The ‘Bad Handwriting’ of Regina Coyula

By Alfredo Fernandez

Regina Coyula

HAVANA TIMES — Very few families who are part of the Cuban nationality are without at least one member among the beneficiaries of the trail of corruption, patronage and opportunism that characterized the Republic (from 1902-1959) and later the Cuban Revolution. Quickly rummaging around in my memory two came to mind:  the Diego (Eliseo Diego and family) and the Coyulas. (Please forgive me if you know of others).

To say that Regina Coyula is the granddaughter of Miguel Coyula — for many the most serious man of the Republic — who worked all his life in politics without obtaining any benefit other than his salary (irrefutable proof is that his name isn’t in the book Los propietarios de Cuba (The owners of Cuba), by William Jimenez), and the cousin of the stoic lover of Havana, the architect Mario Coyula, and also of the filmmaker Miguel Coyula, would be sufficient to make one a person with something to say.

However, after working as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) for 18 years engaged in a project for which she was willing to give her life, she was then disappointed to the point of finally deciding that not just audacity and daring were her main characteristics.

First she attended the Academia de Blogger, led by dissidents Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar, and then she began saying openly in her blog, La Malaletra (Bad Handwriting), what she thinks about the government, Cuba and even of herself. This last quality, at least in my eyes, makes her a very interesting member of her dynasty.

While sharing coffee with her in her basement-home, she confessed to me that she went on a trip to Spain in 2009, with her husband, the highly respected poet Rafael Alcides. This was when she really discovered what a blog was. “I learned about the Internet and joined Yoani Sanchez’s Generation Y, and even though she had told me about the idea before beginning her now famous blog, I never really understood it until I saw what it was.

At that moment I realized that a blog was just what I needed to extend what she had talked about in the living room of my house with my family and friends, a space for interaction as new and vital as the Internet. As soon as I returned to Havana I set to work.”

HT: If you worked for many years at MININT — which could have given you an accurate picture of the functioning of the system, and therefore you knew about its disqualifications, discrediting and even the abuse that it rains down on everyone who frontally opposes the regime — then, explain your decision of so much risk and commitment at that point in your life.

RC: Long years of working at the Ministry of the Interior didn’t give me any accurate perception of the system’s functioning, quite the opposite. My relations with civilians were regulated, so it was easier for me to connect only with those people within my own circle. This doesn’t justify me. If I had been a civilian during those years, I’m sure I would have also supported the government. Everything changed me after the trials of 1989 (Arnaldo Ochoa, De la Guardia). That was the year of the Berlin Wall, so I could put national events in a very critical international context.

I had followed perestroika and glasnost closely, and regardless of whether the process was criticized by Fidel as a “destruction of history,” for the first time they were saying what had happened in the murky periods in the history of socialism, and what I found out I didn’t like. But nor did I wake up one morning with my ideas having overturned. It was a long and painful process.

In fact, I was accustomed to hearing about “counterrevolutionary types” as people who never acted for altruistic interests, but who became critics of the government, and I was going to fall into that bag. It was a very minor risk and, in my case, one with a very low impact.

I’ve lived in my neighborhood since 1958, so everyone here has known me since I was a child. Not even the most pro-government neighbors would think that I am moved by material interests, I think. There’s a vague idea that I’m a “pro-human rights” or one of those “Ladies in White,” because one neighbor said that about me. But another one who is better informed said that I wasn’t, but that I was a blogger, though that first neighbor was completely ignorant of the term.

I’m a person who is convinced, that’s where this attitude comes from that seems brave. And don’t call me old, or I won’t brew you any more coffee…

HT: Regina, when I look at the most significant spaces in the alternative Cuban blogosphere — Voces,  Havana Times, Bloggers Cuba — I find the peculiar fact that the majority of their members are women, or Cubans who are trying to learn to discuss, debate and think while being led by women. In your opinion, what can be attributed to the boom of female bloggers in Cuba?

RC: Yes sir. I think that women have found a space in the alternative blogosphere, and what comes to my mind is that the social role has always been played by us. Women run up against all the difficulties of everyday life, allowing us a view of what’s around us but encompassing at the same time. One mustn’t be afraid of this feminine vision, full of the common sense that we women can provide. It would be nice after so much testosterone, right?

HT: In your discussions with the bloggers of the [fairly pro-government] Joven Cuba, you show respect for their arguments, you are also understanding and always make it clear that thinking differently doesn’t make people enemies. Even with this, when you wanted to participate in their “Blogazo” (bloggers meeting) held a few months ago in Matanzas, you didn’t receive an answer.

On the other hand, when you invited Joven Cuba to the [anti-government organized] “Festival Clic,” recently held in Havana, the closest thing to an answer you received was the commentary by Harold Cardenas (a co-founder of Joven Cuba) to the Cubadebate editorial “La InocenCIA imposible del Festival Clic,” which said, “They invited me by SMS and email… I am not afraid to confront the opinions of these people, but I am not thinking of legitimizing them by attending.”

My question is this: In a hypothetical case in which you could have dialogue with the octogenarian officialdom, and knowing from the mouths of their youngest followers that they are the owners of the copyright on legitimacy, do you think you could convince these guys to change anything?


Regina Coyula (r)

RC: I didn’t know about the response from Harold in Cubadebate. I invited them to the Festival via SMS, but they (LCJ) were never able to see it (the festival) as anything other than a confrontation. Their presence would not have legitimized or delegitimized anything, they would have seen and heard without translators and interpreters, and they would have been able to express their views – that was the idea. A lot of invitations were sent out but none of them dared to show up, though it’s hard for me to believe that no one was curious.

I have no qualms about talking with anyone. All I want is to do it respectfully. Respect is a basic value that needs to be practiced, because for a long time in Cuba attacking and trying to discredit people has been easier to hear. As for the octogenarian leaders, I don’t think that age will change their thinking. They are the daddies of disdain for the opposition, so even if I were willing to talk, I don’t believe that they would.

HT: At the Festival Clic, along with attorneys Laritza Diversent and Yaremis Flores, you coordinated a panel that aimed to draft a “Charter of the Cuban Internet.” What happened with that? Was the charter ever written? And was it presented to any official?

RC: As part of thinking about the future, it seemed to us that a charter would be a good idea, not to fill it with the limitations of the internet, but to the contrary – to clarify its rights. We consulted a lot of sources of information. The technical side was taken care of by the lawyers, while I served as the moderator. But in any case, preparing this panel gave me a vision of how far we Cubans are from such rights that in the world today are often obvious. That’s why I hope that when the Internet is accessible to everyone, it will come with rights.

HT: Regina, your posts are always short, rarely exceeding 300 words, written clearly and precisely while still being enlightening and astute, with themes ranging from the “senseless” actions of repudiation to the real reasons behind Cuban immigration. What is the best experience you have gotten from your three years as an alternative blogger?

RC: When I started I decided to be brief, to be pleasant, to achieve complicity with the reader by not trying to present the issue as closed. It’s true that I can’t interact with people who send in comments; that’s one of the characteristics of today’s Internet, but I do what I can with what I have. So I spend a lot of time writing to various commenters (and there are many of them) who give me good ideas via e-mail. My time online is devoted to uploading and then downloading articles to read at home.

The best experience has been blogging, feeling free — whether I’m right or wrong — and humming to you a few lines by Pablo Milanes, “Fidelity to my way of being.” He/she who reads to me, will recognize me immediately.
HT: Regina, thanks for speaking with HT.

RC: To everyone, thanks you for giving me the opportunity. Hey, I’ll write soon, but I’ve already talked a lot.