Cuba: The Empty Rostrum

Irina Echarry

Antonia Eiriz. 1968. A rostrum for democratic peace.

HAVANA TIMES — The last moments of 2014 were quite eventful. Occupied in my own, personal matters, I haven’t been out of the house in many days, but have kept abreast of what is happening in the country.

I want to condemn the criminal proceedings that the Cuban government wishes to institute against the artist Tania Bruguera. No one has the right to curtail the full expression and development of art, much less appropriate a public space and transform it into a sacred temple, as has happened in Cuba.

I loved the idea of setting the performance in Havana’s Revolution Square, though I would have liked to have seen it anywhere in the country. I also oppose the detention of the other individuals who were headed for the Plaza to take part in the artistic, social and political event.

I support and admire Bruguera for sticking her neck out for Cuban artists – most of time entirely focused on their professional realization-, for placing her art at the service of the entire people, for drawing our attention to the dangers that stem from our lack of freedom of expression. I am happy the person fighting for the recognition of others (“those who can never speak”, in this case), inviting us to reflect on the usefulness and efficacy of words in an increasingly aggressive world, is a woman.

The idea of staging this performance has proven very controversial. For some, it was neither the right place nor time, considering the joy of the majority, their hopes that the US blockade will soon come to an end and fear that this clumsy reaction by the Cuban government might anger the US government and make it change its mind. This is a comprehensible posture.

Though we share that fear, others among us think that it was an intelligent choice. Our stores will likely fill up with new products soon, but the rope around a number of fundamental human rights will not be loosened. It is therefore up to us to untie it, to demand those rights.

The performance was organized in a way that wasn’t the one expected by part of the public. Some people in the art world felt disappointed that nothing happened in the Plaza on December 30. They think that her work lacked an interesting outlet for those who went to the Plaza to see art.

I also believe Bruguera, who has been staging performances for years, knew very well what she was getting into and simply allowed the government to give her work its finishing touches.

The result is that no one was allowed to use the microphone and that is the most regrettable outcome. The tribune, to invoke Antonia Eiriz’ painting, was left empty.

We could perhaps be less ambitious, try to set up a tribune closer to us, less publicized but just as important – something along the lines of a “neighborhood tribune,” where people can go to speak their mind, condemn something or, quite simply, appease others, to demand and also propose ways of overcome our difficulties. But, how are we to challenge those who oppose us of their own free will or out of caprice, those we have allowed to act this way for very long? Are we ready to take the grandstand?

Perhaps we should start at the level of the family, where there is always more than one tyrant, conscious or not. At home, we toyed with the idea of improvising a household tribune. Though were are not exactly a “dysfunctional” family, everyone (fortunately) thinks differently than the rest. When we thought about “taking the mike”, we realized all of us have a lot of demand: not to continue living under the reign of self-censorship and self-repression (while trying to avoid hurting someone), not to continue to subject ourselves to the loud television and its vacuous and false propaganda (one of the members of the family is hard of hearing, but, sometimes the TV is on loud out of sheer habit), eliminating the verbs “impose” and “decree” from our conversations, and many other things.

The idea didn’t convince me, however, because the demands were almost always addressed to something or something external. We would first have to identify and defy the tyrant we carry within, the one that judges and tempts us. Our demands would be better developed and channeled this way. Then, we could defy those who would efface our individuality – first at home, then in the neighborhood, then in the country. Perhaps, going through this process, the next tribune will not be left empty, even when the artist who called it didn’t get there on time.

3 thoughts on “Cuba: The Empty Rostrum

  • No one claims that the blockade is water-proof, but your description hardly gives justice to the severity of the Helms-Burton Act, Torricelli Act, etc.

  • For generations, Cubans have been led to believe that the reason there are shortages and limited choices in Cuba is the US embargo. The Castros have twisted the whole Economics 101 basic premise of supply and demand. To Cubans, since the demand is there, the supply will come, forgetting the essential part of demand that requires the money to pay for that supply. Worse yet, there are Cubans that expect something for free. There is a popular billboard around Cuba that claims that “The embargo has cost $_____ “. They hope that ending the embargo, as this billboard implies, will alone generate money for Cubans. As you said, the embargo will likely continue for some time. The sooner it ends, the better for all parties, especially if it has been lifted because all of the conditions set forth in federal law by Helms-Burton have been met.

  • A very thoughtful essay!

    The point about supporting freedom of speech is not that you must agree with everything anybody says, but that you believe it is essential for a healthy society to allow everybody to express their ideas, whatever they may be.

    Irina wrote,

    “Our stores will likely fill up with new products soon, but the rope around a number of fundamental human rights will not be loosened. It is therefore up to us to untie it, to demand those rights.”

    Why will Cuban stores fill up with new products soon? Even if the US embargo is lifted next week, (and it won’t), the embargo is mostly about the US not buying Cuban products. The US already exports hundreds of millions of dollars of products to Cuba. That’s not likely to increase much until the Cuban people have the income to afford to buy more.

    She is bang on about the lack of human rights in Cuba. There are no signs that will improve anytime soon, unless the Cuban people demand change.

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