Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cubans and the Lessons from Myanmar

If a disturbing phrase from Milan Kundera affirms that man can never know how to deal the challenges of each day because life is a performance with no rehearsals, a painting without a sketch, a game played without training, then it is also true that there is a generally useful method for us to try to anticipate events, as fortune tellers sniff out the future in the palms of our hands.

It is this: to be attentive to history. Not the History in capital letters that we learn from our school books, but the history that is happening in this second all around us and of which we are an indivisible part.

We can say that for all Cubans, and in particular for the millions spread across the four corners of the earth, this is a method highly recommended for these times. Let’s look at it.

If the exiles from Myanmar — democratic citizens whom a fierce military junta forced to flee from their land over decades — had been told years ago that in 2012 there would be nothing stranger than the current situation of their country, they surely would not have believed it.

Burmese activists founded hundreds of organizations in exile, groups that served, especially starting in the ’90s, as the only sources of information about a country where it was impossible for observers and journalists to enter or leave.

In Thailand alone, Myanmar exiles created 200 associations to denounce and fight politically, receiving substantial funding and help from the international community. They were respected, and their demands for changes in a gagged and repressed country were heard.

But unexpected events rearranged the chessboard, changed the positions of the pieces. Some were even taken off the board. And those turned out to be none other than the ones who had historically played the harshest roles.

The military junta that ruled the destiny of the Buddhist nation since 1962 was dissolved in 2011. Free elections were called. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience were released, including those who had been rotting in the frozen dungeons  — such as the comedian U Maung Thura, sentenced in 2008 to 45 years for criticizing the government’s management during the terrible Nargis hurricane — and those who had suffered house arrest — such as the famous Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. And so with each passing day it became more difficult for the exiled Burmese to sustain their confrontational positions toward the diluted dictatorship of modern times.

Or at least to do it without seeming like rebels without a cause.

According to the New York Times, organizations such as the Vahu Development Institute, founded in 1980 by Burmese students exiled in Thailand, suddenly lost their sponsorships, their financial and political support, for one basic reason: the NGOs previously backing their work now believed that if the activists wanted to continue printing banners with Aung San Suu Kyi, now freed and nominated for the Burmese Parliament, and to demand free elections which had already been called, they should do it with their own resources.

Some have returned to the changing Myanmar. The vast majority have not. Rooted in their lives in exile, they have built their families, their businesses, their political doctrines, on a base that has suddenly started to crumble: the enemy has not totally evaporated, but almost. Myanmar has changed before their eyes, and they are no longer in the game.

With their poorly healed loves, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, they don’t see they have ceased to be anachronistic fighters facing the reality they sought, dreamed of, fought for. The tragedy now is that  they can’t stop seeing it, and they cannot adapt themselves to the new circumstances.

I don’t believe there is a more suggestive and instructive example for us, Cubans of the diaspora, than this logical course taken by a country where, since 2007, the monks — is there an image more peaceful than that of a Buddhist monk? — were met with bullets in their marches in opposition.

To compare the lethargic moves of the military junta leading Cuba with the process implemented in Myanmar would be hasty and inexact. But to ignore the fact that a journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step, is to make the mistake that this example of the Buddhist nation alerts us to: to close our eyes and remain in our entrenched positions. To fail to pay attention.

The government of Raul Castro has generated no political change of real weight. But to refuse to admit that in the last four years Cuban society has experienced more alterations than in the last two decades of Fidel’s mandate, would be naive, as well as damaging to winning strategies.

The more superficial and insufficient, the more elementary we assume these changes to be, and above all — after a wait of five plus decades — to deny their existence, does no harm to the government in Havana, nor does it do any favors to the democratic exiles. Rather, it is the first step along this treacherous road of disconnect that many Burmese exiles are now experiencing.

Success against an entrenched enemy, one that has been barely damaged by the techniques of the siege, lies in taking advantage of its timid, trembling, cautious, cowardly, and at times imperceptible maneuvers of surrender.

I could not say that the release of the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, the respect for religious freedom (which even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in 2010), the sale and purchase of houses and cars, or the implementation of lines of credit to support the businesses of entrepreneurs, are the trumpets that announce the cataclysm. But taken all together, looked at under an objective prism, they can only point toward changes in survival that, if the millions of Cuban exiles know how to take advantage of them, could imply much more than that.

The half century of antagonistic positions do not leave us at the margin of a Cuban reality that is inevitably dialectical, and that at this very minute could be living its death rattle in an atmosphere of misleading passivity. As it has always been. So be it. Minutes before their collapse, all the buildings stood proudly.

Those who have committed their lives in body and soul to reclaiming a nation, “For all and for the good of all,” from an exile never desired, have a challenge of precise intelligence this time, of precious calculation: to not allow the democratization of Cuba to begin with them out of the game. Myanmar leaves her lesson in our hands.

(Published originally in Spanish in Martí Noticias)

February 27 2012

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Harlequin Memoirs

If a some genuine idolatry remains for the old, the idolater must be suffering a severe existential crisis. The lackeys with pedigree, the real ones, suffer the unspeakable when their idols are revealed as mere humans, and, in cases like this — Fidel Castro publicly exposed for 6 hours — a human grotesque.

To associate the iconographic Fidel Castro, the one that obliged Virgilio Piñera to clench his sphincter so as not to urinate in fear of at behemoth with a gun in his belt he met in 1961 with other intellectuals gone astray; to associate with this old man of bony cheekbones, emancipated jaw and eyes moving against the grain of the story, could be understood in the field of biology, but idolaters assume biology as a matter of mortals. And how to get an idea that the Supreme Leader also will become sometime a graceful old man like this, an old man who only serves to be made fun of?

The ominous symbolism this man carries does not impede us from enjoying the hilarious comedy that featured in his most recent speech at the launch of his memoirs in the Palace of Conventions in Havana.

Guerrilla of Time, is the title of this book from Katiuska Blanco, the diligent scribe destined to type these nearly thousand pages of fiction separated into two volumes. Guerrilla of Time. The satraps and their unique manias: some raised pyramids, others constructed memoirs with pharaonic titles.

Maybe the two volumes of this quasi-posthumous delirium of Fidel Castro will no longer serve to decorate the official salons and as gifts for the party vanguard, but the colorful launch of this caprice of power, what was said and not said in this little room of the Palace of Conventions, is not wasted. As they are quick to say: there History was made.

The old man spoke of the human and divine. His audience, composed of an exotic mortar of frauds, idolaters, and useful idiots, laughed heartily when the commander asked them to, and stifled their genuine laughter when prudence suggested it.

The old man dropped priceless pearls. Example: he called the Republican candidate Mitt Romney “the least unbearable of the unbearables,” revealed a top secret by claiming that the British intended to drill for oil in the Falklands, and muttered his personal definition of what the Internet is: “a revolutionary instrument that allows the receiving and transmitting of ideas in both directions, something we must learn to use.”

Among lightheadedness and hiccups, including delusions and voice problems, now whispering, now pronouncing indecipherable gibberish like one who speaks an extinct language, Castro more of an exhibition than ever, mentioned, for example, a hybrid between his deceased sister-in-law and the president of Brazil (“Vilma” Rousseff); confessed the error of setting an entire people to study Russian when the whole world was learning English; and when they gave him the phone to talk to the released spy Rene Gonzalez, he mistook him for another member of the Wasp network behind bars, Antonio Guerrero.

He was commanded to run.

So as not to clash with the atmosphere of comic theater, the two cultural acolytes who escorted the lean leader this time, gathered in their harvest. Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, said of this memoir that “many people in the world today, facing the barbarism, will run to look for it” as a manual of solutions. Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, went further: “This book recreates the life of the Commander like a film in the third dimension.”

In all probability this could be the last major public appearance of yesterday’s strongman of the island, today a framework of bones, badly combed hair and babbling colors. I do not think his body can take another six hours of cantata, although with this archaeological specimen one never knows, really.

But like a bittersweet ending, as this turn of tragicomedy that cuts the smile until it becomes a painful grimace, the presentation of the first two volumes of the memoirs of Fidel Castro will leave an image as an historical shame: intellectuals, artists, scientists, teachers, converted into puppets on their strings who applaud, laugh or get excited at the moment a brain scorched by the time requests it, and even, if necessary, an auditorium that would become the army of nurses willing to change the soiled diaper of the incontinent leader.

February 9 2012


Reina Luisa’s Other Versailles

If, at the moment she stepped foot on U.S. soil that June 9, 2011, someone had whispered in Reina Luisa Tamayo’s ear that barely seven months later, this January 31, 2011, she would be at the Versailles Restaurant not as a heroic mother, but as a woman in need of support and understanding; no longer a protagonist of a campaign to defend universal human rights for which her son died, but rather in a campaign for her own economic aid, she wold have thought it was one more of Castro’s manipulations.

Too many lies had been targeted at this humble woman who, in the midst of her pain, had to see herself on Cuban television, spied on by a hidden camera in the office of her son’s doctor, maligned, even about her integrity as a mother.

Seven months ago Reina Luise appeared before other cameras, at the Miami International Airport, with the ashes of her poor son in her arms, surrounded by a delegation of activists and leaders of the exile — including a federal congresswoman — receiving the treatment of a heroine: admiration, promises of aid, family invitations, a site for the eternal rest of her son. The media fought over her. Everyone wanted to talk to her, congratulate her, honor her. Reina Louisa was news.

Behind the scenes, the only ones ignorant of what would soon happen in their lives, were the twelve family members who sought political asylum at her side, and Reina Luisa herself.

Recent statements by the Lady in White, offered to the journalist Pedro Sevcec on his program “Sevcec a Fondo” of América TeVé, where she stated explicitly that on her arrival in the United States she was manipulated, and that she and her twelve family members felt cheated, and where she tried to keep her voice from cracking when she responded the question of the host about whether she regretted coming to this country, were the sad time bomb that we all knew would eventually have to explode.

The first signs appeared months earlier. A man who carries the same surnames — Zapata Tamayo — Rogelio, Orlando’s older brothers, told a reporter of the Gen TV chain words that shocked the ears of the Cuban “historic exile”:

“This has all been a deception, since we arrived, first they told us one thing, then they told us another, and at the end of the day, the truth is we don’t know what’s what. Everything becomes political. I’m not political, I don’t engage in politics… what I lived in Cuba, I did in Cuba. My principal objective here is to work and I can’t figure out how to do that.”

Lately, Reina Luisa prefers not to give interviews. It’s easy to see why.

But now she has broken her silence and returned to the news, this time to look at the promises that lured her to American soil which turned out to be unreal, to present how she and her family have been simply used by a political and ideological machinery opposed to what harassed her in Cuba, the real story has surfaced. And in a very painful way.

First the family was lacerated by the Cuban government’s repression. Then, the sordid reality of a distant exile, where many end up dying of a badly healed nostalgia, and where those who don’t know how to care for themselves only have one option in the range of possibilities: to never come.

Would it be wroth it to investigate the history of the broken promises made to this family by the exile organizations and leaders? Of course. Not to corroborate what we already know, but to demonstrate how much these humble Cubans were lied to in order to bring more victims to Miami, at any cost.

It would be worthwhile to ask who told thirteen people, with poor educations, and a woman of 65 with health problems, that they would be supported indefinitely in a city where everyone has to strive not to increase the existing 11.5% unemployment figure, and where thousands of those born here, bi-lingual, and with full knowledge of the society, cannot get jobs to support themselves, or must work as cleaners — as Reina Luise states she has had to do — in order to pay their bills.

When Reian Luisa, implored from Banes, Holguin, to change the family’s original destination from Arizona to warm and “known” Miami, she thought she knew what she was doing. That is: to arrive at the place where her comrades in the cause and pain could better help her and hers. The efforts of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, turned her request into an immediate order.

Today, Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother is learning her lesson in the most difficult was possible: in free societies, not only do we enjoy inalienable rights, we also contract enormous obligations. The first and foremost: the obligation to take care of our own lives. So we live in the best part of the civilized world. So we live in the society of the United States where, hopefully I’m wrong, Reina Luisa will probably never adapt.

To all this, the crossfire. From Cuba the propaganda apparatus laughs and shows a captive people the benefits of an exile, where icons, like Reina Luisa, say they feel betrayed seven months after arriving in freedom. In Miami, too many voices begin to use words like “ungrateful” and “unfair” to name the thirteen relatives of the martyr.

How do you explain to a woman who did not choose her own destiny, who has been a victim of it; a woman lacking education, without her Santiago birthplace and her adopted Banes, without an existence beyond the excruciating pain of losing a child; how to you explain to her that now she and hers must fend for themselves, away from the television cameras, away from the headlines, without organizations or politicians now too absorbed in election year politics?

How do you make her understand that the concept of the paternalistic State, where houses “are given,” where you don’t have to pay for health care, where if you lack sugar or rice the solution is to ask to borrow from the misery of your neighbor, that all that is in the past, that in this land not only is freedom won, but, above all, responsibility for one’s own destiny.

How do you make her understand that she would be invited to speak to the Congress of the United States, that she would be invited to tell her story in Boston and Puerto Rico, but that once the narration was finished she would have to pay her own bills for electricity, cable, telephone and transportation?

No, it’s not possible. As it is not possible to return her son to her, and to return her happy and humble life in Banes from years earlier to her. Like it will not be possible to go from door to door of all those in Miami who promised her guaranteed support, and demand that they fulfill their promises.

The image of Reina Luisa Tamayo this January 31 in the Versailles restaurant, appealing to her symbolism to move the sentiments of anyone who could offer a job in consolation for her and some of her family members, seems to me a huge sadness. And I suspect that those directly responsible for this reality don’t even know what has happened today to the mother of Orlando Zapata, nor do they care.

February 1 2012