Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 21 — A few days ago I heard the Cuban government’s official statement concerning the occupation of the church at Infanta and Manglar streets by a group of parishioners and their pastor.
It was an official announcement that was as stiff and starchy as the speaker, with his firm voice and a jacket buttoned almost to his neck, as he read the document carefully.
Through the communiqué the government made clear its commitment to the physical well-being of the occupants as well as to the freedom they possess to decide what they wish to do.
Surprisingly, the statement apologized to the citizenry for any inconveniences that could be caused by any measures adopted to preserve the public order. This was, noted the official statement, an “unusual situation.”
And the public announcement was right: in all of this there is much that is unusual. But it’s an “unusualness” that is becoming more and more usual.
In the first place, the announcement — so pleasant and balanced — didn’t seem to come from the same government that calls Cubans open-mouthed “hatchlings” as it cuts back on social programs and assistance.
It didn’t appear to be the same state that strips people of their political and social rights, that roughs up the opposition (women included), that defames without the right to reply, that has excommunicated hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have emigrated, and that closes and opens public spaces (time and time again) whenever it feels like it, and with no explanation.
It doesn’t seem like the same government, but in fact it is. It’s only that this time it’s taking advantage of a good opportunity for it to look as if it’s being a helpful public servant, one that is impartial and discerning.
But stop, hold up! – it’s also one that’s ready to unleash all of its power should it be necessary to control any “unusual situation.” This is especially true if the unusualness crosses the line of the private environment of the church and steps into the street, always vaporous and exposed to fear.
It’s the same government but it’s attempting to rid itself of the stigma of the intractable werewolf; instead, it wants to look like the father of the traditional nuclear family: fair but firm.
The cordon set up by the police around the church, the positioning of vans and monitoring posts, the interruption of traffic along the Infanta thoroughfare and other measures are part of the times in which we live.
Learning to coexist
Several years ago, militarily trained troops in addition to doctors and nurses would have entered the church to send some people home and others to jail.
Similarly, around a decade ago the government imprisoned dozens of opposition elements for only writing articles on the Internet (to which the overwhelming majority of Cubans didn’t have access and couldn’t even imagine that these people existed).
But today it takes too much effort to function with the lycanthropic intolerance of before. The problem is that now there are so many unusual situations faced by the government day after day that it has no other alternative than to learn how to coexist with them.
It doesn’t act on a whim or without deliberation. All of this “unusualness” and its leading figures are subjected to smear campaigns for which the government has a drove of underpaid bloggers who — reacting to the slightest sign of dissent — will sling mountains of mud in all directions.
But it can no longer imprison them like it did a while ago; it’s powers are simply less. And also because the unusual situations that it faces are not only more numerous, but they are also different, more elusive, more dispersed.
Even in the cruel “Special Period” crisis of the ‘90s (the one we’ll never know if it has finally ended or is continuing), the Cuban government still had enough symbolic and ideological resources to contain critical situations.
It had, firstly, the figure of Fidel Castro, who attracted the public’s sympathies. Likewise it had the benefit of a privileged sector that — even though a minority — was still effective in providing active support. It also had assumed a position of top-down social and statist protection at all costs, one which pledged that no one would be abandoned or left to their fate.
Finally, it had a nationalist appeal mixed with ethical exaltations, with marches and counter-marches that (and here I recall something that writer “Lichi” Diego once told me) marked like never before the dehydrating character of the Cuban revolution.
Today the situation has changed and — what’s most noteworthy — it’s changing daily. The government has given up its protective role, which substantially alters its political line and its practice.
Fidel Castro is no longer able to convince and/or annihilate (according to the case) with his Jesuit/Mafioso style, and his potential delegates are becoming fewer, older, more tired and more worn down by the economic changes.
As for the pillar of nationalism, there only remains the blockade and five imprisoned spies that people accept as ritualistic sacrifices.
To the same degree that the government needs more favorable standing on the international stage, it also compelled to abide by rules of conduct that prevent it from executing young people by firing squad after issuing summary judgments that sidestep due process or imprisoning dozens of people for writing articles and possessing computers.
There is also something that couldn’t be more interesting. A few years ago the government had to battle with a traditional political opposition that was atomized and organized into dozens of organizations that were infiltrated by the state intelligence services. Moreover, these groups’ political tactics were based on a war of position under highly unfavorable conditions.
Today though, there has arisen a segment of a new opposition that, contrary to the traditional dissidence, makes movement their main tactical resource. And it’s this movement — cacerolazos (“clanging saucepan protests”), women’s marches, mock meetings in public places, the circulation of information through the cyberspace, civic activism initiatives — that is generating so many unusual situations, similar to that of the parishioners who are hoping for who knows what in a church in Centro Havana.
The Cuban government’s position — which implies a greater degree of tolerance than before — could be explained by synthetically paraphrasing the words of Fidel Castro to the intellectuals in 1961: within the private realm, everything; outside of the private realm, nothing. Nothing can happen in the street, which after all — according to the official jargon — belongs to Fidel and the revolutionaries.
It’s the same for the parishioners, who are dancing and singing with their pastor – always within the church; outside, in the agora, nothing. This is why those cordons have been set up, which in reality cordon off all those who demonstrate any disagreement, even when the police do not directly intervene, as is happening right now at Infanta and Manglar.
Finally, let’s not forget that while Cuba’s authorities don’t know much about economics, they do know plenty about prevention, repression and how to handle unusual situations. They know that the street is always dangerous, and even more so in these times in which — as someone once said — even a poorly called “out” in Havana’s Latinoamericano baseball stadium can produce a tumult with unforeseeable outcomes.
Published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro