Veronica Vega (illustrations by Yasser Castellanos)
HAVANA TIMES — Now that the reverberations of the performance conceived by Tania Bruguera – aimed at a public that didn’t even find out about the initiative or was detained in an attempt to attend the event – are dying off, now that voices are being silenced and confusion gives way to a more objective take on things, the presuppositions of the artist have been fully confirmed: the Cuban people are not authorized to voice their opinions, not even about or through a work of art.
The official discourse about the country’s economic liberalization and freedom of expression being fed to the world has been made a mockery of, fully and officially, through a single paranoid and desperate action.
I recall that I found out about the first public grandstand thought up by Bruguera and organized at Havana’s Wifredo Lam gallery in 2009 by accident and too late. I was unable to attend.
I found out about this second initiative when the news of the detentions was (unofficially) divulged. On both occasions, I asked myself what I would have said had I had the opportunity to stand before those microphones, and I caught myself organizing my ideas to express them as best I could within the space of one minute.
Though the first piece of news that reached me this time around was about the repressive measures taken, I saw quite clearly how powerful the truth is and how many people whispered about the initiative with enthusiasm, with an eagerness to express themselves, to break out of the apathy that Cubans are so commonly reproached for.
What did surprise me was that the effectiveness of the old hysterical strategy, the attempt to discredit the artist and accuse the performance of being “inopportune”. Even people who are critical of the government feared the action would ruin Cuba’s negotiations with the United States – negotiations conducted in silence, sealed by silence and arrived at behind the people’s back, to be sure.
To my relief, Tania responded to the hackneyed argument to the effect that “the timing isn’t right” appropriately, in a letter that announces that she renounces the National Culture Award and from the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC): “Many a time, I censored myself when faced with those words, which tend to magically lay the blame on doubt and opinion. Today, I know that, for an artist, it is ALWAYS the right time when it comes to expression, particularly when the different ways in which we can evaluate our social and human predicament are denied us (…)”
We Cubans must urgently shed the stifling inertia of empty words. We must regain the ability to distinguish between reality and falsehood. No one has as much right as we do to express opinions about our future; no one has as much right as we do to decide when the time to speak is right.
There is no wrong moment to express doubt, to demand an answer. Nor is it ever the wrong moment for them to demonstrate the alleged agreement between what is vociferated before the foreign press and what is repeated by our newspapers and news.
It is time to set things in their place once and for all. When we had the “Padilla incident”, it was not the right time to express criticisms. Neither was it the right time to do so when people’s dissatisfaction sparked off the taking of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, nor when the “letter of the ten intellectuals” was presented, nor when thousands of signatures were collected to impel a constitutional reform, which asked only for the right to set up private companies and freedom of expression and association.
When Cuban musician Roberto Carcases made his demands while performing at an official concert held at the Anti-Imperialist Grandstand, his remarks were stealthily accused of being “inopportune” and, more cynically, of “opportunism”, just as Tania’s actions have been.
The way the authorities recycle old strategies and are devoid of arguments simplifies our work. It’s not that we Cubans have lost an opportunity to speak our minds at that improvised grandstand, at that square that was hastily emptied by the authorities. The government has lost a great opportunity to demonstrate to us and the world that it isn’t lying about its intentions.
We have all imaginable opportunities ahead of us, including the chance to make freedom of expression something more than a performance in Cuba, as Claudia Cadelo wisely said in 2009.