José Daniel Ferrer suffers in the dungeons of State Security in Santiago de Cuba, subjected to psychological pressures and macabre practices (like night attacks from swarms of mosquitoes) that seek to break his health. What has Raul Castro gained by the detention and harassment of the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba? Nothing at all. José Daniel rises today from the dungeons of Versalles as the most charismatic and active figure of the Cuban dissidence. His work has transcended the east of the island, and from outside is seen with deep admiration and respect. When such heights are reached, no such measure is effective. His incarceration only produces more activism and others, inspired by him, multiply his example.
Today this man, whose courage and integrity is surely the envy of more than a few Cuban generals (if they say it’s not so ask them whether or not Military Counterintelligence fears him), has just declared a hunger strike. For many Cubans, I’m sure, this news means nothing. They think it is about one more criminal who wants his cell to be a room in a five star hotel. The information blockade to which this government subjects them makes them indifferent, and ever more ignorant, and also more insensitive. By the time they get home after a thousand vicissitudes with transportation, stealing, resolving, a little “business” and then watching the ball game — to repeat the cycle again the next day — their life has gone by. There are those who don’t even have a job, but not a few of them handle money, go on a little trip abroad, and even enjoy Internet access.
Within the latter group — from which we don’t exclude the shady dealers — there are recognized and not recognized intellectuals and artists. They can be seen full of their theories, critical thinking, convenient reports, in permanent contact with their colleagues in exile. But there are many others within this group (which has already ascended to the middle class) who have never boarded public transportation, nor watched national television. What prevents all these people — and I circumscribe them in the interests of brevity — from knowing what happens in Cuba?
Recently I asked one of the most famous writers on the Island to say something on behalf of José Daniel Ferrer. The reader can already imagine his response. But this is not the most alarming: a great number of our academics and intellectuals are unaware of the existence of civil society. If you ask them about it they immediately think you are referring to NGOs (which in Cuba, paradoxically, are governmental) and community projects (also obliged to be linked to the government). The full range of independent projects, the civic and political activism, the opposition movement, the various forms of dissidence, the alternative spaces, the rebellious groups and even individuals such as Yoani Sanchez, all are unknown to this Intelligentsia that refuses to leave the Big Bubble.
From the exile I have heard the opinion that culture and politics should be separate so as not to run the risk of running out of artists (as if staying inside the Bubble was nothing more than the way our artists engage in politics). We can see how far the enchantment reaches. We must break this immense bubble to access civic society and its spaces, unique places where the opposition, the dissidence and the civic movements can interact with the rest of the population. Thus, they constitute, these sites of connection, the articulation that is needed to make political reform viable.
It’s not just for something to do that State Security spares no effort to keep these bridges broken. It’s time for Cubans outside and inside to recognize the real Cuba, which is not confined in the Big Bubble, inside of which float the organic intellectuals, the government, the State institutions, the media images and the neighbors grouped into their Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).
Cuba is more than this: it is also — and better for it — this vibrant civil society that involves citizens and their autonomy, dreams, projects; their sequestered lives, the streets — our streets — the decision to have our own voices.