Message from Jorge Luis Arcos / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

The recent events triggered in Cuba after the resurrection of Pavón-Quesada-Serguera, to wit, the many outcries of various kinds by email, articulating a common domestic front to protest the raulista attempt to clean their old repressive instruments, to whitewash historical memory, and, incidentally, to humiliate their victims once again, and in general, all intellectuals, if not also, incidentally, to warn that the nightmare could come back again, etc. This is just one more episode in a shattered reality.

Many of the reactions are negative, in spite of themselves. Some advocate that the problem be resolved in-house, as if a significant proportion of the victims weren’t outside Cuba. Others try to deny the obvious: that it all has to do with a strategy of power, as it was in the past and even in the present. Many are critical of what happened; they call for public atonement but, of course, without naming — before or now — the real culprits.

It’s simply incredible. It seems that a considerable part of Cuban intellectuals assume that the current regime will continue to exist, and they, inside the same, with their wide range of complicity, silence, opportunism, or even happy approval. Because even when they correct themselves publicly — which happened recently — that would constitute only a slight rearrangement within a cultural policy essentially subject to a totalitarian power.

It’s all very well to protest the resurrection of the image of that ominous past, but how do you live in the present with a regime that restricts all basic freedoms every day? Worse than forgetting the past, is to have amnesia about the present. Even the most honest critics of what happened show that in the present they themselves remain subject to some censorship, to a fear shaped by decades of repression. As if the terrible thing happened only in the past, as if this cannot be questioned in the present.

In any case, a great deal of conformism reigns.

They have, therefore, a relative civility, selective, pragmatic, opportunistic or conservative. They are afraid, in short. And it’s not bad because we all are, but yes they wield it only when they see the possibility of being affected again themselves, more than they’ve always been.

One of them gives an opinion about those who are on the right inside and outside of Cuba, giving the sense that he is on the left. But what “left” is it that does not want to recognize that the “right” has always been in power?

Well, I also was afraid, I also suffered censorship and especially self-censorship. I had to leave my country to enjoy the dubious privilege of being able to write this article without expecting retaliation, to be able to put in black and white what I really think without fear of losing my job, being kicked out of society, or even going to jail.

But, at least, let’s also respect those in Cuba who suffer a direct repression by the simple sin of saying what they think, and even also let’s respect those who have had to give up our country so we can at least sleep with a better conscience, if that’s still possible.

You who live in Cuba also deserve respect, but — like everyone — you will have to win that respect, either through acts or even silences and significant sacrifices, since how even can you be respected by the same regime that humiliates you every day with its diverse collaborations or selective and timely amnesia? How far can you play the game sincerely at being a reformist? Reforms, what for, to maintain the current state of affairs?

This is the crossroads. If current events do not make them see the obvious, that the regime has been essentially the same, then very little can be expected of a future “with all and for the good of all.” It’s very convenient to advocate that Cuban culture be united and suddenly forget the victims both inside and outside the country. Cuban intellectual friends, the game isn’t played like that.

Jorge Luis Arcos

Madrid, Spain

Another comment by Jorge Luis Arcos

I write the comments that follow (and I now quote Eliseo Diego) “with the melancholy of those who draft a document.”

Surprised by a language of the ’70’s, from Pavón himself, I read the recent statement by the secretariat of UNEAC. As for 10 years I attended many meetings of this secretariat — since in everyday life it became “expanded” so that different people could attend according to the issues under discussion or their responsibilities in UNEAC — I know more or less, after almost three years away, its members and regular attendees. But the Cuban population doesn’t. I have to admit that many of the discussions that take place there have nothing to do with the rhetorical language of the mentioned declaration.

Similarly — and this is perhaps the most important of all that has happened — in countless emails and in some publications outside Cuba, with an understandable passion, this recent phenomenon has existed, before which Cuban intellectuals inside and outside the island have expressed their necessary and healthily different points of view, of course in a very different way, both in form and content – as they say – regarding the document in question.

But also, apart from these passionate disputes or different claims or moving testimonies, something very profound must have occurred there, invisibly, I mean in the minds of so many people who have been affected not only by the pavonato (the so-called “Five Gray Years”), but also in many other circumstances and other times, some very recently. However, according to this declaration by UNEAC, it appears that the matter has been settled. To fail to remember, as one bolero says, again and quickly, that — as a Greek chorus a lo Piñera seems to say in the background — the Party is … immortal?

I have to admit that the mere publication of the text in the newspaper Granma is a rarity. But it seems that such was the magnitude of the unrest that it was almost inevitable to declare oneself and publish it. Yes, they wanted to repair to some extent the mistake, and, moreover, to cap it off, in one case indeed it was remarkable as what our country is going through now. But, as you know, the image is always the most important — the image for the outside and inside, as they say, too. And in the name of that image, truth, passion, memory, as well as the endless contradictions that are inherent to life … are buried. Although, it would be worth asking, for how long?

As for the publication of that unsigned pronouncement, it’s a very widespread custom in Cuba to produce documents “in the name of the population” (actually, in politics, everything is always done “in the name of”; I mean in the name of that abstract entity that can appoint itself as “our people” or “our intellectuals,” etc.), or to call for others’ signatures so as to show support for certain statements or measures.

Why didn’t they appeal, for example, to those mechanisms when they “deactivated” — a delicious euphemism, in which we are experts — Antonio José Ponte from UNEAC? Because then the management of UNEAC itself knew it couldn’t count on majority support even among its members. That is, they resort to those methods that suit them. What Wendy Guerra proposed was an interesting challenge. But even if what she asked had been done, driven by a basic democratic principle and a respect for individual, rather than collective, opinion, who can guarantee that once it happened, all opinions really would be known?

But that’s not even the problem: the problem is the lack of real democracy. It’s been so many years with no democracy in Cuba (over half a century) that very often we can say quite naturally that there is … Because much of the population has been born in a country without democracy. In any democratic society the varied opinions of Cuban intellectuals — I repeat, all Cuban intellectuals — would have been published or presented in different media — even by individual initiative — without a hint of censure.

In Cuba, unfortunately, that is unthinkable. But, even more, we already know the understandable reluctance to express aloud true opinions on any subject. On the one hand, we fear the so-called subtle reprisals, if not the direct ones. On the other hand, as with the now-legendary case of the call to the Fourth Party Congress, we know the futility. As a former work colleague warned on that occasion:

“The well-known argument to justify this lack of democracy is ‘Don’t give ammunition to the enemy.’ But the price of not giving ammunition or not playing to the enemy has been, strangely enough, to suffer an absolute lack of freedom — and the true” [gap in the original]

But was anyone really surprised with this innocuous statement from UNEAC? I think it was predictable in essence. What was not so predictable is the trite tone, full of cliches, not really fitting for the intelligentsia that is left in UNEAC. As Fefé says, what is this story of “annexation” but the purest rhetoric of the Roundtables and the so-called Battle of Ideas — doesn’t that say it all? To always disqualify an opponent or anyone holding a different view has been, as we know, a permanent practice.

But I express all these arguments, I confess, more from weariness or an infinite boredom. It always leaves a bitter taste, as if one lived an infinite postponement… ah, when life happens only once and is so short… After nearly half a century of authoritarian and anti-democratic practice, that is, theatrical representation, what can you expect really? The most bitter taste is experienced — at least that’s my case and I understand it might not be so for others — when at the end of the declaration they mention jubilantly the two people responsible not only for the pavonato but also the sad and complex history — with light spots, too, is their room for doubt? — of the so-called cultural politics of the Revolution. But that was perhaps most predictable. No?

As always, the people of Cuba are truly absent from all these representations. An undeserving people, to their rulers, still not knowing the critical opinions and testimonials of the so-called counter-revolutionary intellectuals, “enemies” or spooky “annexationists” etc. — “Get out, scum! Get out, fags”! Don’t you remember Granma in the ’80s, by the way, without Pavón? — or even the criticisms and testimonials — ah, memory, what a danger — of the considerate Revolutionaries?

I would like to be wrong, but in the end, sadly, this time, visibly or imagined (as Lezama would say), as in so many other cases, “there is nothing new under the sun.” So don’t worry, friends and Cuban intellectual colleagues, inside and outside Cuba, you can rest easy, because, at least for now, absolutely nothing will happen — visibly, I mean.

Jorge Luis Arcos


Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007