|Tale of Two Cities: Freedom Tower (Miami) & Revolutionary Plaza (Havana)|
The totalitarian apparatus of the Castro regime on occasion reveals more than it would like. The past four days may have been such an example. Dissidents who were thought to want to take part in an artistic happening where participants would freely speak for one minute were either effectively placed under house arrest or picked up and arbitrarily detained. According to the Yo Tambien Exijo twitter account Tania was last seen by her sister around 4:22pm on December 29, 2014. On December 30 over Yoani Sanchez's twitter account news arrived at around 10:48pm that her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, had returned home and in the publication 14 y Medio he was quoted saying that he saw Tania Bruguera dressed in "a prisoner's grey uniform."
With Sunday's post announcing that Tania Bruguera, a daughter of the nomenklatura, who is also an internationally recognized performance artist, was going to conduct an artistic happening in the Plaza of the Revolution. Interviewed by Reuters Ms. Bruguera was crystal clear about how she views herself: "I'm not doing this as a dissident, I'm doing it as a normal person," ... "I'm not a counter-revolutionary, like they say. I'm from a revolutionary family. ... I'm going to continue the project."
Age old strategy: divide and conquer
Nevertheless, voices emerged through social media questioning her motives. State security knows how to play the game of manipulation sowing distrust and division within movements but a nonviolent strategic vision can prevent and minimize it by focusing on what is important.
Castro regime demonstrates its profound weakness
For example, December 30th demonstrated that the Castro regime did not want to permit the simulacrum of an exercise in free speech in an open space. The dictatorship could have set up a militarized cordon busing in state security agents and militias to take over the square while at the same time rounding up or surrounding the home of dissidents so that they could not attend the event. This would have left the artist to conduct her free speech happening with only regime agents. The New York Times and Associated Press would report on the "spontaneous support" for the Castro regime.
This would have been a less damaging international public relations option but the dictatorship did not exercise it and this leads to the question: Why not? The answer is that it did not because it apparently does not trust elements within its own state security and militia. If just one state security agent or militia member takes to the stage and breaks ranks that could begin a chain reaction that could spell the end of the regime. In Eastern Europe it was shown that if an autonomous space is carved out in the public sphere, freed from totalitarian control, it could subvert the entire system.
|Graphic by Rolando Pulido|
Fortunately, principled and strategic nonviolence offer insights on how to operate in such a difficult and complicated environment. Here are four principles that I hold:
I. What is not negotiable
There are things that within a nonviolent context can never be surrendered or denied others such as dignity and things that must never accepted such as humiliation or attempting to humiliate others. Respecting all parties and how they wish to identify or not identify themselves while accurately describing their actions is legitimate.
II. Not forgetting those unfairly imprisoned or extrajudicially executed
Another general principle should be that when one has been detained or disappeared that the rights of that person be respected and that they be immediately freed. Over the past week it is known that the following Cuban artists, journalists and activists were detained by State Security:
1. Tania Bruguera 2. Antonio G Rodiles 3. Ailer Gonzalez 4. Claudio Fuentes 5. Boris González Arenas 6. Luis Trápaga 7. Camilo Ernesto Olivera 8. Andrés Pérez Suárez 9. Carlos Manuel Hernández Jiménez 10. Vicente Coll Campagnioli 11. Joisis García 12. Nelson Rodríguez. 13. Agustín López Canino 14. Ernesto Santana 15. Delio Rodríguez Díaz 16. Pablo Pascual Méndez Piña 17. Waldo Fernández Cuenca 18. Raúl Borges, 19. Yaneisi Herrera Cabrales 20. Ariovel Castillo Villalba 21. Carlos Manuel Hernández 22. Miguel Daniel Borroto 23. Raisel Rodríguez Rivero 24. Lázaro Montesino Hernández. 25. Oscar Casanella Saint Blancard 26. Dayron Moisés Torres 27. Danilo Maldonado Machado, el Sexto.
This is a partial list of the past week's detentions provided by Estado de SATS and one should not forget that there was already another preexisting and partial list of over a 100 Cuban political prisoners currently behind bars. At present Amnesty International only recognizes five Cuban prisoners of conscience: Emilio Planas Robert, Iván Fernández Depestre, Alexeis Vargas Martín, Vianco Vargas Martín and Django Vargas Martín. There are others. It is shocking that Yosvani Melchor's case does not get more attention. A young man imprisoned to blackmail his poor mother into either leaving the Christian Liberation Movement or becoming a government informant. You also don't hear much in the mainstream media about the Cuban rapper sentenced to six years in prison in October 2014 for his critical songs. His name is Angel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, and he goes by the stage name "el Critico del Arte" (the 'Art Critic').
At the same time one must remember and continue to demand justice for those murdered by the regime such as the four members of Brothers to the Rescue, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero just to name two well known cases.
III. A mass based grassroots and participatory opposition
Furthermore that the opposition should not be limited to a small elite but open to the grassroots and be participatory and inclusive within an operational framework. Once again this type of approach works best in a nonviolent context.
IV. 'As the means so the end'
At the same time it is important to try and discern what are the most effective strategies to achieve real and lasting change in Cuba versus those strategies that may unknowingly facilitate a fraudulent change that maintains the old regime in power. In the New Testament their is a passage that states: by their fruits you shall know them. The purpose of this approach is to seek out through a public and transparent conversation the best strategy to achieve change in an open and democratic manner. This is an anti-Machiavellian approach that Mohandas Gandhi described as follows: "They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end..."
A tale of two cities
In Miami at the Freedom Tower there was a successful gathering in solidarity with Tania Bruguera and the #YoTambienExigo that reproduced what had been attempted in Havana with Cubans speaking for one minute about their desires for a free Cuba. It provided a marked contrast with the repression in Havana. If Cuba is to have a democratic future and not just another round of authoritarian or continuing totalitarian dictatorship then the freedom of speech of all political parties must be respected even those one violently disagrees with. The rules set out by Ms. Bruguera and followed to the letter in Miami are found in the graphic below in Spanish states: "#ITooDemand - a microphone open to all - One Minute of Time - Don't Interrupt - Speak in a personal capacity - No Bad Words or Violence 12.30.2014 3:00PM We'll See Each Other in The Plaza"