Transparency, Honesty and Free Information: Exotic Ideals in Cuba / Ivan
Posted on August 31, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 21 June 2015 — When Berta Soler, leader of one of three
splinter groups of the Ladies in White, convened a referendum on her
continued command of the organization following a scandal in Fall 2014
regarding alleged verbal abuse of a member, it marked a milestone in
dissident circles – more so for being strange than for being novel.
No culture or custom exists in Cuban society for democratic standards or
referendums to balance out the longstanding human tradition of wielding
power at will.
Fifty-six years of the country being run like a neighborhood grocery
store, in a vertical manner and without any braking mechanisms in place
to impede the creation of mini-tyrants, is the main cause of disrespect
towards laws, of scant democratic habits, and of a tendency among our
people to administer a factory or a dissident group after the style of a
I will begin my dissection with the local opposition. Unfortunately,
just like with the rest of Cuban society that has been under the
autocratic boot since 1959, the majority of the dissident leaders carry
within them a Fidel Castro dressed in civilian garb.
In my practice of free journalism, it has been my fate to deal with
characters straight out of legend: egotistical, arrogant, and little
given to responding to questions about the management of finances, or
whether their charters include democratic clauses to govern their projects.
More often than not, my questions are answered with silence – which is
silly, given that official United States web pages list the monies
provided by American organizations to Cuban government opponents,
because such data is public information.
They use discretion as an excuse. They say that if this information were
known by the Department of State Security, it could be used as a lethal
weapon – another trick.
The government’s special services have more moles inside the dissidence
than there is dandruff on an unwashed scalp. The repressors do not want
for Internet access, and just by Googling for a few minutes they can
obtain these and other facts.
What is hiding behind so much secretiveness is a veil of silence with
regard to managing funds, influence and resources, as dictators of the
purse – which is what has been occurring in practice.
Groups are packed with relatives and friends, after the manner of the
sinecures (nepotism) during the Republican era; the first thing a
dissident leader does is surround himself with lackeys. Those who ask
too many questions, or question their procedures, are considered “highly
suspicious.” They get rid of them, or keep them at arm’s length.
Except for Antonio Rodiles, no dissident group invites me to their press
conferences or debates. I am still waiting for the Cuban Civil Society
Open Forum to make room for me on their agenda.
For two months now I have tried to participate in one of their
activities, to write an article. Perhaps they do not invite me because I
am not the typical journalist who will later knock off a simple
informational item or puff piece. They do not like this.
It remains inherent to the imagination of the opposition that somebody
who publishes a halfway critical article is a staunch enemy. That this
is not the case is obvious – but in Cuban society, a culture of
democracy and debate is a rare bird.
I will tell you a story. I have nothing personal against those men who
have spent a long time behind bars, nor against the crusade for their
freedom waged by the opposition. But in investigating their cases, I
observed that the majority of them are not prisoners of conscience.
In 1992, Elías Pérez Boucourt attempted to hijack a boat at gunpoint to
go to the United States. Ernesto Borges Pérez, an ex-counterintelligence
agent, could be a saint, but he was sentenced for having revealed
classified information to the enemy. His father, Raúl Borges, is a good
A few weeks ago, during a conference at the home of Rodiles, I remarked
that it was a grave error to try to label as political prisoners those
types of inmates, even if they are against the regime.
If we were to use in such a superficial manner the definition of
political prisoner or prisoner of conscience, in that list we would have
to include all those sentenced for dangerousness, a legal term of
fascist jurisprudence that has condemned to jail hundreds of Cubans,
mostly young, who have not even committed a crime.
But such differences of opinion provoke a definitive enmity in some
dissidents, who at minimum will write you off as a stinker. Of course
the opponents didn’t come from another planet.
They are part of a sick society of ideological rhetoric and political
manipulation bordering on delirium. They are not held accountable by
anyone (a “normal” thing in a country where nobody, starting with the
Brothers from Birán, is held accountable). They carry out their
adversarial projects as small private islands, after the manner of the
Communist Party chieftains.
Transparency is a non-existent word in Cuba. Citizens do not have access
to offices that will protect them as consumers, nor where they may
obtain facts and statistics – nor a venue where they may lodge
complaints and be heard.
Almost everything is a secret. To try to find out the amount of the
investment fund set aside to purchase urban buses following the
government’s authorization to sell vehicles is a “mission impossible” –
not even James Bond could unearth it.
Neither do the people have a way to find out how the revenues are used
that the State raises through abusive taxation on privately-employed
workers, or from the 240% surtax on goods purchased in the hard-currency
Regarding that dough, nobody says a word – even less so about salaries.
People would like to know what Luis Alberto López-Callejas, Raúl
Castro’s son-in-law who heads the Mariel Special Development Zone, makes.
Unlike in democratic countries, in Cuba there is no advance notice of
presidential trips. Everything is hidden behind a curtain of smoke. So
deeply has the submissive mindset taken hold that many citizens consider
it unimportant to know how the government manages our money.
To fill the city with Starbucks, McDonald’s or Burger King outlets will
not be too difficult. To form modern women and men who have a
sophisticated knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities, and
who can hold their government officials accountable for their offenses,
will be a task of a few years – more than we would like.
Photo: Political activism workshop organized by the Forum for Rights and
Liberties, 11 June 2015, home of Antonio G. Rodiles. Photo taken by
Ernesto García Díaz, Cubanet.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
*Translator’s Note: “Hard Currency Collection Stores” collect, via the
sale of highly overpriced goods, cash from the remittances sent to
Cubans by family and friends abroad.
Source: Transparency, Honesty and Free Information: Exotic Ideals in
Cuba / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba –