Redefining the Cuban Opposition After 17 December / Cubanet, Alexis Jardines Chacon

Clockwise from top left – Cuban activists: Manuel Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent
Clockwise from top left – Cuban activists: Manuel Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent

cubanet square logoCubanet, Alexis Jardines Chacon, Miami, 7 August 2015 – The First National Cuban Conference will be held August 13-15 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is an event that Cubans United of Puerto Rico have been preparing for a year, inviting organizations from both shores. The meeting hopes to focus on the unity of diversity. What follows explores the nature of the differences and the bases on which unity might rest.

The danger of reformism

When Raul Castro took over the nation after the desmerengamiento* of his brother Fidel in 2008, the opposition, to some extent, had to reinvent itself. A series of measures – outstanding among them being the new law regarding travel and emigration – temporarily left the dissidents without an anchor, because they could now leave the country and return without consequences. But the explosive side of the new law was something else: the dissidents soon were more engaged abroad than toward the interior of Cuba. And, naturally, we didn’t have to wait for a media reaction against this kind of tourist-dissent. continue reading

The absence of a structured political opposition leaves civil society activism very vulnerable to the impact of Raul’s reforms. When opposition activity is reduced to a package of demands to the current government, any change undertaken by the regime could exceed the expectations of the dissidence itself. The dissidence, for example, was not prepared to assume to the challenges of the lifting of the travel restrictions, while the effect for the government was a revitalization of its impoverished symbolic capital.

It is a fact that ordinary Cubans are more radical in their anti-Castro convictions than a good part of the so-called opposition. And it is at least curious that from the side of the opposition they are asking for reforms in a system that bases its politics in the reforms of its model (of socialism). The paradox is solved when we realize that the logic of reformism is compatible with the dissidence, but not with the political opposition.

The other crushing blow came from the hand of President Obama. A good part of the dissidence and activists were left outside the umbrella of the American government, now interested in those who unconditionally support the process of normalization.

A major campaign is being conducted – inside and outside of Cuba – to sell the bi-tonal (black/white) scheme of what is taking place. It would seem there are no nuances; whomever does not support the Obama pact, Castro places automatically on the side of the extremism and violence associated with the construct of the extreme-right-reactionary-bloodthirsty-living-in-the-past.

This biased and misleading way of labeling does not recognize the current that defends normalization, but with conditions. Rather, it puts in the same sack a broad spectrum of those it considers hostile to both governments, from the activists of Estado de Sats to those of the Miami exile group Vigilia Mambisa.

The hardcore, instead, pass themselves off as open people with a string of virtues: inclusion, spirit of dialog, pacifism and a long et cetera. In short, they see themselves as what sells, what is in fashion and in tune with the current times. This posture, which bears fruit inside and outside of the country, shows no interest in ordinary Cubans.

Their concern is focused on the environment of relations between the Cuban and the United States governments, so they are only interested defending – moderated through the interior of Cuba and extreme pressure groups, such as Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) – dialog with the Cuban regime, masked under the innocuous idea of non-confrontation. And it is clear that when there is talk of conditions, from the other side of the opposition spectrum, it is about dialog and rapprochement in general between the governments of Cuba and the United States and not about the classic and sterile demands of the Cuban government before 17 December, which do not transcend the logic of reformism and would have to abandon taking concrete steps in the physical space, for the same reason that they haven’t worked in all the years of the dictatorship.

My question, then – in accord with the premise offered by President Obama – is: if what doesn’t work is changed, why don’t the hardcore supporters of normalization take to the streets to support, at least, the marches of the Ladies in White? If the majority of the Cuban people are anti-Castro and the weak side of the opposition knows that it has been incommunicado vis-à-vis ordinary Cubans, why not go discretely house-to-house to prepare people for a referendum? These are true opposition actions that do not require funds or immolations.

What is the danger, in short, of reformism? That comes from delimiting a front in which the frontiers between the ruling party, the dissidence and the trusted opposition are increasingly erased? In this scenario, the real opposition turns out to be an obstacle.

The light at the end of the tunnel

It is obvious that rulers who adopt the totalitarian model do so with the express purpose of staying in power indefinitely. If this happens in a country like Cuba the chances of regime change, even in the long term are minimal. There is a cultural issue, in this case, which takes its toll. Personally, I am convinced that if Einstein was resurrected and was standing on a corner in Havana, inside of five minutes he would have in front of him a couple of individuals explaining the theory of relativity. These types – in the unlikely event they would allow the genius to discuss the matter – would end up reproaching him with the argument that “you don’t know shit about physics.”

Then comes the issue of the bodeguita, as a friend of mine defines it: in the face of any suggestion of collaboration, if it’s a question of survival it’s every man for himself. One can imagine how difficult it is to unite the dissidence, activists and opposition around an objective that transcends the expectations of a guild. But, even if we make an abstraction of the anthropological-cultural theme, the principal obstacle would stand: are you interested in the validation of a democratic regime, or in democratizing the current regime? Whatever your option you will achieve nothing without dismantling the one-party system. Therefore, consensus – if it were possible – should not be built on the basis of reformist objectives.

In any event, since 17 December things are becoming ever more clear and it will have to be defined on what bases a lobbying in favor of unconditional dialog with the dictatorship and a resistance interaction with ordinary Cubans enter into the extension of the concept of opposition. In the year 2011 – having recently gone into exile – I came to the defense of Estado de Sats before some accusations of Marta Beatriz Roque branding the projects as dissidence-light, and pondered the logic of the traditional opposition, rooted in ideas of heroism and the barricade. The beatings they gave us was the weighty argument that the venerable opposition wielded against us.

Since then, each in his own way, we have been radicalized. I, who thought more as a dissident, now do so from the angle of the opposition. And I don’t know about the ironies of destiny, only that the issue of Cuba is a GPS constantly being relocated: today Antonio Rodiles, leader of Estado de Sats, is the one who receives the beatings and not a few of the old guard opposition look away when the Ladies in White begin their march every Sunday.

Personally, I believe that the conditions are given. Access to public spaces, to the street, is there in front of everyone. It is not a chimera, it is not impossible. If you are an opponent marching with these untamed women you protect the space that they were able to conquer for all of us. Sacred space, because it is the only thing we really have and the only thing that puts the dictatorship in check. If you are an opponent looking to connect with the people, you go house to house – as the Jehovah Witnesses have done in much more difficult times – with the purpose of making every Cuban see the need to put an end to the one-party system through a popular referendum. If you are an opponent you work to give a voice to the people, the ordinary Cuban.

The combination of these three factors could be the unity of purpose sought by the opposition in the diversity of its ways, namely: support, through one’s physical presence, of the Sunday marches, the individual and systematic contact – face-to-face – with the people in the neighborhoods, the blocks and the homes to get them to vote NO to the hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party in the popular vote of 2016; the consequent need for the people to decide how and by whom they should be governed through a plebiscite. This line and its media support is what, in my opinion, defines the opposition camp in Cuba after the moves of 17 December. The rest is also necessary, but not necessarily opposition. Ergo, if this embassy that will soon open in Havana limits its contacts to the reformist scene, then we will know – at least with regards to the issue of Cuba – who is the boss in Washington.


Alexis Jardines Chacon

Jardines has a degree in Philosophy from Saint Petersburg State University (Russia) with specialization in History of Philosophy. He holds an MA in Philosophy from the same University and a Ph.D. from the University of Havana, an institution where he taught for more than 15 years and where he attained the highest category as a professor. In 2011 he went into exile in Puerto Rico and works as Professor Lecturer at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Cuban Research Institute, FIU.

*Translator’s note: Desmerengamiento was coined by Fidel Castro to embody, in a single word, the debacle of the Soviet Union. It comes from the word “meringue” and, like a failed meringue, refers to the idea of a complete collapse.

“Notebooks for the transition,” A Magazine for Discussion / David Canela Pina

tiroHAVANA, Cuba, November This Saturday morning the civic project Estado de SATS (State of SATS) presented a new magazine titled Notebooks for the Transition, which aims to “offer a forum for analysis and plural participation,” for all Cubans interested in “thinking and visualizing that other Cuba which is already urgent” according to an editorial note. It says that the first issue is “dedicated to the issue of transnationality.”

Notebooks for the Transition is a magazine produced and coordinated by the State of SATS civic project, which has had as one of its main strategies to become an ideological “bank,” where ideas and trust in this “human capital” that has been invested in other parts of the world due to the exodus of Cuban society can return. In this issue, for example, collaborators include intellectuals and artists who don’t live on the Island: Juan Antonio Blanco Gil, Emilio Morales, Alexis Jardines, Carmelo Mesa Lago, Garrincha, among others. Their presence is distant for now, but as the transition to democrat becomes more visible and effective, the process of return of many of these social actors will no longer be an event, but become a flow, that newly enriches the naitonal sap.

Presentation of Notebooks

Despite the police operation, that prevented some people from coming to the meeting site, leaving their homes, and even their provinces, as was the case of Jose Gabriel Barrenechea. More than forty people attended the launch of the first issue.

From L to R - Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez Olivera and Walfrido Camilo Lopez
From L to R – Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez Olivera and Walfrido Camilo Lopez

The panel that presented the details of the magazine was made up of Antonio Rodiles, overall project coordinator Estado de SATS, Ailer González, its artistic director, Camilo Ernesto Olivera, freelance journalist, and Walfrido Lopez, a computer specialist. The first three are part of the Editorial Board, along with José Gabriel Barrenechea and Alexis Jardines, who is the only member currently located outside of Cuba.

During the exhibition they addressed issues such as the integration of Cuban society, the economic and “knowledge” remittances, the leadership structures, civic maturity as a prerequisite for the conscious transition, the role of Cubans inside and outside Cuba in the new political system, etc.

Not just for regime opponents

Rodiles commented that “Cuban society is badly damaged and fragmented, so we need to bring together Cubans around a frank discussion.” And he said that in the transition to democracy “it must be not only activists and opponents, but also ordinary citizens.”

With regards to the role of the internet in building a democratic society Walfrido Lopez said that it is not enough for some Cubans to move freely on the internet, with their thousands of Twitter followers and hundreds of Facebook friends, but unable to create a network of internal communication with the Cubans on the Island.

In the current economic context, Rodiles said the “economic flow between Cuba and Miami is the centerpiece of a change in Cuba,” which is already funding private businesses, buying houses, etc.  And he added that emigrant remittances provide the largest source of revenue to the national economy and today reach 62% of Cuban homes.

“The transition begins with us”

Camilo Ernesto Olivera raised the old problem of how to achieve this national unity of interest, at least within the opposition. Then he said that we must first move ourselves toward a civic consciousness and a maturity based on respect. “The transition begins with us,” he said. Rodiles, meanwhile, said that national unity should not revolve around a leader, a new Fidel Castro  and called for a “polycentric opposition.” He said that “the relationship between individuals is what generates human and social capital,” and therefore “our magazine is aimed at creating those links among all Cubans.”.

With great wit, Ailer Gonzalez enunciated that “differences of opinion between the opposition do not strengthen the regime, rather they strengthen the opposition,” as they increase its capacity for public debate.

Rodiles stressed that “the influence of Cubans abroad is extremely important,” while Gonzalez addressed Cubans who live and struggle in their own country: “What is your role in the new Cuba? Being an opponent is not an occupation. Everyone should begin imagining the place they will occupy in the new Cuba.”

Finally, Ailer Gonzalez concluded the meeting with these words: “Thank you to all the Cubans in the world. We are waiting to rebuild Cuba.”

Summary of the first issue

Although Notebooks for the Transition has an essentially academic and research profile related to the present and possible future of Cuba, it has also opened spaces for literature, translation and history (with the section called Documents).

This issue, which corresponds to the month of October, is composed of several sections: Editorial, Survey, Dossier (the main section), Documents, Translation and Literature.

In the Survey, some people in Santa Clara respond on “the issue of Cuban emigration and its role within the nation.” The Dossier meet has five articles: “The Internet in Cuba-US Relations” by Walfrido Lopez; “Remittances have become an engine of the Cuban economy” by Morales; “Civilizing and Emigration Change” by Juan Antonio Blanco Gil; “The Dominican Republic: a transnational nation-state” written by a group of authors; and “Notes for the transition” by Antonio Rodiles and Alexis Jardines.

The Documents section rescues “a forgotten letter from Enrique José Varona” written in 1900; and in Translation is published an excerpt from the book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak. Finally, the Literature section reproduces the poem “Bottle” by Otilio Carvajal (included in his unpublished book Born August 13), and also the poem “Fragment” by Angel Santiesteban.

David Canela Piña

Cubanet, 4 November 2013

Notes for the Transition / Antonio Rodiles, Alexis Jardines

Alexis Jardines

HAVANA, Cuba, July 29, 2013: The political landscape of the island has been energized recently. In the international arena the event with the greatest impact is undoubtedly the death of Hugo Chavez and his succession embodied in Nicolas Maduro, a man with few political tools who, despite many odds, has managed, for now, to maintain a certain equilibrium. However, given the difficult economic situation being experienced by Cuba and the uncertain scenario facing the Chavistas in Venezuela, Cuban totalitarianism is forced to avoid placing all its bets on Venezuela.

Antonio Rodiles

For the elite in power, time, as a part of the political equation, becomes the most important variable. The relaunch of their position in the international arena has become one part of their priorities, and it shows that a new moment in relations with Europe and the United States is vital in the search for new economic and political partners who will provide them stability and legitimacy.

In the interior of the island, the transformations in the economic sector are not generating a new impression given the years of accumulated statism, decapitalization and the precarious situation in multiple sectors. A genuine process of reforms would involve much deeper actions that would stir up a reality already admitted to be a social disaster, as acknowledged even by Raul Castro in his latest speech. But the fear of losing control has become an obsession and the principal obstacle.

The ability of some regime opponents to travel represents, in this sense, the boldest step taken by the elite in power, a clear commitment to improve its image abroad and to rid itself of the stigma of lack of freedom of movement. It is highly likely that this move was taken under the assumption that some bitter pills would be no more than that, that reality would remain stuck in its usual straitjacket, because we opponents would not penetrate the media and, on our return to Cuba, State Security’s absolute control and lack of social expression would keep everything in its place.

Given this scenario, we have to ask ourselves certain questions: Is Cuban society in a position to push for greater freedom and independence? Can the opposition capitalize politically on these trips? And by capitalize we mean our capacity to articulate and project ourselves inside and outside the island as pro-democratic forces with civic or political weight in both venues; a projection that also allows us to end the nefarious cat and mouse game with which State Security, as the arm of the system, has kept us inefficiently occupied. It then becomes imperative to mature as an opposition and as civil society, to be able to widen the cracks in an exhausted system that holds onto control and exercises State violence as elements of social containment.

The experience of multiple transitions shows the importance of understanding the moment of change as a step in the process of national reconstruction and to see it not as a discontinuous turning point. In an extreme scenario like the one facing us, a successful transition will necessarily involve the active participation of skilled human capital with a strong social commitment and a clear vision of the nation that it wants to build.

Without a social fabric that represents least a micro-cosmos, of the mid- and macro-cosmos we visualize, it will be very difficult to build a functioning democracy. Unsuccessful examples are plentiful and it is irresponsible to omit them. The famous Arab Spring-become-Winter is the most recent case, and shows that the establishment of a political system requires a process of maturation and articulation of civil society. To imagine the change and reconstruction of a broken, fragmented country, not only in the physical sense but also in its social and individual dynamics, is an essential exercise if we aspire to construct a democracy that contains the ingredients of every modern nation

As the opposition we must break with paradigms that imply regression and a copying of what has been experienced, in which glorious symbols, epics and personalities play a significant role. An imagined future that places too many hopes on an expansive “spark,” and that often postpones effective work with visions of the medium and long term.

It would also be healthy to readjust the idea that has dominated our minds for more than half of a post-republican century: the desired unity of the opposition as the only path to effective pressure to promote change. We believe that the main role of the transition should fall on civil society, while the opposition, as a political actor, must push with discourse and coherent action so that civil society has the necessary reach and penetration.

Hegel was right in saying that “everything that was once revolutionary becomes conservative.” The words lose their original sense and are redefined to change the context that nurtured and sustained them, so much so that the logic itself of revolutions backfires.

The truly revolutionary act is an abrupt gesture, a moment of rupture that disrupts the established order.  All revolutions, including scientific, are designed to transform, to subvert, the bases of the model or previous paradigm and, in this way, to bring it down.

Thus, what is new in our time is to understand the possible abruptness as a moment in a process, which must be permeated with the ingredients that shape modern societies: knowledge, information, thought, art, technology. The revolution is a time of evolution, but not the inverse.

In the second decade of the present century we can not think of any social processes without taking into account the transnational nature of them. In our case it would be impossible to analyze a transition to democracy and a process of reconstruction without involving the diaspora and exile with its political actors. While they are not anchored in the everyday life of the island they are living elements of the nation and as such gravitate to her. About this, the ordinary Cuban is not wrong. In the Cuban imagination part of the solution to our problems is in Miami (as the diaspora is generically defined). The modern vision of contemporary societies must come from and consist largely through constant reinforcement between the island and its diaspora. The opposition and exile should be precisely the hinge that makes such articulation possible.

And this, in our view, is the other element that would end up framing the Cuban scenario: how, looking forward, the opposition overlaps with a transnational civil society so that the binary logic of the internal and external, of the figures of the “Cuban insider” and “Cuban outsider,” come to an end. For this to happen it is not enough to recognize, on the level of discourse (as the regime does as well), that there are no differences between us, that we are equal, etc. It is something more: we are one and indivisible and this single Cuban has to have the right to exercise the vote and to influence the political present and future of his country, regardless of where on the planet he finds himself or lives; this is, for the opposition and the exile itself, not only a political problem, but a conceptual one.

As political actors we must show that we are an option for governance, presenting the human capital at our disposal, the capacity we possess to generate a political and legal framework capable of filling the possible void that would be left by the one-party nomenklatura. To prove that we could ensure security not only for the country but for the whole region, and last, but no less important, the ability to overtake at the polls the campaigns of the Castro supporters in any eventual free elections.

This would be, perhaps, the most desirable scenario in terms of expansion of the transnational civil society and the corresponding constraint of the totalitarian State. Let us, then, be careful not to confuse succession with transition; let us learn to see ourselves as ordinary Cubans and to demand our full civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as reflected in the two United Nations Covenants. Let us admit that for the transition the human capital dispersed through the State institutions is needed as badly as the skills, knowledge and financial capital of those who have had to grow up far from — but not out of — their country.

The problem of the Cuban nation today is the problem of the democratic transition and reconstruction, a process that will be possible only if it involves the largest number of Cubans, wherever they may live. We do not say that the country belongs to everyone, which is a de jure declaration; we say that all of us, together, make up the Cuban nation, which is already a de facto declaration.

Antonio G. Rodiles and Alexis Jardines
Monday, 29 July 2013

Published in Cubanet  and in Diario de Cuba

29 July 2013

The Conspiracy Exposed: Who is Behind Estado de Sats? / Estado de Sats, Alexis Jardines

Antonio Rodiles at an Estado de Sats event
Alexis Jardines

While it is considered a construction of State Security by some extreme anti-Castro types, and a creature of the CIA by the Cuban government’s cyber-Talibans, the independent Estado de Sats project successfully works for the promotion of civil society and the transition to democracy.

Presumably the reasons that motivate both diametrically opposed interpretations of the Estado de Sats project have a common origin, not at all related to the “syndrome of suspicion.” I would be inclined to think they are of a narcissistic type. It takes only an average IQ to understand, in seconds, that if it really were an organization linked to espionage and subversion this would not be discovered by the delusional tantrums of an exiled writer in Paris, nor the abandoned neurons of a gray political commissar turned blogger-to-order.

On the other hand, if Estado de Sats were just a few guys with an exclusively digital presence –an argument, oddly, shared by the two extremes of the ideological spectrum: Zoé Valdés and Iroel Sánchez – what are they afraid of? Incidentally, the readers can look at the latest public activity of the project, and the Crocodile Smile show, to check for themselves whether the hundred people present have only a cyber-existence.

Heglian logic – and popular wisdom – teaches that the extremes touch, but also that in none of them is the truth usually found. It would be a shame at this point to resort to such trite and childish arguments, which demoralize those who brandish them, not those they’re directed against. The new game is rather predictable: the revolutionary bloggers are tasked to create opinion statements – false – to justify the intervention of the political police and the subsequent dismantling of the project.

In what head is there room for the ridiculous hypothesis that Estado de Sats is working for an American military intervention in Cuba? I read these things and I can’t stop thinking about the terrifying fear that dominates those who write or speak them. They aren’t even reliable when they try to summarize the facts: “The space Estado de Sats… on March 1st hosted the speech of the deputy head of the United States Interest Section in Cuba.” The part about “the speech” is pure manipulation – it was a panel where the whole world (public included) expressed their opinions. With this information Commissar Iroel moved the meeting forward two days (!) (surely because the loyal copyist confused the date of the meeting with the preparatory-orientation meeting in Villa Marista).

With his latest attack on April 7 – on the official government website – this gray functionary made it clear what kind of person he is. Today the world knows of the so-called “Vote of Silence” operation, associated with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, through which hundreds of opponents, dissidents, activists, sympathizers and even “potentially dangerous” individuals were kidnapped and incarcerated by State Security. Here is the version of the Commissar: “Trying to justify to their employers their failure to damage the papal visit, some of those present at the meeting of that Saturday [he is referring to the March 3rd event] alleged in front of Monserrate their supposed detention of a few hours.”

Both his deliberate and awkward lies as well as his delusions about military invasions are based on unfounded and irrational inferences that go too far. It’s like wanting to kill a fly with a missile: pure panic. Komrade Sanchez already tossed overboard his most deadly argument, and so he lost the game. What happens now if, thanks to Estado de Sats, the bombs start falling on Cuba? The official blogosphere is running out of ammunition.

All the rubbish he posts against those who commit the “crime” of thinking and acting freely is reduced to two accusations (positioning himself, as usual, as the prosecutor of others): CIA agents or mercenaries (which, for that matter, are the same thing). The lack of imagination and the limited arguments of the Revolutionaries is something even Raul Castro himself has been forced to acknowledge. It is painful to see how they deliberately try to confuse readers, how they try to pass off open-door meetings as conspiratorial acts, meetings which after being filmed on video are posted on YouTube.

As Ailer Gonzalez already made clear, the plot theory doesn’t work with Estado de Sats, which abides by the right to dialog with whomever it believes necessary, for which it neither asks nor needs permission from State Security. What the Cuban government jealously hides is the accelerated and irreversible loss of support among the people. The trained bloggers, maintained and equipped by the (only) Party can hardly help that. They don’t get readers either inside – for obvious reasons – nor outside of Cuba. There is nothing that makes sense left for them to say, nothing they have to defend. Lying and fabricating suspicions is their only recourse, which they engage in to the point of insanity, while hiding this nauseating amalgam – with no ability to change – that just spins and spins viscously and viciously around itself and that some continue to call “Revolution.”

The strategy to discredit opponents through slander and accusations of being enemy agents bore fruit all these years. Estado de Sats, supported by an open-minded and unprejudiced mentality, flatly rejects this appeal to intimidations and proposes to change the rules of the game.

Before addressing the favorite and almost exclusive argument of the Castro regime’s ideological battery, I am going to offer a little history, so the reader will know what exactly Estado de Sats is.

One day in 2010 Antonio G. Rodiles came to my house, presented himself and put forward an idea that, in addition to being utopian, fascinated me: a scientific-cultural event produced by ourselves, an idea that already had a name. As everyone does, the first thing I asked was the significance of that phrase, as cryptic as it was seductive. There is no deceitfulness in this as it is intended to show the sick mentality of the “cyberwar.” What the term means – related to the moment when the actor is about to go on stage – has been explained more than once. Nor was it cooked up at the University of Florida, another of the inventions of the official bloggers. The name was a happy suggestion of Esther Cardoso to Evelyn Quesada, Antonio G. Rodiles and Jorge Calaforra (ex co-director and co-founder of what at that time was just an outline).

The Gaia House event in Old Havana, already under the surveillance of State Security, was a complete success and, at the same time, constituted the founding act of an independent Project. I had the distinct feeling of having participated in something unprecedented and, when it was all over I went up to Antonio and said, “Well, it’s over. My part is done here.” To this he answered, “Listen, it starts now. Next year we’ll do another and so we won’t be inactive all that time, we can plan smaller meetings every 21 days.”

We were all happy with the encouraging results we’d gotten, but what for me was the closing ceremony of a unique scientific-cultural event, for Antonio G. Rodiles and Jorge Calaforra was something else: Estado de Sats had been born. These two people, whose courage, humanity and intelligence are beyond all doubt, had not only coordinated that complex and monumental program with the group OMNI Zona Franca and their production team – which is now also the team of Estado de Sats – but covered all their expenses with money from their own pockets. At least I have no knowledge that anyone else is providing financial support.

That’s why they accuse the project of receiving funding from foreign powers, following the worn out script of the political police, they need to receive a definitive lesson: considering that we aren’t conspiring, but rather exercising our legitimate right in an open and transparent way, and knowing that these trite accusations are nothing more than tools of manipulation, demonization and destruction of whatever falls “outside the Revolution,” we invite all independent projects and opposition groups, to manage openly, before the eyes of the world, economic support and invitations to travel from as many academic or cultural institutions, foundations, NGOs, as they can contact. What’s more, we maintain that each one of these non-institutional non-governmental spaces should have a representative or manager of promotion and fund raising.

It’s simple. “Whoever doesn’t want soup, give them three cups,” or if you prefer the original of the ancient wisdom: “Like cures like.”

Historically, the regime has threatened, stigmatized and humiliated dissent with these sordid allegations. The Cuban people, ordinary Cubans, should know that this is the way State institutions function: with money and budgets, through exchanges with the exterior and collaborations, donations, etc. It turns out that if the State receives help is it all about the “solidarity of friendly countries, governments or institutions,” but if a group of people receives help, however small it might be, that doesn’t respond to the interests of the government and operates outside institutions, the donation is turned into an issue of national security in the manner of “financing by a foreign power.”

Note that this perverse approach admits the possibility of non-foreign nations (Venezuela?). Such nonsense arises because it is not a logical argument, but a biased construction aimed at sowing a sort of phobia of the United States in the minds of the people. Nobody remembers any more that, indeed, a foreign power like the USSR financed the Cuban government for 30 uninterrupted years.

With Estado de Sats the stigma is over. We call on all Cubans to engage in, as a legitimate right, their own independent project of thinking, activism and free creation, seeking help from the entire civilized world and from Cuban exiles themselves, who should not be allies of the government but rather of those who fight within the Island by holding their heads high. There is no reason for Cubans to be ashamed – nor to ask permission – when it comes to freedom and Human Rights. As long as the money doesn’t belong to spy agencies or narco-traffickers, it doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as the path is legal and the destination honorable. Cubans must know that there are other more worthy ways to act – and also to effect change – than hustling and betrayal, the only things on offer from the Cuban government today.

Given that institutions overwhelm the individual and that, in particular, those of an academic and cultural bent exclude young recent graduates, besides being a source of corruption and the primary immediate obstacle for the development of civil society in Cuba, Estado de Sats aspires to be an alternative space, where all the excluded who want to express themselves converge.

The case of Abel Prieto, the former Minister of Culture, supports two equally plausible interpretations. He could have been promoted, as his new post is closer to president Raul Castro; but he could have been dismissed; a minister amasses resources, but an advisor only advice. The bureaucracy concentrates power (money). When you head up a State institution, you manage a part of the State’s budget, which also means that those individuals with a certain share of power will make every effort to manage the lion’s share not to the detriment of the ruling class but of those who depend on the way they themselves redistribute this money in the institutions (including the ministries, of course).

Very simply, this is where corruption is generated. And not only because the bureaucracy blocks those resources from reaching their objective and the money from making it into the pockets of those below, but because the elite itself tolerates the bureaucracy because they know that not all the money that should filter down does so. In short, I steal because you steal and you let me steal to be able to steal as well.

In the dynamics of corruption the injured party, as always, is the worker, the simple individual whom ideology has turned into a zombie – or, what amounts to the same thing, a “Revolutionary” – whose purpose is to justify and defend the status quo, that is, his own oppression.  Corruption comes to the Cuban government by two paths: cultural and political. I don’t believe there is a single Latin American country where corruption can be considered a second-order phenomenon. Likewise, all the Eastern European socialist countries generated a pattern of corruption similar to Cuba’s.

In Cuba, both cultural and academic institutions are in a process of deterioration and not only materially. The level of students and teachers is plummeting, and of particular concern is the degradation in higher education with the colonization it’s been subjected to by the hordes from the “Enrique José Varona” Higher Pedagogical Institute. These types of schools of education – modeled on the Soviet system – never were, properly speaking, universities. In the former USSR the difference was very clear.

Strictly speaking, a graduate in Education, with a B.A. degree in that subject, is not prepared either for research or for teaching at a higher level, but only for teaching at secondary level (senior and junior high schools). By a decree designed only to give more power to Miguel Díaz-Canel – one of Raúl Castro’s protégés who has risen meteorically to the highest positions – they converted the “Centers” into “Institutes” and the institutes, in turn, into “Universities.” The old – and not so old – professors of the Havana Pedagogical Institute, with their inherent mediocrity that prioritizes the political-ideological over academics, dominate higher education in Cuba (both with regards to management and to teaching) and spread like a plague over the research institutes.

From the beginning, at my suggestion, Estado de Sats conceived the possibility of developing at least a multidisciplinary group that could undertake science beyond the reach of the (only) party and without any ideological compromise. I’d talked beforehand with Antonio and it was recorded in the final paragraph of my presentation at Estado de Sats in Casa Gaia:

Recommendations: Due to the special situation that exists in the county, take steps through the creation of sui generis Think Tanks structured not as institutions but as small NGOs of advanced studies, to fill the vacuum in thinking through the production (and publication on the Web) of original ideas and policies, initially educational, which can form the basis for the recovery of Cuban universities and their competitive spirit.

It is, undoubtedly, an ambitious plan with innumerable difficulties facing its development. For now, it remains dormant within the well-known analysis space, FORA.

The famous Plato discovered the reality of some entities that have two notable characteristics: being general and immaterial. If the philosopher was asked about sensitive things (at the level of the individual) he responded: they only exist by virtue of participating in the general abstract idea. So, we recognize a flower to the extent that it incarnates the general idea of “flower” and the first will be more beautiful and perfect the more it approaches the second, that is, its eidos or archetype.

So far so good, but the problem starts when we try to transfer this reasoning to the human being. Man does not fit, nor can he ever dissolve himself ―according the Castro’s totalitarian experiments― in the Revolution; only a Revolutionary fits within it. Therefore, the reduction of the total diversity of the real human being into only one of his accidents, is an anthropological injury (mutilating and lacerating). The same can be extended to the notions of Homeland and Nation. Many Cubans on the Island – including the critical left – are still living their lives dominated by these abstract ideas.

Until last year (2011) I lived in Cuba. Those who know me know that I did so as if I was a “citizen of the world”; and so I also wrote my texts, not from Havana, but situating myself mentally in the Swiss Alps. And although I paid some price for it, obviously, I never censored myself and I wandered through the city – and through the University itself – as a free soul. I think Emilio Ichikawa has already emphasized this feature of my personality: I learned to live freely in the most stifling oppression. The immediate impression I had on meeting Antonio G. Rodiles was of a person exactly like what I just described. We agreed on a rarely shared point, and on that basis, I enrolled in the project.

Estado de Sats is situated beyond everything that can be considered a limit to the full development of human individuality (personality): beyond the flags, the causes, the crowds, the revolutions, the patriotic and doctrinaire ideas.  All these abstractions embraced, in one form or another, by the Communists, Fascists, Marxists and patriots of every stripe, we trade for the uniqueness of one life.

We understand that the nation is made for man, and not man for the nation. Consequently, we are not interested in “the ground our feet tread upon” – as José Martí said – nor in hatred, resentment, nor in some concept of “Humanity,” but in the comfort of those footsteps on the wiry grass (with a lower-case g or capital G) which illuminates and kills. Individuals will exist, even if Cuba no longer exists as a nation – that is whether or not they are “Cubans” – and what demands our attention is not the word that defines a place of origin, but the human condition to be free, or to not be at all.

In fact, one of the present barriers to freedom is nationalism, a preferred tool of domination that has spawned the modern dictator. Of course we are profoundly moved by patriotic matters, but we acknowledge that they are ancestral impulses. In another perspective, “my country is where my children eat,” according to the succinct definition of a mother (singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat) which demolishes half the edifice of modern political science.

The individual cannot be free under the paradigm of sovereignty, which relates solely to nations. A sovereign individual can only be the king, but the king is not strictly an individual, he is a monarch. Nor is a sovereign people a guarantee of individual freedom; freedom is individual or it does not exist. Hence our renunciation of nationalism. Just as they once emerged, nation-states are now beginning to blur within the new reorganization of the world order.

Poor are those who construct their thinking within nationalist strategies, which today is like returning to feudalism. Particularly with regards to the theme of reconciliation among Cubans, Estado de Sats evades the polarization of nationalism/anti-nationalism and places its bets on the post-national. Cubans must end the primitive worship of symbols if we don’t want to continue living in the past. At the end of the day, it only adds fuel to the Castro regime’s fire where they forge the darts of “plattismo” – that is, calling forth the boogeyman of the Platt Amendment – annexationism, and other ridiculous memories dedicated to the destruction of the other.

Anyone advocating the post-national cannot be an annexationist, it would be a contradiction in terms. Rather the question is: by what right can a government that excludes its own nationals (inside and outside the country) from economic and political affairs, while it opens its doors – with the logic of a hooker – to foreign investment, accuse anyone of “plattismo”? What kind of nationalism is it that, on behalf of the foreigner, has deprived Cubans of their most elemental rights to the point of destroying their self-esteem?

The new concept of resistance

The reality is quite different from the cynical and crazy idea about the supposed CIA funding put forward by pro-government bloggers. The Estado de Sats project is faced with a difficult economic situation, but it does not stop. With all its limitations, Estado de Sats has managed a scope and internal visibility never before recorded in the dissent. We are connected in Cuba with intellectuals, artists, academics, activists, dissidents, independent and alternative projects, bloggers, etc. Today we can say that SATS is the window of Cuban civil society.

A hundred people regularly attend its meetings and then disseminate the videos copied onto CDs and flash drives throughout the country. Its outreach is channeled through blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TV Marti and Radio Marti, as well as in digital versions of well-known European and American newspapers. Our work’s media edge has been taken advantage of by some of the “enlightened” on the outside who have assigned themselves the task of teaching, through their computer keyboards, how to fight against the Cuban regime.

The fundamental mistake shared by not a few authors of these “rightist” and extremist posts who seek to guide the internal dissidence from exile, is that they have an outdated image of the dynamic opposition and lack direct ties with the resistance on the Island, the only ones capable of lending some credibility to what they write. In the best case, such gaps are supplemented with unnecessary rhetoric, loaded with false profundity, long and drawn out citations, displays of historic erudition and conceptual diversions that can only make us laugh; in the worst case they are filled with authentic videogame proposals which must be executed by real actors to overthrow the current government. For the real dissidents, on the other hand, it is becoming clear that situated at the point of confluence of art, thinking, and ordinary Cubans, Estado de Sats has opened a true breach in the armor plating that separates the people from the active opposition.

Who, ultimately, is behind Estado de Sats?

Only our dear friends Transparency and Freedom, whom the Cuban repressors are determined to ignore. So, our next guest could be the chief of State Security, or the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. The whole world will be a witness should the first decline the invitation and the government refuse a visa to the second. This is why, to my way of thinking, they repress us but they tolerate us. So our detractors will have to pull together the intelligence to understand, at least: 1) on the other side of the video screen there is real opposition activity in a physical space; 2) if they continue to tie us to State Security the only reason is because the truth doesn’t interest them, nor are those from the ruling party interested in finding out our relationship to the CIA.

The doors of Estado de Sats are open; visit us, this will be the best way to come to know us.

Originally published in

29 May 2012


Response to Catholic Church’s Editorial in Lay Space: “Commitment to the Truth” / Estado de Sats

By Alexis Jardines and Antonio Rodiles

The most recent editorial in the Cuban Catholic Church’s journal Lay Space (Espacio Laical) put on the table for discussion, once again, several critical points regarding the course that should be taken in the Cuban transition.

First, we have to say that we find it most interesting that the current circumstances push political actors to publicly express their positions. It becomes ever more difficult to act “behind closed doors” in an age when an information flows and is leaked so easily. This is a fact undoubtedly surprising to those accustomed to intervening from behind the scenes.

Currently there is an intense lobbying effort focused on getting the government of the United States to relax its policy toward the regime on the Island. This onslaught occurs through three different actors. The first is the Cuban government, the second is the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and the third is made up of certain sectors of the exile. Although several analysts see this as a coincidence of interests, we think there is little coincidental about this coordinated action.

The concern of many activists over the role the church hierarchy is playing in this political chess game has been accompanied by reports in various media. These recriminations should never be taken as an intent to attack the Cuban Church, though certain groups would like them to be, but rather as a wake-up call about the role that this institution should play, and the concern that it could become hostage to some particular interests.

The editorial in Lay Space appeared not only to compensate for several missteps by members of the journal’s own editorial board, but also for the “blunders” of Cardinal Jaime Ortega on his recent trip to the United States. And we mustn’t forget that in recent days the newspaper Granma, official organ of the Communist Party, came to the defense of the prelate, discrediting his detractors and their criticisms.

The recent lobbying has a well defined profile and is targeted to political opponents to the embargo — business interests, study groups and universities — among which the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard University and the City University of New York stand out. Interestingly, people tied to the three sectors have passed through these same institutions, among them: Roberto Veiga, Jaime Ortega, Eusebio Leal, Arturo Lopez Levy and Carlos Saladrigas.

Within the Island we cannot ignore the exclusions coming out of the conference on Cuban migration, held behind closed doors in early May. Catholic activists excluded included Dagoberto Valdés and Oswaldo Payá, as well as the academic Juan Antonio Blanco, currently living in Miami, whom the Cuban government announced it would not allow to enter the country.

In recent days a group of American and Cuban academics, members of official institutions, have argued for the application of more flexible measures to the relations between both nations. In this scenario a new group called COFFEE has appeared, featuring Arturo López Levy, who is seen not only as a part of the Lay Space team, but who is also among those campaigning on behalf of the five Cuban spies convicted in the United States.

At the very least, the synchronization of this front – the Catholic Church, the Cuban government, and the complacent emigration – is suspect.

As Carlos Saladrigas explained at his conference recently held at the Church’s Felix Varela Center in Havana, it is virtually impossible to believe that the Obama administration will change its policy toward the Island in an election year. However, it is clear that this strategy aims to produce changes should the current president be reelected.

As we have discussed in previous articles, the ruinous state of the country and the uncertain situation of Hugo Chávez, among other adverse factors, forces the governing elite into a pressured search to resolve its transmutation, and in particular to guarantee the future of its heirs. The question is: How does Jaime Ortega fit into this plan?

In the editorial published by Lay Space there are several aspects to note. The first we consider important is the political role assigned to the Church, and the affirmation that it has played the most active role in the construction of a global vision for changes in Cuba.

What the editorial flatly ignores is that it is not the Church’s job to build an alternative for the nation, this role belongs to civil society. It is truly surprising, therefore, that this group wants to obscure the work undertaken by so many political actors for years — and their commitment to democratization on the Island — for which they’ve paid with long prison sentences and even their lives. The constant reference to the Church’s own platform as the only solution is, at the least, offensive. But that is not all. How can they say that the opposition has no national project? How can they assert that those who demand an end to the dictatorship lack legitimacy?*

Also curious is the vehemence with which the Cardinal has taken on a task that is beyond him. His role, at best, should be one of mediator, gaining the confidence and respect of the parties in conflict, and not that of a totally biased activist.

The editorial in Lay Space tries to ignore a crucial fact impossible to evade: that we have lived under a dictatorship in our country for 53 years. A dictatorship that has been driven by the same group since that distant 1959, a dictatorship that admits no renewal and that forces its replacement by a democracy.

Another of the manipulative arguments of the editorial is that related to the economic sanctions imposed against the Cuban government by the United States government. Why should we have to repudiate sanctions against a government that shows no interest in bettering the conditions of its citizens and instead spares no resources for its repressive apparatus?

Why should we have to support that the Government further increases its debt, knowing that the money will never be invested in the development of the country?

The issue of nationalism is another curious point. What sovereignty are they speaking of when the current economy has been maintained through external subsidies and we Cubans have been, and continue to be, discriminated against in our own land?

If, as stated in the editorial, at every moment the Cardinal had a worthy attitude toward injustices, why have we not heard his voice again, given the constant human rights violations on the Island? Where was he when three young men were murdered after a judicial farce, or when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Wilfredo Soto and Wilman Villar died?

Where was his voice of denunciation during the wave of arrests during the Pope’s recent visit to our country? Where is he when they undertake daily despicable acts of repudiation in Cuba today?

We must make it clear to the authors of that text that to speak, without contortions, of the reality that we have lived and are living in Cuba is not hatred. To call those primarily responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans murderers is not prejudice, much less a lack of political intelligence.

Intelligence implies an accurate approach to reality, and the reality in Cuba has been and is harsh. While dialogue should be the highest priority as a path to a solution to our prolonged conflict, the truth cannot be left to one side if we want this dialogue to be credible.

Reconciliation is not incompatible with justice. Quite the opposite: for there to be reconciliation there must be justice. Mind you, not a justice that devolves into a circus, but a justice that respects the human condition of each individual. If the Church hierarchy speaks so lightly, and with a false vision of reconciliation, it should expect nothing but discredit.

The Catholic Church could be called upon to play an important role in the transition; but this will only be possible if it gains the respect and confidence of all those who seek a modern and democratic nation.


*Translator’s note: Following is an excerpt from the Lay Space editorial referring to these points:

This effort by Cardinal Ortega has never represented an uncritical acceptance of the missteps taken by some parties in the national spectrum. Sometimes in public, sometimes in private, he has questioned the political actions of the opposition, inside and outside Cuba, that are usually characterized by criticizing, condemning and trying to annihilate, without contributing any clear and universal projects for the fate of the nation.

Because of its indisputable love for a free and sovereign Cuba, the Church cannot go along with projects that are monitored by — and often coupled with — agendas dictated outside the island, without a clear, critical distancing from the blockade against our motherland.

The entire editorial is available here, in English translation, as posted on CubaNews at Yahoo.

25 May 2012