Friday, April 03, 2009

"Could it be that the battle of ideas is already over and we don’t know it?"

Something is happening in Cuba.

Last Sunday, at the Wifredo Lam Center in Havana, the performance artist Tania Bruguera did something unusual. She offered the microphone to anyone who wanted to speak, for one minute, about anything they wanted. Several Cuban writers and artists got up and spoke their minds.

Yesterday, the official Tenth Biennial Havana Organizing Committee issued a furious denunciation of Bruguera's performance and all those who accepted her invitation to the microphone.

The Committee's declaration alleges the event was deliberately staged to "strike a blow at the Cuban Revolution. . . in the service of the anti-Cuban propaganda machine," and concludes with this stunning example of newspeak: "In spite of these provocations, la Bienal will keep on being a place of anti-hegemonic rebelliousness impregnated with heresy and authentic dissent that defined the success of the Cuban Revolution for the artists of Cuba and for the world."

Among those who took the opportunity to speak from the podium was a young writer with the pen name Octavo Cerco. Her report of the event includes an account of what people had to say for themselves. She said: “One day may we all have all the minutes of the day to say anything we want in front of the microphone. And also, may those who have the opportunity today, take a minute, or even less, to speak the truth.” She then added: "One day, freedom of speech in Cuba won’t be a performance."

The police were called, but everything was over, and there was nothing for them to do. But judging by the Biennial Committee's inflammatory declaration, they may be busy soon. Reuters reports: "Participants were flanked by two actors dressed in olive green fatigues. A white dove was placed on the shoulder of each speaker in an apparent parody of a famous speech by Fidel Castro." I doubt that this will sit well with the boss class.

Reinaldo Escobar, an independent journalist who writes from Havana and also took his minute to speak at the event, raises a couple of questions: "Was there not, that night, among so many people, one party militant or member of the Young Communist Union, or a single prominent member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who would have taken the initiative in front of the microphone to “step up and call out” what the committee has called, “a provocation against the Cuban Revolution”? . . .Could it be that the battle of ideas is already over and we don’t know it?"

Reinaldo is the husband of the best known Cuban blogger, the essayist and philologist Yoani Sánchez, who appears to have been the star of the show. Among the things she said: The Internet is becoming a public square for discussion where we Cubans write our opinions. The real Island has started to be a virtual Island. More democratic and more pluralistic. Sadly, these winds of free expression that travel the net with difficulty have been looking out from our monitored reality. Let’s not wait for them to allow us to enter the Internet, have a blog, or write an opinion. Now is the time for us to jump the wall of control.

Her full statement is here. Her account of the event is here. Yoani's writing is astonishing. Like this: It turns out that I don’t exist, because no state entity has me inventoried, because I don’t pay a fee to a union or appear on the list of some workplace cafeteria. Although I walk, sleep, love and even complain, I lack a certificate-of-existence that would give me affiliation to a small—and boring—number of neogovernmental organizations. In practice, I’m a civic ghost, a non-being, someone unable to show the sharp eye of the doorkeeper even the slightest proof of being in the official mechanisms.

Another Cuban writer to watch is Miriam Celeya. Like this meditation on the emergence of parking attendants in Havana in the spaces that parking meters used to be: This is a genuine product of social efficiency, in which the state—always so paternal—has created a separate category of pseudo-employment endorsed in a person to whom a red cap and vest are given, along with credentials that attest to his status as an officially-licensed worker. Thus legalized, the parking attendant provides the state with a tax deducted from the proceeds obtained by his “work.”

Venceremos, companeros y compeneras.


Blogger Fabián said...

*compañeros y compañeras*

1:48 AM  
Blogger Fabián said...

the ñ is alt+164.

1:49 AM  
Blogger BHCh said...


4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Cuba the usage would be simply companeros. If there is one male in the group you use the masculine form.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Bahamagray: I did not know that. I figured if the usage was good enough for Mexicans it was good enough for me. I haven't been to Cuba in some while.

Thanks for the tip, Fabian (which is the alt key for the accent above the a?)

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and the world's largest open air prison continues to slowly decay under the watchful eyes of the elite jailers.

4:14 PM  

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