On Castro, Martí and Mandela
BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
Spain-based columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner, a critic of the Castro
government, has exchanged a series of open letters with Silvio
Rodriguez, a successful singer and supporter of the revolution.
Montaner's latest touches on the ideals of Cuban icon Jose Martí, and
the kinship, if any, between Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela.
My esteemed Silvio Rodríguez,
I, too, respect the memory of Jose Martí, the most illustrious of all
Cubans, not only the man who, with great sagacity and reason, feared the
imperialistic impulses of the United States in the late 19th century,
but also the man who severely criticized Marx and praised entrepreneurs
with initiative, to the point that he stated: ``But the poor who never
were successful in life, who shake their fists at the poor who enjoyed
success; the luckless workers who burn with anger at the workers with
good fortune, they are fools who would deny human nature the legitimate
use of the faculties that come with it.''
Because I agree with Martí, not with Fidel, it seems to me fine that
someone with your talent, Silvio, managed to enrich himself
legitimately, to own property inside and outside Cuba and own a
prosperous recording company built with the product of his efforts. What
I would like is for the privilege that was granted to you to be turned
into a right and extended to all Cubans. It is cruelly and terribly
impoverishing that as many talented people with initiative as there are
in Cuba have to live subjected to the whims of the commissars and
FREEING THE YOUNG
But let us return to the generation of your son, Silvito ``the free
one,'' which is also the generation of my children, of Cuban blogger
Yoani Sánchez and punk rocker Gorki Aguila. Don't you think it criminal
that those young people are forced to subscribe to the ideas and
prejudices of some muddled-headed octogenarians paralyzed by fear and
dogmatism, who acquired their moral judgments and their perceptions of
reality and social conflicts 60 years ago, under other, radically
We have to free the young generations from that harmful burden so they
may be able to build their lives freely.
I continue with your letter. You say: ``You sketch the distorted Cuba
disseminated by the monstrous networks. By cutting and pasting, you
spread a hatred that has downed planes full of innocent people. I have
always condemned the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo.''
I sketch a distorted Cuba? Does it seem trifling to you that, since the
revolution was installed more than half-a-century ago, 20 percent of the
population has fled aboard every kind of craft, paying for their efforts
with several thousand lives? Are the executions false, the mistreatment
in prisons, the acts of repudiation against those who dare to criticize
the regime? Is censorship a lie?
Remember when mobs beat up Cubans because they wanted to leave the
country, in those ``acts of repudiation'' that have never stopped
because they are now organized against the Ladies in White and the
opposition democrats? Have you forgotten how the authorities confined
homosexuals in concentration camps, how they expelled them from the
university after humiliating them publicly? Is it not true that, in
spring of 2003, they arrested and sentenced 75 people to as much as 28
years' imprisonment for lending forbidden books, asking for a referendum
and writing articles in foreign newspapers?
What does a denunciation of those monstrosities have to do with the
condemnable downing in 1976 of a Cubana de Aviación airliner full of
innocent people, a crime that I find repugnant? You condemn (and I
believe in your sincerity) the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo and
the murder of 41 people in that episode, but why didn't you raise your
voice in the National Assembly of the People's Power to denounce that
crime? You were a deputy, a representative of society. Why did you
remain silent? When those who can speak up dare not to do it, they
become accomplices of the barbarity and contribute to perpetuate it.
Those who wish changes must proclaim so boldly.
SACRIFICE IN ANGOLA
Then you say: ``But who will believe that the Somali dead matter to you,
when you're not interested in the Cubans who gave their lives for a
false hero? I am comfortable in the knowledge that the sacrifice of the
dead in Angola was not in vain. Not only because I saw them fight and
die poor and clean, but also because they were consecrated in eternity
by South Africa's Nelson Mandela. I dare you, Carlos Alberto, to affirm
that Mandela lied when he said that the Cuban presence in Africa meant
the beginning of the end of apartheid.''
Of course, Silvio, I feel for the thousands of Somalis exterminated by
the army of Cuba in an unequal, pitiless war that had nothing to do with
the struggle against apartheid and much to do with gaining victory for
the Ethiopian dictatorship, then an ally of the Soviet Union. Just as
much as I feel for the 3,000 Cubans who left their skin in Africa
because Fidel Castro, without consulting with anyone, not even with the
Communist Party, decided to become a world leader and transformed poor
Cuba in the spearhead of his hunger for international renown and in the
most aggressive and opportunistic pawn of the Cold War.
Why so much sacrifice? At the end, the Cuban troops, among other ironies
of that senseless butchery, wound up guarding the U.S. oil interests in
the zone of Cabinda, and today Angola is a capitalist nation eager to
forget the years when it planned to build a state copied from the Soviet
model. In Angola, nobody remembers that revolutionary project for which
so many Cubans died so futilely.
Don't you think it is time to put an end to the utilization of people
like cannon fodder to satiate the desire for notoriety of a clique
thirsty for power and glory? Don't you think that the leasing of Cuban
doctors and professionals to other countries to pay debts in the name of
international solidarity, as if they were slaves, is a deep offense to
the nation's honor?
My admired Mandela didn't lie, Silvio; his take on the role of Cuban
troops in Africa is simply different from mine. In any case, what
touches me about Nelson Mandela is not his questionable opinion about
the role of Cuban troops in that continent but the democracy and freedom
without ire that he gave all South Africans, instead of following the
totalitarian example of Fidel.
You end your letter in a peculiar way: ``I know that your cunning
arguments will be multiplied a thousandfold more than any truth from
Cuba. From this besieged dignity, I shall continue to sing what I think:
I continue to have many more reasons to believe in the Revolution than
in its detractors. If this government is so bad, where did these very
fine people come from?''
TIME TO RECONCILE
I agree with you, Silvio, that the free press will be more generous with
my explanations than with yours, but that's not your fault. The world
the Cuban revolution was a part of collapsed along with the Berlin Wall,
and today that dictatorship is only an old and discredited fossil, a
distant relative of North Korea, because not even China and Vietnam are
communist regimes, although, lamentably, they continue to be
dictatorships governed by a single, iron-fisted party.
Nevertheless, it seems to be legitimate that you continue to sing what
you think and insist on defending the revolution and the communist
dictatorship. That's your right. I'll say more: the Cuba in the dreams
of millions of Cubans should be a country where you can sing what you
think, but that also has room for Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino, Paquito
D'Rivera and Los Aldeanos. A Cuba without exclusions.
All of us together, Silvio, must forge that tolerant Cuba where no one
is persecuted for expressing his ideas. You are not wrong when you say
that Cubans are ``very fine people.'' All communist dictatorships
suffered under bad governments but they also had very fine people, like
the Sakharovs, the Walesas and the Havels. In Cuba, there's an abundance
of that kind of hero, too. Many of them are in prison.
We have to meet in a clearing of our nation's history to join in the
embrace of reconciliation, freedom and change that almost all of us
desire. Let us leap over our differences, Silvio, and build a better
world for our children. A democratic and free world, like those 20
nations that now lead the planet, those 20 nations to which so many
young Cubans want to escape, as you yourself have warned with much
concern. All of us together, Silvio, peacefully, can change our destiny
and save the future.
With genuine civic cordiality,
Carlos Alberto Montaner