Traveling Backwards to Cuba

Entrevista con Antonio G. Rodiles co-director de Estado de SATS

By Alfredo Fernandez

Antonio-Rodiles (l) with poet Juan Carlos Flores

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 2 — When you sit down with Antonio Rodiles (the co-director of the Estado de SATS project, along with Jorge Calaforra) there’s the feeling that you’re talking with someone outside of the ordinary; someone from whom it will be impossible to separate yourself. It’s enough to know that Antonio is trained as a physicist and in recent years resided in Mexico City and Tallahassee Florida, where he studied and worked.

Antonio can categorically say that he’s a Cuban who went ahead and came back.  That’s to say that until recently Antonio was one of the many Cubans out there in today’s world and who once the “state of emergency” that Cuba experiences ends, would return to remake the nation, or simply to live in their country.  Only that in Antonio’s case didn’t want to wait around any longer; he came back to Cuba decidedly to be part of change.

It turned out that shortly after his return, Antonio turned to directing an “illegal” project that is attempting to think about, or better said “rethink” about Cuba.  The project is worthwhile because this time it’s being done without “mediators” (official) who always block the flow of ideas.  The fact is that Estado de SATS, against all odds, not only works but also works well.

Therefore, when the evening of Saturday (October 23) came, I was at the home of Antonio G. Rodiles to interview the “soul” of Estado de SATS.  I did it with the good fortune of enjoying a bancha tea (a macrobiotic drink) thanks to the kindness of a fellow Santiago de Cuba native, Ailer Gonzalez, who is an actress with the Cuerpo Adentro theater project.  She also participates with the OMNI project, with producer Hugo Torres and with other occasional contributors involved in that intellectual artistic adventure called Estado de SATS.

HT:  Antonio, where does the name “Estado de SATS” come from?

Antonio Rodiles: The Estado de SATS name stems from an idea by actress Esther Cardoso, whom Jorge Calaforra, Evelyn Quesada and I went to visit when looking to see if she could provide us space at her Casa Gaia, where we held out first event in July 2010.

We were thinking about a name for the project, and I since I’m a physicist I was leaning toward something that had to do with resonance, something that accumulates that state in which everything begins to look and think in a similar direction.

Then Esther told us about “Estado de SATS,” a term used to describe the theater prior to the time when the actor appears on stage.  It’s the moment when all energy is concentrated to explode on stage… finally realizing what has been prepared for a long time.

HT:  When did you conceive of doing a project of this kind in Cuba?

AR: I lived outside of Cuba since 1998 and I came back for Christmas in 2007.  It had been five years since I’d come to Havana.  It was during that visit that  I realized that something could be done to change our country.

Back when I was living here, I would visit the house of a friend, Gabriel Calaforra, who was a professor of Asian art at ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte).  Every Monday at his house, ever since 1996, he’s held something called “Monday Club.”  It started out as a meeting place for people to meet on Mondays to learn languages, but later it expanded into what is now, a center for meetings.  I knew Professor Calaforra since 1990, and by getting back in touch with him I was reintroduced to this activity.

On Thursdays as Calaforra’s house, we started showing videos, documentaries and movies. This experience of sharing with people made me think it would be interesting to organize a festival where people of all perspectives could exchange their ideas on how Cuba should be. With this idea, I was joined by Jorge Calaforra (the son of Gabriel Calaforra and now the current co-director of Estado de SATS) and another friend, Evelyn Quesada.

Interestingly, none of the three of us lived on the island at that time; in fact, George still lives in Poland and at that time Evelyn was living in Jamaica.  The three of us talked over Skype about what we wanted to do.  That idea came about in the autumn of 2009, after the three of us met in Havana in December and began to focus work entirely on the July 2010 event.

HT:  Generally, physicists and mathematicians see the world of “equations and theorems” as the pinnacle of thought, to the point that—while not entirely holding disdain for the social sciences—they tend to consider it a “minor” field, on many occasions viewing politics as something truly negligible, a receptacle of lower life people and those with petty aspirations.

My question is why are you travelling backwards, returning to the Cuba from which many people leave, especially if you were in Mexico and weren’t doing all that bad.  What are you doing now under the present conditions?  It seems you’re aiming for a renewal of Cuban thought; but isn’t that simply political reform?

AR: Hey Alfredo, let me correct this notion that physicists “disdain” the social sciences. Perhaps it was like that a long time ago, not now it has changed.  Now physicists are interested in the social sciences, they are concerned with the economy. I can say that as a physicist I was working on string theory, highly theoretical physics.

I even did a masters in math, when I discovered the theory of complexity, a subject being worked on by physicists like the Nobel Prize winner Gell-Mann, who came up with the quantum chromo-dynamic and the quark model.

There are institutes like the Santa Fe school, one of the most important centers in the world dedicated to the study of complexity, where work is being done by multidisciplinary teams and even trans-disciplinary teams made up of mathematicians, biologists, chemists, economists and so on.  So I’d say social and political sciences are today more exciting to us as physicists and mathematicians since now we can use modeling approaches that a few years ago were unthinkable in fields that were restricted in all practical terms to sociologists and political scientists.

Poster for Estado de SATS

As for your question why I’m “traveling backwards,” I think it’s necessary at this time to travel and to exchange with friends in other places, studying and working abroad, to know how the world moves and develops.  However, I also believe that not everyone is designed to live outside of his or her country forever, and I’m one of those who can’t live outside Cuba for life.  I want to live and grow old in Cuba.

The only impediment I have for this desire is common to many Cubans, it’s that you get here and you find a country that doesn’t offer you even minimal opportunities.  I’m talking about opportunities in all senses, not just economic like the government would want us to believe.

Human beings aren’t divided up into economic, existential, and political aspects.  No, a human being is a unitary being, in a totality.  If you don’t have political freedom then you will have much less in the economic realm, hence the lack of freedom here extends to all levels of life, and hence you lack everything.  That was the main thing I noticed when I returned.  This is the reality of my country and it’s what we’re trying to change through Estado de SATS.

HT:  Your project debuted with an event in July 2010 in the “Gaia” house, which now many people regret not having attended (myself included).  Since then you haven’t been able to get access to other places, which hasn’t been a problem for the project since your own home is where the Estado de SATS meetings are held.  Have you experienced any kind of censorship or threats due to the meetings held at you home every 21 days?

About a week ago, we published a letter on the Internet with a list of some of the things (not all of them) that have happened around the project.  For example, there has been everything from the threat (and the carrying out) by State Security to take away my Permit to Reside Abroad (PRE) to warnings and threats against the participating public, where State Security has told people not to attend Estado de SATS anymore because it is a dissident activity.  Likewise, the economist Karina Galvez and the historian Manuel Cuesta were under arrest for hours so they couldn’t attend meetings in which they were to participate as panelists.

I can also tell you about an experience where I was going to a meeting and I ran into someone on the street who had attended one before.  But when I went to invite her to the next one, this person responded to me irritably saying that she wouldn’t attend.  She said that she wouldn’t attend anymore because of “what I was turning the meetings into.”  So, Alfredo, I shrugged my shoulders and asked her what exactly it was I was turning the meetings into?

In Estado de SATS all opinions are respected, and everyone who participates does so without violence or threats of personal attacks against anybody else.  The doors to the meetings are open to everyone and the meetings are held here every 21 days.  What we’re doing here in my home with the help of friends from OMNI, Cuerpo Adentro, Jorge Calaforra, Hugo Torres and others, believe me, is nothing out of the ordinary.  This happens in dozens and dozens of universities around the world – it’s absolutely normal.  We try to have a completely open exchange, without censorship of or by the different participants.

HT:  From your perception, what real chance for significant change do you see in Cuba in the short term?

AR: Well, that’s difficult to predict, although I think that Cuban society is changing a lot, and it’s changing in all senses.  I feel this change is coming everywhere, from artists to self-employed workers.  People need to have independence in their lives.  They need to get away from a government that wants to control them all the time.

And while the government has publicly “recognized” that changes are needed, it’s not considering the real changes the country needs.  I also feel that it has been operating without human capital, it has become surrounded—in its own interests—with people who for almost fifty-three years have been saying yes to everything.  That’s something that only happens when you surround yourself with a bunch of opportunists or people without the ability to generate something new.

It’s such that now the Cuban government cannot count on an important human capital, which is fundamental in changing the country, if you really want to change it.  Moreover, the country is bankrupt and the alternatives that it has offered to overcome the crisis are palliative; they won’t solve anything.

If you remember the last Estado de SATS held with the participation of poet Juan Carlos Flores, he talked about how many people here have had to “postpone their lives,” their dreams, their hopes and all for nothing.  I’m of the opinion that there’s an increasing the number of people in Cuba who are not willing to continue postponing their lives.

One would have to talk to them to know in detail what they disagree with.  It’s obvious that if you open up investment now, suddenly, under the present conditions, then we Cubans here will be at a clear disadvantage to those who live abroad.

I think there are many possibilities for this opening.  You can use many mechanisms so that people living in the country can really become placed on the same level with those who come to invest from the outside.  Perhaps the people who invest through a resident in the country can be taxed less.  In short, many variants can be put into practice.

Antonio G. Rodiles and Alfredo Fernandez

What is clear is that you can’t do without the investment of Cubans living abroad, this investment will be extremely necessary.  That’s what built up economies such as China’s and Vietnam’s.  In principle this is already occurring, albeit at another level, since many Cubans live off remittances, which is nothing other than a direct investment.

On the other hand, the people who are most interested in Cuba are Cubans.  I repeat, this investment is extremely necessary for the future of the country, only that for it to be done on a large scale it’s necessary to create effective mechanisms for the Cubans here on the island so they’re not left behind.

What I find so dangerous now is that they are making economic agreements with other partners while leaving out Cubans, even those here, which will ultimately be fatal.

HT: What is the economic, political and social model you think is best for Cuba?

AR: I’m a supporter of a political model with a priority on individual freedom, so it doesn’t matter what’s the name of the government.  What’s important is that the citizen stands above everything.  Therefore, I think the first thing that needs to happen in Cuba is for citizens to regain all of their rights; everyone has to regain their political and economic rights, that’s the main thing that has to happen here.

Of course, we also have to avoid laws that trample on the rights of each individual, though this is something that can happen in any contemporary society.  The main thing is that Cubans should have the ability to own their own property and be able to use it, trade it, and that the state functions more like a referee and not as an entity that controls the entire society.

That totalitarian vision that the Cuban state has is very archaic.  Therefore, I say that the fundamental point in the new model established in Cuba must be one of individual freedom, a freedom, which prevents monopoly and unfair competition in all areas.

I’m of the opinion there are many success stories that could be reviewed when the time comes to make changes in Cuba.

HT: And what name would you give to the new government that you would want to see for Cuba: liberal, socialist, social democratic or what?

AR: Look, I’m more in favor of liberalism.  It’s true that liberalism today is different from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century.  I’ll give you a typical example: Wikipedia.  With what ideological vision would you associate it with?  If you think about it, it’s not easy to make a taxonomic classification of this website.  The site is a product of a free market economy and has a social projection.

The society that I would like for Cuba is one that results from many views mixed together, but the common point of confluence should be individual freedom, where the person has all the freedom to do their job. I think this model can work.  There are those who say that this is a social democratic version that takes elements of liberalism; then there are those who say it’s liberalism with elements of social democracy, but like I said, to me it’s a little difficult at this juncture to identify in a single adjective what I want for Cuba.

HT: Antonio, do you consider yourself a dissident, an opponent, a free thinker or a difficult intellectual?

AR: Look, at a meeting of Estado de SATS that we dedicated to individual projects, the organizer of the project Talento Cubano, Adrian Monzon, when asked the same question gave a very witty response.  He said he considered himself an enterprising person who when trying to realize his project ran into opposition that prevented him from developing it.

I consider myself an opponent of everything that has to do with totalitarianism and that tries to control the individual.  To me, the real opposition is what the government is doing by not allowing individuals to develop their talents and potential.

For many years the system has built a form of control that obviously doesn’t work.  Here in Cuba it has not advanced, nor has it advanced in the Arab world.  But who would have said a year ago that Gadhafi would have such a ridiculous ending, a man who used to compare his opponents to “sewer rats,” and look how he ended up.

Returning to what I was saying, here in Cuba what I am opposed to is a government that wants to have total control over individuals who are free by nature.

The essential question is where’s the power?  Is it in individuals, in the monopoly of a group or in the state?   I think my position, like that of many citizens, is natural.  In that sense the government is the real opponent of freedom and individual rights.

HT: How do you imagine the Cuba of 2020, if you can?

AR: I imagine it prosperous.  We’re going to get out of the hole faster than a lot of people think, though a lot of this will depend on the government.  There are risks that will be minimized or not to the extent that the government is able to accept that it must forget about being the master and lord of the lives of its citizens.  If they decide to remain locked in their position, that will make the path more painful for all of us.

However, in one way or another, things are going to change, though of course this will take a great deal of effort.  There’s great potential in Cubans inside and outside the country, all eager to carry out their projects and dreams.  Once you have freedom, the country will change positively.

HT: Do you fear the consequences of running such a project?

AR: A while back yes.  Now fear has had to stop being an option, otherwise we couldn’t do much with our plans.

Thank you for your words, Antonio.



2 thoughts on “Traveling Backwards to Cuba

  • Among other things, Antonio Rodiles says: ” . . . I think the first thing that needs to happen in Cuba is for citizens to regain all of their rights; everyone has to regain their political and economic rights, that’s the main thing that has to happen here . . . The main thing is that Cubans should have the ability to own their own property and be able to use it, trade it, and that the state functions more like a referee and not as an entity that controls the entire society.”

    I couldn’t agree more. He is describing a socialist cooperative republic, like the one we hope to achieve in the United States!

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