Cuba’s Language of Power, a Soviet Legacy

Cuban chancellor Bruno Rodriguez during a press conference for foreign journalists after protests on July 11 in Havana. (Captura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Madrid, February 1, 2022 — Every time their country’s foreign minister holds a press conference, Cubans do not know whether to laugh or cry. We have become so accustomed to certain expressions that they seem to have been lifted from a template. If we examine, for example, statements issued by the ministry in recent years, we will find the phrase “strong rejections” repeated ad nauseam. Perhaps this is simply a question of poor word choice, or maybe it is due to the overconsumption of an energy drink, but the truth is that officials use the same expression all the time in reaction to any criticism.

Needless to say, the cynicism of “comrade” Bruno is unparalleled in history. His statements after the July 11 protests left everyone speechless. The foreign minister flatly denied that a massive display of popular discontent had occurred, denied that the government was engaging in any form of repression and swore that no minors were being detained. Sir, we were there; we saw it with our own eyes; it was recorded on countless videos! I do not know what is worse: what he says or the way he says it. Rodriguez drives the most dispassionate among us to exasperation with his inability to speak in a steady cadence instead of in his usual staccato.

The Cuban regime believes there is no one on the planet with the moral authority to condemn the repeated violations of human rights that are committed on the island. There is the dictatorship, sitting like a matchmaker on a UN commission that purports to ensure compliance with those same rights. And there it will remain, fanning itself until next year, while hundreds of Cuban mothers weep over their unjustly imprisoned children, while so many activists are harassed and repressed by the political police, while people risk their lives to escape the country at any price. And if anyone in the world dares to point a finger at its tyranny, the regime’s representatives will undoubtedly resort to the perfect strategy for getting out of trouble: whataboutism.

This tactic, devised by the Soviets, was used by the Kremlin to deal with criticism. Its delegates shamelessly responded to any accusation with a question: What about…? This involved citing an example of similar behavior in another part of the world. In this way, they lessened the impact of accusations against them, questioned the legitimacy of whoever had made the criticism and momentarily got out of a sticky situation. Whataboutism was a kind of “enchanted shrimp”* used to escape a tight spot.

Of course, this is not the only technique Cuban diplomats copied from their Soviet instructors. Who can forget “the shoe incident” at the 1960 General Assembly? During a discussion on colonialism, the head of the Phillipine delegation accused the USSR of also being a colonial power that subjugated other countries. Nikita Khrushchev then took off one of his shoes and began angrily pounding the table. Fifty-eight years later, a  group of Cuban diplomats, faithful disciples of this “flip-flop policy,” shut down a UN event at which the issue of political prisoners was to be discussed.

One of the participants, however, was a distinguished former member of the Young Pioneers, Anayansi Rodriguez. The nightly TV news show, Noticiero Estelar, celebrated her self-assurance at the event as though it were something admirable. Meanwhile, half the world looked on aghast, head in hands. I should clarify that I have nothing against reparterismo.** But it requires an ability to “swing” in a way not taught at the “Nico Lopez” Party School or the Raul Roa Higher Institute of International Relations. Of course, she was later rewarded with the post of vice-minister. It would come as no surprise if, in a few months, she replaced Bruno himself.

Whataboutism is the favored tool of aspiring Cuban diplomats. With absolutely no credible arguments to use in defense a decadent, abusive regime, the only recourse they have is to try to turn the tables. It is undeniable that the regime commits crimes on a daily basis. “But so what? Everyone does it.” And as the world turns, hypocrisy, cynicism and apathy spread like a cancer through the body of civility.

Translator’s notes:
*Reference to a short story for children, El Camarón Encantado“, by Jose Martí.
** A popular form of street dance music.

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