HAVANA TIMES — For the birthday of Alfredo Fernandez, a fellow collaborator with Havana Times, some of us friends got together to celebrate like we’d been ordered by the gods. The air was rich with shots of rum, good background music and conversations here and there. The environment was rich, but — to be honest — I was a little bored; none of the conversation really moved me.
That was until the subject of politics came up. I say “came up” but it was actually dropped on purpose by a small group that had the explicit intention of heating up the party.
After several attempts, the subject that succeeded in catching the focus of the group was a debate around the use of the words “state of terror” in describing Cuba. The question was whether it’s appropriate to use the “terror” in referring to people’s emotional state here and to explain their behavior.
I argued that it was not appropriate and that I preferred to preserve the description of “terror” (the ultra-extreme synonym for fear) for acts of torture, disappearances or systematic murder. To reinforce my arguments I evoked the “classics”: Pinochet’s Chile, Mao’s China, Rwanda in 1994, Europe under fascism and Nazism, Stalin’s USSR, Syria today, etc.
I’m the first to accept the existence of political fear as a basic state of Cuban existence, nor would I deny the repression suffered today by a group of political opponents, but to go from that to “terror” as describing people’s general sentiment seems to be a tremendous leap.
People fear losing their jobs or the right to travel, along with certain privileges and opportunities for advancement. They might fear ending up in the precinct jail for a couple of days or for several years (the more rare worst case scenario today), or losing a tooth at the hands of some angry pro-government crowd, etc.
There’s a chronic fear that irritates, exasperates, paralyzes and even mentally disturbs those who are the most unstable. But from my point of view, this is still a vast distance from what could be called “terror.”
My opponents turned to several different arguments. They contended that you don’t realize the existence of terror if it’s not directed at you, or that terror suffered by one person is enough to declare its existence (the terror, not the person), or that terror is a feeling and as such is unquestionable, or that tyrants will go after those who begin to threaten their power, etc.
Tempers started heating up and the previously rational conversation turned into a flood of anecdotes, reproaches and black-humored jokes directed against the Castros, their followers, Chavez and even against me for “defending” them.
I made several appeals for us not to lose sight of the issue at hand, not to become dominated by passion, but those pleas were ignored and interpreted as attempts to frustrate the spontaneity of our little chat.
In short, the whole thing was backfiring in my face. After being among the initiators of the political discussion, I was now seeing myself walled in a dense environment with sparks of hatred exploding all around me.
I suddenly saw myself become the target of loaded assertions, sermons and/or scorn, so I decided to resign myself to shutting up and just listen to everything, without uttering another burp.
When the fireworks abated somewhat, I grabbed my stuff and I eased on out – quite troubled.
The whole thing is now in the past, but I’ve remained in a kind of state of terror for denying the existence of a state of terror.