We are an active part of the transition, not just observers / Antonio Rodiles, Estado de SATS

Antonio G. Rodiles

From civil society, the Estado de SATS project, is an attempt to create a space for citizen participation. Its director, Antonio G. Rodiles, responds to questions from the readers of DIARIO DE CUBA.

Omar Laffita: First, greetings. I have seen your programs and I want to say that the interview with El Sexto has been one of the most enjoyable. So, what type of status, be it political or migration, do you have, to be able to develop all these events marked by controversial and pro-democratic context in the very heart of the dictatorship? You must know that simple for meeting in a Central Havana site for the “literary tea,” the government released waves of oppression against the Ladies in White, by paramilitary mobs who insulted, abused and hurt the women meeting there, and which on some occasions have ended with detentions and warnings. Have some of your events been repressed in such a brutal way? Congratulations on Estado de SATS!

Thank you, Laffita, for your question and the follow-up. It’s clear that State Security has established a form of selective action where it decides how to attack each individual or project according to its profile. In our case, the pressure has been great, but using strategies other than violent repression. Estado de SATS is not the only one on this list, there are other projects that have not been attacked with the violence suffered by the Ladies in White. I want to mention the monthly issuance, for more than a year now, of the magazine “Voices,” a project coordinated by Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, or the periodic guidance offered by the Cuban Law Association, directed by the attorney Wilfredo Vallin. Nor is the work undertaken by the Human Rights Commission, under the direction of Elizardo Sanchez, attacked with the same violence, to cite some examples. I think that State Security itself tries to manage this selectively to generate conflicts between the different actors, an objective in which, so far, they have not succeeded.

After the second meeting held in 2011, I was cited by State Security, using as a pretext my migration status. My position was very clear, we are going to continue doing Estado de SATS, and the only way to stop me would be with my detention. This has been my position and I will not change it. We are simply exercising a very basic right that we will not renounce voluntarily.

State Security has tried to stop us using multiple methods. In a list published in DIARIO DE CUBA last year, we listed the acts of intimidation and the threats to the working team, participants, and public who attend. In front my house, which is the space where we hold the meetings, they have permanently installed two video cameras, and one or two police cars park at the corner or in front of my house every day. Next door are the offices of the National Aquarium, which has been practically converted into an operations and surveillance post for State Security, and in the midst of all this we continue doing our work. Lately, given the visibility of the project, State Security has tried to create distrust towards us. Oddly, this work of sowing distrust is undertaken primarily from outside the Island, taking advantage of the characteristics of some individuals. Within the Island, the effort is barely perceptible. The transparency of the debates and the diversity of the guests and the public will end up frustrating this new attempt.

With respect to my legal situation, as I explained earlier, after various citations and threats they withdrew my permit to reside abroad, currently I do not possess an identity card or any identification document, but I refuse to submit any kind of paperwork in support of this arbitrary act committed in order to pressure and blackmail me.

Saavedra: Hi Rodiles, thanks for continuing to challenge the winds and tides with Estado de SATS, a truly plural project for which I feel a profound sympathy and respect. I would like to ask you if you have invited or considered inviting members of the government and its multiple official mechanisms to participate in the different debates held. In any case, who have you invited? What have been the justifications offered for not attending? It would be very good to publish this data to make citizens more aware of how little interest the members of this nearly eternal (mis)government have in subjecting their policies and decisions to debate with civil society. A second question: Do you believe that the different groups that form the current Cuban opposition act with sufficient unity in successfully confronting the fierce government machinery? What do you think is lacking to form a common front? Thank you for your time. My salutations.

Thank you very much Saavedra. Yes, we have invited people from within the official institutions. We prefer to be discreet and not publish names because we feel we should respect the individual decisions of each person and also protect them. In totalitarian Cuba, the fact alone of sitting down to talk to us is a problem, and so discretion is a fundamental element of our work. However, this fear is waning every day, we see it in the new faces that are beginning to come to the meetings, which is, undoubtedly, a great step forward.

I think from the opposition, dissidence, or activism, we don’t work to find more common spaces. We live in a critical time and we have to have a clear voice with respect to our fundamental demands as civil society. I think this time is not far off. To try to join forces would be very immature, but to achieve a certain level of consensus on different points would have a major impact within and outside the Island. There is a great consistency between the demands that come from the activists and from society in general.

Rodrigo Kunag: Rodiles, I congratulate you for the success of a project that is fostering thinking, inclusion, and depth in the new Cuba. I have several concerns that perhaps can’t be condensed into a single question, but I will try not to go on too long. One of them is that you talk about the reasons for inviting Charles Barclay to debate, while knowing that this could be the ideal subterfuge that some Taliban blogger could take advantage of to accuse you of being annexationists and receiving money from the United States. On the other hand, do you believe that the Estado de SATS sessions have resonated with the Cuban population beyond a minority with access to computers? If so do you know of intellectuals or artists who avoid getting involved with you out of fear, even though they share your line of thinking?

The invitation was motivated by the topic under discussion. Previous to this meeting we had prepared a poetry reading with the participation of the Cuban poet Juan Carlos Flores, the American poet Hank Lazer, and the American saxophonist Raffo Dewar. To these last two it was “suggested” [by State Security] the night before, that they not come to the meeting. This was the reason we organized a debate about Cuba-USA cultural and academic exchanges. For this meeting we invited a Cuban academic knowledgable on the topic and currently inside the official institutions, who turned down the invitation, as well as Charles Barclay from the United States Interest Section [the quasi-embassy in Havana], Miriam Celaya, Julio Aleago and Alexis Jardines, all well informed on the topic of the sessions, having been previously associated professionally with universities and cultural institutions. The idea was to discuss with the greatest clarity and transparency, a topic that currently generates considerable debate.

An important aspect of our project is that we don’t adjust our thinking to the dogmas and constantly break with the visions imposed by the government; we think that as free individuals we must generate our own dynamic, our own budgets, that confront the archaic discourses that have been used for so long, and one of them is the common chorus that everyone who has anything to do with the officials of the U.S. Interest Section is a mercenary in service to a foreign country. Estado de SATS reserves the right to interact with everyone and is open to everyone.

And yes, of course, there are many people within the institutions, with whom we have had long conversations and who have shown us their desire to participate, but at the same time they prefer not to expose themselves. This situation will change, we are sure, but we have to keep working seriously to be able to tear down the barrier of fear. I am confident we will manage it, no one can hold back a society’s desire for freedom.

Luis Manuel González Viltres: Hi Rodiles, I have seen a lot of your programs and really like them and have learned some things that I now see more clearly, except there is one program where I don’t share your idea and that is compensation for those Cubans whose properties were nationalized with the triumph of the Revolution. My question is: Doesn’t it seem that it would be better to start back at zero without rancor and a new democracy? We know that from this side not everything has gone well, for example the bombs Luis Posada Carriles ordered placed in Havana hotels. Thank you in advance.

Thank you Luis Manuel. I think that a process of reconstruction like that needed in our country is very complex. The fundamental point is to achieve it with the greatest possible justice. The issue of property rights and compensation has been managed successfully in many transitions and I’m confident that we can also manage it.

I don’t believe the legitimate rights of some owners — who did not obtain their property through corruption or theft — to claim compensation should be mixed with justice for those who have committed violent acts.

The legal responsibility of all those implicated in bloody events, has ended up becoming one of the principal dilemmas in many transitions. Events such as the bombing of Cubana flight 455 in 1976 and the sinking of the tugboat “13 de Marzo” are pending issues that need total clarification and assigning of legal responsibility. The crimes and violations of human beings are not appropriate and we all must be very clear that human life is sacred and the laws must be applied with total rigor to those who violate this principle.

Ariel Perez: Rodiles, forgive my frankness but I have noted a descent from the initially high academic level of your project, where you talked about Cuban problems from a universal perspective, let’s say from globalization. Aren’t you afraid that Estado de SATS is becoming simply one cathartic space among others that the dissidence has had instead of a true “think tank” as is was conceived from the start? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of your project?

Thank you Ariel. I don’t share your view with respect to the decline from the initial level. I think we have discussed many issues and each one has had a distinct focus. There are topics that should be more ‘grounded’ than others and this is natural. We try through all the available media to find more universal visions, but at the same time to be rooted in our context.

It’s important to mention that we have never been recognized as a traditional “think tank” based in a democratic society, in our case we live in a dictatorship and our work has a unique character. Our interest runs to being a channel of thinking and democratic action, not just a space for analysis and proposals. We are an active part of the transition, not just observers.

The principal strengths of our project are transparency and plurality. Another, our desire to live in a distinct, modern, free country. This firm desire has allowed us to grow and sustain ourselves.

The weaknesses of the project: Our difficulty in communicating freely with the exterior, free access to fast internet, the economic and technological problems, the inertia and fear that still exist in Cuba.

AnonyGY: Antonio, I would like to know your email, in case we would like to be in contact. If you don’t want to publish it, I understand. How is a program of SATS organized and prepared? I want to congratulate you on the work you and your team do, I am envious that I can’t be there with you and attend these meetings. We follow them on your videos. You are my hope for change.

Thank you. The email is estadodesats@gmail.com. Our working group is made up of a small nucleus of friends. However each meeting relies on the participation of many people who come as volunteers to help the organization and its workings. Something that is important to highlight is the level of synchronicity that exists within the most active sectors of Cuban society. Every meeting we hold has been a magnificent occasion to see how people enjoy being a part of the new spaces of freedom.

The preparation is arduous and involves many aspects that come from multiple visits to the possible guests, the script, promotion, production, to finding and installing the technical media. Right now we see a very interesting process of collaboration among distinct independent projects which helps ease the great effort required to create a space like this, however the resources continue to be key to achieving a quality outcome. This collaboration with other projects helps us overcome our fierce limitations.

Ernesto Lopez: An immense and overwhelming majority of Cubans inside and outside the Island are in harmony with the same thought, which is nothing other than the rejection of the regime. But we act like our hands are tied. In your opinion, what can bring together the conscience, the thinking and the will to action of the Cuban citizen against the status quo? Perhaps communication, free information, free expression, association, political culture… Thank you.

Thank you Ernesto. It is difficult to define… I think the main thing that has to happen is that as Cubans we feel a profound necessity to live in freedom. I feel that this awakening is already happening, you go out in the street and you see that people are losing their fear of talking and the immense majority are beginning to openly express their discontent with the system. For a long time in Cuba there has been a hypnosis that we are beginning to emerge from, there are external factors strongly affecting this and one of them as been the outbreak, still small but very effective, of the new technologies.

J. Pereira: I send you an affectionate greeting from Europe, I would like to tell you that I greatly value the work you are developing in Cuba and I wish for it to be very fruitful in changing the role of civil society on the Island. Now the questions, from my point of view (so no one need feel offended), you are in a real monster; could you explain to us how it’s possible to develop your project in this hostile environment? Is it because we really are living in a transition on the Island? How does information about the activities promoted by Estado de SATS reach ordinary Cubans? Forgive me if these are questions you’ve already answered in other places. I believe that Estado de SATS has marked a point of inflection. A big hug.

As I explained earlier, I believe that State Security has decided to use different strategies for different groups. They use this discretional character also to create conflicts, facing a reality which is less docile every day.

In our case, from the beginning we have used new technologies as a method of diffusion and at the same time protection. We don’t just put the meetings on YouTube, but we also share them on DVDs and these circulate throughout the country. We are often surprised to receive emails from different areas of the Island from people who have seen at least one or two Estado de SATS meetings and who ask about the project, how they can get more information. The visibility is greater every day, and this clearly comes at a major political cost to the repression. The new technologies are vital tools for the work of civil society.

The Free Laplander: Dear Rodiles, first of all I want to thank you and your working team for this wonderful space you have created. Why are you being so critical of the system that has not intervened with force at the meeting site? When you go out in the street, do you feel popular support, even if just in the form of a complicit smile? Have you stopped to think about how far the limits of your daring go? Do you not believe that inviting so many people and the dissidence in general to your programs could allow the infiltration of spies? In a free and democratic Cuba what profession would you like to practice? Have you considered how many changes in the Eastern European countries have gone badly so that these mistakes won’t be repeated in Cuba? Many thanks for offering me some of your valuable and limited time.

To break into a home where public debates, exhibitions, and film screenings are held and where there is not incitement to violence nor resort to personal attacks, would have a high political cost. Violence against intellectuals, artists and an public interested in these topics would be an action condemned by many. But we have never ruled out a possible action of this type, we are prepared for it, I have already responded to another question that every meeting is held under the deployment of a State Security operation in the offices of the Aquarium next door to the house, and many attendees have suffered pressure on leaving the meetings from police posted nearby. To all this is added the surveillance cameras, listening devices, and tapped fixed line and mobile phones. We hope no one decides to intervene violently because the consequences would undoubtedly be unpredictable. We know there are always “masked” State Security agents within our space, some of them very bad actors, they come, take a lot of photos, show interest and ask apparently ingenuous questions, but this doesn’t bother us. The space is open to everyone and everyone wishing to participate can do so while respecting the rules of debate. There is nothing to hide and that gives us peace of mind.

On many occasions I’ve been agreeably surprised to be recognized by people on the street in the most unlikely places, a tire repair, a farmers market, the airport, people have come up to me and with a certain complicity asked me, in whispers, aren’t you from the SATS program” And they always compliment it, offer their points of view or topics to address and ask how to get the “programs,” as they call them. These have been very nice experiences, very good, that give us feedback, satisfaction and encouragement and confirm that the expansion of our work is happening, even though, of course, we have higher expectations.

Our purpose is very clear, to be part of the process of democratization of our country and to focus our efforts on that end. To constantly reinvent ourselves is one of our premises, as is maintaining a steady pace in what we produce.

We would love to expand SATS over the the whole Island, to help create spaces that promote democratic thinking from different perspectives. Something that fascinates me about modern societies is how broad they are, showing an incredible level of complexity. At some point I found it difficult to visualize this, but once I understood it it became a guide for our work.

Politics has always interested me, since I was a child I felt attracted to these issues and as I am a lover or controversy, I felt like a fish in water. My stays in Mexico and the United States greatly expanded my perspective on the world we live in, both countries are very different and there are important lessons to learn from each of them.

Sadly, in our country the possibility of engaging in politics has been erased. However, it’s clear that a new era is opening up and politics will be a new part of our society. I am one of those who think that politicians should serve for limited periods. Societies are very dynamic now and we need time to study them in order to understand them, the exercise of politics is something that envelops us and perhaps we don’t grasp certain changes in their entire magnitude.

The way to avoid the mistakes already committed in other transitions is to study them. Every country has its characteristics and ours is behaving somewhat differently than expected.

Who would have expected that the Church hierarchy would have become an ally of the government?

The principal of a transition, as a far-reaching process, is to include a great number of actors and citizens, and only in this way can it be successful. The chances of failure are many, particularly if we start from a situation as disastrous as the one in which we are living.

But if we ground ourselves in already proven knowledge, the results won’t be long in coming. Everything will depend on how we focus and in whose hands power ends up. If the governing elite and their heirs fail to transmute, the result will be disastrous.

Ernesto Gutiérrez Tamargo: Antonio, first of all I congratulate you because within Cuba you opened a space of freedom for civil society. Questions: Do you rely on any official or quasi-official to broadcast, edit or produce Estado de SATS? What does “Estado de SATS” mean? Do you define yourself as a dissident, an opponent or anti-establishment? Do you have some political economic project to develop Cuba in the present and future? Thanks.

Your question surprises me, to support our project would undoubtedly imply an act of self-destruction. The powers-that-be will never support spaces like ours, where freedom of thought, diversity, and transition to another system are the principal proposals.

Our objective is the democratization of our country and we work on it full time devoting all of our abilities to it.

From the beginning of SATS the support has been total. The first meeting in the summer of 2010 would have been impossible without the help of Omni Zona Franca and a group of intellectuals and artists who put all their efforts into the organization. And so it will continue, the support that we rely on is that of our many friends always ready to collaborate.

I define myself as a free man who lives in a dictatorship. In this context one becomes a dissident, opponent, or whatever qualifier is implied by the rejection of an imposed and arbitrary power.

I want to participate in the reconstruction of my country, bringing my knowledge and my work. In several Analysis Forum programs I commented on my vision of a future cuba. I would like to emphasize that I see Cuba as a country of democratic institutions. I have to confess that I am an enemy of messianism and I conceive of them as part of past that urgently needs to be buried. Messianism affects societies not only at the global level but also individuals, provoking a lack of autonomy that ends up destroying individual creativity and enterprise, basic elements of any mature society.

The work to change Cuba must begin to mobilize this variety of beings and characters who feel themselves a part of this nation and understand the urgency of establishing ourselves in a globalized context. A process of reinvention that must be driven from many angles.

Waldo: What are the links between your father Antonio Rodiles and your uncle, Division General Samuel Rodiles Planas, and Estado de SATS?

My father is Manuel G. Rodiles Planes. His connection with this project is that of spectator. At all the meetings he is seated in the front row, listening with great attention to the debates and discussions.

It is obvious that Samuel Rodiles Planas has absolutely no connection with our work, nor do we maintain any personal contact.
It is no secret to anyone that the so-called Cuban Revolution has been a process marked by family divisions because of differences in thinking and political activity. My family has been no exception. The unconditional politics of a demented caudillo has been the source of unimaginably huge damage to the Cuban family and to the entire society. So many painful conflicts, so many separations and estrangements to get to the disaster we are now living, it is a great sorrow.

Ricardo Palma: Stretching generalizations — such as “we would first have to meet everyone and get to know each other well,” or “we need a consensus” —  to the extent possible, I would greatly appreciate your opinion about who would be the most suitable (or better yet, the most needed) to carry out the transformations of the Cuban political system, and why. Many thanks in advance.

Thanks Ricardo. That’s a very broad question. I think that the change has to be undertaken from civil society, ensuring the widest possible participation. It would be very helpful to create many spaces that foster an open dialog about the country we want. Cubans who live outside the Island will be critical. To insert yourself into an unknown world where you have to create your life, your relationships, where you must understand a distinct dynamic, are experiences of great utility and impossible not to take advantage of.

Ana Maria: In Cuba we see a situation of intellectual debate about our reality, such as you promote, we hear a critical discourse and an analysis without rhetoric about the culture and the political life from distinct groups and representatives of society, including elements from the official intelligentsia. But they are small groups that barely fill some classrooms. And yet Cubans in general behave primitively, seem reluctant to take seriously the reality that crushes us, are more given to not taking things seriously and nonsense, than to reflection and analysis of their existential condition. They prefer to practice the double standard than to face the truth, prefer to resolve their needs in the web of corruption and theft that defy the depressing system that forces them to be criminals. They prefer to participate in the repression, rat out others, join in repudiation rallies, and display moral turpitude rather than show respect and dignity for others.

My question, then, is: Can we count on such an insensitive mass, without civic and ethical principals, to undertake some logical and rational project that must recover the values that the people don’t possess? Do you think, in the short term, as Cubans undertake a social and political transformation, it would be possible to instill ethical values, to change the herd mentality, dismantle the negative inheritance of the Castro regime, the immorality, the simulation, and promote a new social psychology, a new mentality of civic and constructive ideas? Many thanks, I admire enormously the work you do for the country and the future.

Thank you Ana. When I listen to those who support a transition led by the government elite, I wonder if they are full of demented ingenuity or an obscene cynicism.

Here is my fear of our heading toward a transition agreed to by the powers-that-be, a corrupt and rather mediocre power. If this happened we would end up in a terrible scenario in the worst third-world style.

As you argue, the major damage has been to the individual. Cuba has bled and it is very sad. However, I think there is still very valuable human capital within the Island. On the other hand, many Cubans who have escaped this nightmare are willing to collaborate in rebuilding the country, which guarantees not only the possibility of investments, but also practical knowledge.

The work we do in the development of society will depend on the recovery of ethical values lost in this long process. Post-totalitarian Cuba is an enigma for everyone, but I confess my complete optimism, especially if we move along the path of a true democracy.

I want to thank everyone who sent their questions and the friends of Diario de Cuba.

4 June 2012