Interview with Antonio G. Rodiles, Estado de SATS Project Coordinator, by Ernesto Santana Zaldívar (from July 2012)
HAVANA, Cuba, www.cubanet.org
Introductory Note: On July 24, 2012, during the funeral of the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, there were violent arrests of several activists and dissidents, among them Antonio Rodiles, who was held for 24 hours at the Fourth Police Station and interrogated by State Security, two years to the day after the first meeting organized by the Estado de SATS project. A few days earlier, Rodiles had granted this interview to Cubanet.
Estado de SATS (State of SATS) was born two years ago, but it has been mostly in the last year that this project has generated more interest and has experienced major growth, despite the efforts of the political police against it. Many people, on the other hand, are asking what could be the meaning of such a peculiar name. Antonio Rodiles explains it very clearly: “Estado de SATS is a term used on the theater that represents the moment when all the energy is concentrated to begin to action, or when an athlete is at the precise moment before the starting signal. It is the concentration that later explodes.”
There is no description more graphic and exact for the spirit of what emerged in July of 2010, when the first meeting was held at Casa Gaia, in Old Havana, organized by Rodiles, a mathematical physicist, and his friend Jorge Calaforra, a Cuban-Polish civil engineer, and with the notable support of the OMNI Project and the participation of the theater group Cuerpo Adentro and Darwin Estacio, who organized a painting exhibition.
Antonio Rodiles himself provides more details in this interview with Cubanet, in the midst of the intense undertaking that occupies most of his time.
Cubanet: How did the idea of the Estado de SATS project emerge and develop?
Antonio Rodiles: What we set out to do in the first meeting was to break the ice; to do something independent where we could generate debate about current topics from different perspectives, artists, intellectuals, professionals. It was a very interesting event that lasted three days, and the result was interesting. There were about seven lectures and three panels, an exhibit of paintings, a presentation of the film Memories of Underdevelopment, which had just been released, and on the last day there was a concert mixing jazz and hip hop.
This first concert was very positive and gave momentum to the idea of continuing, always maintaining the idea of the confluence of art and thinking. The reality of a country is very complex. There are different approaches, and we believe art has a lot to bring. There are things an intellectual or a professional sees that others don’t see, and an artist sees many of them. The ways of approaching problems are also different.
CN: We know that some time ago there were people who expressed the opinion that Estado de SATS was an “opposition-lite” project, prepared by the government. We know the answers you gave at that time. However, what would you respond today now that the project has continued to grow and develop?
AR: I think this is part of a strategy by State Security which has tried to spread this opinion to create internal divisions among political and social activists in Cuba. Everyone can say what they want, but it seems to me that this falls in the plane of conspiracy theories, because in the plane of reality we see that people with distinct visions and positions have participated here.
Just yesterday we had a meeting with three of the seventy-five former prisoners of the Black Spring, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, José Daniel Ferrer and Ángel Moya. We also had Berta Soler, Wilfredo Vallín, Manuel Cuesta, Yoani Sánchez, Elizardo Sánchez, Alexis Jardines, Raudel Collazo, OMNI ZONA FRANCA and many more. They debated everything.
Ultimately, we have met with everyone to call upon the government directly with the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba, which is part of a campaign we are initiating to ask the government to ratify the Covenants they already signed (the United Nations Covenant of Civil Rights and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). A campaign we want to carry out throughout the whole country and in which everyone who wants to can participate.
If anyone still thinks that this project is orchestrated by the government, they are definitely suffering from paranoia. Sometimes I think it’s important to talk about this so that it’s perfectly clear, but other times I feel that it’s a waste of time. Anyone, if they are well-intentioned, simply by looking at the work we’ve done this year, which for us has been huge, can understand the truth of our project. To entangle us in so many explanations and responses seems to me exactly what State Security wants: distract you with absurd details so you waste your time and energy.
CN: What importance do you attribute to the space for dialogue and reflection that this project has opened? In your view, what has been the impact of the work done so far?
AR: What has pleased me the most, personally, is being able to show the faces of civil society that the Cuban government tries to hide. They always say that those who oppose them are criminals, mercenaries, people with no vision of the future, no plan for the country, the worst of the worst. To show this range of faces and visions definitely gives the idea that when we can end this long nightmare, there is a clear prospect of a much better country.
It has also been very interesting to establish friendships with so many people, or that many individuals who didn’t know each other do now and they know what they think, what they see and how to collaborate. Another important aspect is that it has created a public space for debate. Here there is no room for the powers-that-be description: “you are my friend or you are my enemy.” Here people can coexist with others who think differently, but who ultimately also want a better country. That exchange is essential to a democracy.
It would be great is spaces like this could emerge across the entire country, if people could do it from their own inspiration. It’s very important to signal that tons of spaces like this exist in democratic societies. This may seem strange only in Cuba because we live under a totalitarian regime.
A process of maturation is indisputably happening in civil society, but new technologies are also contributing: to have a channel on YouTube, or to record a video and distribute it among people has a very important role, because people that see this can get interested in coming, participating, and knowing what happens. At first about fifteen or twenty people came, currently, at some meetings, we have observed over ninety or a hundred people.
CN: What new purposes and plans are fueling the project at this time?
AR: We would like projects like this to spread throughout the whole country, that here increasingly more people with different interests come, including from official institutions. That’s why we are focusing on greater awareness of what we do.
Another plan, on which we are concentrating great energy, is the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba. We believe it is very important that, from civil society, we demand our rights from the government and that, starting from those rights, there is a democratic transformation in the country. We are working very intensely to spread this whole conception of the new society, of what we want the change to be.
We are also very interested in the exchange with Cubans who are outside of Cuba. We have tried several times and we will keep trying. Almost always it has to be through recorded videos.
CN: Can you mention some of the procedures that the political police have used the to deter or derail the project?
AR: They have used many. Starting out, as they thought I would leave the country, they tried to blackmail me by taking away my permit to reside in the exterior, which they did a few months after the meetings began in my house. Then they threatened my parents with withdrawing the license they have to rent rooms, and even mentioned the possibility of taking our house.
The guests who are invited are threatened that, if they come, there will be reprisals. Also many of the public who come are warned not to come again. On some occasions they have organized operations around the house. We are very close to the offices of the National Aquarium and they normally mount their operations there, although lately they are being discreet.
They have also installed two permanent video cameras facing the house. Many time they harass people who leave the meetings, asking for their identity cards in an intimidating way. In short, they closely monitor us and the work they do is systematic in continuing to try to strangle people, especially economically.
The idea is to isolate you, set you apart, and continuously reduce the impact you can have with your work. I think that as the project continues to grow, they will become more nervous, but we hope that they understand that this is a path of no return.
CN: How do you see the current situation of our country, the real possibilities of change?
AR: Look, it seems to me that, almost a year and a half after the Communist Party Congress, which raised many expectations in some who are too optimistic, if not naive, and after the Party Conference, people have realized that it was all words. The government does not have the ability to change. It’s an ancient government with ancient ideas. There is no human capital in the halls of power and they are greatly afraid, because they know that there is discontent and the hopes of citizens are completely different from what they are offering.
This fear creates in them an unchanging attitude that corners us in an even more critical situation. Moreover, economically the country is in a quagmire. The measures taken have failed to capitalize on anything. It was because the company Repsol didn’t strike oil. There is no foreign investment of any magnitude.
And something that has become a sword of Damocles is the Chavez factor. If he will be re-elected or not, if he survives or not. The question of Venezuela is not only the more than one hundred thousand barrels of oil per day, but also the number of professionals who are working there. If they suddenly have to return to Cuba without the possibility of employment, they will become a mass with a high level of discontent.
I think that the political elite has been delaying and delaying solutions and what has been created is an accumulation of problems that are increasingly insoluble. I do not think they have the ability to solve anything because the problems are now completely overwhelming.
That’s where I think the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba plays an important role, presenting as a first step the restitution of our political, economic, cultural, social, civil rights. I think from that restitution there can clearly be a transition to democracy.
If, as citizens, we can organize a nationwide campaign where people mobilize and demand those rights from the government, and following the ratification of the Covenants there can be constitutional changes implemented in the penal code, and we recover the basic liberties, I definitely think the country would go forward to a radical change.
I think the most important thing is to think about how to make the change, specifically; not to say we want a transition or that Cuba wants a transition, but to think about what kind of country we want.
CN: Would you like to add anything to what you said?
AR: Yes, I would like to invite Cubans outside of Cuba to join this campaign. One way to help is to sign the Demand for Another Cuba. Another is to bring materials from outside, the printed text, the videos that have been done to explain the proposal of what we’re trying to do, and also to bring information about the Covenants and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to give it to their families.
Some may see this as something small, but if every household in Cuba could know what is being requested and in what form we are proposing changes in the country, that would be a tremendous step. As long as our desire for change is an abstraction, we won’t connect; but from the moment we say how to do it and we all push in that direction, the change happens, because the vast majority desires it.
The ratification of the Covenants would benefit the Yoruba Association, which advocates respect for gender differences, all the churches, the musicians, all citizens. So everyone should know the meaning of these Covenants and what benefits their ratification would bring.
I think the conditions are ripe for this to become a formidable campaign. I’ve talked to many people, and they tell me this demand seems very sensible, that it is relevant to beginning to untie this knot. Not even the government could say that this is a crazy idea.
The government must understand that the more prolonged the situation the worse the end will be, because there will be a larger quantity of accumulated problems. I think we are on the threshold of achieving a transition in Cuba, but only if it takes the pace it should. If not, the impulse will cool and then we would fall into apathy and the change could happen spontaneously and out of control, generating violence and leading us all into a dead end.
Ernesto Santana and Antonio Rodiles
Original interview: July 2012. Posted on Estado de Sats 17 January 2013.