Fernando Ravsberg, 2009-12-10
I recently discovered the work of Fernando Ravsberg, the BBC foreign correspondent in Cuba. Ravsberg churns out some really good articles and interviews on the usual suspects and topics - los Hnos. Castro, Yoani Sanchez, politics, U.S.-Cuban relations, etc. However, in an effort to focus attention on the often ignored struggles and joys of daily life in Cuba for its average citizens (and often in the neglected "provinces," faraway from the overexposed capital city), he also launched a blog, Cartas desde Cuba, two years ago.
His first five posts all appeared in a single week in mid-November of 2007. They covered fascinating subjects like the daily struggles to make ends meet, a handfull of Cuban children abandoned by their parents who live quite well at a state-run orphanage, trying to spend a weekend at Varadero when you (like Ravsberg) are a foreigner with a Cuban spouse (back then, Cubans couldn't stay in hotels and foreigners could only stay in them), the underground rock scene and the youth hang-out at 23 y G in Vedado, and corruption, the black market, and the creeping privatization of state enterprises by their "enterprising" employees.
His fascination with this Cuba, "beyond the headlines," led to his rich and vivid blog (now two years old). To this we can add the rich and provocative comments his world-wide reading audience have sent in.
Here is how he described the purpose and focus of his blogging adventure back in November of 2007:
"In the press we are acoustomed to read, see, or hear about Cuba only when some kind of political event occurs; whether it has to do with Fidel Castro, Cuba's historic leader, or when there is an incident concerning relations with the United States, among other themes. Nevertheless, we know and read little about the day-to-day life of this Caribbean island.Luckily for us, this week-long experiment went so well that Ravsberg decided to continue blogging into 2008 and 2009.
"For that reason, our correspondent Fernando Ravsberg ventured out into the streets in order to search for and write about the daily lives of Cubans, sharing his expereinces with you in these 'Cartas desde Cuba.' We also invite you to read the many comments we have received responding to his work during this week."
His latest post, "You Are Totally Wrong!" is his 100th. It is highly recommended for its wit and for its focus on Cuban political culture, where respectful dialogue and debate is often a faraway dream. Instead, both government critics and pro-revolution stalwarts tend to attack one another with "verbal violence," refusing to ever really hear what the other is saying.
Click above to read the post in Spanish. My translation follows below.
We have arrived at post number 100 and are still alive and kicking, which is something of a success given that we have stuck our noses in just about everyone's business. In any case, our objective was never to garner sympathy but instead to write about the "real" Cuba.
A few weeks before we released our first five "testing-the-waters" blog posts, I mentioned the project to a government official. As if I had told him that I was about to become a drug dealer, he responded with great concern: "Are you going to get involved in that too?"
For them, blogs are the most modern weapon used by "the enemy" against the Revolution. We, on the other hand, see them as a format that allows us to address topics about Cuba that we consider valuable even when they don't constitute "news" properly speaking.
But this nervousness is also due to the fact that some out there want to "clip my wings." For a few years now the competent Cuban authorities have prohibited me from collaborating with any other media outlet apart from the BBC, and they are especially strict with respect to television channels.
The curious thing is that the other side has also made the same mistake. My blog had only just been launched when the U.S. Interest Section in Havana decided to reproduce it in its bulliten. However, soon thereafter the siccors of censure eliminated some of my most "critical" posts aimed at Washington.
The Holy Catholc Church let me know in an informal, non-"inquisitorial" way that some of my posts did not seem objective to them. They referred directly to one of my posts where I described the clergy's position on homosexual rights.
These and other criticisms have allowed me to better understand the French playwright Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais who opined "as long as I don't write about the government, religion, politics, and other institutions, I am free to write about whatever I please."
Moreover, the debates generated within the blog itself reached such a passionate level typical of Cubans that we were forced to ask our readers for a bit more civility and decided not to publish a number of threatening, aggressive, or injurious comments.
One of the comments we decided not to publish came from an emigree, a fierce critic of the lack of freedom of expression in Cuba. In it, the exile proposed organizing a kind of "act of (cybernetic) repudiation" in order to eliminate from the blog another commentator who defended the Revolution.
Curiuosly, a little later, the target of that proposal disqualified another participant by acusing him -without presenting any proof- of receiving money from counter-revolutionary organizations in exchange for posting comments in the blog attacking the Cuban government.
The U.S. intellectual Noam Chomski once expressed an idea that is essential in approaching this situation: "If we do not beleive in freedom of expression for people we disagree with, we do not believe in it at all." Anything else is pure demagogery.
The culture of debate is not very developed among Cubans and this is not a new characteristic. A decade before Fidel Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra, a U.S. magazine published a sharp satire of the Cuban national idiosyncratic character.
Among its recommendations was the advice not to debate islanders because "logic implies reasoning and proper balance, and Cubans are hyperbolic and unbalanced. When they have a discussion, they don't say 'I am not in agreement with you,' but instead scream, 'You are completely and totally wrong'."
Reading over some of the comments on my blog I have thought that the main objective of the writers is to "win the argument," or "impose one's point of view on the other." And in their drive toward "victory," there are those who have appealed to personal attacks, ridiculous claims, and disqualifying language, even going so far as to threaten their opponents.
These are weapons that serve to "defeat" (vencer) an enemy perhaps, but they are totally useless if one seeks to "convince" (convencer) them. This is because the true culture of debate can only exist when we are able to exchange opinions with those who see the world differently than we do.
As unpleasant as it may be for us to talk with our "ideological enemy," it is an enriching act in both directions. It gives us the unique possibility of influencing another with our ideas and arguments and at the same time it allows us to be influenced by new points of view.
The best way to demonstrate that we are defenders of freedom of expression is by practicing it ourselves. It is simple: speak with respect, listen to one another, counter one another's arguments without seeking to draw blood, and, above all, exclude no one.
We know that many of the blogs on both sides of the Cuba debate are in the practice of censoring contrary political ideas. However, our committment here is to remain open to all opinions, following Voltaire's well-known motto: "I do not agree with what you say, but I would give my life for your right to say it."