EML: Mr. Lesnik, we’ve already talked about the Cuban opposition, where does your aversion to these political activists come from? Why can’t you, a man so markedly political, not accept the right of these people to belong to parties that oppose the only official Party?
ML: It stems from, among other things, that for me the Cuban opposition has chosen the easiest path: receiving a check from the U.S. government, for which, with good reason, the Cuban government calls them mercenaries, and accuses them of being a fabrication.
I told you before that I can’t believe in the political militancy of fabricated leaders.
Tell me this, sincerely: Do you really believe that Yoani Sanchez is one of the 100 most influential people in the world?
EML: At the time she was included in that list, probably not. Now, yes.
ML: But not even Fidel Castro is one of the 100 people, boy!
EML: No, but for me it’s more than obvious that for a long time now Fidel Castro has ceased to be influential in the world. We’re not talking about fame, about historic importance. We’re talking about influence. And to say that Yoani is not one of the most influential people in the world today, is to ignore reality.
What this is about, Mr. Lesnick, is that the government has designed a tremendously effective machinery to that there is no legal way to exercise opposition.
Let me ask you: Does there exist any way of being an open opponent in Cuba, and being respected as one, not being denigrated by the communication media (without any right to respond), not being imprisoned or excluded from society. Does there exist even one way?
ML: I don’t know how many receive money or don’t receive it, how much more honorable some are than others. But what I do know is that those who present themselves as leaders of the opposition are probably financed by this government, And of the 75 who were put in prison in 2003 it was shown at their trials that they received money from the United States government.
I don’t want to make a categorical statement about all of them, but it’s true that nearly all are of this type. And if the Cuban people don’t respect them it’s because they don’t deserve resepct, because there are things that many of them don’t support about American policy against Cuban and they don’t dare say it publicly.
For example: Don’t you think there are many of them who don’t approve of the embargo? Don’t you think there are many who don’t support it and still they remain silent?
EML: Mr. Lesnik, there is a very well-known letter of May 2010, that has come to be called “Letter of the 74,” where a group of opponents and well-known members of civil society, among them Elizardo Sanche, Dagoberto Valdes, Guillermo Farinas, and Yoani Sanchez herself, wrote to the American Congress to suspend the embargo.
ML: Of course, but Obama’s is a different government. Please…
EML: You told me no one had done it and I am responding.
But let me emphasize: Why don’t you or I know even a single Cuban opponent whom the government respects, whom they don’t demonize on TV programs, and simply take as an opponent with the right to disagree? Doesn’t common sense say something’s not right there?
ML: Look, to me the History that I have learned since 1959, is that the Americans tried to use the Cuban opposition and paid them. I am a witness to how, from the beginning, the Americans put the government opposition there to control it.
And this has been the same policy up to today: they have corrupted the Cuban opposition to the point where the people don’t believe in it. The result is that today we have a Cuban government with an enemy so large, that it allows the Island’s government to accuse everyone in opposition of being traitors.
What I want to say is that this a product of American policies. Is the United States hadn’t intervened in Cuba from the year 1961, and if it hadn’t declared Cuba “the enemy,” and hadn’t used all its resources to bring down the government, there would have been no reason nor pretext to take measures against people who honestly cold have been within their rights to disagree.
For example, can you think of a civil society sector that historically confronted communism more than the Catholic church? And when the Pope met with Fidel Castro the Vatican declared peace in Cuba?
Is it true or is it a lie that from then on Catholics had freedoms that had never been enjoyed under a communist government?
EML: Provided they do not take any positions of disapproval against what happens in Cuba, Lesnik. Provided they remain silent about what they see around them. When Catholics take positions as dissenting Cubans, not even an institution as powerful as the Church can save them. And if you don’t believe me, look at what the police did to Father Jose Conrado in Santiago de Cuba in December of 2007, when they dared to enter his parish and use violence there during a mass in support of political prisoners.
ML: But Conrado is a provocateur… I know Conrado from before you were born, and what he’s looking for is a show, to be the enfant terrible of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
EML: I don’t agree with you at all. Are all the Cuban priests who maintain positions confronting officialdom provocateurs? Is Archbishop Pedro Meurice also a provocateur for reading that fantastic letter of welcome to the Pope in Santiago, where he denounced the suffering of many Cubans?
ML: No, but those who reprimand them are not the government, it’s the Vatican. Whoever has sanctioned them I suppose it to be the Vatican, for saying what they shouldn’t according to the Institution…
EML: I don’t know what sanction you’re referring to. None of them have mentioned suffering any sanction from the Vatican, Mr. Lesnik. Father Conrado, who right now is visiting the United States, exercises his profession currently in the parish of Santa Teresita, and Monsignor Meurice is retired due to his advanced age and lives in El Cobre.
ML: Fine, but what I wanted to tell you on theme of the Church is that the Cuban government has smoked the peace pipe with the Church, because they are no longer conspiring as they did before. And because of this the Catholics have their full freedoms on the Island.
Now, in the case of the United States, they have not made peace with Cuba and what’s more, returning to the dissidents, in the measures that the government of the Island sees that some of its nationals adopt positions that could be used by the American government to maintain its war with Cuba, they can’t have more freedoms for them.
Although you don’t know it, you were an agent of American policy there.
EML: You’re wrong in that assessment. I have always exercised, and I continue to exercise, my irrefutable freedom of expression. The problem is that the government of my country, whether this bothers it or not, whether they believe that it coincides or not with American positions. I leave that up to them. What I do, I dictate my thoughts to myself.
And look, the cynicism of the authorities in my cities got to the point where, as I said in a post, the official who “looked after me” for State Security came to my house expressly to tell me, “We are the ones who issue the Exit Permit. We know you have a Visa for the United States. If you stop writing, there won’t be any obstacles, if you don’t, look out for the consequences.”
Does this seem to you to be the fault of the American government? Do you believe that this is a valid way to fight American policies?
ML: OK, and did you stop writing?
EML: Not only did I not stop writing, but I responded to them in my blog itself.
ML: But they let you leave! So where’s the problem?
EML: What is horrible is that they have the power to decide, Mr. Lesnik. What is horrible is that they have the mechanism in hand, the mechanism to decide for the lives of others. Whether they use it or not.
This reminds me of the film “Schindler’s List” when Schindler convinces the cold-blooded Amon Goeth that real power is not in ordering the death of someone, but in pardoning them. And I will tell you this: the leaders who possess the power to decide about the lives of people at will, on a whim, at their convenience, have only one name: they are called dictators, Mr. Lesnik.
ML: Look, I’m not going to defend the things that you and I both consider negatives. But I wonder what is the alternative given this fact: Do we try to change these mistakes through dialog, and bit by bit manage to build a humanist society that we all support? Or do we try to destroy this process that is so valuable in many other aspects?
For me, I have no doubt about the answer.
Let me ask you something, for example: Do you or do you know believe the Cuban government with respect to the case of Zapata?
EML: Naturally, no. Remember that this was one of the reasons, supposedly, that I was left without a job in Cuba.
And now that we touch on the theme, of course, you said in the article To live on dreams is to die disillusioned, also published in Cubadebate, “A prisoner named Zapata, according to the Island’s government a common criminal, and to the anti-Castro opposition a true political dissident.”
I regret to tell you that you are wrong. Not only the Cuban opposition declared him a dissident. Also in 2003 one of the official “Bibles,” the book “The Dissidents” by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Baez, included Zapata among the political opponents, with photos and precise dates. You can look it up. What happened is that latter it was convenient to say that no, he never was, he was just a common criminal…
ML: Did I say in this article you cite that Zapata was a criminal?
EML: No, but I dare say that you believe it. Correct me.
ML: Yes, I think he was, but I don’t say it because I don’t have proof. But everything seems to indicate to me that he was. And you, doesn’t it seem to you that he was involved in those common criminal acts that he’s accused of by the Cuban government?
EML: Do you know why I don’t believe it? For two reasons: 1: Because I said a bit ago that the government has never recognized a single opponent as worthy of respect: they always demonize them morally, and 2: Because I myself, in my own flesh, suffered the most degrading defamation in the world being accused of being a pimp, and that I sold the bodies of several women. You didn’t know that?
ML: No, until now, no.
EML: I humbly suggest you take a turn through my blog and read my text there about it. I’d like you to see what State Security does to “protect itself from American policies.”
I really appreciate your taking the time for this dialog, Max Lesnik. Although we both know there were too many issues on the table to cover everything in just two hours.
ML: And I say the same to you. Hopefully some day you will understand that in the end, where I have come to in my thinking, Ernesto, is that in order for us to see changes in Cuban policy, we have to fight for changes in American policy. If not, the war is lost for people like me, who support a Cuban society that is more just and perfect than what exists today.
March 22 2011