Monday, December 28, 2009

Open Letter Condemning Recent Obstructions and Prohibitions of Social and Cultural Initiatives - Observatorio Crítico

My good friend, Sam Farber (pictured to the left), old school New York Juban, political scientist professor emeritus at Brooklyn College, and proud socialist critic of the Cuban regime, sent me news on Sunday of the following declaration.

"Intellectuals and Academics on the Island Protest Against 'Obstructions and Prohibitions' of the Government" (see the full story in Spanish at Diario de Cuba and see the full text of the declaration itself in Spanish at the Observatorio Crítico blog here or at My translation of the declaration follows along with a few photos of some of the letter's signers (in this case, 6 youthful Cubans, each of whom has his or her own blog/diary at Havana

In the time it took me to receive, read, and translate the document into English over the past few days, a number of reactions to it have already appeared in cyberspace. As usual, one of the most interesting and provocative reactions is the one posted just a few hours ago by Yoani Sanchez at Generacion Y, "¿Qué hiciste cuándo vinieron buscando al inconforme?" (for the English version, "What did you do when they came looking for the nonconformist?").

Among a number of other incisive words of praise and criticism for the letter, Sanchez includes these two items:

"The society that I intuit from this document scares me; one where we can speak openly about Trotskism, Anarchism, or Socialism, but one where we must also remain gaged when it comes to words like Social-Democrat, Christian-Democrat, or Liberal. If this is their proposal, I'm very sorry, but that is not the country where I want my grandchildren to grow up...

"In order to put this idea in the proper context, I would like to ask those who have signed this document if they will remain silent when they come looking for a 'counter-revolutionary,' a 'worm,' or a 'dissident'; if they will be among those who target the victims at the repudiation attacks or among those who defend them."

These virtual polemics, debates, and conversations are a great sign of the increasing public profile of the richness and diversity of opinion in a country often mistakenly thought to be monolithic. They are also a sign that Cubans (especially young and computer literate Cubans) are actively contributing to the deepening of Cuba's so-far mostly virtual civil society.
Stay tuned...

Open Letter Condemning Recent Obstructions and Prohibitions of Social and Cultural Initiatives

“When they came looking for the Jews, I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; When they came looking for the communists, I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; When they came looking for the trade unionists, I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came looking for me—but there was no one left to speak out for me." - Martin Niemöller

Only a little time after the exhaustive "public" analysis of the "gray" period in recent history, the scent of a possible re-pavonization is in the air once again.* Without intending to attribute universal responsibilities to any specific person or institution, we have taken note of a series of actions that have slowly created a new climate of bureaucratic-authoritarian control and the obstruction of social initiatives. Each episode taken separately calls to mind the well-known cultural practices of the 1970s. Here we summarize some of the cases we know best:

  • The obstruction of the participation of a group of comrades who carried environmental and independent socialist placards to the May Day parade of 2008; some of these comrades were later fired from their jobs;
  • The prohibition of a student space where political and social issues important to our country could be debated (from a Socialist perspective), initially recognized by the Philosophy Department of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (INSTEC), culminating in the expulsion of a student from the University Student Federation (FEU) and the firing of a professor from said Institute;
  • The firing of various workers from their jobs and the political organizations where they were active for having received and/or published friendly proposals and criticisms at the digital space "Kaos en la Red" (socialist and counter-hegemonic); with the allegation that workers were engaging in an inappropriate use of the web;
  • The continued exclusion of underground Hip-Hop artists from public spaces, performance venues, and the mass media, along with police persecution of some of these artists;
  • The obstruction of the free entry of the public to the most recent of the "Último Jueves" (Last Thrusday) open debate sessions, organized by Temas magazine;
  • Obstruction, detentions, and impediments of participation in the march/performance against violence anonymously held on November 6, 2009;
  • Pressure applied on the Esquife project, the organizer of the "Encuentro Teórico Medios Digitales y Cultura" (Theoretical Meeting of Digital Media and Culture), and a demand to control public access to the event;
  • A repudiation attack, in the presence of police and ambulances, against the autonomous project OMNI-Zona Franca and their expulsion from the site they had occupied for the past 10 years in the Fayad Jamís Gallery of Alamar, along with the end of support for the "Festival Poesia Sin Fin" (Pointless Poetry Festival) from state culture officials;
  • The firing of two employees at Television Granma on the charge that they had transmitted “pornographic material” (a cutting-edge video clip that had won various awards in events sponsored by ICAIC), an act that provoked an official protest from the provincial UNEAC.
Each of these instances share a common element. They are actions that originate from the world of “official institutions” and are deployed against cultural initiatives characterized by their activist commitment on behalf of an autonomous solidarity. We are very worried about the possibility that these kind of incorrect and sterilizing actions could represent a more general policy. We see in them the resurgence of a way of thinking that we believed had been abandoned in the cultural life of our country.

We are against this kind of silent repression that is impacting projects and people whose only “error” has been to carry out organic initiatives not previously “dictated from on high.”

If capitalism is the power of capital over everyday people, then we are against capitalism, and if “socialism” is the power of a bureaucracy over the rest of society, then we are also against that kind of “socialism”. However, socialism doesn't have to be that. The socialism that excites us is the kind of project that socializes –that is, shares– all its resources, where we all have equal access to exercise power; and no one should conclude from this that we are mere utopians: a number of such homes and collectives already exist that make real these kind of practices.

The growing policy of conceiving of anyone who thinks or acts differently from what has been deemed “acceptable” as “dissidents,” “mercenaries,” or “counter-revolutionaries” has absolutely no impact on the real counter-revolution, whose image is only strengthened by this tendency to cede very little space for authentic socialist criticism under the tired justification “you're either with me or against me.” When we refuse to respect a diversity of opinions we only succeed in weakening the unity of the revolutionary process.

The only way to avoid the terrible consequences that we anticipate is to promote cultural dialogue, respect autonomy, and allow greater opportunities for self-organized and self-managed projects and persons to emerge in our society. It is also necessary to recognize that the current situation demands a new type of connection among Cuban political and cultural actors, especially given the irreversible emergence of new digital technologies and the subsequent impossibility of keeping our country isolated beneath a "bell jar.”

Under current circumstances, it is essential for us to make a great effort and even take risks using all necessary means in order to safeguard the achievements of our project of social liberation. Once again in our time the words of Martin Luther King exhibit their value and relevance, "Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Convenience asks the question: Is it politic? And vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one has to take a stand not because it is safe, politic, or popular; but because it is right."

This declaration rejects any intent to silence people or projects that work toward a social transformation bringing about a "world where other worlds are possible." Revolution and culture only make sense if they are synonymous with criticism and creation.

Havana, December 18, 2009

Written by Observatorio Crítico, December 25, 2009

List of individuals signing

(26 signatories, December 27, 2009)

Angel Vale González
Armando Chaguaceda (see also here, photo right)
Carlos Díaz Caballero
Carlos Simón Forcade
Daisy Valera (photo left)
Delonis Escalante Rodríguez
Jimmy Roque Martínez
Jorge Luis Acanda González (the younger)
Karel Negrete Vázquez
Luis Amaury Rodríguez Ramírez
Manuel Castro Rodríguez
Félix Guerra
Hibert García Jordá

Dmitri Prieto Samsónov (see also here, photo below)

Hilda Landrove Torres
Isbel Díaz Torres
Mario G. Castillo Santana
Miguel Arencibia Daupés
Ovidio D´Angelo Hernández
Pedro Campos Santos
Rubén Lombida Balmaseda

Yenisel Rodríguez
Yusimí Rodríguez López
Irina Echarry Campo (right)

List of groups or projects signing (alphabetical order)
Cátedra Haydeé Santamaría
El Guardabosques
Grupo de Estudios Culturales Nuestra América
Observatorio Crítico
Socialismo Participativo y Democrático

If you would like to add your name or the name of your organization to this letter, send an e-mail to us at: with your complete name and that of your organization/institution/project (if you desire). In the subject line, please write: SUSCRIBO.

* In January and February, 2007, Cuban artists and intellectuals engaged in a heated "war of e-mails," an intellectual "polemic" or controversy over the seemingly "rehabilitation" and even celebration of a number of former officials (one with the last name Pavon) responsible for the repressive cultural policies during the late 1960s and early 1970s, known in Cuba as the five-year gray period or "el quinquenio gris".

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