Transparency, Honesty and Free Information: Exotic Ideals in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Taller-de-activismo-político-en-casa-de-Rodiles-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 21 June 2015 — When Berta Soler, leader of one of three splinter groups of the Ladies in White, convened a referendum on her continued command of the organization following a scandal in Fall 2014 regarding alleged verbal abuse of a member, it marked a milestone in dissident circles – more so for being strange than for being novel.

No culture or custom exists in Cuban society for democratic standards or referendums to balance out the longstanding human tradition of wielding power at will.

Fifty-six years of the country being run like a neighborhood grocery store, in a vertical manner and without any braking mechanisms in place to impede the creation of mini-tyrants, is the main cause of disrespect towards laws, of scant democratic habits, and of a tendency among our people to administer a factory or a dissident group after the style of a mafia cartel.

I will begin my dissection with the local opposition. Unfortunately, just like with the rest of Cuban society that has been under the autocratic boot since 1959, the majority of the dissident leaders carry within them a Fidel Castro dressed in civilian garb.

In my practice of free journalism, it has been my fate to deal with characters straight out of legend: egotistical, arrogant, and little given to responding to questions about the management of finances, or whether their charters include democratic clauses to govern their projects.

More often than not, my questions are answered with silence – which is silly, given that official United States web pages list the monies provided by American organizations to Cuban government opponents, because such data is public information.

They use discretion as an excuse. They say that if this information were known by the Department of State Security, it could be used as a lethal weapon – another trick.

The government’s special services have more moles inside the dissidence than there is dandruff on an unwashed scalp. The repressors do not want for Internet access, and just by Googling for a few minutes they can obtain these and other facts.

What is hiding behind so much secretiveness is a veil of silence with regard to managing funds, influence and resources, as dictators of the purse – which is what has been occurring in practice.

Groups are packed with relatives and friends, after the manner of the sinecures (nepotism) during the Republican era; the first thing a dissident leader does is surround himself with lackeys. Those who ask too many questions, or question their procedures, are considered “highly suspicious.” They get rid of them, or keep them at arm’s length.

Except for Antonio Rodiles, no dissident group invites me to their press conferences or debates. I am still waiting for the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum to make room for me on their agenda.

For two months now I have tried to participate in one of their activities, to write an article. Perhaps they do not invite me because I am not the typical journalist who will later knock off a simple informational item or puff piece. They do not like this.

It remains inherent to the imagination of the opposition that somebody who publishes a halfway critical article is a staunch enemy. That this is not the case is obvious – but in Cuban society, a culture of democracy and debate is a rare bird.

I will tell you a story. I have nothing personal against those men who have spent a long time behind bars, nor against the crusade for their freedom waged by the opposition.  But in investigating their cases, I observed that the majority of them are not prisoners of conscience.

In 1992, Elías Pérez Boucourt attempted to hijack a boat at gunpoint to go to the United States. Ernesto Borges Pérez, an ex-counterintelligence agent, could be a saint, but he was sentenced for having revealed classified information to the enemy. His father, Raúl Borges, is a good person.

A few weeks ago, during a conference at the home of Rodiles, I remarked that it was a grave error to try to label as political prisoners those types of inmates, even if they are against the regime.

If we were to use in such a superficial manner the definition of political prisoner or prisoner of conscience, in that list we would have to include all those sentenced for dangerousness, a legal term of fascist jurisprudence that has condemned to jail hundreds of Cubans, mostly young, who have not even committed a crime.

But such differences of opinion provoke a definitive enmity in some dissidents, who at minimum will write you off as a stinker. Of course the opponents didn’t come from another planet.

They are part of a sick society of ideological rhetoric and political manipulation bordering on delirium. They are not held accountable by anyone (a “normal” thing in a country where nobody, starting with the Brothers from Birán, is held accountable). They carry out their adversarial projects as small private islands, after the manner of the Communist Party chieftains.

Transparency is a non-existent word in Cuba. Citizens do not have access to offices that will protect them as consumers, nor where they may obtain facts and statistics – nor a venue where they may lodge complaints and be heard.

Almost everything is a secret. To try to find out the amount of the investment fund set aside to purchase urban buses following the government’s authorization to sell vehicles is a “mission impossible” – not even James Bond could unearth it.

Neither do the people have a way to find out how the revenues are used that the State raises through abusive taxation on privately-employed workers, or from the 240% surtax on goods purchased in the hard-currency stores.*

Regarding that dough, nobody says a word – even less so about salaries. People would like to know what Luis Alberto López-Callejas, Raúl Castro’s son-in-law who heads the Mariel Special Development Zone, makes.

Unlike in democratic countries, in Cuba there is no advance notice of presidential trips. Everything is hidden behind a curtain of smoke. So deeply has the submissive mindset taken hold that many citizens consider it unimportant to know how the government manages our money.

To fill the city with Starbucks, McDonald’s or Burger King outlets will not be too difficult. To form modern women and men who have a sophisticated knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities, and who can hold their government officials accountable for their offenses, will be a task of a few years – more than we would like.

Photo: Political activism workshop organized by the Forum for Rights and Liberties, 11 June 2015, home of Antonio G. Rodiles. Photo taken by Ernesto García Díaz, Cubanet.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: “Hard Currency Collection Stores” collect, via the sale of highly overpriced goods, cash from the remittances sent to Cubans by family and friends abroad.