The Ongoing War against Ideas in Cuba

The year 2021 in Cuba was marked by unprecedented anti- mass protests on July 11th.

Changes have been seen, but the System’s nature hasn’t changed

By Alejandro Armengol (Cubaencuentro)

HAVANA TIMES – Controlling intellectuals has always been one of the Cuban government’s greatest endeavors. It is also one of its most explicit failures.

The Cuban government has always been concerned about those who think and create. Time and time again, the fear that writers, painters, journalists, economists, engineers, professors and even librarians might question the system at some point, resurfaces.

They are completely right, in their own eyes. Today’s opposition in Cuba isn’t defined by armed struggle, but by political dispute. There isn’t just an ideological battle going on: there is a war against ideas.

This conflict isn’t limited to holding onto control of the streets. It goes much further than this: it turns to having control of ideas. It doesn’t matter if these ideas aren’t being shared, they just need to be accepted.

This premise has been one of the few dogmas that has been kept as it is for decades, while an ideological hot-pot has been simmering that anything can be added to, as long as it is authorized beforehand.

This dogma always manifested itself in clumsy ways, such as the famous workplace and student meetings to “discuss Fidel’s last speech”, but there were also key moments, such as the infamous 1961 “Words to the Intellectuals”:

“Are we afraid of the existence of a national body, which is the Revolution and the Revolutionary Government’s duty to have a highly qualified agency which stimulates, encourages, develops, and guides – yes, guides – that creative spirit? We believe this is our duty!”, Fidel wrote in that pamphlet.

“If we were to contest this right of the Revolutionary Government, we would be falling into a problem of principles, because denying that power to the Revolutionary Government would mean denying the Government’s functions and responsibility to lead the people and to lead the Revolution, especially amidst a revolutionary struggle,” he adds.

The former leader made it very clear what he thought the Revolution’s rights were. That is to say, his rights. Of course, not all rights are the same: some are supported with cannons, police officers and prisons, and others just depend upon the individual.

From that moment on, everybody knew what they had to abide to. This principle hasn’t changed, even today. Its author may have physically disappeared, but his work continues.

The Government will never renounce its “rights”. It will never be willing to give up its decision-making power.

Changes have been seen. Most US movies were banned from being screened on the island and homosexuals were persecuted, to give you the two examples that are always repeated. But not anymore, yet the nature of the System hasn’t changed.

The above implies recognizing – although never taking pity on – the sad role of repressors in every shape and form, who do unpleasant things – or enjoyable, because you’ll always find somebody up to the task – out of fear, and for them to know that at this point in time, there’s no room for doubt, that they may be criticized, separated or even punished in the future.

Writers and artists on the island should never forget that a dissident questioning the course of the social process is just as suspicious, in the regime’s eyes, as a creator interested in disseminating their point of view.

The only accepted difference is the degree of cover up when putting an opinon across.

In both cases, the System determines the degree they can move away from official discourse. It’s not just circumstances that make criticism more or less acceptable. The Government reserves the right to rule on what can be protested, how and when.

Every honest writer and author living on the island is facing an increasingly more difficult reality. Keeping a guilt-ridden silence in the face of any act of repression compromises their intellectual dignity. Openly speaking out not only implies personal danger, but also the chance their creative work is interrupted. It’s up to every individual to determine what’s most important.

A a country, Cuba is experiencing a dead-end cultural crisis. For decades, the country has been characterized by the existence of a great number of silenced or silent intellectuals. Ranting from abroad isn’t an option because they refused to abandon the country. But we can suggest they at least practice a decent withdrawal.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.