HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 24 – In March 2009, the Cuban people learned about the removal of the nation’s minister of Foreign Relations and the vice president of the Council of State. However, the reasons behind the firings of Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage Davila (respectively) were not clearly explained.
In the official Granma newspaper we were able to read their concise letters of resignation, both quite similar, about the same length, and individually signed by the ousted officials. In these written statements they both acknowledged having made errors and bad decisions, relinquished their positions and put themselves at the disposition of the Revolution for whatever might be needed of them. Yet neither letter made it clear what were the mistakes they committed.
Soon after, there began to circulate a video presentation in which —according to what I’ve been told— our president makes serious accusations against both men; and when they try to deny these, he confronts them with other videotapes in which they appear accepting bribes, riding in expensive limousines and enjoying a standard of living well above that of ordinary people. This relieved me somewhat because it makes me suppose that those leaders who have not been fired do in fact live at the same level as the people.
Likewise, in one part of the videotape the officials appear to be celebrating exactly when the leader of the Revolution Cuban, our commander-in-chief Fidel Castro, was being operated on (in July 2006). It’s also said that they criticized our current president, Raul Castro, questioning his capacity to run the country, and that they had even misappropriated resources.
But don’t take my word I haven’t viewed the video. The reason I haven’t seen it is simply that I —like to the great majority of the Cuban people—haven’t been allowed to.
The video of Lage and Perez Roque, according to what people say, was shown to leaders and members of the Party (the Communist Party of Cuba) in workplaces. It was said to have been previously seen by members of the councils of State and Ministers, as well as legislators on the national and provincial parliaments and municipal governments – of which the overwhelming majority (I don’t want to generalize) are members of the Party.
I’ve been told that it was also shown in local branches of the Young Communist League (UJC), and was later seen by presidents of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).
Prior to each of these showings, a list was created with the names of people who would be allowed to see it, and the prospective viewers were notified of the day and time the video would be shown.
They were also recommended to bring something to eat and drink, because they would not be permitted to leave the room during the presentation. They could not bring cameras or even pens for taking notes. At the entrance they were requested to present their ID cards in order to confirm that their names were on the list; without their ID, they couldn’t go in.
To date, the rest of the Cuban people —in other words, those of us who are not members or leaders of the Party, the Council of State, the UJC, or delegates to the Assemblies of Popular Power or CDR presidents— have been left to speculate at bus stops or during our commutes about what is said in the video.
Will it be pirated?
People wonder about the possibility of the video being leaked, that someone will eventually be able to pirate it. But this would have to be done by someone in charge of operating the video, and we suppose these people are completely trusted by those who control who and cannot see it. What’s more, if any of them did indeed decide to copy the video so the rest of us could see it, they would be running the risk of ending up behind bars.
While people maintained the hope that the video would be leaked and promptly circulate on the street, what to me seemed most interesting —or perhaps the sadist— was that average people would have to resort to illegal channels to view the video. And that it seemed normal to them that they weren’t allowed to see it, that they were excluded, that they would have to behave like criminals (though they’re not) to see a video.
For weeks I had the idea of writing a commentary on this, but time went by and life followed its course. From time to time you hear somebody say that Carlos Lage is working in a hospital, or that Perez Roque was seen sitting on a bus in which people screamed at him calling him a “descarado” (shameless). People speculate, exaggerate…and finally forget. Few people question, few demand information on the true facts or the measures that were taken.
I remember that about two years ago, Eliecer Avila, a student at the University of Computer Science (UCI), made an address during a student meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, the leader of Cuba’s Parliament. The questions raised by Eliecer were daring and they touched at the root of many of the country’s problems.
Most Cubans saw this student only when he appeared on national television news to deny accusations from abroad that our government was taking reprisals against him for his statements. But the statements themselves never appeared on television or in the press.
Fortunately “The UCI Video,” as it’s called in the street, was leaked and many people have had an opportunity to see it. However, there are still people who don’t know that a UCI student posed questions that directly involve the lives of all Cubans.
A question of “political preparation”
Talking with a friend a few days ago, I found out that he had the same concern as mine. Why did we have to wait for that video to leak illegally to see it? He told me he had raised that concern with a close acquaintance of his, a young member of the Party who had in fact seen the video. “I feel as worthy to see that video as any member of the Party or president of a CDR,” said my friend in directing his concern to his acquaintance. The response he received was: “It’s not a question of worthiness, but one of political preparation.”
Does that mean that we Cubans are now divided between those who are “prepared politically” and those who are not? Are we in the presence of a new type of elite, a new class, a new form of exclusion? Is it that we no longer exclude people on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or social origin, but on the basis of political preparation? And what does having a good political preparation consist of exactly? Who determines which person has adequate preparation in this sphere?
Fortunately this was not the answer of a government representative, nor was it published in any official newspaper. For the time being that’s a relief, and I dare to conclude that the person who gave that answer was not “politically prepared” to respond to my friend’s question. However, the central question remains: Why isn’t everyone entitled to see the video?