Hands clasped in front, deep breaths, the lights come up and the curtain begins to rise. The actor is not yet in front of his audience, but he’s already about to begin to speak, gesticulating in the voice and ways of his character.
He is in a state of “SATS,” a Scandinavian word that refers to that instant just before the theatrical action or the sports performance; the moment of greatest concentration that precedes the artistic explosion, the adrenaline rush of jumping, running. Those four letters, summarizing a turbulent journey from the depths of the self toward extroversion, have been adopted by a project of art and thought born in Havana.
State of SATS (Estado de SATS) was founded in 2010, taking off from an idea of Antonio Rodiles’ and two Cuban emigrants. It emerged as “an initiative of young artists, intellectuals and professionals in search of a better reality,” and quickly gained recognition and popularity. The best known work of SATS is centered on a program of reflection and debate–filmed in Rodiles’ own home–that circulates with great success on Cuba’s alternative information networks.
The most important social actors in Cuba today have passed in front of the SATS microphones, addressing essential issues, long postponed. Many of these guests remain silenced or stigmatized by the official press, while their analysis and points of view expressed in the SATS videos honestly delve into the most serious problems in our society, without discrimination against anyone. State of SATS has also brought the opportunity for other artistic, political and citizens’ projects, narrated in the first person.
But for more than a week now, the chair on that sober and democratic set usually occupied by Antonio Rodiles has remained vacant. He is under arrest by the Cuban political police. On November 8, this 40-year-old with a degree in Physics entered a dungeon from which he has not yet emerged.
Deliberate, analytical, and with a deep concern for everything that occurs in our country, the founder of State of SATS is now experiencing the most sordid side of repression in Cuba: a jail cell. And his main crime doesn’t seem to be the charge of “resisting arrest” alleged by the prosecutor, but rather the illegal act of thinking and opining on an Island where this “right” belongs only to the Party in power. Thus, to dream and debate about a more inclusive and plural country is an egregious crime here, as we all know.
Rodiles’ stay behind bars is the materialization of a premonition, of one of those painful predictions that many of us have while expressing our opinions and encouraging others to do the same. We see it as if one of those fireflies, attracted by the light of civic responsibility in which–sooner or later–Raul Castro’s totalitarianism will incinerate it.
His captors waited for the opportunity to trap him and this happened on a Wednesday afternoon when several activists demanded the release of Yaremis Flores, a lawyer and member of a free legal advice network who had been arrested near her home. Outside the feared Section 21 (the State Security department that monitors and controls regime opponents), a dozen people gathered. But instead of freeing the attorney, a group of agents in plain clothes violently rushed those making the demand and arrested them as well.
To the peaceful gesture they responded with blows, to the civic attitude they contrasted a repressive attitude. As if, with the arrest of Antonio Rodiles they wanted to teach a lesson to all of civil society. A dark autumn with dimensions much smaller than the Black Spring of 2003–but not, for that, any less frightening–it happened in a moment.
On balance, some thirty dissidents were temporarily detained, among them independent journalists, activists and alternative bloggers. I myself was held for about nine hours in a cramped room where three women and one man tried every verbal method to crush my self-esteem. But my mind was a thousand miles away, escaped to some beautiful place where they could not reach me.
I am almost sure that Rodiles is experiencing a similar situation, aggravated by his several days’ stay in the police station. I imagine they have said to him–as they did to me–that he should leave Cuba, get the hell out of here, because this Island “belongs to Fidel,” all the streets, the sidewalks, every tree and facade we know. Getting rid of their critics by pushing them into exile remains their most common strategy against nonconformists.
For sure they are mentioning to this Havanan who studied in Mexico City and taught in Florida the names of all his family members. A subtle method to let him see that they know everyone dear to him, they are aware of all their movements, that something might happen to them while they walk the streets.
If their strategy of interrogations is repeated, like the broken record of arrogance, then I envision how they end some of these questioning sessions. Perhaps they threaten him–as they have so many–with long years of incarceration in a filthy cell, stinking and violent. His police interrogators laugh through their teeth while making sexual, terrifying, allusions.
And it is in these moments when one sees the true face of Fantomas–that terrifying French serial killer–when one experiences first hand the absolute mediocrity under the skin of the executioner; when you reaffirm the idea of why you need to keep trying to change Cuba.
So that these censors of laughter and of freedom, these people who leap quickly from the penal code to the code of the neighborhood bully, cannot continue to lead this country. So that no one will fall–ever again–into the gap of legality where anything can happen.
I know that Antonio Rodiles will be strong, that he is, right now, like the actor who plunges within himself to explode into a freer state, into a state of SATS.
Here is a video from Tracey Eaton, reposted here so you can listen to Antonio describe his work in his own words.