Estado de Sats / State of Sats, Translator: Unstated
Our rallying point: the Invisible Church.
And our fundamental currency: freedom of thought.
(Letter from Hegel to Schelling)
In 1998, When John Paul II had not yet boarded the plane back the Holy
See, I witnessed the following: coming out of a building on Linea
between 4th and 6th I was perplexed to see an army truck and several
soldiers who were tearing down the posters of his Holiness hung on each
of the light standards in the central boulevard of the avenue. One or
another passerby and/or neighbor approached to timidly reprove them with
a "Why are you doing that?"; others asked them to please give them the
posters, but the soldiers had already destroyed those they'd torn down.
The pieces were all over the bed of the truck. And what was worse, those
soldiers — visibly angry — accompanied their violent gestures of
dismantlement with insults directed against the figure of the Pope.
I don't know why I thought at that moment that they were expressing the
mood of Raul Castro. I wondered how it was possible that his brother had
renounced the olive-green uniform to receive the Pontiff in a suit, and
as happy as child, while the soldiers of the People's Revolutionary Army
carried out the offensive orders of their minister, which Fidel could
not be unaware of. The visit of John Paul II was no more than a farce,
as will be that of Benedictus VXI.
The only thing the upcoming Papal visit could serve, other than the
personal objectives of both Raul Castro and Jaime Ortega, is for the
people experience a catharsis shouting Freedom! at the top of their
lungs in the Plaza of the Revolution, but this won't happen. Nor will
there be space for dialog between his Holiness and the dissidents. The
former Civic Plaza will be filled to the brim with the volunteer mob,
Communist Youth League and Communist Party militants, those pressured by
political and mass organizations who haven't found a plausible excuse
not to go, and, of course, true Catholics.
A good part of the crowd will be brought in from other provinces in
those yellow school buses donated by "the empire." There will be no
space for dialog with the opposition ("little groups of
counterrevolutionaries directed by the anti-Cuban mafia from abroad,"
according to the interpretation the Pope will get used to during his visit).
The other side of the coin is that save for the fanatics, those who take
advantage of the system, and those convinced thanks to a neural deficit,
the rest who will gather there (in uniform or out of it) don't support
the government. Instead, they will remain silent because they see no
other option. What is the real reason for the neglect of the Cubans on
the Island that no Pope could remedy?
The question I asked myself that day in 1998 on Linea Street I continue
to ask: how can I stop this outrage? To throw myself against a truck
filled with soldiers would be ridiculous, but after 14 years at least I
have a part of the answer. First, what has failed: the connection
between the people in the opposition and external support for the
promotion of democracy.
The Cuban government seems to have been more aware of it than the exile
and its own internal opposition. Regarding the first, they focused on
isolating and demonizing the opponents, which was effective, primarily
due to State control of all communication media (including cellphones
and the Internet). With respect to the second, the government victory
was even easier, brought about by the exile itself.
In the first place, if an opponent receives 50 dollars a month from the
exterior, with that he can feed and clothe himself badly; in the second
place, the money received should not be destined for these needs, and in
addition such payments leave the beneficiary unable to respond to the
accusation of being a mercenary. In the third place, if the 20 million
dollars released every year by USAID to promote democracy in Cuba remain
primarily in Miami — without producing the hoped for results over all
these years and without the Agency itself seeming to be aware of it —
there doesn't seem to be much interest, either in the anti-Castro
capital or in Washington, in the fall of the Cuban regime. As we can
see, things are not going well at all.
Within the Island, direct confrontation is necessary but not sufficient.
To achieve the connection of the people with the opposition a foundation
of civility must be forged in which the "People" — a nationalist
category that reaches its highest expression in totalitarian contexts —
can dismantle themselves into associations of individuals, while the
dissidence structures itself in the form of independent projects,
focusing everything, from the most diverse perspectives, on
That is, the dissidence should have as its objective not the government,
but the institutions of the State. They must feed on them, in a way that
intellectuals and professionals in general migrate to independent
projects, casting — together with the associations mentioned above — the
foundations of the civil society that will shelter the political opposition.
The way in which financing is allocated must be legitimate and
transparent. That the 20 million in USAID doesn't come to this Island is
undoubtedly bad. But if it did come, there would be no ethical and legal
basis within which to put such aid to use. Now, if it greatly encouraged
cultural, academic, environmental, gender, and a long list of similar
independent projects, then we would be talking about something quite
transparent that happens every day in all countries. Obviously, it would
be an exchange, not a source of subsistence (which the Cuban government
has become accustomed to since the Soviet era and, it seems, does not
want to renounce); the funding should be reciprocated with results.
That peculiar phenomenon of what, in Cuba, are governmental NGOs and
quasi-official projects, obviously, would be excluded from the truly
independent projects which, from the most diverse expressions, have as
their line of work the promotion of freedom and democracy.
We take up the second point that never ceases to be interesting, as it
always involves the issue of the embargo. The Cuban government — among
its other limited options — plans to sustain itself in the post-Chavez
era from travel and remittances, while the more radical part of the
exile calls for a ban on both (for 5 years) for recent arrivals who,
naturally, reject that idea.
Well, if the bulk of funding goes to civic-based independent projects,
rather than fills the government's coffers, the result would be a
strengthening of civil society. I believe that the defenders of the
embargo would understand this as a price worth paying. In such a case it
would maintain the exchange, and the underdog would be the Cuban
government. Other variants have already been tried and there hasn't been
one in which the losers aren't the citizens and the opposition.
In sum, the transparent exchange — of the foreign institutions and the
emigration itself — with professional independent projects, that focus
their work on promoting freedom and democracy, is not just a way to
resolve the tricky issue of income to the Island (travel and remittances
included), but of depriving the government of the possibility of
leveling the charge of mercenaries against opponents and dissidents, who
could achieve on this basis the connection with the citizenry, and get a
certain legitimacy and protection (this latter, the understanding that
the police themselves will demand a bribe).
But most important is that such an exchange is going to be structuring
Cuban civil society. For me, it is clear that the destiny of the Castro
regime is in the hands of the Internet, of the independent projects
combined with the opposition, and of the socialist corruption (which
widely transcends the limits of the bureaucracy). With this amalgam
everything is possible; without it there will be more of the same, that
is, a re-adaptation, a perestroika (reconstruction).
The way in which the government is confronted in this peaceful struggle
for democracy must change (diversify), but the points of weakness must
also be known, so as not to be plowing the sea. What moves everything on
the Island — including militants, police, generals, doctors, ministers,
teachers, students, retirees and even "the grass our plants trample*" —
is money. And if there is something else that could be destabilizing, it
is the elimination of the exit permit.
So, forget the Pope (who neither can nor wants to be the solution) and
focus on the real problem, because if the political-military
dictatorship is still standing, it is due not only to the passive United
States policy of letting the fruit ripen, but to the ineffectiveness of
emigration and of the exile itself. We are still immersed in the dilemma
of choosing Maceo's machete or Marti's pen, when what we need is just a
little bit of pragmatism.
*Translator's note: From a poem by Jose Marti.