Debating Social Networks / Luis Felipe Rojas, Alexis Romay

“Modern Times” courtesy of Osmar Santana

I asked several cyberactivists their opinions about the social network Facebook, about its impact on the island and the relation it’s created, within the island, outside the island, with Cubans and the insults from Power.

Alexis Romay, a good man, partner and friend, sent me (after-hours) this response and was kind enough to include it on his personal blog Belascoaín y Neptuno. Many thanks to him, and to the friends who joined in the debate, thank you as well.

Totalitarianism in the times of social networks

By Alexis Romay

Cuban poet and activist Luis Felipe Rojas, author of the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire, is doing a survey on cyberactivism and, by the way, sent me a question. Here goes, followed by my response.

How do you think social networks like Facebook — with many detractors who see it as puerile — are helping the community of activists on the island?

In a totalitarian regime like Cuba, social activism beyond the margins of Power has a very high cost which started with the automatic conversion of these activists into “dissidents,” which implies a dangerous and immediate association of the term with this aberration of all nationalisms: the dissident is a traitor to the fatherland. We can’t forget that in the name of love, mother, fatherland with a capital F, the worst atrocities are committed.

This isolation of the activists, converted by state decree into dissidents, passes through dehumanization (they are then transformed into “worms” by similar abracadabra), slides down the scale to social stoning and may end in physical death.

In other words, the “worm,” before being one, was a dissident, social activist, citizen, and in the beginning, a person. I put the steps in order to illustrate the precipitous drop on this scale in which the nonconformist Cuban — or person in any other totalitarianism — begins his journey as a human being and ends it in the order of invertebrates.

I give this preamble to highlight the pariah status that opposition in Cuba leads to. In the face of this forced isolation to which Cuban activists are subjected, social networks, not just Facebook, become the human tissue that envelops them. To feel the support of a virtual community has a specific weight for anyone who has been separated, by imperial edicts, from the society to which they belong. But in addition to filling this gap, social networks also serve as a protective shield for activists; they make the impunity of the regime ever more costly for it at the international level; they remind the Castros that the vast dungeon they have made of Cuba has glass walls and it is already impossible for them to hide their repressive methods.

If the political police evict a family of opponents, deal out a beating, or effect an arbitrary arrest at eleven in the morning, five minutes later the information will be circulating on the networks with hashtags that tarnish this great achievement of the regime of the island which is projecting an image of itself that does not correspond with its totalitarian reality.

In fact, Castro has a huge presence in the networks, the budget allocated for this purpose must be incalculable. As Cuban Democrats we can and should establish a presence on the networks with an infinitely more appealing discourse, creating and disseminating our own spaces. This will be the testing and projection in the digital world of that democratic country we dream of.

5 June 2013