Monday, November 21, 2011

Carlos Eire: Bearing Witness

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night

Carlos Eire speaking at FIU in the Graham Center on November 21, 2011

Carlos Eire, Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, spoke today at 1:00pm at Florida International University in a lecture titled: Exile through the eyes of a Pedro Pan. Several times during the lecture he spoke of the importance of bearing witness and made reference to the quote by Elie Wiesel at the top of this page.

Dr. Eire continued with the theme of bearing witness stating: "When someone is an eyewitness to history and that history involves some great injustice and you don't bear witness to that injustice then you are allowing evil to triumph. Not only at the event but forever." He went on to say, "If you don't set it straight you are an accomplice." You can hear him state this in the above video beginning at 1 minute 42 seconds.

He closed his lecture with a powerful observation and call to action stating: "The best history of all. The history that we each have to tell - our own lives. Especially if that history has been misshapen by others." Video excerpt is embedded below.

The main points of today's lecture were similar to a talk that the professor gave at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio on April 21, 2011 as part of the George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics and Institutions. That speech was entitled "Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Wayward Historian." In it he stated that in the process"[t]o bear eyewitness to an injustice you might bring it down." The entire lecture is available online.

Carlos Eire is calling on everyone, but especially victims of injustice, to tell their story. To describe the sliver of truth that they carry within themselves and to share it with others. It is a call to action and it is a call to remembrance.

For example today via twitter learned from Roberto J. Guerra of Hablemos Press that Idania Yanes Contreras, a Central Opposition Coalition leader was arrested in Santa Clara, Cuba on her way to witness an eviction. In recent days she was brutally beaten by the political police. The attack left her with a dilated kidney and bleeding. She is still recovering from that assault by agents of the government. Also learned that 17 other activists were badly beaten and detained for demonstrating their solidarity with this opposition leader. Thanks to Marc Masferrer of Uncommon Sense additional information to that provided by Roberto Guerra on twitter offers both additional information and context. Relaying their story, as well as your own, is a way of bearing witness where you can still save lives by getting the facts out to more people.

Another example from November 18, 2011 is the resignation of former prisoner of conscience and independent journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal from Radio Marti. In his letter of resignation, available on his blog, he speaks truth to power citing the reasons for his departure. The original Spanish text is available here.

One final example that terrifies tyrants. On November 16, 2011 at Miami Dade College, students dressed in white gathered to honor the memory of Ladies in White founder Laura Pollán. They were bearing witness to the nonviolent struggle waged by Cuban women for freedom in Cuba and the ultimate price that one of them had paid.

It is important for as many voices as possible to speak out and document their experience - their truth contributing to the sum total that informs what actually took place. During his lecture, Carlos Eire made reference to an interview on National Public Radio titled "Children of Cuba Remember Their Flight to America" and to read the comments sections to see the efforts by some to distort the historical record. The best way to combat untruth is with truth. The more of it the better. As Mohandas Gandhi once observed, "Truth never damages a cause that is just."

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