Mi Friend Jose Daniel Ferrer
By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – When a mob of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the home of the country’s federal powers in Brasilia, the vast majority of Latin Americans – and their counterparts in the US and Europe – immediately and unanimously condemned the coup attempt. Countless politicians, activists, and academics, from all over the political spectrum, closed ranks with Brazilian democracy.
Right now, Jose Daniel Ferrer is enduring another day of his extended and shameful imprisonment in a Cuban jail. The renowned dissident leader has been cut off from his family, is still being subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and has been denied access to food and medicines that can help him.
Despite this, Jose Daniel has managed to send brief messages to the world, every now and again. In these written or voice messages, he demonstrates an enviable clarity and coherence. In mocking the Government’s sham of an election, explaining his decision not to go into exile or taking a stance on international events, Ferrer has confirmed what many of us already know. That his political stature, human warmth, and intellectual lucidity continue to be the best combination you can find in an opposition crushed by never-ending repression, a lack of international solidarity and their own mistakes.
Ferrer’s attitude contrasts with that of Latin American and European politicians and academics, who are formally democrats, but refuse to see Cuban reality for what it really is. A country that is being bled dry by out-of-control migration, poor management, and violations of freedom. Self-proclaimed “progressive” presidents, activists, and intellectuals, who normally embellish the dictatorship with illegitimate and false arguments; that range from the naive “we want to keep an open dialogue going,” to the absurd “it’s a different kind of democracy,” to the cynical “Cuba is a global icon.” False and hollow words thrown about in political forums and academic conclaves, that sink them into the sludge of History. This would be a completely personal decision… if they weren’t also taking the opportunity to help and fix the Cuban tragedy down with them, enshrouded in silence and zero solidarity.
The fact Ferrer dedicated some words to what happened in Brasilia surprised even those of us who know him. How does he have the capacity to understand, in all clarity, what was playing out in the South American country, many kilometers away from his dungeon? What moral attitude stopped him from supporting Bolosonaro supporter’s attempt to ignore the people’s will expressed at the polls, like other conservative groups and figures in exile did? What ideological clarity allowed Ferrer to overcome the binary logic that preaches the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Why didn’t he fall into the trap of condemning Communist authoritarianism by supporting anti-Communist authoritarianism?
I believe there is only one answer to all these questions: civic, intellectual and human rationality. This goes hand-in-hand with Ferrer’s ability to support ideals with arguments, pushing for an emancipation struggle by betting on peaceful civil resistance, and condemning his oppressor’s values and weapons. In all my years of friendship with Jose Daniel, we have spoken about and debated many topics, from geography to literature. Passing through History’s lessons for dissident movements of totalitarian governments, as you’d expect.
We haven’t always agreed on everything, and we’ve definitely not stopped each other from telling the other how we really feel; but we have honored the right to meet each other, with words, and reason together, which makes us human. In fact, if you listen to his voice messages, we can see how invocations of global history and the mention of political concepts from the past century have nourished Jose Daniel’s analysis of the present. This is something that I have to say again, very few Cuban political actors – from any side of the political spectrum – are able to do this.
Every time Ferrer’s personal ringtone sounds on my phone, I inevitably fear the worse. You don’t normally expect good news from someone who is in the worst possible place under the worst possible conditions. But the same thing always happens: I end up learning, admiring and even laughing at Jose Daniel’s words. I remember him sitting on a sofa, talking about Balzac’s books, and the glorious taste of artisan yogurt made in a dungeon. That’s why I say to anyone reading me here that they should turn their heads to that dark corner of this island and look at Jose Daniel Ferrer’s lucidity and civic courage. Someone who has spent their entire life demanding usurped hope, for himself and his people. The friend I hope to embrace again soon, in freedom.
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