To Do Nothing / Miriam Celaya

Pursuant to the uprisings that have taken place in countries of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, many views seem to converge in Cuba. The recurring question, “why don’t Cubans rebel?” leaps out in every conversation with journalists or foreign friends, while among many Cubans living outside the Island a cyber-rebellion seems to have become the most promising hope. Few manage to explain how the formula applied in that region would not work for Cuba, simplifying the whole phenomenon in an equation as basic as it is fictitious: dictatorial government + social networks + popular discontent = mass uprising; all of which would imply, by itself, freedom and the miraculous advent of democracy.

It would be enough to look, for the second time, at the proposal in order to identify some shortcomings. Let’s say that the squalor of our social networks throws the equation out of balance. In that case, to achieve results we would have to multiply the components by the civic will of the Cuban people. Obviously, the math does not relate to human societies.

The opportunity for freedom released in the Maghreb, on the other hand, has become, for many Cuban exiles, the source that powers the new apple of discord when the most radical positions are put in the spotlight, spurring anger and insults that prevent rationalization of the facts. Once again, the proverbial inability of the Creoles to disagree without offending one another is evident: one of the main causes of our eternal failures. Those who consider improbable the success of an immediate uprising in Cuba, organized via Facebook or Twitter, are classified as “pessimistic”, and even as “Castro agents”. Those labeled as “optimists” are the ones who believe strongly in the end of the dictatorship, delivered through the powerful magic of bytes.

What is undeniable, however, is that a significant sector of Cubans of all parties agrees on the imperative need for change in our country. The debate should be directed at this elemental consensus.

Why not in Cuba?

It is a fact that — beyond technology, the effectiveness or failure of its scope, and our desire to get rid of a dictatorship that spans over half a century — people drive the changes, so that we cannot bet on a plot while ignoring the actors. History does not respond to coincidences, nor do transitions take place outside the realities of the scenarios they roam. The events that cause radical sociopolitical transformations tend to not have the spontaneity that is sometimes attributed to them either. Revolutions are preceded by multiple factors in which social actors of change are cardinal pieces. The history, culture, traditions, the idiosyncrasies of the people are elements that play major roles in the processes of transformation, so that events cannot be moved tritely from one region to another hoping that they will have the same effect.

About the controversial announcement launched at the meager Cuban social networks for a “peaceful” uprising in the Island, played out mostly by young people who would congregate at a particular point in the capital on February 21st, much has been speculated. When this article sees the light of day, that date will have passed, and the uprising –- should it have taken place — will also be a thing of the past. The cyber-debates that have preceded the events, however, will be valid for a longer period because they have been useful in having us face the possibility, not immediate, but very logical, of a process of change in Cuba, to measure the real potential of those transformations, and to ask ourselves how and to what extent we would be able to turn them into reality.

My position on the edict in question has been skeptical, which some have labeled as “pessimistic” or having lack of drive. It is neither one nor the other. I just happen to prefer battles where there are better chances for success. If, in response to the much discussed call to the uprising, the miracle of a concentration of at least 200 individuals in Cuba (of course, not including in that number the political police and the inevitable “indignant people”) should take place, I would be the first to acknowledge my error. However, I don’t believe in immediate nor improvised acts to solve the secular evils of Cuba. The damage the nation has suffered has been so colossal that an emergency freedom would be insufficient to strengthen the civil rights. The most risky and uncertain thing on the Island today would be a revolt –- a peaceful one, ideally — which would be followed by…what? an intervention? an interim governing junta? made up of whom? negotiations with the army? Once again, we are facing an imagined situation whose course nobody seems to know. The proposals for an uprising have not come hand-in-hand with that other additional, but necessary, plan for social order to follow the uprising, once the overthrow of the regime is achieved. It does not seem serious to me.

But my lack of faith — dictated by common sense and knowledge of my daily life here — has not prevented me from continuing to meditate on the subject, so, trying to find a balance between the extreme positions, it occurs to me to ask the question in reverse. The point would not be, then, to clarify why there has not been an uprising in Cuba. For me, it is a fact that, if all the conditions for the rebellion existed, it would not be necessary to even go to the social networks: it would be sufficient for each young person or each discontented Cuban to personally convene their most trusted friends and family to share their dissatisfaction with the status quo and orchestrate, together, a demonstration banging their saucepans as a sign of protest. Why not do it? After all, human societies have staged uprisings throughout time, with or without technology. In this case, a better question could perhaps be if it would be necessary to gather the few Cubans with access to some social network for a demonstration in a country where –- it’s no big secret — the regime controls both the army and the enforcement entities, and maintains a monopoly over the media so, consequently, the event could unleash a wave of violence that would not benefit anyone.

Adapting ourselves to the Island’s reality, as many Cubans have suggested already, it would be more effective to appeal to the effectiveness of the resistance through the non-demonstration. A regular reader of the blog I manage (SinEVAsión) called to this through a phrase sui generis: in Cuba “what has to be done is to do nothing”; that is, to not do CDR guard duty, to not attend meetings, to not attend rendering of accounts, the elections, the official marches, etc. etc. What would be the cost of this passive rebellion? None, if we follow the law; minimum, compared with the signal we would be broadcasting to other Cubans, to the government, and to the world.

To this “doing-nothing” we could add an almost infinite list of uprisings of the most varied nature and nuances. Let’s take, for example, that the young people who are willing to “demonstrate” in this manner would choose not to attend official concerts set up on the university steps or on the “protestdrome” or would not to attend, during their vacation, the so-called University Labor Brigades; or, if they simply dress in black clothing on February 23rd in memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a dignified Cuban who, by dying in prison as the result of a hunger strike in defense of his rights –- and ours — triggered the dignity of many, and unleashed a whole series of events that forced the government to initiate the process of freeing the political prisoners. It would be an effective way to put our usual inaction at the service of freedom and rights; making use of what, up to now, has been a hindrance. What would someone in those circumstances be charged with?

The so-called “double standard” of Cubans attending a CDR meeting or marching while secretly preparing a floating contraption with which they will cast themselves onto the uncertain and dangerous waters of the Florida Straits, or those who just pretend to approve of the system and comply with the rules of the game imposed by the regime to maintain their meager wages or some ridiculous perk, is one of the most efficient weapons the government uses to maintain subjected the people’s will. Wouldn’t it be better to be consistent with our feelings of dissatisfaction and attack the evil at its own roots?

The Internet, the social networks, the new technology as a whole are undoubtedly a powerful tool. This is an assertion so real you could say that in recent years none of the battles for human rights on the Island would have been possible without the use of these technologies. They have allowed us to project ourselves into the world, break the impunity of the government and its repressive forces, and place in the public eye many of the hitherto hidden stains of the dictatorship. However, technology alone can’t bring democracy and rights. Before it can, it’s necessary to instill in people the will power to change.

Perhaps a good call would be one that will have us break the historical curse, once and for all, to have the tendency of becoming “the last” instead of wanting to always seem like “the first” in everything. Yesterday, we were the last ones to shake off the colonial yoke and — after many ups and downs and good, but truncated intentions — we seem destined to be the last to get rid of a dictatorship that lingers until the absurd. We may also try a call to definitively banish from us the messianic spirit that overruns us, the apathy, the resentments that gnaw at us, the passions that divide us, the distrust that they have sown in us, the inability to discern a future without chiefs, the cowardice. When these calls get here, from anywhere and by any means, count me in.

Translated by Norma Whiting

(Article originally published in Issue 6 of Voices digital magazine, February 25th, 2011)

March 14, 2011