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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Letters (Unencripted) From Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg, BBC correspondent in Cuba

It’s not the first time an article by Fernando Ravsberg, Cuban correspondent for the honorable BBC, left me feeling frustrated, bittersweet, as a result of, in my judgment, certain skin deep and inconsistent analyses established by him.

But it is the first time I’ve decided to comment in writing. Now, after reading his last blog post, I break the ice.

Of course I knew the wide acceptance “Letters from Cuba” has among some readers in my country, including among my personal friends; and I knew, also, the notorious discredit this journalist has among the community of independent bloggers, and among many Cuban intellectuals who, in addition to exercising their right to disagree with official dogma, take the written word as a fundamental means of expression.

His well-read blog, also followed by those who see in him an approach different from the national daily’s, is criticized by others who brand it complacent and vaguely hypocritical, the velvet glove with which Fernando Ravsberg draws the reality of the Island for the world. Let no one doubt it: a blog hosted on the BBC has readers of course, and this implies a responsibility in capital letters.

In which of these two factions — if that is the split — do I include myself? Well from time to time I pass through his website, “hearing” his particular view of the facts, agreeing or disagreeing, and always I respect, as a colleague, the intellectual exercise implied in wanting to reflect a country as convulsed as Cuba, in just a few paragraphs.

To be perfectly strict I have to say, also: I’m sure that the BBC could find better professionals to send to the Caribbean nation. Fernando Ravsberg is not a significant journalist in our language, today, and serves in one of the most complex and challenging theaters (Cuba) that can be found in the world today.

On my personal scale, he’s a craftsman of words, someone with an academic style, grammatically correct, but without something inherent in every practitioner of memorable journalist: a refined style. His writings, even the best and most poignant, exude a clerical preparation, that of the report. Fortunately they always have the virtue of brevity.

However, this is not so now, after reading “Honeymoon, the virtual war, real life,” compels me to write about the Uruguayan journalist who has wandered, for a long time, slowing and with pen in hand, among the ruins of our singular Havana.

Fernando Ravsberg does not understand why independent bloggers, or classic opponents, need to encrypt their messages to send them off the Island, or even to communicate within its walls.

To this I, a Cuban as he is not, add: not only the disaffected, millions of ordinary citizens also need to compress and encrypt their communications, if they want to keep a minimal personal privacy.

I quote Ravsberg unfortunate text, “The dissident bloggers have reason to say that in Cuba privacy is not respected and so encryption techniques are criticized. It could be, but I bet that in these times encrypted messages raise suspicions even in the most democratic nations of the world.”

And then he adds, “Maybe it’s that I know few people but there isn’t a single one of my friends who uses encryption keys to communicate on the Internet.”

Carefully considered, analysis such as this is what generates my lack of confidence in the intelligent thought of this communications professional. Or, still worse, his commitment to the truth.

Because supporting such a thesis, Fernando Ravsberg forgets, doesn’t know, or hides, a great truth: in democratic nations individuals not only don’t encrypt their dissident messages, but they wrack their brains looking for ways to make them public.

I will never forget my fascination, three days after stepping on American soil, seeing an old man at a stoplight with a sign — Republican — that read: “How much more will it take for Obama to understand he’s not eligible to be President, let alone for a Nobel Prize.”

In democratic nations, only those who place bombs in metro stations, smuggle organs and drugs, or harm society with their criminal acts, need to protect their electronic or telephone communications. Not law-abiding citizens.

And if the BBC colleague says that not one of his friends uses encryption keys to communicate online, his statement leads to two possibilities:

1. The man chosen by the British to sniff out the essence of Cuban society, doesn’t have among his acquaintances a single “ordinary” Cuban, of those who set passwords for their archives using WinRAR to communicate privately with a family member living abroad, or to arrange a trip to escape.

2. The man chosen by the English doesn’t have the slightest idea of what it is to use a clandestine Internet connection with protective passwords or anonymous proxies to hide the sites he wants to visit.

And he doesn’t know for a key reason — the essence of my disagreement as a colleague and as part of the burdened nation he has decided to recreate — because Fernando Ravsberg seeks to establish well-informed judgments about a country which, in its essence, he does not know.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, to not tar him with the brush applicable to so many journalists who, in order to continue their stay in this Jurassic and exotic scene which is Cuba decide to use the soft tones of a tourist watercolor to paint their written portraits, I prefer to call him a poorly integrated foreigner. Not an opportunist.

But the same tropical Cuban oxygen isn’t breathed by the person who emerges from a debate sponsored by the magazine “Topics” in the narrow Strawberry and Chocolate room in the capital and runs to his page to post cheers to a perceived tolerance, to progress on freedom of expression, on the same day that Stephen Morales was expelled from the Party for criticizing corruption and I lost my job for dissenting from the national information policy.

Serious in a journalism of respect: shortly after a new post, backtracks from his raucous joy, and admits the gag imposed by the organizers of the civic debate, which banned him if he wanted to continue attending, from writing about what happened there.

More serious still: Week later, the correct Ravsberg accepts the rules of the game, and in order to preserve his permission to enter the little debate in the capital room, he publishes a post as a wink, about “nothing happened” there. The wink is this: “It’s agreed that I say nothing, they don’t close the doors, right?”

Above and beyond my very personal opinions, above and beyond my true respect for his way of exercising our so complex and subjective trade, and above and beyond my transparent evaluations with regards to his basic handling of the journalism tool, the written word, Fernando Ravsberg posits an ethical and moral view that, if he is an honest man — which I think he is — needs to be addressed very soon, and sharply: “The Cuba that I describe, is my Cuba — that of a semi-assimilated and well-favored Uruguayan, or is it the Cuba that a demanding and truthful journalist should write about?”

There is no intense journalism without conflicts. Anyone who wishes to remain on good terms with God and with the Devil should change their profession. Or, merciful alternative, move the context and write a blog entitled “Letters from Switzerland.” I’m sure that there they will not know citizens who need to protect themselves from the great eye that sees everything, encrypting their messages.

Pardon the absolutism, but writing about Cuba is far too much for them — those who do not respectfully suffer the ailments of an aching country, or those who have not engaged themselves in an extra dose of commitment, ethics, and bravery.

March 23 2011

 
 

Cuba Yes, Dictators No


I recently heard Carlos Alberto Montaner in a presentation on art and literature in exile which I had the good fortune to attend.  According to Montaner, one of the points on which the Cuban regime undoubtedly has been shrewd, is the negative connotation they have managed to associate with the terms “anti-Castro” in global eyes, through a sustained and effective propaganda machine.

For example, to publicly say one has been, for many years, an intellectual anti-fascist, or anti-Pinochet, leads to immediate applause, but the same does not happen when you call a man of thought and action “anti-Castro.”

With luck, your declaration would be taken with a dismissive silence. In other cases, some of your audience’s chairs would quickly empty and your public could be notably reduced.

This is a complex puzzle, the structure of which can be inexplicable for those who, like me, use logic as a fundamental tool in shaping judgments: many of those who have suffered and fought against tyrannies of different colors and different ideologies take an incomprehensible position with regards to Cuba, halfway between cowardice and hypocritical silence.

Thus, for example, we see respectable intellectuals, artists, influential men, using acidic terms to refer to General Franco who decided the destiny of the Spanish nation for forty years, while with respect to the satrap who steered the Island according to his will for fifty years, they are silent or, much worse, they smile with pleasure.

I will say just a pair of names: Miguel Bosé, Luis Eduardo Aute. Spaniards of good background who don’t skimp on scalding adjectives whenever they dig up the bones of their own dictator; but when they take into their mouths their name of ours, they chant it in flowery poetry.

I would ask them, for example, what they think of the recent declaration of the elder Castro supporting, in writing, his brother’s declaration with respect to the limit of two terms of five years.

In the future I don’t thing I’ll take any notice of more possibilities for their possible responses: either one has an extra dose of imbecility to ignore the cynicism behind this phrase, the support of a leader-for-life for a measure to restrict the terms of those who come after; or the intellectual dishonesty is too great to even consider.

Quite recently I asked the journalist Max Lesnik what he would think if suddenly the American government prevented him, after leaving Miami, from returning to which had been his city his entire life. The answer can be read by those who consult my interview, published in this blog.

Well, I would be delighted to ask this same question of Benicio del Toro, let’s say. As admirable in his profession as he is questionable in the causes he embraces. To say to him, for example: “You go out and film your Guevara film. You offer your sovereign statements, in Cuba, with respect to the embargo and the interference of the American government, and suddenly, when you go to buy your ticket home, this government has closed the doors of your country forever.”
So what gives?

Let’s adapt a Creole aphorism, and say there are causes that deserves sticks. And there are silences that also deserve sticks. And every time I hear intellectuals like Eduardo Galeano and Noam Chomsky criticize the historical excesses of tyrannical governments in Latin America, and ignore the fact that before their eyes the country continues to be administered like the private plot of a small family, I’m convinced that a creative reputation doesn’t have to go hand in hand with ideological honesty.

Every time I read the teary-eyed petitions to free the Five Members of the Wasp Network, from artists like Danny Glover and Danny Rivera, and don’t hear their pronouncements about the thousands of children separated from their parents because

Apparently it’s quite pleasing to denounce to the four winds the shameful conduct of American soldiers in Guantanamo, but when it comes to saying a word, just one, with respect to the thirty elderly demented  Mazorra patients massacred, it is good to keep the purest silence.

The forcibly exiled Cuban writer Norberto Fuentes–rescued from the country’s cells by the intercession of the patron Garcia Marquez in the wake of the “Cause Number 1″ of 1989 which led to the execution of General Ochoa–was about to speak. He had done so for the newspaper El Pais. And from respect for his literary work, not stunning but still valuable, I believe he had to shut up.

Because to say of a Politburo with an average age of 67, that the Island does not continue to be dominated by a military gerontocracy, and to assert the contrary, that Cuba is being ruled by young generations, is to make a monumental fool of someone who’s written books as good as, “Hemingway in Cuba” and “Sweet Cuban Warriors.”

Or Norberto Fuentes, a writer beloved by the Fidelist nomenklatura in the past, has secret information that the rest of us don’t know, or to say something so outrageous is worthy of applause: suddenly an improvised harlequin is erected.

Worse yet, he has said, and I quote: “In 1989 the Revolution was castrated, because they eliminated the bold, the untamed. In that moment the Revolution was fucked. Then came a period of gray functionaries.”

Those who know of his deep friendship with Tony de la Guardia and Arnaldo Ochoa, the most famous in our national history to face a firing squad, know what Fuentes is talking about. But the question that then absorbs the entire cerebral function is: Where was the writer Norberto Fuentes during the worst of the Five Grey Years?

Where was the author of the “Autobiography of Fidel Castro”, when homosexuals were beaten, or slept in police cells for listening to the lads from Liverpool?

The answer is clear: walking with whores on nights of excess, enjoying the honey of the same power that would later throw him off the cliff.

For this reason an honorable author like Carlos Albert Montaner can’t approve of the gray connotation which the term anti-Castro calls forth in much of the world. For this reason eternal intellectuals such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Jesus Diaz, who in a moment of their lives stopped halfway and knew that faced with the verticality of the same cause they had previously defended, they would never win approval in the eyes of the leftist academics for whom it is all very well to have been at odds with Leonidas Trujillo, but not with his colleague Fidel Castro.

It’s not about a supernatural effectiveness of official Cuban propaganda. It is about–the doubt is less every day–an ideological hypocrisy too widespread, in times when the words artist or intellectual, and honest thinking, are no longer necessarily synonymous.

27 April 2011

 
 

Decalogue for a Cuban Blogger

From their literary Mount Olympus, where they had already given the world their tremendous fiction, Borges, Monterrose, Quiroga, Bukowski, wrote Decalogues for young writers. Decalogues and, perhaps, subtle warnings.

Others, not content with brevity, took it more seriously; Rainer Maria Rilke published his “Letters of a Young Poet,” and Mario Vargas Llosa, balancing genders, his “Letters to a Young Female Novelist.”

I share only one aspect with them, the disease of writing. I’m not an Olympic winner, although I blatantly desire it. But I have an advantage over them in one way: these gentlemen of deserved immortality (saving the recent Nobel Prize winner, who is still alive), never knew the word “blog.” Not even a fantasist like Ray Bradbury could envision a future of digital spaces where one can publish with demonic freedom.

So today I wanted to perpetuate the tradition. This time, outlining a Decalogue that, sadly, lacks universality: I wanted to dedicate it to a potential Cuban blogger who, perhaps, at this precise moment, is assessing the possibility of opening his defiant blog.

1. You have already decided, and given it a name. You’ve launched it on the great web. With luck, some colleague will promote is in his own space and earn you your first readers. Well then, you know: you just took on a tremendous weight. Your blog does not become a pet, it becomes your child. And the difference from a pet is that you can play with them for a while and leave them at home whenever you like, but children won’t tolerate the distancing. You know that, like Cortazar’s text about the clock, you haven’t given yourself a gift of a blog: you’ve just become the gift for a blog that from now on will keep you on your toes.

2. The day you publish your most painstaking text, you might count ten readers, of whom half will have come to your site by mistake. The day you publish your most mediocre and unfinished text, you could attract the attention of someone very well-known on the web, and be recommended. This day you will have thousands of readers to whom you won’t be able to say, “Please, when you finish this one, go read the other one, it’s better…” First conclusion: never publish fillers. Second conclusion: pray that the day on which you publish the filler, the text that you couldn’t improve, no one with credentials will decide to visit you.

3. As you live in Cuba, freedom of expressions sounds like a hollow expression to you. However, you know you need it. And you try to procure it swimming against the current. This will always be admirable. Infallible rule: readers can tell when something is written honestly, and when it is written obeying orders from above. Spaces written from the need to express oneself, will always have incomparably more followers, people who consult them, readers in general, than ones written because it’s your job. Perhaps this answers your question about why official Cuban bloggers can only count on their family and friends as faithful readers.

4. Your daring will earn you immediate followers. They will applaud your courage in facing the regime you disapprove of. It’s beautiful. But take care: don’t believe all the applause is sincere. Many applaud only when your posts match their own points of view. Some alleged democrats who will cheer you on will also be the first to throw you into the flames, if something you write with the same honesty as usual goes against ideas that to them are nonnegotiable. The lesson is: Remember you are all alone. Remember you must obey yourself, your vital impulses, And you should be less and less interested in applause.

5. And as you are alone in the conceptual, so you are in practice as well: it doesn’t matter how many times you ask for financial help to sustain your blog. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of people take it as a reference. In the instant in which some of those thousands of readers have to make a contribution for your work, you will become fully aware of your quixotic solitude. Fine irony: the same ones who demand that you update, who demand certain themes and approaches, they are the one who, once they finish reading, lose all interest in your page even if you say you need some economic support. The loneliness of the writer and of the blogger are flesh of the same flesh.

6. An interesting point: never doubt, despite the loneliness of the previous point, you will find supposed administrators of your blog, censors, directors of your editorial policy. It doesn’t matter that you affirm, over and over, this is my space, here I say what I say, for this I created it. It doesn’t matter. Someone will always come along to tell you, “I think you shouldn’t write on this topic, but rather on this one.” Someone else will come along to tell you, “You are completely wrong, what are you thinking to say this?” And you will come to doubt, between responding that you are the author of this page, that you don’t ask permission from a reader to write, just as you don’t ask it of the government; or you will respond with your silence. There are times when silence is better. Don’t waste resources defending your right to say whatever you like. Those who at times wear us down, we have to accept that they’re a lost cause: they don’t understand that your freedom of expression is the truth.

7. The other side of the coin, which must be dealt with squarely, is the employees of Power. The diligent workers on the web, who find funding from the Island’s government, and whose only function will be, from now on, to fight your space. How? The methods are infinite. Get ready for a war without quarter, and without principles nor codes of ethics. These same people will post comments saying you are a child molester, that your sister is a lesbian, that they’ve heard verifiable rumors: for example that you are State Security. This is a brilliant tactic against which you can do nothing: there is very little harder to prove than innocence. Get ready to see photo montages of yourself, to know that your friends now reject you from fear, and that many doors will now be closed to you. Some in a literal sense. Ask since when Claudia Cadelo has not been able to pass through the doors of the Chaplin Theater. But you know what? There is something against which the employees of Power have no weapons: against your will to be dignified, your will not to remain silent. This is what will rob them of their sleep, not yours.

8. Don’t wonder how, because at times you won’t understand it, but rest assured that the people around you, even those you don’t know, will be reading your blog. Exotic phenomena attract attention. And a fearless blog in a county filled with cowards is an exotic phenomenon. When you think you are writing only for the world, be aware that your neighbor, though he won’t tell you, as a precaution, is reading and printing your texts. And secretly, he admires you.

9. Patience with human stupidity. If you accept that other people, your followers, are going to add their opinions below your writing, you should arm yourself with a solid shield against insults and nonsense. If you don’t have the iron constitution to deal with this, better that you turn the comment function off. It’s a simple thing: send them to the trash if they’re obscene or offensive, or approve them if they’re feisty but friendly. As you are alone in this, you don’t have to consult or ask for votes for and against. Your blog is your democracy, and don’t forget that since you suffer it, you decide.

10. Ask yourself, as Rilke asked the poets, if you could live without writing your blog. If the answer is yes, don’t take the trouble to start it. You will abandon it very quickly. If the answer is no, if your need to express yourself is unstoppable, if you think you really have something to say, ignore the nine points above and inscribe only these words in your mind: you will have no greater happiness than knowing you are true to yourself. Your blog will be a cry of freedom that we will from both sides of the sea.

April 18 2011

 
 

Another Stretch of the Sea Between Us

There is a question I’ve formulated on more than on occasion, and that I have recently revived. It goes more or less like this: “If I, who detests with every particle of my being the North Korean dynasty, for example, suddenly gathered my intentions and provoked an attack that killed dozens of North Korean civilians, would this effort be enough to call myself, from now on and proudly, an anti-Kim fighter?”

And if, for example, my firecracker in Pyongyang causes collateral damage and sacrifices a European tourist, then can I call myself anti-dynastic, a fighter against Kim-the-father or Kim-the-son, and be treated like a hero, even though I haven’t touched a single petal on the iron dictatorship, which continues on its course without the least disturbance?

It’s something that’s returned to my mind now that Luis Posada Carriles is in the news again. For some, a hilarious story. For me, bitter news: I do not like his immediate and complete acquittal, I don’t like it at all, and I say this with the verticality of one who is not trained in the art of silencing what I think.

I have two reasons for not celebrating even one iota of this news. The first is: I don’t like this character. I could never sympathize with those who have death in their background, and who brag about it. Whatever its cause might be. And especially: whoever has the death of innocents in his background, poor unfortunates who were in the wrong hotel, or the wrong airplane, the day Luis Posada and friends decided to realize their “anti-Castroism” sui generis.

As a teenager I remember the long Cuban television broadcast dedicated to the bombings of 1997, the trial of Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, the despondent face of an old Italian whose son, Fabio Di Celmo, was hit by a piece of glass that inevitably cut his jugular in the Copacabana Hotel.

And, since my untainted adolescence, I keep the memory of those days fresh: in the midst of devastating famine, in the midst of dissatisfaction and disgust for a country drowning in nothingness, a silence of anger and pain reigned everywhere.

The bombings of Havana hotels, the death of an innocent tourist, not only failed to topple the regime of Fidel Castro, not only did not precipitate the collapse of the Cuban Revolution, but rather it caused the opposite effect: in those hallucinatory days the Cuban people (even those who opposed the government publicly or privately), closed ranks with the establishment and approved almost anything they did.

The reason is very simple: Cuban society was hurt, its nerves were electrified. And where protection is sought in these cases, as always, is in the State. Let the Americans say otherwise: the country never vibrated with a greater sense of patriotism, never had a greater affinity with an administration, just as with Bush-the-son after losing three thousand and some lives in two New York towers.

Posada Carriles tras ser absuelto
Posada Carriles after being acquitted

But in 1976 I had not yet been born. I could not experience, as in 1997, the national horror. And it wasn’t just any kind of horror: it had to have been much worse than the one I did know. Between an Italian, a young man for whom he mourned, but, at the end of the day, a foreigner, and seventy-three Cubans, some of them teenagers, there is no comparison in pragmatic terms. I’ve seen the painful television accounts, but I have no life experience of it.

And still, I know perfectly well that any people who lose so many innocents, massacred by fanatics, irrational people who in their delirious warmongering are not capable of differentiating between a fighter jet and an airplanes filled with a beardless fencing team; I don’t have to have lived those days to know that Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, not only are by their own confessions responsible for this crime (enough of tricks and rhetoric: have they confessed or not? Do we or do we not know that it was them?) They are, also, responsible for ensuring that a society in mourning gave more respect and power to a dictator who, in the future, would have more justifications, more scapegoats, to engage in his business of hijacking the national freedom.

But I have a second reason to find this news of Posada’s total acquittal bitter: the ugly scenario it presents to those who believe that the reconstruction of unity, of our history as a country torn apart, must start with a coming together between exiles and the Cubans over there.

How to convince those on the island, as a part of this second, that many of the stories offered on the Roundtable TV show, in the newspaper Granma, about the exiles of Miami, are nothing more that clever manipulations to further widen the breach that separates Cubans from here and from there? How to convince, for example, a Cuban of my generation, who grew up hearing the title os “Mafia terrorist of Miami,” that this demonization, that encompasses millions of exiled people, is only applicable to an ever-shrinking handful?

A single example: whenever I say publicly, here, that one of the strongest fears held by Cubans on the Island today is that, if there is a reconciliation between the two parties, the former owners will come and reclaim their old properties, dislodging people, displacing schools and clinics, many look at me with a smile of incredulity.

The truth is: I don’t know of a single octogenarian who left his home in Cuba, at the triumph of the Revolution, who still wishes to recover it. Not only because after so much time everyone has forgotten these losses — though not their resentment against the perpetrators — but because they know well the conditions in which they would find these old properties would require them to dynamite them and start from scratch.

But let no one doubt: is this one of the arguments most repeated by the regime. And what is its purpose? Well, very simple: to divide. To widen the gap between the two sides. To continue to stimulate the conflict and divert attention from a vital issue: the Cuban exile has nothing against Cuba, against Cubans, against that country that they love as few natives in the world love their countries. Cuban exiles, especially the historic generation, what they have declared war against is the government of the Castros, who know this very well.

But how do I explain this to my friends, as a solution to the strategic error so favored by the establishment, if suddenly a nation of eleven million people discovers that the alleged anti-Castro fighters do not kill tyrants but fencers in short pants?

How does one explain to the millions of Cuban television viewers that this beautiful march in support of the Ladies in White organized by two worthy siblings, true pride of our land, when the Roundtable simply put Luis Posada Carriles in the picture with them, neutralizing with a single image the message of peace and solidarity emanating from that initiative of the Estefans?

What Castro, member of the Castro family, friend of Castro or henchman of Castro, did those recalcitrant fighters kill with their attacks and their planes? I only know of one. One victim who feeds their egos. A solo victim to justify the title of heroes, if such a thing could be justifies, for example, as with those who shot the dictator Trujillo, in an act of death that would save so many lives.

But no. These gentleman who are honored and freed of any guilt, have only damaged one faction of this story: those who determine nothing. Big favor they have done to the cause of freedom.

I accept neither stories no half-measures: When, on April 8, the El Paso jury determined, in just three hours, that Luis Posada Carriles was innocent of everything, the strip of sea between Cubans of both sides grew thicker. And that, for those who have faith in a future where most exiles will not die without being able to visit the house where they were born, and where we will erase from our consciences — as the Germans have done — this shameful past of distance and pain, is a motive for indignation.

And, in my case, reason enough to write.

April 14 2011

 
 

Twenty Million Doubts

As one would expect, Senator John Kerry’s statement that he opposes the U.S. government’s $20 million budget proposal to promote democracy in Cuba has created quite a stir.

Analysts from different ends of the spectrum criticized his words, using adjectives ranging from “political opportunism” — linking his declarations with the possible conditioning of the Cuban government, during Carter’s recent visit to Havana, for the release of Alan Gross — to “traitor” to the United States’ commitment to democratization of the Island.

Even his senate colleague, the Democrat Bob Menendez, spoke up strongly against the decision of Kerry, who presides over nothing less than the influential Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

But what were the controversial statements of the former presidential candidate with respect to these economic funds. He said, in essence:

“Before this $20 million is committed, a full review of the programs should be undertaken and the Administration should consult with the Congress. There is no evidence, however, that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people.”

To explain my point of view, I take as a starting point the fact that I am a Cuban who has recently left his country, who lived there for twenty-six years, and most of all, who has recently gotten to know a significant number of opponents, both traditional and of the new kind, and members of an incipient but exemplary civil society.

Without mincing words, and begging your pardon for the arrogance: Nobody has to tell me how ordinary Cubans live, or think, nor how peaceful opponents carry out their struggle for respect for freedom on the Island. One of the most frequent mistakes I’ve noticed in exiles with good intentions, is to think in the name of people who, at times, they do not know.

And with this knowledge of the facts I say: If the American taxpayers have paid $150 million dollars so far to support the admirable efforts of some Cuban dissidents; if they have been told that their money has been decisive for the Cuban cause, I think they should demand a refund. They have been somewhat cheated.

As a committed journalist who knocked on the doors of defiant people, I can say that save minor exceptions, the vast number of the Cuban opposition, of alternative bloggers, of these new kind of guerrillas, whether public or camouflaged, suffer from an economic insecurity that is not consistent with the aid funds approved, year after year, by the American government.

And I’m not talking about the scandals. I’m not talking about the embarrassment of the Government Accountability Office’s inspection in 2006, which discovered that these funds to promote democracy on the Island were spent, in large part, on chocolates, leather coats, chain saws, crab meat and Sony Playstations. (I don’t think even a Marx Brothers film could bring together such a list of products to defend liberty.)

Better I should ask a question that could rightly be that of millions of American citizens in the midst of a worrying economic crisis, wondering where these tax dollars end up. The question is: What has been the real impact of that money on the Cuban cause?

Putting myself in the shoes of a native of this country, what have I gotten in that country for my money?

What I’m really interested in is hearing the response of those who see these funds as an indispensable help. To educate me with proofs, with facts, not with romantic suppositions, what is the real benefit of these dollars to the fight for democracy in Cuba.

Because I, like Senator John Kerry, suspect that those millions — which, by the way, are impossible to send directly, in cash, because the embargo prevents it — an imprecise number but no small number of them, have swelled the pockets of intermediaries, functionaries and presumed defenders of the cause of my country

And then comes the awful circumstance: Cuban opponents are sent flash drives, portable radios, some chocolate and some crab meat and the Cuban government says: “This is financing the internal counterrevolution.” And gives another turn to the screw of repression.

And while some sharp schemers on this side of the sea benefit from these projects, on the other side, at “the center of things,” they receive a few crumbs from this capital, along with all of the consequences.

No matter what they say: It’s not fair.

So I approve of the mistrust and the sharp interest of Senator John Kerry in reviewing what have been the uses of this budget, which is not out of this world considering the amount of other United States programs, but, in times of crisis, I don’t think anyone has it to spare.

And above all, it’s worth reviewing not only the capital itself, but the mechanisms by which it is invested in indirect aid. Who knows if the great fissure lies in the deficient apparatus of implementation, with too much bureaucracy that takes advantage of the loopholes, burdening an intention that in principle, as a Cuban, I appreciate and admire.

Let no one forget: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

April 10 2011

 
 

Terry Jones in Norway. Twenty Years Later.

In the early ’90s, the Reverend Rolf Rasmussen, minister of the Asane Church in Bergen, Norway, received an unexpected telephone call on Christmas eve. A mob of “Black Metal” music fanatics with clear satanic affiliations had set fire to his two-hundred year old church and reduced it to cinders and ashes.

The fact that no one died in the incident was a true miracle.

The testimony of Rasmussen was collected in a fantastic documentary by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden about the history of Heavy Metal titles, “A Headbanger’s Journey.”

I think about it now that the incendiary torch has changed hands, and he who wields it doesn’t play the guitar or worship Satan. Rather it is presented as the continuation of the Christian word.

Personally, I see no difference between the barbaric acts carried out by the Norwegian rockers, and the show that is put on by the protestant minister Terry Jones, burning a copy of the Koran in his sacristy in Gainesville, Florida, careening new souls to his Lord.

Strictly speaking, it’s not the same. It’s much worse. The acts of those dark musicians only damaged the architectural patrimony of Norway, while the burning of the Islamic sacred text has caused, so far, some twenty deaths and numerous injuries in Afghanistan.

It was common knowledge. Mr. Terry Jones can not claim surprise. When he announced his intention to burn the Koran commemorating the September 11, 2010, the international and internal uproar seemed to make him desist from his crazy action.

The “Good Shepherd” Terry Jones.

But last March 20 he “condemned” the book in a symbolic trial, and presided over the cremation ceremony. A few days later, an angry mob broke into the UN office in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, and ended the lives of seven innocent officials. In the days that followed, the protests have ended the lives of many more people.

Some analysts focus their attention on the overreactions of the Muslim fanatics, who haven’t even adhered to the instructions of Sharia, and the Supreme Law, making an “Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth,” perhaps charring some edition of the Bible.

For me, it’s no more than stating the obvious. To censure the extremism of a handful of fanatics (calculating the handful: close to 1.5 billion people in the world profess Islam, and only this Afghan mob took justice into their own hands), is as futile as it is repetitive. We can count on that.

But the extreme irrationality of a westerner based on the words of a peaceful God, and living in one of the most plural and tolerant societies on the planet, is truly astounding and troubling.

Now, the arguments of Pastor Jones are the most interesting part of this unfortunate scene. He has said, “No one can stop me from expressing myself freely. The burning of a book is a form of self-expression, guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

And like it or not, he’s not mistaken.

No legal entity, government or religious, could stop this from happening, for a reason like a temple: in a country where freedom of expression is an untouchable concept, there is no way to stop an act like this, provocative as it comes, but harmless materially speaking: burning a book.  It is not a human being, nor even a pet.

In democratic societies, respect for individual liberties, however controversial or objectionable they may be, is sacred. And the cause of this sacred respect rests on a humanist foundation: confidence in the ethics and good behavior of civilized citizens.

Should this right to expression be amended again, as a notable Muslim political analyst in the United States has suggested, in hopes of safeguarding security and keeping the peace?

And, with pain in my heart for the victims of this fatal act, and with anger awakened in me by this caveman-like conduct of the Christian Terry Jones, I say no. I say that the circumstantial modification of a section like this could be a gray precedent such that, in the future and with other interests in play, new modifications would begin to mutilate the freedom of expression that, speaking frankly, is strict or it does not exist.

Not even the shocking reaction of a group of blind fanatics, not even the anomalous conduct of a priest — whose action seems equally fanatic to me, though he does not wear a turban nor proclaim jihad, nor listen to heavy metal — should determine this crowning achievement of democracy that is expressed with true freedom.

It is the evil murderers who, in the name of Allah, wrapped explosives around their chests and went to blow themselves up in an airplane, who should be amended. It is the outrageous religious, who burn books and provoke distant deaths who should be amended.

The infamous Terry Jones carries in his consciousness the bitter weight of their dead, and those of us who assume  freedom of expression as a supreme commitment, are comforted by knowing that nobody, not even for worthy causes, can cut off that right.

That’s right: What I wouldn’t have done to have had the services of Mr. Jones (having been Catholic) as the pastor of that church burned in Bergen, Norway, twenty years ago. I would have been delighted if the midnight call received by the good Rasmussen, he had taken it.

Perhaps those innocent people in Afghanistan would still be alive today.

April 5 2011

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 
 
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