The Cuba Up North / Miriam Celaya

Pablo, during his concert in Miami. Photo taken from the Café Fuerte website.
They say some things never change. This assertion, which at first may seem too pessimistic, could perfectly serve to illustrate the attitude of a Cuban immigrant sector living in Miami, who insist in mimicking in their own way the same proceedings of the Caribbean dictatorship they so disapprove of. I am referring, of course, to boycotts organized by some groups against the Pablo Milanés concert in that city, including direct threats to those who dared to participate in it.

Somewhere between incredulous and amazed, I commented to a close friend — a long-time dissident — about this case, expressing my confusion. A community that has escaped the Island’s totalitarianism, the rallies of repudiation and exclusions, applies fascist methodology of coercion and threats, the same way, including, in some cases, certain versions of rallies of repudiation in which sometimes the burning of music discs has taken place (this time, a steamroller grinding Paul’s discs was something new). My friend, undaunted and with a slight shrug, said, with the ease of someone who knows the story: “Miami is Cuba up north, only it’s Fidel-less Cuba”. I don’t know if this is his quote or if it belongs to someone else, but I can’t think of a more correct definition.

It is well known that the Cuban system of exclusions reaches every sphere of creation or of social life: writers, artists, scientists… All of them, at some stage, must declare their allegiance to the government, and there are truly few exceptions of those who have decided to avoid the morsel of political commitment and have sailed through the test. Even athletes who have won in any contest have had to face the well-worn question: “Who do you dedicate this award to?” This has as its objective to prompt a nearly compulsory: “to our comandante Fidel Castro and the Revolution”.

It would appear that a system based on the elemental ideological principle of establishing parameters* that apply a blank slate, taking into account the antagonism of revolutionary/counter-revolutionary, could only take place in Cuba. However, this is not a genuine product of the Castro regime, but goes beyond our limited geographical boundaries and persists where communities of Cubans settle. It is neither more nor less than a curious process of cultural diffusion that has established in other locations not only our virtues (which we also have), but also historical distortions of our own nature and idiosyncrasies. In many ways, we have always been people who are intolerant and prone to violence, where the bravest and the one who screams the loudest is the one who wins out… while others retreat; lessons in civility that we are still publicly broadcasting, here and around the world. Fortunately there is a large sector that makes a difference.

It is far from my intention to limit the right of any Cuban to sympathize or not with an artist, writer, intellectual or any other public figure. What I don’t think honorable is legitimizing establishing parameters in reverse, and to require that an artist from Cuba pronounce himself politically, or that he renounce his prior tendencies or positions as a condition to not to be subjected to a repudiation rally in Miami. You can choose between appreciating or not the music creation of Pablo Milanés, questioning his positions or criteria around a theme of the Cuban reality in general, sharing or not his opinions and political leanings attending or not his concert, or placing him or not among our favorite singer-songwriters, but I think it totally unfortunate to employ on him the same methods that the dictatorship applies on its opposition and to declare war on a stage whose audience is mostly Cuban, including a high percentage of whom sympathized or was part of the revolutionary process in the Island at some time, without having to suffer any pressure or threats for it today.

In short, if we look at it objectively, a sector of émigrés (we can call them exiles if they so prefer) wanted to punish Pablo Milanés for not being a fundamentalist because, as a public figure, his positions have not enjoyed the protection of anonymity that do envelop others. He does not enjoy impunity because he has been visible. Worse yet, he is denied the credit of having openly rectified certain positions, plus some deliberately forget that he was one of the few who had the courage not to commune with the murders of three young Cubans in 2003 in Cuba. As for me, I prefer to judge people by their good works, Paul included, especially knowing that none of us — from “here” or from “there” — can afford to claim political or civic purity. In any case, Paul chose to improve himself as a human being, which is better than the choice of postmodern Torquemadas** that some of his inquisitors in Cuba to the north have opted for.  And if this post is going to cost me a parametración and some other virtual repudiation rally, so be it: it would not be the first one… or the last one I will survive.

Translator’s notes:
*1971 policy requiring citizens to pass specific parameters or guidelines to gain access to certain jobs, directed specifically at homosexuals.
**Tomás de Torquemada was the leader of the Spanish Inquisition

Translated by Norma Whiting

31 August 2011