The Cuban Left and the Silence


The Cuban Left and the Silence


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A sign.

In one week, the Cuban State has launched an attack on a sector of society that, despite everything, refuses to choose between submission, exile or silence.

It is placing intense pressure on tolerated NGOs, independent filmmakers and university professors, threatening them, in every case, with putting and end to their activities. They have detained the artist and cultural manager Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the peasant advocate and independent journalist Osmel Ramírez, and community activists Roberto Jiménez and César Iván Mendoza.

They have imposed three years of house arrest on economist Karina Gálvez, seizing her home. And, all the while, Rolando Cáceres continues to languish in prison. Simple and noble people, mestizo Cubans of humble origins, never disciples of Goebbels or ISIS terrorists. People with whom you could enjoy a coffee and a pleasant chat. All in one week.   

And in this same week we learned about the Bolshevik tributes in Havana. Unofficial homages, from those who want to promote “socialism from the bottom up.” Which sounds very good, given the savage form of capitalism that is advancing on the Island. But we see little (or no) solidarity or censure of the prevailing repression perpetrated by those who claim to be fighting for a different kind of Left.

My questions are: is it possible to be one thing without doing other? How long can we talk about Lunacharski without condemning the suppression of Havana’s Bienal? Can one have Troskyist orgasms remembering 1917 and, at the same time, engaging in outbursts that stifle solidarity with those who are being repressed now?  

Being on the Left is defined by intellectual and practical positions with regards to certain issues – sexual diversity, social equity, public liberties – rather than loyalty to dogmas and idols. If you celebrate the workers’ revolution, but simultaneously bite your tongue while a regime (which, to top it off, fancies itself a distant relative of that Revolution) represses specific workers from the country where you live, what kind of Left is that?  

Some time ago, in the leftist groups making up the Observatorio Crítico network, we condemned abuses against Cubans from a range of different groups. We called for the freedom of teaching and the labor rights of colleagues under attack for their ideas or social activism. We pushed for discussions of state censorship, beyond the facile formula of the “Quinquenio Gris” (Five-Year Gray Period) when they threatened to resurrect the repression of the 70s. We also demonstrated our solidarity with the peasants killed in Brazil and with the Poder Popular delegate Sirley Ávila, repressed for defending her constituents in a rural Cuban community.

None of that came without a cost, but I want to recover what (little) we achieved, without anyone’s permission. Processing our fears, inconsistencies, slowness and regression… and, until it happened, it seemed impossible.   

Cuba is more connected today than ever. Its intellectuals enjoy more mobility, networks and opportunities than at any time in history. The discrediting of the regime’s official rhetoric is proportional to its fear and penchant for repression. The common people have expressed their dismay at the current situation, in small (and increasingly frequent) popular protests and is lambasting the Government on Cuba’s buses. Nobody has to call for the storming of the Bastille, but it would be worthwhile for those who want to continue calling themselves intellectuals and leftists to take a good look at the meaning of both words and the scope of their (non) actions.

Maybe they just want to say that they are people of letters, who want to live in peace. Both of these things are very respectable. But they ought not talk, then, about emancipation in the abstract, while actual people nearby are suffering and denouncing concrete attacks. Let’s at least use our words correctly. That’s where it all starts. 

This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is translated and published here with the author’s permission.