Francis Sanchez, 18 April 2011 — I had promised to publish two other parts of my last post, “Closed for Demolition”. Many days have gone by without my being able to do so. I will no longer do it, because definitely what I had in mind would only add essay-type content. The fundamental thing, the denunciation, is already done, and what remains is the testimony. I will save those texts in order to add other pages to new projects.
I am very grateful to all those who have written comments and who have offered me solidarity because, although it may seem minimal, it is an indispensable nourishment for moving ahead with life. In some way, although at times there is a delay in my being able to know it, I have always ended up becoming aware of what they comment and write to me. But it is true that I could not publish with the necessary frequency, or safety, without harming other people who were helping me. Thank you.
The blog “Man in the Clouds” is a marvelous chapter of my life that I do not regret. Of course, neither am I the one who is closing it–“for now”, I hear the little voice of temptation tell me–I specifically denounce my fear–not so much for me, but for my family–and the things that cause it, because no one is to blame for feeling fear. “No one. Absolutely no one,” says the magnificent writer Eliseo Alberto in the memoir “Report Against Myself.”
What will be most difficult in closing or cutting off is the need for complete freedom of expression, an inalienable right that connects hears and does not depend on any cable. So we will keep on seeing each other in this beautiful site.
The television series “The Reasons of Cuba”, which launched a new catalogue of agents infiltrated into Cuban society, with the direction the revelations took, places in evidence a new period of control or official pressure on national culture and intellectuality, as if the margin of natural life we had left for our development were not already very miserable. The supposed master act of these “agents” did not happen before or after it came out on television, but only now that they have come to achieve something with true impact, and it is this: the mixture of anger, disappointment, nausea, fear, shame, pity, remorse, etc. that can be found by following the tracks that they left among all the manipulated people–colleagues, friends, neighbors, work mates, etc.–whom they tried to provoke and attract with false projects that they made up themselves. Revulsion is said to be a paralyzing feeling. Now, when the coaxial cable that has arrived at the Cuban coast is about to begin to function, and at all levels they are trying to limit access to the new technologies, flagrantly violating the privacy of the mail, which is a violation of the Cuban Constitution, perhaps the punishing blow is taking shape, the censorship that we intellectuals have been waiting for since the “email crisis” of 2007. To criminalize intellectuality and that natural attachment to freedom of expression.
[I have decided to publish, before this blog is closed down, some texts that I didn’t publish at the time because it was practically impossible to do it because of obvious difficulties or because as time passed I doubted that it would be the best idea. Due to recent events, I think it is best not to leave them unpublished. They are the following texts: the article “Guatacas” (Hoes), the poem “La palabra Abedul” (The Word Abedul) and the documents “Carta abierta a un amigo” (Open Letter to a Friend) and “Aclaración al lector” (Clarification to the Reader). The last work that must be published on this blog is “Cerrado por demolición” (Closed for Demolition), which will appear in three parts or submissions: “La cosa en la red” (The Thing in the Net), “Puntos negros” (Black Points) and “Nosotros y las nubes” (We and the Clouds).]
I. The “Thing” in the Net
When I opened this blog, only some five months ago, I told the story of a night full of nightmares, the time that my wife almost collapsed and I was at her side for us to survive impotence and frustration together for reasons that are explained in the post “Mass Layoffs. Dissolve the public?” Now this blog called “Man in the Clouds” is closed down or nailed to the air with this article which, under the title “Closed for Demolition” I plan to publish in three parts or submissions, after I have once again lived through a night of horror. Cuban television has just shown, at the top hour of eight-thirty at night, a new chapter of the series “The Reasons of Cuba”, with the title “Cyberwarfare”.
I had promised myself to try to never hurt, much less attack, other people in my writing, as well as to not defend myself from that type of low blows when I became a target because of my points of view–to encourage personal disagreements or mudslinging, supposedly among intellectuals, is an undertaking of destruction and ethical poverty in which the principal investors in immobility and censorship are accustomed to place their ample resources, betting on empty, on despair and generalized revulsion–but it seems I have no alternative but to break the second of my resolutions and defend myself. I will do this because essentially it won’t even be self-defense, which is a luxury impossible for me to properly undertake given the very excessive and even abstract disproportion between my attacker and myself. It seems the critical hour has come and I want, while I still can, to denounce injustice and put my ideas and my position down in writing.
The faceless apparatus of the political police accuses me, among the few “independent bloggers” that exist in Cuba, to be in the pay of the United States government. “Cybermercenaries in Cuba” wrote an invisible hand on the Google search engine and, to the horror of my family, I do not know which shady search engine could have produced as a result of this television program showing a page of my blog on the small screen. Enrique Ubieta, who often shows up to defend the powerful “Raison d’Etat”, author of some book he was asked to produce and director of the newspaper “La calle del medio”, at one point says to the camera that this is obviously some ambitious guy who, like somebody who sets up a fried food stand, is trying to get through the economic crisis very easily by getting on the Internet for money paid by Washington. It is unbearably false that my blog be shown here, even a single page for a fraction of a second, but it happened and I saw it, and the most horrible part is that it is linked to my profound impotence. I don’t have to say that I have never set foot inside the USA Interest Section in Havana, nor have I earned or aspired to earn a cent for writing or recording my ideas on a personal blog. A blog that began one day in search of my own breathing room as a marginalized intellectual. A marginalization whose degree has increased a lot since, in early 2007, I published my text “La crisis de la baja cultura” (The Crisis of Low Culture), loaded with a strong dose of social criticism, at the same time as those events that some have called “the email crisis”.
To write, create and reflect, defending the hypothesis of full internal freedom, is something that I have had since I was a child, like breathing. But it makes no sense for me to try to run faster than the lies, since a larger truth is common knowledge, atrocious and popularly incorporated into people’s daily survival mechanism in the face of despotism and the Mystery Syndrome in Cuba: the key is not to predict the problem you might get into, but the one the want to create for you. I, like any individual, lack legal mobility inside a monotonous system, and the most I can hope for is that they pardon my life in order not to air dirty laundry in front of third parties. The structure, the true apparatus of power, works in the shadows. The convictions and activities that any individual may be involved in that show any degree of rejection of the system will be just one set of little crystals under a magnifying glass, a microscope or a telescopic viewer, according to each clinical evolution.
Some months before, a video had leaked through–circulated on a flash drive to another–that was of a conference given to some colleagues by a specialist from the Ministry of the Interior, entitled “Enemy Campaigns and Policies for Confronting Counterrevolutionary Groups”, in which the theme of the new technologies was addressed. On the topic of the blogosphere, he made the following comment:
“They want to create in our minds the concept that the blogger is a kind of enemy of the Revolution. If we take on the bloggers now, we will really make an enemy for ourselves.”
The presenter doubtless was alluding to the process of criminalization that, before the Internet and blogs, over time had made against other technologies that had empowered people: video cameras, video cassettes, computers, printers, mobile phones, to give just a few examples, as well as concepts such as civil society and branches of science like sociology. Which reminds me that, in 1998 when I got my first computer with a printer connected, a cultural assembly registered a complaint against the “danger” that was in my house, which was made by the director of the provincial library. The operating strategy, nevertheless, apparently was going to suffer a radical shift, going from the supposed precaution of a private meeting to the public offensive tactic of the establishment of a new prohibitive code that, following the war manual, reduces a problematic social reality to an epithet, a discrediting term for a person who asks for rationality, but gets echo, euphoria, unconditional repudiation: “cybermercenary” is the new word that overwrites so many other terms that have historically been put in the mouths of the masses.
The day after the previously mentioned television program showed, the newspaper “Granma”, official organ of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party), would publish an even more inclusive and horrific accusation, which apparently left me before the masses labeled just as one more venal soldier, but with all the colors of the typical beast for whom the hunting season never expires in public spaces: pro-Yankee, traitor, terrorist, in other words a monster ready for lynching, packing and sending to hell. In a provincial town like Ciego de Ávila, where I live, going to hell is not a very long trip. These processes of demonization had already begun long before, with a harassment that became progressively less veiled. Now it is the spying, vigilance and persecution I suffer all the time. A meeting was even called by the First Secretary of the Provincial Party at which intellectuals and journalists were exhorted to avoid me. One fine day somebody robs me, takes my cell phone out of my wallet. Another day someone comes to let me know they have been recording and filming me. From one day to the next a literary activity that some careless promoter was kind enough to organize for me and my family is cancelled. Suddenly the television, on the program of March 21 previously mentioned, puts a moral price on my photo. And finally, as a climax, “Granma” publishes multiple accusations, which are also so exaggerated that I am able to refute them all at the same time. Luckily, the activity of a writer and the social reflections made on a blog have the objective of staying afloat, of opening oneself to scrutiny, letting the light in that so bothers those who live in shadows and speculation. So instead of saying “lie” a thousand times, I can limit myself to asking in what part of my texts I have advocated any of that which is imputed to me here:
“These bloggers […] have exhorted people to rise up in Cuba, have promoted violence, support the Cuban Settlement Law, justified the blockade, deny that the most reactionary sector of Miami is the enemy of the Cuban people, say that the case of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is a smoke screen and even go so far as to openly express [sic] the change of the political system […].”*3
The latter reproach is very confusing since the editing evidently failed, but it is worth doubting if, in order to straighten out the text, the “official organ of the party” would be willing to do without the Marxist dialectic that has theoretically justified the Cuban political system and which recognizes in social relations a non-linear process, an object of permanent transformation. Would it be inhuman to live according to the universal maxim, so romantic and absolute, of “change everything [everything!] that must be changed.” Or rather is it not monstrous that someone can decide what everything is for everyone? An identical paradox was presented to intellectuals in June of 1961, in a meeting at the National Library, under the banner of “Inside the Revolution, everything. Against the Revolution, nothing” (this year is the fiftieth anniversary of this event), so that these [intellectuals] could entertain themselves for a long while “sucking on this stone”. Life would show that no one was going to find an escape from the rhetoric of power, no one except the subject master himself, much less intellectuals with the “original sin” of not being of the proletariat or revolutionaries and, meanwhile, they could give each other as many exclusions as there were stars in the sky and political power could be concentrated. Well, for good reason the “words of the intellectuals” are not known, although the ‘I’m afraid” said that day by Virgilio Piñera is still quite explicit.
I responsibly proclaim what I believe comes out naturally in my work: I would never associate myself with hatred or the shedding of a drop of blood; I do not approve of the blockade against Cuba; I reject any type of terrorism, fundamentally state terrorism. To express myself against all terrorism would lead me to be, for example, against the type that promotes revolutions by blowing up bombs in movie houses and parks, against the type that tries to destabilize governments by putting bombs in hotels, against the type that organizes paramilitary squadrons and causes people to disappear, against the type that converts society into an artificial political web capable of functioning millimetrically to produce the expatriation or social death of anyone whom it doesn’t like, against the type that sends out crowds to surround a man in his house with his family only because he thinks differently… By the way, regarding my rejection of violence, in a section of my poem collection “Epitafios de nadie” (Nobody’s Epitaphs) (Ed. Oriente, 2009), the poem “Medallista de plata” (Silver Medalist) about the sabotage of that Cuban plane in Barbados says: “[…] On what island, of what random face / did the assassin ask quickly quickly for a ticket? / It was forgotten here in his luggage. / Never open it again. The gold is for the sea.” In the same book, as a matter of fact, two other poems about such tragedies in contemporary Cuban history do not appear, since they were censored: the sinking of the tugboat Trece de Marzo and the events of August 1994 which some call the Malecón Uprising.
Many sectors or social groups have been categorized as traitors or fifth columnists, also lumped in a group, according to some strategy of doctrinal hardening, sometimes within something as simple as to say, “Whoever doesn’t jump is a Yankee.” These have included those young men who had to hide away to listen to the Beatles, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, poets of family life, ecologists, street artists of the eighties, hip hop singers, and a long list of others, each one in its own time. Over and over, we members of the Cuban family have been variously called “scum”, “country-sellers”, “worms”, and have apparently been worthy of repudiation, stonings and kicks, receiving and passing on the baton, the black speck. At the same time, in order to restrain that plurality embodying ideological differences and social criticism, frequently the traitorous pretext has been used by people who adopt a field of intellectual action that is internally mined because they were supposedly making up a scenario for a foreign invasion. A very notable Inquisition-like scene was set up against the authors of the books “Fuera de juego” (Out of the Game) and “Los siete contra Tebas” (Seven Against Thebes), prize winners from the UNEAC 1968, in poetry and theater, respectively. The “Declaration of the UNEAC”, signed November 15, 1968, and given out as a prologue to the poem collection of Heberto Padilla, demonstrated a mechanism that would remain essentially active, an overgrown apparatus that marks people and works for their circulation with an untimely meaning.
“Now then: whom do these books serve? Do they serve our revolution, slandered this way, hurt by such means? Obviously not. Our revolutionary conviction allows us to point out that poetry and that theater are our enemies, and their authors are the artists they need to feed their Trojan horse at the hour when imperialism decides to put into practice its policy of warlike frontal aggression against Cuba.”
Manuel Díaz Martínez, a member of the Poetry Judging Panel, tells us that, after a lot of maneuvering to avoid giving the prize based strictly on literary quality, the executive leaders of the UNEAC met with the different members of the panel to explain to them the problems that had come up with the books in question and there, at that time, Félix Pita Rodríguez in his role as attorney general, played the last card, the lethal disintegrating ray one, saying: “The problem, comrades, is that there is a conspiracy by the intellectuals against the revolution.” Díaz Martínez reveals: “Before such an accusation, I asked to speak and I requested him to give out the names of those “conspirators”. He didn’t give them. What existed was a government conspiracy against freedom of opinion.”3 Although Félix Pita didn’t say them, the names of those intellectuals would become well known in the following years, due to the weight of the suffering and ostracism that some of them, “counterrevolutionaries” like José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, would endure to the end of their lives.
I reject and denounce the epithet “counterrevolutionary”–the term mercenary is included a priori; it is always around the house–that they want to apply to me as a pretext for repression, for eliminating the right to live in a nation and a culture that are alive and open, because I practice an intellectual policy of resistance that is not that of collaboration, or of silence, or of exile; it is perhaps best described as existentialist. If it offends me, it is because it is untrue, the same reason for which I believe the term “revolutionary” intellectual is invalid since it, with a functionalism and a reductionist and exclusionary axiological economy, has been used to deny the natural rights of the artist or the intellectual–uncomplicate him, dehumanize him, emptying his thought and work–in the period following the triumph of the Revolution, inside Cuba. Both reductions are resonating figures that follow the same selective pattern, since they inform, more than on the particular qualities, on the will for power that dominates a social field reduced to its minimum expression.
The game of taking turns in power allowed inside such limits carries with it too much feigning, pretense, hypertrophy, traditional debate of the appropriateness of social criticism, a problem that soon became written in the annals of academia as exclusively applying to the topic of the function or the “role of the revolutionary intellectual” in society. The art of simulation, needed to survive, would lead many to cross the waters of that obligatory ideological baptism while barely touching them, adopting an essentialist vision of accepting the stereotype of such a mark in a decontextualized form. Manuel Díaz Martínez himself tells that, in the meeting of the Judging Panel at which a final decision would be made, he defended his proposal, declaring that “Fuera del juego” (Out of the Game) was critical but not counterrevolutionary–actually revolutionary in its criticism”.
This synecdoche could be justified for the hypo-statization of the figure of the “revolutionary intellectual” for the plain and simple flesh-and-blood intellectual, as has frequently happened, trusting that the rights earned for one, for the only existing or really accepted one, are going to be extended as if by contagion to the rest. This modest aspiration, nevertheless, perhaps hides in the end a conflict with the humanist tradition, when one tries to make obsolete an ideal model, on which have depended a good part of the achievements of Western civilization–to which the process of Cuban nationality belongs, however much this might be sometimes denied–in which intellectuals not only represented themselves to themselves and to others, like mirrors facing mirrors, but who aspired to express, catalyze, assign prerogatives, rights and rich possibilities of all of society as a whole. In this sense, the social and critical relevance of the intellectual is going to be subject to the universal norm of the average common man, because he thinks or exists, nothing else.
But the degree of ideal communicability and criticism that the advocates of a Manichean, convenient, simplifying power structure in Cuba unfortunately seems to be being reduced, more and more, to zero. Desiderio Navarro, in his presentation “In medias res publicas” (In the middle of the public thing) presented at the International Conference “The Role of the Intellectual in the Public Arena” (organized by the Prince Claus of Holland Fund held in Beirut in February 2000), stated regarding the Cuban situation:
“[…]the criteria for correct social criticism would not be [whether it is] the truth, but rather the degree to which its attention to detail, scrupulousness and rigor correspond to a certain measure of what is necessary or advisable. […] To not criticize the whole or to criticize less than is necessary or advisable is not a reason for condemnation and exclusion. This shows that “zero”, total absence, is in reality the ideal degree of social criticism.”4
So neither does the favorite strategy of official refutation accept within the public domain that any ideo-esthetic platform be established for debate unless it is not vertically controlled. In practice, this reaction has been made into law: close the social contract to the human being, discrediting his will as if he were a micro-organnism that obeys an infinitely superior infection process.
“The most frequent manner of attacking critical interventions by the intellectuals in the public sphere is not, as one might expect, pointing out the negative consequences that their critical statements could supposedly have or, even less, the demonstration of the supposedly erroneous nature of these statements, but rather the attribution of reprehensible hidden intentions to their authors […].”5
I am not falling off this cloud now. I knew the risk of being, of “inhabiting the language”, even those limits broken and contaminated by an alien reality. Limits where there is always a lack of oxygen for the creatures that struggle to keep the heat and tremor of their dreams. One day a beloved successful writer taught me: “I only start wars I know I am going to win.” This author, of course, had arranged to get in and out of scandalous activities without being unworthy of a certificate of confidence that is only issued from the vision of the winners. But true success is never the presence of anything, or proof of life, at least never in that despicable sense, not visionary. On the contrary, I think that if the plan for my freedom is condemned to failure in the small and circumstantial sense, it must move forward toward it in the larger sense: “I can no longer be free/I will enlarge my prisons.”6 If indeed our common home–although not the largest of those we live in–is history, country, a language of our present and shared being, it seems inhabitable for the people who are completely defeated and must leave outside their excess suffering, even having fallen; the imponderable of being can make us endure before the door.
1 The program was transmitted o the Cubavisión channel on March 21, 2011, and retransmitted on other channels the following day.
2 “The Reasons of Cuba”. Cyber warfare: mercenaries on the net”, Deisy Francis Mexidor, in Granma, March 22, 2011, p. 5.
3 Manuel Díaz Martínez: “Brief Inside Story of the Padilla Case”.
4 Desiderio Navarro: “In medias res publicas”, in magazine “La Gaceta de Cuba”, no. 3, May-June, 2001, p.43.
6 Verse by Manuel Altolaguirre.
This February 23 marks the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after suffering a hunger strike that lasted 86 days. The official press hastened to say that it was just another fallen mercenary in service to the empire. But not everyone in the general public subjected to this propaganda saw it that way, even some avowed communists revealed their bewilderment in remarks circulated by email: can one give their own life, coldly, in exchange for money?
The old discredited argument against dissent, against differences, continues to transmit the classic standard of proof: supposedly all “others” are lacking not only good sense, true motives, but also lack the most minimal ideal or altruism. But now its lack of logic has left this argument without a leg. This victim was different, he had crossed the vast threshold of the pain of an entire people until he entered into death, carried forth by his own sturdy will, over to where Cubans, because of their culture and distinctive characteristics, do not charge or demand, but instead offer to give themselves freely to their fellow man. Apart from puppets, that other cartoonish idea of masochistic dissidents, that they are looking for ostracism and repression in return for a few perks they are thrown from the outside, does not even remotely fit the case. Zapata gave everything. He gave, and here this word acquires its full meaning, his life.
Absolute power, which is always marked by rigor mortis, does not permit even in theory a social actor who dissents legitimately. Seemingly the most elemental human condition is lost when a person questions or doubts the vertical power, receiving the exclusion that is reserved for monsters, that’s why the revolutionary songbook is full of dehumanizing terms such as “worm”, “scum”, “faction”, it has been used over the long course of Cuban history to institutionalize an overwhelming fear of disagreements.
One might ask the tribunal of untainted pure censors this question: what is the prototypical dissident for which they have planned, do they concede to a life the right to question, that those who choose to live could believe that a monolithic social model is unsustainable or impossible. Given this abundant reality and the ideological contradictions why don’t we see an opponent worthy of minimal respect emerge in the national arena, someone permitted to share the same space with them minus the stigma, and a judge that is chosen who will accept all parties: does some type of a priori approved opponent exist? A person who authentically challenges power and its axioms? Is there an application process to follow, some conditions to be met, at least on paper, which won’t cause oneself to deserve punishment or to have oneself compared to rats? Well no. This very complex reality and national history gives us the answer: it has not been planned for. In a Revolution, supposedly more sacred than the existence of the people caught in its vortex, one where the means disrupt the ends, simply put, a good citizen is “revolutionary” or they cease to be a citizen.
They corner and they crush the “vermin” on the pretext of preventing harm to human beings and the community. Denied as individuals the reasons or lack of reasons of the State that enforces a degraded standard of living, what mark of our uniqueness are we left, what tacit humanism, what borderline is there which can be used to avoid mistaking ourselves for the blind murderous deformities that illustrate the official bestiary. Harming oneself is the extreme attitude test, but also practically the only one that comes to a person already cornered and crushed in order to argue for their harmlessness and their human rights: actions like separating oneself from the sheep kept secure in a pen, the renunciation, the fasting or a tragic suicide… Zapata crossed those boundaries. Clearly, not even that was sufficient: official spokesmen cataloged it as perverse. Without a doubt, he made himself a martyr.
To continue the story starting from the same place. They had also wanted this February 23 to be for Pedro Arguelles’ birthday, one of the few prisoners who are left of the 75 condemned in spring of 2003, in spite of causing the government to promise last year to free all of them in November later that same year. So Arguelles had planned his visiting day, which occurs approximately every month and a half, for this date. Yolanda, his wife, had the bags prepared to bring to him, when she received his call: He decided to renounce this visit in order to pass his birthday in complete fasting as an homage to the memory of Orlando Zapata. He who has nothing, but still finds a way to find the strength and express himself civically, sacrificing the little that he still has.
Yolanda must wait another 45 days to see the man she loves and who makes her feel proud. “Stateless” usually encompasses peaceful dissent, here it’s synonymous with traitor and monster. Arguelles has seen his imprisonment prolonged including after the promise of the government, until arriving at that day which shared his birthday and the first anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata, precisely for rejecting the only condition which until now they have given to him in order to leave the jail: Abandon his homeland.
We are having a wake for our cadaver and, at the bottom of the deep future, trembles a flame, an idea much more daunting than the open eyes of a dead man: the soul in torment from the nation “with all and for the good of all.”
My watch was still running slow, probably because I needed to change the battery, so I went looking for a watchmakers when, about to turn a corner, I noticed that I was passing in front of a sort of bunkhouse, tenement block or similar poor dwelling. I remembered that there, years ago, lived Pedro Argüelles, one of the political prisoners convicted in summary trials in the dark spring of 2003. And the door was open. Some people bustled about in a family environment, filling or changing something in the narrow little living room where they could barely fit. His wife … was she still his wife? A quick glimpse inside was enough to see her running some home engineering operation just like she wore her age and her solitude. I went to greet her. A thin invisible line separated us.
It was the line of a fortuitous occasion and a door already open, but that separation, which at a simple glance seemed insignificant, surrounds like a moat those who dare dissent peacefully from a government which doesn’t permit individual liberties or fissures in power. Risking the step, to cross that dividing line, could only mean one thing: to fall, and I don’t know from what height — nobody knows until they touch bottom.
I sank myself in that grief that appears when feelings within the heart scrape against the fear of contagion, the instinct of self-preservation, and the passion or bravery that emanates from common human sense, with a difficult doubt to overcome. The doubt between finding myself before a temptation of demonic, self-destructive forces, or before a test of the angelic part of my soul where God still waits for payment on the debt that humanity has continued accumulating down the centuries of hate and injustice.
It all happened in a flash. A kiss and I ask her how she’s been. Such a curious sample of that liquid or gaseous state in which one can find any fellow man, resulting from the formula of colloquial greeting, ordinarily preferred and established in the street, but here it implicitly included her other half, or as it might be, him, someone sunk in a cell in the prison at Canaleta. This prison, which rises so close to the outskirts of this same city, shares its boundary with the cemetery inside the urban connection, like two complimentary variants of a city turned upside down.
He communicated with her sometimes by telephone. He was almost blind, he could only see out of one eye and very badly, to read he had to stick the paper to his face. And the day before he had been called, again, by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, with the proposal that the prelate had come whispering within earshot of the other prisoners sentenced throughout the country: march to exile. Argüelles — different from most of the others — had already rejected such an outcome, and this time — according to what she, his wife, was telling me — he refused even to come to the phone.
I’ve said that everything occurred in a flash. But I could also say that I followed my path as someone who has been stabbed and doesn’t know it, he cannot or does not want to know from where the blow came. Does anyone have the right to offer, gladly, exile to another? I felt wounded not only as the Catholic that I am–of little standing, I wouldn’t recommend myself for any papal indulgence, though Catholic to the end, prepared to respond before any request for this religious identity that marks me in my transit through life and the labyrinth of the world.
I felt that pain, that nausea of frustration, that abyss which can lock itself in the chest of any person, independent of his ideas and beliefs. The family, a country under construction, or at least in the limelight of preeminent personalities and institutions, is this where those who deny the dogma are torn from the body of the nation? I was the same supposed escape rejected by Socrates–offered, then, by his disciples with the best of intentions–and, before submitting himself to this social death he preferred to drink the hemlock.
Exile is not, and never has been, synonymous with freedom. It has never belonged to the tradition of change or travel freely chosen, in which human potential flowers positively, open up and at the same time penetrate the future, guaranteeing that beautiful concert of the pollenizing of cultures. Exile comes by force of the community’s reasoning, although it might point against all common sense, or through the blind reasoning of the strongest, punitive — despotically. In Cuban history there was always the torture rack that tyrants used to free themselves not only of their opponents but of their ideas or uncomfortable attitudes.
Because of this a founding act of the Republic of 1902 was to repatriate the bodies of exiled intellectuals. Thus were brought home, among others, the remains of the priest Félix Varela (1788-1853). About the “Cuban saint”, Martí said that “he came to die close to Cuba, as close to Cuba as he could,” meaning in Florida. Welcoming the martyr who had suffered deportation for aspiring to a freedom beyond that of the confessional of a singular faith, incorporating him into the nurturing soil as truly as he then could be, when he was already just “beloved dust”, did not mean, however, the end of the trauma that kept feeding itself through the generations to extraordinary levels. A trauma that today, in addition to the communities and in particular the intellectuals dispersed throughout the entire world, has converted Florida almost into a second island.
Among sad omens everywhere, the note published by the newspaper Granma on July 8, 2010 seemed hopeful. One word, most precious to every soul, and therefore widely used by political spokespeople, stood out from within this brief text: “liberty”. Perhaps it sounded different on hearing it, in the sense that the message could appear as fresh as the new life that we all want.
For the first time the Cuban Church was acting as a valid interlocutor before a State that just a little while ago proclaimed itself atheist, and undertook a promise that only earthly powers could achieve, announcing that within four months the “prisoners that remain of those who were detained in 2003 will be placed in liberty.” But in the following days we came to understand that the phrase that followed — “and they will be able to leave the country” — hid this obligation: that the prisoners would have to go directly from their cells to the airport.
Now in the form of a note in Granma, scars had been exposed, games of appearances and intrigues in which a hypothesis, apparently so controlled as to let a specific group of citizens go free, must be unwrapped. It’s worth doing a textual analysis. We are faced with a use, rarely seen in the monotonous official press, of the technique of the “chinese box”: a narrator passes a word to another so he can pass it on, and that one puts itself inside another narrative, and this one in another, thus successively, like those Russian folk nesting dolls, matryoshka.
We have Granma, being the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, which won’t pronounce or emit such a serious decision, executable only at the highest level — including one we saw taken unwisely by the general-cum-president in a chat with the then-Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos — but it disregards the social content in the headline emphasizing the source of information, “Prensa Latina reported,” as if the agency founded by Cuba is reporting an event in a third country.
Then it turns out that the text, as evidenced by the header, belongs to the Archbishop of Havana, it is his “press release”. And, at last, the Catholic institution alleges that “the Cuban authorities advised”. Or it might be, says Granma, that the Prensa Latina agency says that the Archbishop of Havana says what the Cuban government said. A labyrinth, without a doubt. A huge game of echos, in a society where there has never been ample room for dialog and much less a choral concert, at the expense of citizens who despair in real life, hoping for hints of the future, a concept so impoverished of freedom, and therefore, truth.
The truth is the difficulty with which whatever twisted words might now come to disturb the compass of thought and experience, for example, of Martí, who would keep showing his own, suffered at the prow, between “the lives that now, in brutal exile, only hang by a thread?”; because “in exile / all men and homes are shipwrecked / unsafe ships surrendered to the sea!“. From a letter to General Máximo Gómez, during the preparations for his final voyage to Cuba: “The respect for freedom and thought of others, even of the most miserable beings, is my fanaticism: if I die, or they kill me, it will be because of that.”
Almost all the prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring have now left for distant shores. Among those who stayed behind bars, clinging to his irons, is Pedro Argüelles. Nothing would make one think, in the public life of his city, Ciego de Ávila, that here would come unfolding this drama that has at its center someone who can barely see the palms of his own hands. Or, almost nothing.
There is a notice stuck to the wall in the vestibule of the St Eugenio de La Palma Cathedral. It is a summary of the thought that the cardinal would offer the first of January of this year in the Havana Cathedral, celebrating the World Day of Peace. Whoever stuck their head in the local church could bring themselves up to date, standing in front of this piece of paper, near a bid that still stands, near a promise of “freedom” for the few who, like Argüelles, won’t accept a one-way ticket.
The cardinal, in January’s Mass that dealt with the message from Pope Benedict XVI with which he opened a new year — “Religious Freedom: Road to Peace” — when even the period the government had given to itself had expired, gave a review of the ideas of some liberties with names, and showed himself to be excited by the results of the mediation of the Church and in particular by his own role. The magazine “New Word“, by the Archdiocese of Havana, described his speech: it said “[he] has a ‘moral certitude’ that in the next few months other prisoners ‘sanctioned for some type of event connected with political postures or actions’ would be set free”. In addition, by the way, he invited his listeners to “free your hearts of old throwbacks and, feeling yourselves to truly be free, assume a vision in reconciliatory truth among all Cubans.”
What reconciliation is built on making the uniting nature of the Fatherland explode, exiling, launching into the sea precisely those who test the basics of love? That same cardinal has affirmed, illustratively, that “it never should have been necessary to renounce God to be able to enjoy one’s own rights.” He brings about a turn to that closeness of meanings that so pleased the Apostle — Jose Marti — between heaven and Earth, feeling and reading “Patria” instead of “God” to distinguish what should be necessary and what should be indispensable.
It would seem that the satisfactory exit from conflict depended on a unilateral decision — Argüelles himself protested, a little while ago, when the government of his country offered him to the United States in a trade; he warned that he wasn’t available as a piece of merchandise. Everything indicated that a gift from the high levels of power, anticipated with that “press release” from the Archbishop, would — through a pious act — bring Cubans bravely closer to faith, in reconciliation or in a profound repatriation.
A message of such importance consisted of a very long distance phone call. But, at the end, it’s the will of an isolated individual, “shipwrecked” but not lost at sea, limited to what little he can perceive and feel between the twilights, who — paradoxically — the process comes to depend upon. It depends on how he reacts to the real or imaginary voices that invite him to step firmly with his next step.
Of course, if I could have spoken to him, I would not have commended him to martyrdom either, to resolve the Gordian knot of interests in a conflict that generally ends drowning the “most unhappy being”. I would pray that he might find at least a tranquil path by which he could make it through the storm with his wife at his side. But perhaps with him the solution isn’t barred, detained, nor faith; rather that in him, miraculously, although it might be for a second, they are sustained in the vacuum.