14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Miami, 22 February 2018 — Can I Comment? It sounds like a rhetorical question, but when it is formulated by a lawyer with the vocation of a journalist who has experienced political prison on two occasions, the question has new connotations.
The book by that title by Cuban lawyer René Gómez Manzano, was presented at the Altamira bookstore in Miami on Wednesday, in a presentation that took a moment to transcend the pages of the volume and interact, face to face, with one of the most important chroniclers of deep Cuba of this last quarter century.
Under the careful editing of Grace Piney, the 57 articles compiled in half a thousand pages are divided into five sections by topic. Indictment abounds, but arguments predominate. The language is direct, sometimes sharp and with a sufficient dose of humor.
Because Manzano does not beat around the bush, his prose has that direct style and sense of haste of those who feel that certain things have to be said urgently, as soon as possible, amidst the serious problems that run through the national reality.
The name of René Gómez Manzano burst on the public scene in 1997 when, with Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca and Félix Bonne Carcassés, he signed the document “The Nation Belongs to Everyone.” That gesture cost him a sentence of four years in prison, at which time Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He is the founder of a group of independent Cuban lawyers called Corriente Agramontista.
In the last decade his articles have appeared in several media of the Cuban independent press, and it is during this same decade, between 2007 and 2017, that the articles were published – particularly on the Cubanet digital site – which now appear in a book format printed in Spain by Publiberia.
At the presentation, and after thanking the attendees, Gómez Manzano explained that it was not easy to decide which articles would be included and which were excluded and emphasized “I have tried to reflect the truth of what is happening in Cuba.”
The author commented that if a scientist from another country wanted to make a study of recent Cuban history, he could not achieve it by searching only the official press. “Even if reading Granma [the state newspaper] didn’t drive him completely crazy, what he would come away with would not have any contact with reality,” he said.
For Gómez Manzano, that is precisely one of the most important obligations of independent journalism: “To offer elements to better understand the sad reality of what our country has experienced.”
René Gómez Manzano chose the title for his compilation because he does not pretend to report only a cold objectivity devoid of his own emotions. He talks about the potatoes in the rationed market, some episodes of the Second World War, the internal contradictions of the opposition, the work of the courts, the repression and whatever comes to mind.
During the conversation with the audience, he did not have to apologize for having exercised his right to speak freely. Quite the contrary, everyone thanked him.
The discussion flowed, time passed and for a moment there was a feeling floating in the air as if the launch of Manzano’s new book was taking place in Havana or another Cuban city, due to the presence of so many compatriots.
The illusion lasted an instant, but completed what was written in these pages written by the lawyer. In the end, everything he said in Can I Comment? seeks, in many ways, to help us reach that future of bookstores and minds open to the plurality of voices that inhabit the Island.
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