The Spy Who Came In From the Isle of Pines / Iván García

The downside of Hollywood spy movies is that we are almost always sold an unchanging archetype of moles: tall, shrewd, skilled in handling weapons and fists and with the physical energy to test atomic bombs.

This is not the case for the newly unveiled Carlos Serpa Maceira, alias Agent Emilio, a short mulatto, not very sharp and looking nervous. He arrived in Havana from Isla de Pinos, now Isla de la Juventud. He doesn’t have a black belt in karate nor can he shoot a bad guy, from 120 yards, right between the eyes with a Russian Makarov a bad guy.

The day I met him he was purple due to several smacks in the face, which according Maceira, the rapid response forces on a main avenue in Havana had dealt him, as he was trying to cover as a journalist a march of the Ladies in White, for whom he claimed to be spokesperson.

I was accompanying a Spanish journalist who was making a short film about the poetry of Raul Rivero, and it seemed a good idea to go to the home from Laura Pollan, one of the best known of the women with gladioli in hand who demand the release of their relatives.

The Iberian correspondent wanted each one of those present to read a previously chosen verse of Rivero. There also was Maceira, who quickly turned on the batteries and started to play the role of “journalist barricade journalist.”

With great detail he described the confrontation with government mobs, insisting I see the photos he took. He repeatedly stressed that national television journalists had insulted him. He said their names.

I was really more interested in the impressions of the ladies, but to calm the hyperkinetic Maceira, I promised I would write a story about the journalists on the front line, as he appeared to be, a bad writer, but the courage to go out, to report news, with fists and truncheons flying back and forth.

I wrote a note titled Barricade Journalism. It was published in March 2010 and in it I mentioned Maceira. Later the little man, frenetic, loquacious and compulsive, stuffed my email with a stream of unnecessary messages.

One afternoon, from Switzerland, my mother asked my by telephone, “Who is this Serpa who writes with so many spelling mistakes.” I answered, “He’s a guy who has a screw loose, but he goes out in the street looking for news.”

Carlos Serpa Maceira was one of those journalists, like others in the island, who blended the profession with political activism. His notes were rough and unpolished, but gave an overview of the events, which we now infer that perhaps he invented or they were written by the tough State Security agents.

Within the independent journalism, few were surprised that the mixed-race easterner. Back in April 2003 (the Black Spring) several chivatientes — snitches — disguised as correspondents came to light. Of course they always seemed to be the most energetic and sensational. Perhaps to reinforce their legends as spies. They are always accompanied by cameras: all the creole stool pigeons live to photograph and be photographed. Advertising and self promotion is part of the game.

What worries the dissent is whether this new political soap opera could be the start of an escalation of repression against opposition and independent journalism. Or is it just about putting fear into the opponents.

For the rest, nobody will lose sleep. All of us who, in one way or another decided to disagree publicly, know the risks we take. We know that we are surrounded by moles and surveillance.

What intrigues me is whether Serpa Maceira was always a cold hard spy, prepared in some secret Interior Ministry school, or whether during his work as a journalist he was blackmailed by the Special Services.

If he was a professional mole his biotype and sharpness leave much to be desired. I think he was captured while serving as a combative “journalist of the barricade.” Old Lenin said that behind an extremist there is often hidden an opportunist. Or a coward.

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March 3 2011