Intellectuals: Between Loyalty and Complicit Silence / Miriam Celaya

Haroldo Dilla, Cuban historian and sociologist. Photograph from the internet.

A few days ago, a friend of mine gave me an interesting opinion piece by Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, entitled “From Loyalty to Complicity.” I can’t tell the readers where it was published, because I don’t know, though it is dated Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, but it is a core article that puts back on the table a tricky issue: the role of Cuban intellectuals on the Island during the past 50 years and in the face of changes taking place in the country.

I must declare, for honesty’s sake, that I usually chase Dilla’s writings, because they are always illuminating and marked by moderation, sober analysis, synthesis, and a deep understanding of the Cuban reality. The article referred to has the additional benefit -which is appreciated- of being as full of energy as it is devoid of passion, a truly rare thing when it comes to debate among Cubans.

Its plot is not, in itself, a novelty: the characters are Cuban intellectuals, those who remain on the island and those in exile. The argument is based primarily on the debate –which took place ten years ago- about what Jesús Díaz called “the silent complicity” of intellectuals inside Cuba in the face of the negative traits of the system, defined by Aurelio Alonso, in turn, as “loyalty on the side of the more genuine revolutionary program.” The scenario in which the theme develops, about which Dilla is commenting now, is the current Cuban reality, not a new theme, but a lot more complex than what it used to be 10 years ago, hence the importance of his article.

Dilla’s piece has also brought me back to the memory of another debate between intellectuals, which took place during the months of January and February 2007, following a TV show in which several individuals responsible for what, in the decade of the 70’s was known as the “gray quinquenium” (and “the gray decade” for others), an act that sparked true and spontaneous virtual discussion that went as far as to include strong questions about the cultural policy of the Cuban revolution. Since the debate took place through e-mails among many Cuban intellectuals inside and outside the Island, the phenomenon transcended into “the little e-mail war” and slowly faded away, after the Culture Minister held a closed-door meeting at the Casa de Las Americas with a group of intellectuals and other personalities in the field of culture, by previous invitation only and with strict controls that prevented entry to a multitude of interested people and participants in the debate itself, who were swarming outside of the meeting place.

Those events, which I experienced personally as part of the editorial board of the magazine Consenso (later Contodos Magazine, both at web page), had a kind of expectation that Haroldo Dilla calls a “little ray” of enthusiasm, because we then believed that –finally- Cuban intellectuals would join in the push for change in Cuba and, as opinion leaders, they would generate the thinking guides necessary to equip the ideas of the aimless dissenters or the fed-up and disoriented “masses.” We were hoping that the voices of many renowned intellectuals, who at times had even lent some prestige to the revolutionary process with their talent, would also rise against the lack of freedoms of Cubans and of their own group. It did not happen that way, with some exceptions.

There are special cases, like the poet Ena Lucía Portela, writer Leonardo Padura, actors Pablo Milanés and Pedro Luis Ferrer, and director Eduardo del Llano, among others, who dare to express concerns about the Cuban reality. Others, younger ones, are representatives of a generation that has broken ties with a system alien to their interests; they might represent hope if we could bridge the schism that often characterizes the alienating and escapist stances slowing down their self-consciousness about civic responsibility.

After that memorable virtual revolt of 2007, silence and luke-warmth again dominated. Official counsel returned to its ivory tower retreat, fear silenced almost all the protesters, and many of that time’s lost sheep tamely returned to the fold. The burning fires in some of the more illustrious were placated through small favors granted by the magnanimous power: some of their minor works were published or some others were edited. Some trips and other little perks were granted, and those who could have become prestigious tribunes or promising compasses were, once again, silent.

Our best social scientists in dozens of institutions, witnesses of the critical social situation in the country, have been silent (silenced?) for too long, and, when they have spoken, it has been quietly and asking shyly and humbly, for permission of the authorities, like someone who fears to offend. Now the most devious insist that they are most useful remaining in their respective research centers, “discovering” the truths that we all know and suffer daily. They allege that they are waiting for “the most opportune moment” to bring their proposals to light. Perhaps some of those are good intentions, but who is better served by that silence? I know about what and of whom I am speaking, because I was trained in a social research center where some valued researchers denied in the courtyard what they did not dare to disclose at an event’s podium.

Today, we are faced with the dilemma of a Cuba that is divided between a capitalist government and a country suffering the rigors of a failed socialist project. The banquet among the elite of the ruling caste has intensified; discontent and uncertainty among modest Cubans pile up, and a death silence seems to reign among intellectuals, packed away and untouchable in their Parnassus. They, the ones with tribunes and microphones, with the authority granted by the knowledge, choose the silent complicity in the face of government corruption and the total absence of civil rights.

I fully embrace Haroldo Dilla’s denouncement, when he insists that “there is no reason to be complaisant with the Cuban political elite, including the outspoken octogenarians who have labeled themselves “the historical leadership.” There is no room to believe that the silences, the cryptic criticisms and the requests for excuses are the price of loyalty to the revolution, socialism and the motherland, as the old slogan goes.

And, indeed, in Cuba, the revolutionaries of yesterday are the burden of today. They represent the most reactionary class society. The Cuban Revolution died decades ago. It is time to break the comlicit silence of which Jesús Díaz spoke, and which researcher Haroldo Dilla has brought to the debate arena recently.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

September 28, 2010