people were conferred, or conferred upon themselves, the right to define the boundaries of what could be catalogued as revolutionary, meaning what could be published, shown and disseminated. And since the creators of literature, painting, music or cinema usually fulfill themselves when their work becomes something tangible for the public, they begin the create in that direction and there begins the self-censorship; because there is only one way to be sure that what we do cannot be classified as “outside of the Revolution,” and that is to do only that which is clearly for and within the Revolution.

That gray five-year period was only the act of drawing the dividing line a few meters closer to the border. The original sin was to conceive the border.

Some of those who are participating in this discussion are not disputing the right of the government to decide whether to publish a work based on its political affiliation. The only thing they are contending is that they and their work should be considered unwavering supporters of the Revolutionary line. Others want to go further, which is why, in this debate, many things are being discussed at the same time.

Víctor Fowler, with his habitual lucidity, introduces the idea of a “catalog of practices of cultural violence.” All of the anecdotes fit into this catalog: prison for the translator of the prophecies of Nostradamus, the famous Padilla case, the firing of Eduardo Heras, the sanctions against Norberto Fuentes, the ostracism of so many illustrious names: Cintio, Eliseo, Lezama, plus the endless list of the unknowns, as always, who in obscure cities of the country defiantly read a combative poem in a literary workshop session or who, in a provincial radio broadcast, dare to introduce an uncomfortable song by Frank Delgado. The question is how far do we take this list, and if we should pay attention to those already on board, who are shouting to close the door once and for all so the journey can continue, or if we should continue letting more people get on until the bus bursts.

Who gave the order to close the expositions of the group Arte Calle? What should we call the decade in which they banned Pedro Luís Ferrer? What color was the five-year period in which Antonio José Ponte was expelled from UNEAC? Who was the Minister of Culture when the movie “Monte Rouge” was blocked from being shown in the Cinema Festival? What, if not “The Black Spring of 2003,” should we call that moment when the poet Raúl Rivero was imprisoned?

Esteban Morales himself, former dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, classifies as “Saturn devouring the children of the Revolution” not just subordinates of Luís Pavón, but militants of the Communist Party who, in the seventies, carried out relentless purges in the school of journalism, and who today publish in the daily newspaper, Granma, and no one bothers them.

And all this is being discussed today perhaps because some advisers in the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) who work on the program Impronta [Imprint] are just historians versed in the 19th century and wouldn’t know who directed the National Culture Council 30 years ago. I wonder what would happen if, as a part of “50 Years of Victories,” someone were to recount the exploits of Hubert Matos in taking the city of Santiago de Cuba, or if someone who does not know the secret versions of the story, speaking about the events of Granada, would mention Colonel Tortoló as an emulator of the Bronze Titan. I bet that nobody would ever make the mistake of making a Impronta episode about Doctor Hilda Molina, however much she deserves it.

What really happened is not that one day it was mentioned to someone that it deserved to be buried in silence, but just the opposite; it’s that it has been too quiet for too long, and not only in the area of culture. As the critic Orlando Hernández has bravely pointed out, “It would be very sad if all this fell into the ridiculous Complaints and Suggestions Box at the Ministry of Culture, or if it were converted into a minority’s collective catharsis.” I believe that the criticism or self-criticism remains unresolved not only in the case of the First Culture Congress, which changed its name in its second session to become the Congress of Education and Culture. The Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the repudiation rallies of the 1980s, the unmet Food Plan of 1990s, the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, and the infinite lists that so many victims could rightfully assemble, are also in need of a self-criticism; to do otherwise would make it very difficult to honor someone on television without running the risk that the person interviewed would have another “imprint” in his illustrious biography.

Not only revolutions, but also history in its entirety, is staged by men who,in carrying out the projects they put forward, experience successes and failures, greatness and baseness, nobility and villainy. Cuba’s is far from a celestial history, though many have insisted on sweetening it. It seems as if once again someone has tried to marry us to a lie and to force us to live with it, but fortunately, someone also has taught us that it is better to let the world collapse than to live a lie.

I don’t want to finish this intervention without referring to the cryptic Declaration of the Secretariat of UNEAC, published on Thursday, January 18.

To say that the cultural politics of the Revolution, established with those Words to the Intellectuals — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — is irreversible, is to affirm that Luís Pavón did not manage to reverse it and therefore only was consistent with it to an extreme degree. In that we are in agreement. What I cannot agree with is the element of terror the text introduces with the mention of a supposed annexationist agenda on the part of those who have wanted to take advantage of the situation created. I call on them to show a single paragraph of the debate with the stink of annexationism. Although it is suggested that this is the consensual response of the debate’s initiators, evidently it is a text that Leopoldo Ávila would proudly sign.

I propose a full debate on all these matters. Since UNEAC — the Cuban Writers and Artists Union — has decided not to hold its proposed congress, now that the Communist Party of Cuba has not held its either, we will do it ourselves in a theater, at the ballpark or in the middle of a field, without the rapid response brigades to impede its meeting, and where the entire world can speak, the communist, the social democrat, the Christian democrat and the liberal, and if the annexationists have something to say, we will listen to them also.

Finally it seems healthy to me that those of us who participate in this discussion do not share a common position. We are not going to repeat the model affirming that “this is not the moment to have divergences among ourselves because we should unite against the common enemy.” Much less will we proclaim something like, “Against the reign of Pavón everything, for the reign of Pavón nothing.” Please, let us not start in the same way. Fortunately, like Pandora’s mythical box, the only thing that hasn’t escaped is hope.

Reinaldo Escobar

Translated by Ariana

January 31, 2007

REINALDO ESCOBAR UNEDITED IN VOICES 2 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Reinaldo Escobar

The image of the forest, the identity of the tree

Reinaldo Escobar

LITTLE has been revealed of the controversial life of Juan Bautista Spotorno, a commander of the Spanish militia and led an insurrection and became acting president of the Republic in Arms. He issued a famous decree that bears his name, that provided that any person bearing a proposal for peace without independence would be shot. Three years later he joined the committee that negotiated the peace with the Spanish and that led to the Pact of Zanjón. He ended up being an autonomist.

I can imagine that in the ranks of the Liberation Army there must have been numerous people like Spotorno, about whom it is difficult to be sure they were wrong when they thought they were right, or that they were right at times when they thought they were wrong. Men full of contradictions, passions, virtues, personal defects and that ingredient that makes a human being normal and mortal. However, the veil of glory that covers all the mambises with the same dignity, because the heroes, the martyrs, are the what keeps the story alive in the memory of a people. They stained with their blood the timeless colors of the flags, and with their war cries and screams of pain they filled the high notes of the national anthem.

Every era has its paladins. The struggle against Machado had Julio Antonio Mello, later expelled for indiscipline from the party he himself had founded, but finally sheltered in his last words, “I die for the Revolution.” The fights against Batista had José Antonio Echevarría, a fervent Catholic who had never accepted the imposition of communist atheism but who could not be exiled from the revolutionary pantheon because he died riddled with bullets with a pistol in his hand.

I once heard a decorated veteran of the Bay of Pigs say he had witnessed that not all the dead had fallen in combat at the front and I heard the same from a veteran from Angola, where almost more were killed by accidents, murders and executions, than in combat actions. But the glory, even if not eternal, is generous and it is enough to have died in the right place at the right time to be blessed by it. The living are the ones who then have problems.

Most of the senior offices of the Liberation Army who survived the war ended up, with few exceptions, disillusioned or corrupted by the Republic. This scenario is repeated over and over. I often wonder what we wold be saying now about Camilo Cienfuegos if he had kept repeating, for fifty years, his, “You’re doing well, Fidel.” The tourists would not be buying shirts with photos of Che Guevara if he were still heading up some ministry which I suspect still wouldn’t work. The epithet that encompasses a host of heroes almost always makes each one a great figure, but the fault is not theirs but that of the propagandists of one kind or another, who strive to come up with angelic characterizations, almost always far from human miseries, the appetites, vices and bad habits that make us unworthy of and aura.

Right now, overdue government sanity is about to dismantle the episode of the 75 imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. Before too long they will cease to be “the defenders of civil rights, victims of the cruel repression of the dictatorship,” to be, to become again, themselves.

The time is coming when we will discover among them one who doesn’t know which letter gets the accent in the word política, or others who never want to hear the name of Cuba again, and no doubt there will be one who wants to divorce his Lady in White, the same one who Sunday after Sunday, over seven long years, was at Santa Rita church praying and shouting for his freedom. Some will say some stupid thing in their first interview, or sign the first thing put in front of them to get ahead.

There will be something of everything, because everything is there. But I want one thing known: for me, who is not perfect either, you will continue to the “The 75,” that group that never went anywhere together and among whom there are probably not three of you who can agree on two points. Whatever happens with the trees, the forest will be in my heart.

September 28, 2010

The Naked King / Reinaldo Escobar

1987: Year 29 of the Revolution: “Now, indeed, we are going to Build socialism!”

Fidel Castro’s recent confession that the Cuban System doesn’t work, not even for us, and the unfortunate clarification that sought to amend the slip, have surprised and excited those addicted to the regime, its opponents, and neutral Cubanologists.

The initial phrase, slipped into an interview with the journalist Jeffry Goldberg from The Atlantic magazine, came to be interpreted by some as a sign of changes to come, although others took it only as an inconsequential rant.

I remember the newspaper Granma’s front page from December 27, 1986: “1987: Year 29 of the Revolution,” and in letters even larger, the Maximum Leader’s brilliant line, “NOW INDEED WE ARE GOING TO BUILD SOCIALISM.”

A few years later, when Real Socialism collapsed in Eastern Europe, another journalist (obviously a foreigner) asked the Commander-in-Chief if Cuba would now dedicate itself to building capitalism. His answer then also stunned many: “What is built is socialism, capitalism gives birth to itself.”

Now, the first question that comes to mind is whether there has really existed a “Cuban system” susceptible to being defined under some theoretical formulation. The absence of a definition is what has allowed the pervasive voluntarism and improvisation with respect not only to the economy, but also to political culture, international relations, and all spheres of ideological work. If this is the model of the Cuban system we are now being told doesn’t work: thank you very much, we already know that. For denouncing or issuing warnings about its disfunctionality, many honest members of the Communist Party were expelled, many journalists, artists, professors and employees of the superstructure lost their jobs, and many citizens, considered dissidents, ended up in prison.

But we don’t seek vengeance. Let’s be positive. Start with a clean slate. Look to the future. If this “system” does not work, let’s design another, keeping in mind that socialism, as defined in books, never came to the point of failure of Cuba because it was never possible to implement it.

One of the problems we have faced, at least recently, has been the insistence on the irrevocable character of our system, with public discourse being allowed to advance only as far as promoting the idea of perfecting or realizing it. The “Not Working” sign which, in a Freudian slip, the Maximum Leader hung on the doors of the system, calls for replacement rather than repair; for change, rather than improvement. But it can also leave us at a dead end, marching in place.

The clumsy explanation that he was amused to see how he had been interpreted, because what he meant to say was exactly the opposite, makes me think of the late comedian Chaflán, who explained to the public that when he was wearing his hat everything was a joke, he only spoke seriously bare-headed. Was el comandante wearing his cap when he was speaking with Goldberg?

The oft repeated story of the King wearing invisible clothes has found a different ending in Cuba. It is no longer an innocent boy who shouts that the emperor is nude. To the astonishment of the credulous, it is the monarch himself who, in an obscene display of exhibitionism, admits loudly, “I am stark naked.”

Note: This article originally appeared in Spanish in Diario de Cuba

September 16, 2010

Again, Yoani / Reinaldo Escobar

At the end of 2008 I published a text here titled “The Year of Yoani,” where I detailed the distinctions and achievements of the famous blogger up to that time. I realized, then, that nine was her lucky number and 2009 was also overwhelming, particularly with the mention in the Maria Moors Cabot prizes from Columbia University, and the successful interview with Barack Obama, among other achievements. Now, towards the end of 2010, as she celebrates her 35th birthday, two more laurels have arrived: one from the International Press Institute declaring her a World Press Freedom Hero, and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands.

I had the exceptional opportunity to be with her each time she learned of a new prize. She takes it always with surprise and modesty. Now, as she responds to the dozens of telephone interviews from some radio or television station, the journalists say they are confused because it is not clear which award she won on this occasion. Almost embarrassed she answers, “there are two awards,” adding, “forgive me.”

The real joy shows in her eyes when friends from around the world call to congratulate her. The thousands of commentators who come almost daily to her blog, Generation Y; the volunteers who translate her texts into 22 different languages; those who are calling from a pay phone and who, out of fear, can’t say their names. And others, those whom she helped to have their own blogs, or to connect to Twitter on a cellphone without Internet, or alumni of the Blogger Academy; and those to whom she never said “follow me,” but whom she armed with knowledge and courage so that they could find their own ways to empower themselves.

September 8, 2010

The Idiots / Reinaldo Escobar

As I have no talent, not even for beating out a rhythm on a door, the artists who play some instrument with virtuosity awaken feelings in me between admiration and envy. When, for example, Frank Fernández moves me with his interpretations of Sergei Rachmaninov or Frederic Chopin, I can hardly bear my own incapacity to do something similar. I feel like an idiot.

Maybe that’s why I was so surprised when, in the last session of the Cuban parliament, this remarkable artist, after expressing that he shared the emotions of all present, speaking to Fidel Castro confessed: “One feels like a half-wit when hearing your reasoning.” What is surprising and at the same time comforting is that, in my opinion, the ex-president wasn’t saying anything out of this world; his words were full of platitudes and enormous scientific, historic and political errors.

Could it be that anyone can play the piano well? I have not amassed the necessary merits to become a member of this parliament, but I am most optimistic; I already feel the touch of the keys under my fingers.

August 10, 2010

I Told You So! / Reinaldo Escobar

I don’t want to fall into that old people’s habit neatly summarized in the phrase, “I told you so,” when something happens someone already warned you about: Not content with having wasted the opportunity on July 26, Raul Castro again fell short in his speech to the Parliament.

The announcement regarding the broadening of self-employment and the flexibility to contract for workers are steps in the right direction, but still suffer from a lack of depth and are painfully slow. Can we go to the office that deals with these matters to take out a license as an independent journalist? Can joint venture companies recruit staff outside the monopoly imposed by the State? It was indispensable to end the paternalistic practice of having eight people where three is enough and of course suitability must be the first if not the only reason to select those who fill the jobs, but it is also important to stress in more detail that presumed discrimination and favoritism can’t come into play when it’s time for layoffs.

With the greatest respect, I do not believe, as our general-cum-president said, that there is no struggle between the different factions regarding the direction of the Revolution. The proclaimed unity is what allows Raul Castro to invoke a “we” as an imprecise subject determining the pace of the changes, but it is precisely on the issue of speed where differences can become sharpest, as they become a source of conflict when it is suspected that the speed and depth that some are proposing would necessarily end up dismantling of socialism.

If the opinions of a citizen veer from the interpretation of what the Party understands as “the same goals of social justice and national sovereignty,” those opinions will not be seen as honest differences and will be excluded from any possible dialog.

Raul Castro did not address the parliament as president of all citizens, but as the leader of a faction. There is nothing idle about his reiteration that “there will be no impunity for the enemies of the country, for those who attempt to endanger our independence,” and it puts into doubt that the much touted unity “is not the fruit of false unanimity nor of opportunistic simulation,” because, as is clear after a relaxed review of his speech, this unity is rooted in the panic of being marked with the stigma of traitor, which is attached to those who are only asking for deeper and faster changes, including, and why not, the dismantling of a system that has only demonstrated its inviability.

The president of all citizens would have an obligation to guarantee that no Cubans, however they think, are deprived of the right to freely express themselves, in any street, in any plaza. Fortunately, unlike those who are pressed into service to form the mobs for repudiation rallies, those who think differently from the Communist Party do not sit around waiting for a general to tell them they have the right to do so, and even better, they don’t depend on being given an order to go and demonstrate.

Lost Illusions

In his fourth opportunity to take advantage of the traditional date of July 26 to launch at least one sign of change, Raul Castro declined the privilege of addressing the most important event of the year, delegating the honor to the political leader who personifies intransigence: José Ramón Machado Ventura.

I send my deepest condolences to all those who maintained the illusion that this time there would be an announcement of the mythical “package of measures,” which each imagines according to his own interests: authorization to start small businesses, liberalization of the sale of cars and housing, the end of the immigration restrictions and, why not, the decriminalization of political dissent and the empowerment of the people in the only way possible: giving citizens full rights of expression and association.

I’m not saying that “I join them in this sentiment” because I became convinced a long time ago that our leaders are incapable of driving the changes that the nation demands. They are continuing to buy time, but every day they have less political capital, and every day less time remains in the market. The moment will come when their pockets are empty of promises and futile delays, and already not even one minute of patience remains.

Welcome Diversity!

Following what is being called the “Letter of the 74,” where we asked the United States Congress to consider the possibility of further relaxing its economic restrictions and recognizing its citizens’ right to travel to Cuba, a rich debate has been launched in which arguments new and old are surfacing.

Who is right? Life will tell. In my humble opinion, the most helpful part of this is that finally Cubans, who to varying degrees and with different nuances expressed their dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country, have publicly let go of the burden of their prejudices and have been encouraged to distance themselves from a false unanimity.

Even the Communists are now doing it, although timidly, in the pages of Granma, where they diverge from each other on the sensitive issue of the privatization of services (without going to the extreme of calling each other traitors to the cause, or insulting each other). And if they can do it, there is nothing detrimental in political opponents of different stripes offering to expose their differences, whether of principal or simply of methods, in a civilized way,

These should not be discussions undertaken to determine a winner, but to find pathways. As we are finding our way in these disputes, we will need to be patient with some passionate people who prefer to discredit the bearers of an idea rather than refute their arguments.

Someday we will have more difficult discussions, for example: there is the issue of the death penalty and the dilemma between justice and forgiveness, and what about the presumed returns and the debate between those who want to maintain and those who want to dissolve one conquest or another. Let us learn now, later there will not be time.