Operation Exile / Iván García

Reina Tamayo, mother of the opposition prisoner Orlando Zapata, with family members in Laura Pollan’s house, site of the Ladies in White in Havana.

I remember when my mother was doing the bureaucratic paperwork to emigrate to Switzerland at the end of November 2003, She told me she had seen a strange acronym — HP — on the cover of a folder that the immigration officials used to identify her case.

Of course the government is not giving free advertising the Hewlett-Packard. In “good Cuban” HP stands for “hijo de puta” — son-of-a-bitch. We already know how the regime uses its macabre humor to refer to dissidents or to Cubans who simply wish to emigrate.

For many years they were called “gusanos” meaning “worms.” The more than 120,000 Cubans who emigrated in the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980, after “exemplary acts of repudiation” were carried out against them, were given the epithet “scum.”

Against opponents and free journalists they have a collection of insults in the drawer: traitors, sell-outs, lackeys of the empire, mercenaries, employees of Washington.

I have no doubt, from the time the authorities told the Catholic Church to serve as the negotiating partner with the Ladies in White and the political prisoners who would be released, the strategy to undertake an operation to clear the opposition from the island had already been designed.

The Castros had a strong and reasonable hypothesis. In general, human beings don’t have a vocation to be martyrs. They are not made to be heroes.

If we add to this the premeditated harassment by the Security Services against the majority of the opposition, acts of a verbal lynching and beatings carried out by the mobs against the Ladies in White and their marches, and the harsh conditions in Cuban prisons, then, reasoned the smart guys, very few imprisoned dissidents are going to resist the temptation to leave their country.

It is logical that this happens. With all malice aforethought, in a kind of mental and psychological torture, the 8 or 10 political prisoners who have decided not to leave Cuba have been left at the end of the line.

Imagine a man who spent more than 7 years in prison, caught in the dilemma of what would happen if the Castros changed their plans for and for some tiny little reason decided to renege on the releases.

Although the released dissidents have made that decision on their own will, in practice it is a kind of diplomatic exile that reaches them by phone in the pleasant voice of Cardinal Jaime Ortega or another high figure of the Cuban Catholic Church.

Now, seeing the success of their maneuvers they have proposed to a certain number of dissidents, Ladies in White and independent journalists, in desperation, that they go into exile.

Now Monsignor Emilio Aranguren, of Holguín province. about 500 miles from Havana, has contacted Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of the opponent Orlando Zapata, who died last February after 86 days on hunger strike.

Reina, the only one of the Ladies in White who will not see her son knock on the door, duffel bag in tow, in a wise decision — there is no doubt that she is one of the people most harassed and vilified by the groups loyal to the regime — has declared that she will only leave her native Banes when the government delivers to her the mortal remains of her son, Zapata.

The regime wants to kill two birds with one stone. In the new phase of difficult economic conditions ahead, it would not be a good thing if hundred of opponents were on the march in the country.

It is already enough to have to deal with a great number of unhappy people with no jobs. They had to release the pressure on the pot. The trick of encouraging a maritime emigration to Florida is a non-starter. The gringo generals have said that any wave of migration would be understood as a declaration of war by the Cuban government. The Castros are not naive. They play with the chain, but not the monkey.

And they have considered it prudent to cleanse the green crocodile of its dissidents, sending them to the U.S. or any other country that will take them.

The measure has more benefits than costs. When, at the turn of the year, the prisons are emptied of political prisoners, for a time they’ll lose the stigma of being human rights violators. And the tough guys from State Security won’t have to work overtime to control the internal opposition.

They are trying to decrease the size and strength of the dissidence. The proposal to leave Cuba could be expanded to other people the government finds inconvenient.

If they can consolidate a dissidence that takes flight like the swallows, it would be a triumph for the authorities. It’s a difficult decision, because it involves the future of your family. In my case, unless I am threatened with imminent imprisonment, nothing would make me leave Cuba. That is my position.

October 18, 2010