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The Power of Small Things

August 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Of all the independent journalists and bloggers, perhaps there are no more than 150 across the entire island.  Yet many of us should polish our style.  Sometimes we think well, but rhyme poorly.  On occasion, the words drown us.  And the majority lack resources to engage in active journalism or maintain a blog on the web.

The political prisoner and unofficial communicator, Pablo Pacheco, free in Spain since July 13, thanks to the dialogue between President Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, would update his blog from a prison 400 kilometers from Havana, recording his posts via telephone.  Pacheco never even had a computer.  Now he has one, in Málaga, where he lives with his wife and son.

With the difficulties which Pacheco wrote, many continue to write within Cuba.  On the reverse side of pages with official letterheads, recycling sheets that have some blank space.  Typewriters are still essential for residents outside of the capital.  In the agencies of Eastern Cuba, they peck away at typewriters made in East Germany.

Cuban independent journalism is worthy of commendation.  The lapses in information content and journalistic skill that we might have as free correspondents, are the very same as for the majority of official reporters.

With the difference being that official journalism is more boring than independent journalism.  Working for a State medium tends to burden creativity; and one is closer to being a tamer than a journalist.  Certain sensitive subjects are “guided” via phone by a government censor from his office.

Cuban independent journalism was born in the mid 90s.  With women and men dedicated to changing the established rules of the game, such as Indamiro Restano, Raúl Rivero, Rafael Solano, Rolando Cartaya, Ana Luisa López Baeza, Tania Quintero, Iria González Rodiles, Reinaldo Escobar and Jorge Olivera, among others who broke with the official media.  In spite of the risk of going to prison, they thought it was worth it to describe the reality of their country.

They could have been cynics and opportunists, like certain colleagues in the governmental press.  Some had official recognition.  But they didn’t want to have a car granted them by the State, nor travel to the events and social forums of the worked-up global Left.

Had they continued being followers of the regime, today they would be rubbing elbows with Fidel Castro and have to tolerate, while standing firm, the lecturing on about the unstoppable atomic war that according to Castro is upon us.

They freed themselves from having to listen in silence and chose to be free men and women.  They paid for that choice with jail time, arbitrary detentions, public acts of repudiation, and exile.

The new bunch of independent journalists, save for some exceptions, has no professional training.  Nor do they bring with them that fear in their bodies suffered by those who work in the State media.  Some of them are brilliant, like Luis Cino, Víctor E. Sánchez, Evelyn Ramos, Luis Felipe Rojas and Laritza Diversent.

Since 2007, there’s been an explosion of bloggers.  Many have an intellectual education.  It’s no longer just Yoani Sánchez.  Youth like Claudia Cadelo and Orlando Luis Pardo have very widely read blogs.

Some possess academic resumes that extend over 50 years, like Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos who, in my opinion, have the best political analysis blogs written on the island.

Under all kinds of difficulties, free journalists as well as alternative bloggers, have struck an important goal.  They opened a breach in the iron wall of monopolized news that the Party and Cuban government once held.

Now their opinions and analyses count when it comes to the study of the Cuba issue.  Small things sometimes bring with them winds of hurricane force.  If you doubt it, ask one of the Castro brothers.  They’ve waged plenty of war over it.

Iván García

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Will the Prisons be Filled Again?

August 22, 2010 1 comment

It is a likely probability.  It is known that the Castros are unpredictable.  At times, they attempt to behave like brothers respectful of international norms.  The truth is the rules of democracy and human rights agreements are instruments against which the government in Havana holds grudges.

The three-way negotiations between General Raul Castro with the Cuban Catholic Church, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and a left-wing branch of Barack Obama’s administration, which culminated in the agreement to release the 52 prisoners of conscience from la primavera negra del 2003 (the black Spring of 2003) and promises to reach out to more political prisoners on the island, could become a sterile gesture.

Since Castro II’s speech on the 1st of August, alarms were set off in the Cuban Secret Services.  The General did a 360 degree turn on the alleged easing of tensions and sent a return message to the disidencia del patio (courtyard dissidents).

He said it clearly.  Do not confuse tolerance with impunity. The street belongs to the revolutionaries.  We know what that means.  Beatings by the “pueblo indignado” (incensed citizens), acts of repudiation and thorough verbal lynchings to those who oppose the regime.

State Security took note and began work to gather the necessary pieces in the best way it knows how: repression. On the 5th of August, a date on which the sixteenth anniversary of the maleconazo* is commemorated, the political police conducted an extensive operation against dissidents and independent journalists who that day went to the United States Interests Section to surf the Internet.

Dozens of opponents where detained for up to 12 hours.  All detainees were warned that there would be no impunity.  As part of the strategy, citations and warnings have been issued to independent journalists in different provinces.

Reina Luisa Tamayo suffers fierce harassment at her home in Banes, Holguín, 700 kilometers (approximately 435 miles) from Havana.  They were not satisfied that Reina had lost her son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, after an 86 day hunger strike, last February 23rd.

She is the Lady in White who has been treated most rudely by the political police.  They have not respected her pain as a mother nor have they allowed her to mourn as she is entitled to do.

The question that many ask today is what was the reason to unleash such a raid.  It could be that the government expects more from the European Union and from the United States.  Or, that the release of a handful of prisoners was only a measure to obtain political breathing room and some international credibility.

I have no doubt that there are factions in power with different opinions.  At this moment different springs are moving within the status quo.  He who manages to impose himself will dictate the rules of the game.

If the ‘talibanes’ (Taliban) succeed, the historic hard-line revolutionaries, we will return to the past.  Beware of economic measures and of the iron fist with dissidents.  We will have to wait.

Yet something is certain.  The hasty negotiations of Castro II, the church and Moratinos, left behind some rough edges.  What is important, without a doubt, was the promise to release 52 political prisoners who should have never been in jail.

But apparently neither Cardinal Ortega nor the Spanish Foreign Minister could get General Raul to promise to never again incarcerate someone because of their opinion.  Also not on the agenda, was the abolition of the dark Law 88, which continues to float around the air of the Republic.  With the strike of a gavel, it allows any prosecutor to put a dissident behind bars for 20 years or more.

The Castros may have decided to start playing hard and without gloves again.  A sector of the opposition knows it.  It asks itself if there will be new black summers, winters, autumns or springs.

In 51 years of revolution, prisons have always been full of political prisoners.  They are valuable bargaining chips.  If the regime wants, they could empty them.  Also if it wants, it could fill them once again.

Iván García

*Translator’s note: The Malaconazo was a riot that broke out on the Malecon, Havana’s seawall and waterfront arterial.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo