Thursday, May 5, 2011
The following comment appeared in response to my "esta será tu ultima vez" post late this afternoon:
"Ted, you've been allowed to go to Cuba 15 times. Just how many times do you think a Cuban communist would be admitted to the US to meet up with American leftists? Zero. And Cuba has legitimate security fears, unlike the US."
My English readers should know that I am in the process of translating my previous post into English. But, while I don't know who this particular anonymous is, his/her question is quite representative of one strain of progressive American thought vis-a-vis Cuba and deserves a thorough response in English.
I share your anger at US government double standards and recognize that all countries - especially the USA under "W." - can be arbitrary and even vindictive about who it lets in and why - especially when it comes to Cubans who are not coming to defect or immigrate but to do academic or political work.
However, you are wrong on three key points:
1) The US does in fact let Cuban communists in to meet with US leftists. I am one of the "leftists" whom they meet with! Although these are mainly academic and cultural meetings not political ones.
What's more, just a month ago in New York we at the Bildner Center hosted a large delegation of what you crudely call "Cuban communists" including a number of "communist economists" like Omar Everleny Perez, Pavel Vidal, Armando Nova, and Camila Pineiro-Harnecker (see their and other presentations on changes to Cuba's economy here). All were very sharp, frank, and open to tough questions; and none had the blood of Cuban children running down their chins.
That delegation also included the former diplomat and current political scientist and University of Havana professor Carlos Alzugaray whose visa was inexplicably delayed. A number of US academics (including yours truly) and leftist activists wrote e-mails and made calls to Washington to be sure this particular Cuban communist was able to come and meet with us. In the end, he made it in time for his panel and even joined me for an after-party we threw for the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura.
Que viva el dialogo!
How do I know Carlos? Well, I met him in 1999 on one of my earlier trips to Cuba. This was one of the 15 research-related trips I have made to the island on a tourist visa. However, it was the only one where I went to participate in an official academic conference. It's funny, but I wasn't interrogated or told never to return on that trip even though I was attending an academic conference on a tourist visa. It seems that no one minded then.
In fact, back then while I was still in graduate school, I met a lot of "Cuban communists" but most of them I met at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, not in Havana.
How is it possible that I met them when, as you say, zero Cuban communists are allowed into the US. Well, it turns out that many were in fact allowed in during the Clinton years.
Let's see, back then at Tulane or elsewhere in the US I had the privilege of meeting Rafael Hernandez, Roberto Gonzalez (rip), Julio Carranza, Pedro Monreal, Esteban Morales, Alfredo Prieto, Aurelio Alonso, Lillian Llanes, Rufo Caballero (rip), Emilio Ichikawa, Wilfredo Cancio, and Leonardo Padura among others. Granted, some of these Cubans were never, or are no longer, communists, and some of them no longer live in Cuba - but among them are some real, live Cuban communists.
2) Your statement insinuates that I am a political conservative who went to Cuba to meet with politicians or activists of the far right.
Wrong on both counts. I am a social democrat (though we don't have that particular political designation in the US) and I did not go to Cuba to meet anyone of any particular political faction or tendency. Instead, I went to learn what some micro-entrepreneurs think of Raul's economic changes.
I also went to explicitly get beyond the Yoani-centric view of the Cuban blogosphere. I do admire Yoani, consider her a friend, and have defended her in the past from groundless accusations and defamations, but my goal in meeting with bloggers (including her and her husband Reinaldo Escobar) was not to wave a flag for her (she needs little help from me).
Instead, following the advice of Carlos Alzugaray actually (who encouraged me last year to get to know the bloggers from Havana Times and Bloggers Cuba), my purpose was to learn from a wide variety of bloggers themselves about how and why they began to write blogs, how they organize their collective portals, and how they maintain an independent voice in an atmosphere where it is all too common to dismiss those one disagrees with as either "oficialista" (a government mouthpiece) or "mercenaria" (a lackey of imperialism).
3) I will grant you the fact that Cuba has legitimate security concerns from the US (especially given the US embargo and efforts to destabilize the government) but you have to grant me the fact that those concerns are often manipulated and exaggerated for political purposes to stifle legitimate dissent and independent thought and action.
Moreover, as Cuban blogger Alfredo Fernandez has written at Havana Times, it makes no logical sense to conflate "dissidents" with "mercenaries" since the first are presumably motivated by ideas, while the second are only after the money. But I guess politics has a logic all its own.
The US also has very legitimate security concerns, but it is not from Cuban communists.
Additionally, I have a long public record of transparency and fair-mindedness. If Cuba's State Security is as good as everyone says it is, they'd know that they have nothing to fear from me as I am independent, inclusive almost to a fault, and have nothing to hide.
I even meet periodically for lunch and conversation here in NYC with members of Cuba's Mission to the UN - who were well aware of my plans to visit Cuba in April. Perhaps naïvely, I gave them the address and phone number where I'd be staying so the ones now back in Cuba could look me up. (They had promised to treat me to a mojito my next time in Havana).
I assume they are all diplomats, but am well aware that at least some could also be spies. Still, we have frank and often friendly conversations over our New York curry. We often agree about US foreign policy but rarely do so about Cuban domestic policy.
In fact, this past year for Christmas they kindly presented me with a bottle of contraband Havana Club "Anejo Reserva" to keep me warm during these long and brutal NYC winters. I wonder if they will continue to meet with me now that I'm presumably a "persona non grata" in the eyes of their government's security forces.
Or as OLPL so appropriately put it in his blog today: perhaps for them, "Ya no soy El Yuma sino solo un Yanqui."
I repeat, neither Cuban State Security nor the Cuban government has anything to fear from me unless, of course, they fear balanced inquiry and open, honest, and fair dialogue.
At first I thought that I was interrogated and sent packing because I had met with cyber-activists who criticize the government. But now I am wondering if just the opposite isn't true.
It seems from the segurosos' comments in the airport that what most bothered them was that I had reached out with respect and understanding to bloggers such as Elaine Diaz (whom the government has tried to turn into a revolutionary saint) or La Joven Cuba (whom critics of the government have dismissed as "oficialistas"). As Elaine says, let's do away with these celebratory adjectives and dismissive epithets and just call them "bloggers y punto."
Leaders often come to power through a just fight against real enemies. However, those same leaders often resort to inventing new enemies in order to retain their power - perhaps because they don't trust future generations to run things as they have.
As we saw very clearly in the "ciberguerra" video of the "Razones de Cuba" mini-series, the security apparatus prefers to have Cuba's young bloggers isolated and divided - alternately calling one another "oficialista" and "mercenaria" - than coming together with one another in critical, constructive, and respectful dialogue and debate.
If they did that, they just might find that there is more that unites than divides them as young, modern, tech-savvy Cubans searching for their own voices and (cyber)spaces where they can together build the foundations of the Cuba of the future.
Posted by El Yuma @ 11:35 PM