Effective Citizenship Beyond Cold ID Card Data

The San Isidro Movement and El Vedado: The Lands of Madagascar

By Jesus Arencibia (El Toque)

Photo: Jessica Domínguez

HAVANA TIMES – A scene has haunted me for a long time. The one where Laura (represented by Zaida Castellanos) examines with a magnifying glass a yellowish newspaper page showing a massive march. “Where am I? Where am I, my God?” She wonders sitting on her bedroom bed. But the returned image by the magnifying glass is just a faded ink stain on the old newspaper. In the background you can hear the beat of a clock.

Madagascar”, the film of that scene, was directed by the immense Fernando Perez. It was perhaps the most heartbreaking Cuban art cry on what the Island suffered in the early and mid 1990s. A time when the allusion to the fearsome “zero option” (Zero fuel, resources, mobility, country) became frequent in the simplest neighborhood conversations.

This powerful medium-length film not only dealt with economic hardships but, above all, with spiritual emptiness. Not knowing where to lead the prow of one’s soul. Living in a mutating reality inside a tunnel where people walked like automatons with a bicycle in hand.

Where are we? Where are we, my God? We may wonder 26 years later if we examine all the press clippings collected from events they summoned us to. We were just one more invisible point in the patriotic report ink. While from the close-ups, leader’s hands send us a pleasant greeting.

Enter the San Isidro Movment and 27N

The individual, freedom, life, the fragile tiny vital time, lost in historical times and processes, is what we really have in this world. Nothing more and nothing less when you decide to stand up for your beliefs and fight for them. Whether you are wrong or not. Whether you use the politest and puritanical methods or not.

At this point, the San Isidro Movement (MSI), goes beyond the furious demonization the state media have attacked it. It’s a symbol that condenses – in language and form – the anguish of many people.

The November 27 sit-in outside the Ministry of Culture was a broader and more diverse wick, lit by that spark. Although labelled as “marginal” by the authorities, it represents, “the greatest autonomous public mobilization on civil rights in sixty years of Socialism,” said academic Armando Chaguaceda,

Dozens of texts have emerged from diverse media, approaches and ideological positions. They make up an intense and necessary controversy corpus for Cuba, as I don’t remember any other so far this century.

A fertile precedent was the 2007 email war. But at that time Cuban society had very limited connectivity. Hence, it only allowed a small and valuable group of intellectuals and academics to get involved. At that time the issue got asymmetrically controlled by the State / Party / Government apparatus, represented in its Culture bodies.

Social media brought the events live to people

In this new clarion, for the first time, people the government tried to erase became visible with total clarity. That is the case of the alternative / independent press. Suffice it to remember there were three journalists and a collaborator among the 30 delegates to dialogue with the Ministry on 27N.

For the first time, the systematic repression and harassment of uncomfortable individuals / groups for the state apparatus was widely evident.  

The gas sprayed on several young people trying to reach the peaceful protest. There’s the painful applause by over 300 participants after authorities promised a safe return home without reprisals by State Security agents.

What we are talking about, truism dixit, is not only about art, journalism, culture or specific union demands. It’s about a nation design, effective citizenship beyond cold data on the identity card. The old dream of democracy and the concrete ways to exercise it.

Of course, there are many variables at stake. Likewise, petty interests on both sides try to connect with genuine citizen demands and capitalize on even minimal triumphs and heroism.

The call for civilized dialogue

However, there are those who only see the evil passions and point out the moles. Those not seeing the magnificent concentration of forces and spirit by a bundle of popular voices calling for civilized dialogue. Those are, at the very least, ignorant, not to say evil.

No demand, if it comes on shoulders of respect and honest belligerence, should be ignored.   No answer, if it transits the same dignity of the opponent, merits disqualification. But the professional demolishers of civility, coming from anywhere, multiply their actions when having the means at their disposal. They should be disbelieved and denounced by all means.

“Now there is talk of a” soft coup.” Teresa Diaz Canals asks what about the “harsh reality” that this country has suffered for decades waiting for a wellbeing that never comes?”

“We are witnessing the definitive exhaustion of a political model. The red tape socialist model,” says historian Alina B. Lopez. “In the Cuba I love, we are citizens with rights, said Tania Bruguera. “And those who raise their voices are admired and not stoned.”

The different faces of the truth

Howard Zinn, the pedagogic and revolutionary whose book on US history was published and applauded in Cuba, wrote: “Human beings are the essential ingredients of these struggles for justice. People who, even for a moment, even when harassed by fear, broke with the established and did something. Even the smallest, most anti-heroic acts add to that firewood reserve that can be ignited by some surprising circumstance. It can start the fire of a tumultuous change.”

After all, San Isidro, Vedado, and any part of the Island or communities abroad interested in the different faces of the truth; interested in defending others’ right to be honest -what Martí called freedom-, will be declared territories free of the imaginary Madagascar. A place we will one day be able to build right here. See you there.

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