Erasmo Calzadilla

The three Bogatyrs. victor Vasnetsov

HAVANA TIMES — A political event of huge significance for Cubans will take place in 2018: President Raul Castro will step down, not without leaving someone to his liking (and not so much the people’s) on the throne. We may breathe some winds of change initially, but, as the months pass, the situation will likely get more and more tense.

If the anointed one who catches this hot potato doesn’t multiply the bread and the fishes quickly – something highly improbable, as I see it – I anticipate a whole period of political protests, demonstrations, police repression, power cuts and generalized shortages.

Behind this turmoil, we can expect the United States to pull the strings in different circles and add fuel to the fire.

I am extremely worried Cuba can become a kind of Syria. How could we avoid such a fate? After giving the issue some thought, I have come to a rather painful conclusion: I think we’re going to need a leader.

I am very much aware of the danger that a firm-handed popular leader represents, but, given the delicate situation that’s heading our way, I’d say that would be the lesser of possible evils.

Anarchists, with whom I share more than one posture, would prefer to the see the establishment of an “order” managed from below, from the level of collectives, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, etc.

I would love to see this happen, but I feel that a society that has just put a totalitarian system behind it, whose guiding “political” aspiration right now is to consume more, isn’t prepared to take on such a challenge. I think self-management ought to be practiced and encouraged, but that trying to build a radically new society at the edge of the precipice is a dangerous proposition.

Whatever option we lay our bets on, whatever it is, must be rooted in the practices and ways of thinking of contemporary Cubans.

Who could become our mahatma?

Certainly not the elite troop that the younger of the Castros has been mentoring. Diaz Canel, Murillo and Bruno Rodriguez who have behaved like obedient children and, what’s more, haven’t really solved any problems.

What respect could they possible aspire to have from the people? If we want to avoid a political split a la Venezuela, we’d have to get Raul’s people to kindly step aside (I have no idea how we’d manage this), get all of them to leave for “the good of the homeland.” And, if they won’t go willingly, let them go off the cliff.

The dissidents are no good either. Yoani Sanchez, Eliecer Avila and Rodiles enjoy the support of a significant sector of the émigré community, the new middle class and some liberal intellectuals, but run-of-the-mill Cubans do not know much about them (or so it seems to me).

The “problem” with them is that they’ve created far too many anti-bodies: they are the enemy in the eyes of government supporters (which are neither few nor weak). From this point of view, they don’t seem the best qualified to achieve a minimum of consensus.

The left-wing opposition has produced a whole slew of top-level leaders. But we may need a dark period of savage capitalism for people to overcome their allergy to socialism.

After we’ve discarded all of the above, what are we left with? A sportsperson? Victor Mesa? No, please, Mesa will only lead us to a humiliating defeat. A scientist? A priest? A doctor? A rich Cuban-American businessman? A young general? None will work – no one knows who these people are. Who would begin to trust them overnight?

We need a familiar face, a person people like, someone who inspires confidence, who is close to politics but who is neither a boot-licker nor a radical oppositionist. Does anyone like this exist in Cuba today?

I am going to propose three people and you, dear reader, may criticize my choices and choose your own. Without further ado, here are my candidates: novelist Leonardo Padura, singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes and filmmaker Fernando Perez.

Let me explain my choices:

First and foremost, these three people have known how to reach the soul of the average Cuban, something crucial for the leadership we’re interested in. They are not devoid of wisdom – not the pedantic kind, but the kind that meshes well with commonsense. They are older, true, but they have full use of their physical and mental faculties. In any event, they need not carry the torch until their last breath.

None of them is foreign to politics: they have sung praises for “socialism”, true, but they have also criticized excesses and abuses of power.

If these venerable grandpas had a shot at it, if we gave them the opportunity, they could manage to bring about the miracle of keeping us united and peaceful when the political situation gets complicated.

We wouldn’t be asking them for a heroic sacrifice. They need not impel the spiritual renewal of the nation (it would be unfair to ask them to turn mud into gold). It would suffice for them to afford us the reassuring feeling of being in good hands during the dangerous transition.

Does any of this strike you as a bit crazy? It seems that way to me too.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

22 thoughts on “Searching for Cuba’s Mahatma

  • Your comment is a perfect example of the kind of disinformation used by the Castro regime to delegitimize anybody who dares to speak out against their tyranny.

    Here are his credentials:

    Orlando Zapata (May 15, 1967[1] – February 23, 2010) was a Cuban mason, plumber, and political activist and prisoner[2] who died after fasting for more than 80 days.[3] His death received international attention, and was viewed as a significant setback in Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. and the EU.

    Zapata was a member of Movimiento Alternativa Republicana (Republican Alternative Movement) and Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Civil (National Civic Resistance Committee).

    Zapata was arrested on December 6, 2002 by agents of the Cuban police on charges ofcontempt, for which he was imprisoned for over three months. On March 20, 2003, 13 days after he was freed, he was arrested for a second time during a crackdown on dissidents and sent to the Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey. At the time of his arrest, he was participating in a hunger strike organized by the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society, taking place at the home ofMarta Beatriz Roque Cabello.[2] The hunger strike was meant as a petition for the release of several comrades.

    He was charged with contempt, public disorder, and disobedience and sentenced to 36 years in prison after several judicial processes.[4] As a result, Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience, “imprisoned solely for having peacefully exercised [his] rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly”.[2][5][6] The socialist Monthly Review, in contrast, expressed skepticism of Amnesty’s statement, alleging that Zapata was arrested and convicted several times on charges of fraud, firearm possession, and assault with a machete.[7].

    On either December 2 or 3, 2009, Zapata began a hunger strike[8] as a protest against the Cuban government for having denied him the choice of wearing white dissident clothes instead of the designated prisoner uniform, as well as denouncing the living conditions of other prisoners. As part of his claim, Zapata was asking for conditions comparable to those that Fidel Castro had while incarcerated after his 1953 attack against the Moncada Barracks.[9] For their part, the Cuban government stated he refused food because authorities wouldn’t put a TV set, a stove and a phone in his cell.[10]

    During the hunger strike Zapata refused to eat any food other than his mother’s, who visited him every three months. According to the U.S.-based opposition group Cuban Democratic Directorate, prison authorities then denied Zapata water, which led to his deteriorated health and ultimately kidney failure.[8]

    Zapata persisted in the hunger strike and was admitted to the Camagüey Hospital at an unspecified date, where he was given fluids intravenously against his will. On February 16, 2010 his condition worsened and he was transferred to Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital inHavana,[11] where he ultimately died on February 23, 2010 at approximately 3:30 pm EST.[3]

    It was the first time that an opponent of the Cuban government died during a hunger strike since the 1972 death of Pedro Luis Boitel.[12]

    On March 16, 2010 an open letter condemning the Cuban government for the unjust incarceration of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and asking for the release of other political prisoners was posted in an internet blog. In less than a week the letter had obtained over 30,000 signatures. Among the signatories are prominent intellectuals from both the left and right of the political spectrum.[13].

    President Raul Castro took the “unprecedented step” of expressing public regret about the death of Zapata.[10] During his remarks, he said Zapata was treated by top doctors and denied he was tortured.[10] Cuban state television also aired a report where doctors who treated Zapata, said they tried to get him to eat, with Dr. Maria Ester Hernandez stating:

    “We explained to him the consequences of his decision at every turn and how much he was endangering his life with this. But he kept it up.”[10]

    Cuban state newspapers, meanwhile, described Zapata as a “common criminal falsely elevated to martyr status.”[10]

    The U.S. State Department stated that it was “deeply saddened” by Zapata’s death, while the European Union called on Cuba to release its remaining political prisoners. Spain issued a statement remembering Zapata as a “human rights defender”, while France expressed “dismay” and stated that its government had been lobbying Cuba on Zapata’s behalf.[14] The incident was seen as a significant setback for the thawing of Spanish-Cuban and U.S.-Cuban relations, with one analyst describing it as “the nail in the coffin of Spain’s efforts to improve EU-Cuba ties”.[15]

    On 23 February 2012, the Ladies in White met at the former home of deceased leader Laura Pollan to commemorate the second anniversary of Zapata’s death. They were protested by a group of government supporters in coordination with security agents, who chanted “Down with the worms!” and “Long Live Raul!”[16]

    The regime betrays their own lies. If Zapata was just a common criminal, they would never have gone to such trouble to shut him up. Even after his death, they fear him and the ideas he represented.

  • Zapata Tamayo hails from Banes, my stomping grounds. It speaks worlds about your seriousness when you mention him as a leader. What credentials does he have other than giving people planazos w/ a machete while drunk on chispa tren ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *