And Them? Were They ‘Mercenaries’ Too?

In April 2003 – during the so-called ‘Black Spring’ — 75 opponents were arrested in Cuba, many of them journalists, for allegedly acting “in the interest of a foreign state.” (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 6 December 2020 — I have several friends who have not slept for days, glued to the phone or having conversations in front of the mirror, with their pillow or in the shower. They are some of the artists who were in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27 and who now are the target of a smear campaign. Several of their names have been singled out in the official media, and they have been accused of being “mercenaries,” “financed by the Empire,” and “terrorists.”

With the first insults, several of them told me in an incredulous tone “surely it is a mistake.” By the third day, they already knew that it was not confusion, because on television they continued to be associated with acts of vandalism. Then they called me to explain that as soon as the authorities reviewed their biographies more carefully, everything would be fine. After all, they are from the “left,” “from revolutionary parents,” they were “once members of the Union of Young Communists” and the only thing they have done is “love Cuba.”

There are few things as difficult as to snatch from a person who is the victim of the execution of their reputation the illusion that it is a mistake that will be corrected and they will be vindicated. Few listen when it is made clear to them that the system is designed to respond with that script to critics and that the current defamation bullets are calculatedly targeted and could soon become true fragmentation grenades against their prestige.

By the end of this week, on the other end of the phone the tone of the calls had changed and some voices were beginning to give way to anger and profanity.

“How are they going to say that about me if I have a drawer full of certificates for volunteer work?” an old acquaintance told me, someone who had been in front of the Ministry that night and  is now overwhelmed by the Manichean reports that seek to link the San Isidro Movement and the events of ’27N’ [27 November] with sabotage and violence. In about 40 minutes of conversation, he repeated his biography to me: schools in the countryside, exceeding targets, art works donated to hospitals…

As I spoke, I remembered the first time I was called “mercenary” and “enemy” of my country. I was so thin-skinned in the face of this slander that, like my friend, I tried to show that this had to be a colossal mistake. I also tried to show my selfless academic record, my good grace for dialogue, my inability to hurt an ant, my ignorance of any training in “cyberwar,” and that love for the Island that keeps beating between my chest and my back. It was useless, just as now it will not serve those most recently vilified now.

It is useless to defend oneself against such accusations or to think that they must be a mistake on the part of some official, because these insults do not seek to be believed but to be feared. They are not aimed at the victim of the smear campaign but at passive viewers of the tirade, so that they know what to expect if they dare to move from applause to questioning. In that case, it awaits you to see their faces on the primetime news surrounded by the worst adjectives, the threats to their families, the rewriting of their resumes to adapt them to the interests of the story that Power wants to tell, the insult of those who swallow such pseudo-informative mush. In addition to some act of repudiation and the inclusion of one’s name in articles, pseudo encyclopedias and morning assemblies at schools, wherever an enemy is required.

But, after crossing that desert, my friends will feel their souls lightened and their skins toughened against the injury, they will stop trying to explain who they are and they will care little about the thoughts of people who take it at face value, don’t look into it further, and accept a version without question. In addition, one question will forcefully come to mind for them. “If what they are saying about me is a lie and I know well it is, then when they said it about others previously, was it also false?”

It is at that point that the entire scaffolding of slander falters, the insults stop working and we come face to face, close and understanding each other, the accused of half a century ago, the harassed of three decades ago, the one tainted from the beginning of this millennium, the denigrated of the past five years and the ones blamed today. What system can crush the collective conscience of so many defamed?


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