Dissidence and silence

Diario de Cuba, April 5, 201n

Dissidence and silence

Armando Chaguaceda | Ciudad de México | 5 de Abril de 2017

Status as a “dissident ” is not the product of any coherent calculation. It does not refer to a particular affiliation or a specific creed. It does not even necessarily stem from a primeval hatred of what they call “Revolution.”

It is everyday abuse, accumulated disappointment, insufferable humiliation, and, largely, chance, that turn a simple citizen into a dissident.

You do not need to read Havel, but rather be the victim of an eviction. Neither do you need to embrace the ideas of Adam Smith, but rather witness an act of repudiation perpetrated against a classmate. You do not even have to train with the CIA. It suffices to descry, as an honest Communist (and there are many) the tremendous distance between utopia and reality.

In a country where feigning and opportunism are distinctive hallmarks of the national psyche, you do not need the makings of a hero to become a dissident: the young teacher, struggling against dogma and weariness, who encourages critical thinking in his classes; the activist who fights every day with local bureaucrats to revive the fading life of her neighborhood; the poet who refuses to sell out, and disappears from congresses and catalogues; the humble and fragile woman worker who refuses to renounce her friendship with a neighbor, who happens to support the opposition. These are all dissidents. And not in a metaphorical sense: when the files are opened we will be astonished at the magnitude of the paranoia harbored towards these people. At the end of the day, it is always those in power who define the conditions of existence – and struggle – for who those who reject their plans and policies.

I write these lines after a debate with an old friend. Talented, he believes it possible to make the most out of a kind of dissidence tolerated by those in power. His texts, well composed, convey dreams of a participatory future and a country of citizens. He wants to be, at the same time, a Minister of the Prince and Tribune of the People. Reading it, I think back to those years when, together, we endorsed a sort of millimetric reform, in Havana classrooms and parks, for which we ended up getting a subtle scolding, some direct intimidation and, in the end, a one-way journey.
But we are no longer those young men whose heretical inspiration, the fruit of indoctrination and disinformation, came down from Gramsci. We know, they have shown us, that there is something more: more freedom and injustice, beyond our small circles. We have seen the faces of the oppressor, the beaten mother, the humiliated prisoner and the corrupt official. We pay a price, of distance and displacement, for the wretched circumstances.

That friend, in an attitude that disturbs me, turns his back on dissent. He refuses to debate with dissidents, or to recognize them in his writings, or to ascribe any value to those who embrace this status as Cuban activists and intellectuals. His political choice blends with an ethical stance: to leave to their fate those who struggle, openly, for a better country – with the same rights and hope with which he persists in his dubious pragmatism, counseling those in power. I hope his decision serves him well, and yields some modicum of public decency in the years to come. If this happens, Cuba may not be fully free, but at least it will be more bearable. But if it does not, after having hidden despotism’s victims and resistors, his burden will be heavy. His, and everyone’s.

This article originally appeared in La Razón (Mexico). It is published here with the author’s permission.