Repudiation Across Borders (Part I)

Armando Chaguaceda

Protest against the visit of Yoani Sanchez to Brazil. Photo: emol.com

HAVANA TIMES — “Ideas can’t be killed…” said Lieutenant Sarría, the dignified officer in Batista’s army who saved Fidel Castro’s life after the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks. Hopefully people these days — inside and outside of Cuba — will remember that from the ranks of “revolution” to those of the “intransigent exile community” there are people who make intolerance, gossip and envy a profession with their attacks and slander while ignoring the rights of others to be and to do.

Whether their targets are dissident bloggers or socialist intellectuals, such behavior has a similar undertone: personal, moral and civic lynching. They amass what seems to be a perverse innovation of Cuban political culture: the internationalization of acts of repudiation.

Although this theme comes to mind with regard to various recent events, in this first installment I’m going to discuss the shameful protests against the current visit of Yoani Sanchez in Brazil.

I’m not talking about ideologically legitimate, reasonable and ethically respectful critiques that challenge the thinking and political position of Sanchez; I’m referring to public manifestations of violence promoted by state officials — with the connotation of the law and forces that this implies —in a foreign country.

These demonstrations differ in nature from spontaneous protests of citizens who reject an unpopular politician or a corrupt businessman. They’re different from any exercise of clearly personal and autonomous opinion, transparently shared in a public forum.

The Cuban government has a long history of using these resources against its critics, inside and outside the island. Within the country, the full weight of its laws and institutions is complemented with harassment by expressly mobilized mobs.

Abroad, it counts on the support of solidarity activists who are conveniently rewarded with diplomatic receptions and tours of the “island of liberty” and the approval of seasoned old Stalinists.

But what’s more perverse is the manipulation of the faith of numerous grassroots solidarity activists — especially young ones — honest people who believe that Cuba is a left alternative to the obscene and unjustifiable problems of capitalism.

Recent history is rich with incidents such as the Guadalajara Book Fair (2002) or confrontations around Orlando Zapata death (2010). Now it isn’t idle speculation to suppose that solidarity groups were organized in advance — by Cuban embassy staff — prior to the authorization of the departure of critics like Sanchez.

In this way Havana can erase its negative image from having banned travel without ending the monitoring of critics and punishing them for their public appearances. They can present these acts of repudiation as “anti-imperialist demonstrations by their Latin American sisters and brothers.”

Fortunately, there exist congruent positions between naiveté and mercenary mindsets. I still remember the embarrassed expression of an old Mexican PRD activist when, in a debate in Xalapa, one of his comrades accused Zapata of being a mercenary and his death a product of “imperialist manipulation.”

“No,” he said to his comrade, “We’ve fought hard for democracy and justice in this country, and we cannot tolerate the repression of human rights anywhere in the world.”

In these troubled times in which we live, more than one indignant intellectual has called for the rescue of the nexus between politics and ethics as a solution to the conflicts that shake our nations.

Cuba is no exception. And along that line, the rejection of acts of repudiation — in real and virtual versions, domestic or international, Stalinist or fascistic — is an essential condition for us to get out of the mud that covers our steps and to truly behave like human beings.



Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

Armando Chaguaceda has 143 posts and counting. See all posts by Armando Chaguaceda

26 thoughts on “Repudiation Across Borders (Part I)

  • Just imagine what would have happened if Cuban protester at Jose Marti International Airport had greeted Mr Ahmedinejad or Mr Assad in the same way.

  • So was your comment posted? Were you censored? I support your right to express your opinions. But your comment is typical Leftist nonsense, projection, distraction and non-sequitor. Still you are free to express it.

  • I do not call for pre-emptive action against the mobs based on intentions. Stop putting words into my mouth or projecting your own opinions onto me.

    I do call for a police response based upon real actions the mobs did: they threw things, uttered threats and assaulted Yoani. They created such intimidation that officials cancelled a film screening. They did this to prevent Yoani from carrying out her intention to speak freely.

    And I call out the repudiation mobs for what they are: the enemies of freedom.

    Ironically enough, these mobs were doing all this in support of a regime which does practice pre-emptive detention. Cuban dissidents are often arrested and charged with “social dangerousness and pre-criminal behaviour”.

    The fact remains the Brazilian repudiation mobs that protested Yoani did so because they oppose and fear free speech.

  • “Operation Yoani”

    “Attacks on Yoani Sanchez are getting a lot of media coverage, generally favorable to the blogger.

    the Castro brothers’ regime is mobilizing its followers to wreck each and every one of the public appearances of the young dissident.

    The incidents happening in Brazil, the first leg of Yoani Sanchez’s 80 day journey, seem to prove them right. The Castro mobs were waiting at the Recife airport in the northeast of the country. With screams and signs, they expressed their commitment to the Cuban Revolution and their repudiation of the “mercenary blogger financed by the CIA.” The same scene was repeated in successive days everywhere the blogger appeared. According to the influential Brazilian magazine Veja, these activities were carried out under the “direction” of the Cuban embassy with a group of militants from the Workers Party (PT), which is in power in Brazil.

    In Feira de Santana, near Salvador de Bahia, some of the demonstrators from the Workers Party and the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) managed to prevent the screening of a documentary that includes an interview with Yoani. A video circulating on the Internet shows the incident. In it are a handful of students with placards: “Yoani Sánchez persona non grata.” “Viva Fidel and the Revolution,” “No to the blockade.” Far from being intimidated, the blogger accepts a debate with her opponents at the request of a senator from the PT, who tries to mediate with the radical wing of his party.

    Smiling from ear to ear, the creator of the blog Generation Y enjoys the music of democracy that allows a sharing of all opinions. She speaks to those unfortunates who shout themselves hoarse, and in passing gives them a master lesson in tolerance and patience: “I am not afraid of problems, I am not afraid of the repressors,” she begins. And in response to placards against the “blockade,” Yoani explains that she is also against the embargo. For three reasons: “One, it seems like interference. Two, it seems like a fossil of the Cold War which makes no sense in the modern world. And three, it seems to me to be the best argument the Cuban Government has to explain its economic inefficiency.”

    When the interrupt with more shouting and without a single argument, the blogger let them vent before continuing her explanation. “I live in a society where opinion is treason, where to criticize a government that has been in power for 54 years and never allowed any other political force to exist, a Government that cannot compete in a plural society with other parties…” The shouting is now such that she can’t utter another word. The event was suspended.”

    http://translatingcuba.com/operation-yoani/

    Very clearly, the protests were not acts of free speech, they were acts AGAINST free speech.

  • To be clear, I support the right of those who oppose Yoani to publically protest. I DO NOT support hair-pulling or disrupting public discourse. As long as we can share our views in the public square in a civil manner, I am all for it.

  • Well AC the issue here is that right wingers ONLY care about “freedom of expression” when it is convenient to them. So apparently I am not allowed to call Yoani the fraud that she clearly is because it might make her uncomfortable. I would suggest to the liberalish types that buy into this ridiculousness a trip to say, Chile, to see how VIOLENT the reaction of the government is to students protesting there. The real point at the end of the day by the one posting this article and someone like Moses is that they simply want to have their say and damn the rest (I am not even bringing into this the historical context which bellies even further how bankrupt their views are)

  • Yes, they are exercising their freedom to protest whatever they feel like protesting. And they have the obligation of doing so in a lawful manner, because the right to protest don’t include the right to break the law and commit acts of violence. If they cross the line and break the law, just call the police and let it deal with the issue instead of canceling the event. Or if there is no violence but you feel it could come to that, call the police for protection. Thats how things are supposed to work, and thats how countries that protect free speech deal with the issue.

    And I see perfectly the distinction between a peaceful protest and a violent mob, is just that I ask to act upon their actions following the rule of law, not preemptively based on their intentions as you do. When you act upon intentions, you are effectively suppressing their freedom of expression and moving towards the police state dystopia you accuse the Cuban government to be.

  • You are wrong. At no time did I call for censorship or banning free speech. I am calling repudiation mobs for what they are. My objection to them is not that I disagree with their opinions. I oppose the use of protests to shut down free speech.

    Do you think it is “free speech” for a mob to create such a disturbance at an event that a film screening the mob objected to is cancelled?

    That is what the repudiation mob in Brazil did. They are the ones who shut down free speech. This is the same tactic used by repudiation mobs in Cuba: they beset homes of dissidents to stop free speech. Similar mobs of Leftists have used the same tactic on campuses to block speakers they object to from speaking.

    These acts are
    not free speech. These acts attack free speech. If the protesters want to hold up signs, invite their own speakers or hand out fliers, and do so in a peaceful manner, that is free speech. But that is not what they do. They deliberately intimidate others by storming venues, shouting down speakers, throwing objects, assaulting people and other forms of violence. Are you saying that’s all fair game?

    Free speech is protected when mobs are prevented from carrying out such acts. It is sad that you cannot or will not see the distinction between free speech and mob violence.

  • But the protests were not suppressed, so what are you talking about?

  • It is very natural to sympathize with popular manifestations whose ‘target’ is your enemy, I understand it. For example those who characterizes the Ocuppy people as ‘vandals’ are the same who judge those who protest at Yoani as ‘gangsters’. What I don’t understand is why NOBODY has noted the obvious: that this new Yoani-related events have absolutely NOTHING to do with freedom of speech, democracy, or whatever, but are only the most recent crystal clear examples of the Society of the Spectacle – who does ‘world tours’ but super-groups like Kiss or Iron Maiden? Who else either boo or applause but an audience?

  • The issue here is not opposing totalitarism, is opposing free speech. Thats what the author is advocating and you seem to agree with him. As for your points:

    1. Because what they did was totally legal.

    2. If this is correct and Yoani set charges they will be prosecuted, otherwise nothing is going to happen.

    3. Ditto

    4. Even if what you said is true, they are entitled to their opinion and have the right to be heard. Left, right, neonazi, WBC.. it doesn’t matter. If you advocate free speech you must defend their right to express it, specially if you disagree with their position. Is easy to be a “free speech advocate” if you only allow people that agree with you to express their opinion.

    5. In that case, call the police and allow the law to run its course.

    6. As I mentioned before, thats the price you have to pay for it. And is worth it, every bit of it. What you want is a mockery of free speech that serves only your own interests, and thats exactly what Cubans have now, except from the other side of the political spectrum, You want to prove that free speech is better than censure? Preach by example by welcoming the protest and allow the weight of the law to fall on the people that cross the line. Is not difficult and the US does it right (see WBC example above).

    7. Yes, he did. I even bothered quoting it but you conveniently ignored the reference.

  • Thank you for making clear that you believe that opposing totalitarianism is not a moral, intellectual or even agreeable political position. I’m not sure where that leaves you, but that’s your problem.

    Again you miss the points. I will list them for your convenience.

    1. The Brazil repudiation mob has not been prosecuted for any reason.

    2. The mob threw things at Yoani. Even if they did not hit her, that is still a form of assault. That is a crime. They ought to be charged with something, but they won’t be.

    3. One of the mob pulled Yoani’s hair. That is physical assault.

    4. I have not advocated censorship. I am pointing out that the repudiation mob is not interested in free speech, but in shutting down the free speech of others. Leftist mobs in the US, Canada & the UK have used this tactic to shut down appearances by speakers they object to. These mobs are not exercising free speech, they are attacking free speech.

    5. The film screening was cancelled due to intimidation from the mob, which was their goal, to shut down free speech critical of the Castro regime.

    6. While declaring your support for free speech, you are defending a tactic used by a dictatorial regime to quash free speech.

    7. Neither I nor Armando, the author of the essay above, have called for the suppression of free speech. We are exercising our rights to free speech to criticize and call out the repudiation squad tactics for what they are.

  • I meant “Allowing her to talk while suppressing the protesters”. And yes, it amounts to that.

  • Your position is neither moral, intellectual and if even if it can be considered political is the kind of bad politics you are trying to fix. And if that position is taken in a country that guarantee the right to speech freely to their citizens, is illegal and a threat to the fundamental freedoms of said citizens.

    Back to the case in point, they did not seem to have used “mob tactics”, at least I haven’t heard of any injuries or damages, but if they did, the protesters should be prosecuted for breaking the law, not for expressing themselves.

    If the price to preserve free speech is “naked tuggery” as you said, thats a price worth paying because the alternative is censorship, the exact same thing you accuse the Cuban government of doing.

  • These acts of repudiation are not done in a legal manner. Yoani was assaulted in Brazil, just as she and thousands of other dissidents have been assaulted in Cuba. The scheduled film screening was cancelled due as a direct consequence of the intimidating protests.

    The phrase “reject repudiations” does not mean to ban the legal exercise of free speech. It means to take a moral, intellectual and political stance which rejects the practice of a totalitarian state in using mob tactics to suppress free speech.

    The wilfully obtuse refuse to see these acts of repudiation in Brazil for what they are: the fig-leaf of “free speech” used to cover naked thuggery.

    The enemies of freedom will use the gifts of freedom to destroy freedom.

  • Now, you are either failing to understand the author, my point or premeditatedly obtuse. The author is explicitly calling for the end of the protests abroad influenced by the Cuban government. He is not merely criticizing the protesters, calling them mercenaries and misguided, he is also explicitly calling for the rejection of all acts of repudiation. Quoting from the last paragraph of the article:

    “And along that line, the rejection of acts of repudiation — in real and virtual versions, domestic or international, Stalinist or fascistic — is an essential condition for us to get out of the mud that covers our steps and to truly behave like human beings.”

    And thats what he gets wrong. Freedom of speech implies the right to express publicly your opinion about ANYTHING and implies the right to protest those who express ideas you don’t like as long as you do it in a lawful manner.

    It doesn’t matter if the ideas are evil, twisted, sponsored by an evil group or merely delusional; thats completely irrelevant to the point, they should be allowed to freely express it and is our duty to defend that right even if we disagree with the message itself.

  • AC wrote: “Allowing her to talk and suppress the protesters is plain and simple censorship”

    Wow! So are you saying that allowing Yoani to speak is the same as suppressing her protesters and amounts to censorship?

  • Don’t twist this around. Nobody suppressed the Brazillian protesters. We have exercised out free speech to critisize the protesters. You seem to have a problem with that.

    There have been reports in the Brazillian press that the Cuban embassy was involved in ginning up the Brazillian protest against Yoani. It all smacks of the very same repudiation mob tactics the regime uses at home. Only superficially is it an act of free speech.
    The enemies of freedom are using the gifts of freedom to attack freedom.

  • I’m not defending the Cuban regime, as a matter of fact I don’t event mentioned it because obviously I’m aware of their shortcomings regarding free speech issues. I also didn’t mention Yoani, because who is she, what she does or her opinions don’t matter for the point I tried to convey.

    I’m simply defending the right of the protesters to express their opinion freely and pointing that the suppression of said protest is against the spirit of free speech. Do you have a problem with that?

  • We already know that the Cuban government have issues with free speech, and that is one of the biggest demands of democracy advocates rightfully make all the time, but right now we are are discussing the events in Brazil.

    Some people protested the presence of Yoani, regardless of who instigated the protest or the motivation behind it, the protesters had the right of publicly express their opinion. Opposing said right is the opposite of advocating for free speech and thats precisely my objection to the article.

  • It doesn’t matter where the repudiation originated or who fund it, the people that did it have the right to do it and a self acclaimed free speech advocate must acknowledge that fact. Allowing her to talk and suppress the protesters is plain and simple censorship from the other side of the political spectrum and THAT is the opposite of free speech.

  • AC, while the crazies who claim to be members of the Westboro Baptist Church press the limits of freedom of speech, especially in their views against gays, this small isolated church is a privately-funded group. What happened in Brazil may have some connection to the Castros in Cuba. Certainly, when these acts of repudiation take place in Cuba, they are government-sponsored. There is a difference between the repugnant acts that private citizens may engage in and those organized by a government allegedly in place to represent all of its citizens, even those that disagree.

  • AC, Americans have struggled with this issue. While we fiercely support free speech, we also demand civil discourse. Castro-style ‘acts of repudiation’ are hardly civil. i witnessed one first hand in Havana. A member of the Damas de Blanco was the victim of a mob outside her home on Calle Valle in central Havana close to my casa particular. The majority of the ‘mobsters’ arrived by bus and were not there because of their political views. They were being paid! They threw condoms filled with urine and paint-soaked rags. This is not free speech. This is government-sponsored intimidation. After about two hours of this nonsense, most of them got back on a bus and left. I support anyone who wishes to disagree but without violence AND destruction of property. The Brazilian parliament publcly apologized to Sra. Sanchez and vowed to investigate the role a foreign (Cuba) embassy may have played in this attempt to intimidate someone else’s free speech. As a result, Yoani Sanchez was on the front page in the major newspapers in Brazil and around the world and covered by national TV news. If their goal was to stifle her message, the opposite has occured.

  • Aren’t you cute? You attack Armando and defend the Cuban regime which bans freedom of speech and a free press in Cuba.

    To condemn these state-orchestrated acts of repudiation is also free speech. If you bothered to read Armando’s essay, he did not call for repudiations to be banned. He identified them for what they are: cynical manipulations by the Castro regime intended to discredit and silence critics of the regime.

    The repudiation mob that greeted Yoani Sanchez in Brazil was rather tame by comparison to the mobs that regularly beset the homes of dissidents in Cuba. These mobs, many of whom are neighbours pressed by the police & local CDR into participating, routinely engage in vandalism, assault and destruction of property against their targets. These violent acts are crimes, not acts of free-speech, but the repudiation mobs are protected by the Cuban police and never held accountable to the law.

    If you want to cite the Westboro Baptist Church as an example, imagine a country where hundreds of ideologically demented mobs are organized, directed and used by the State to attack and suppress the right of the people to free speech. That country is Cuba.

    Any Cuban who dares to exercise free speech in Cuba to criticize the government runs the very real risk of arrest, assault and imprisonment, and the state orchestrated intimidation of a repudiation mob.

  • “Shameful protests”? Why, because they BOOED? Gimme a break.

    “Manifestations of violence”? What? Because they waved their signs in some kind of threatening manner?

    It was a PROTEST, with Cuba solidarity activists, members of parliament and whoever else exercising their democratic rights — the same ones that should be fought for ALL over the world.

    In this day in age we could expect explanations of this being labeled as some kind of “terrorist” action (the explanation Yoani lowered herself to), but to attribute it to outside communist agitators takes the cake.

  • Ain’t that cute? In one hand, demanding freedom of speech and in the other condemning repudiation? Flash news, people should have the freedom to say whatever they want to say but nobody has the obligation to listen to them. And if what a person wants to say is disliked by others they have the right to repudiate it, as long as it happens without violence.

    Those are two sides of the same coin, you cannot ask for freedom of speech when is convenient to you and at the same time deny that same freedom to others that disagree to your position.

    Google “Westboro Baptist Church” for examples of how free speech is supposed to work.

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