The [Organization of American States] has won a more relevant space in the hemispheric community. The Inter-American Democratic Charter reflects several shared democratic values; establishes a clear symbiosis between democracy and human rights. […]

Venezuela requests responsibly that the Inter-American Democratic Charter be implemented immediately. […]

Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Dávila during the plenary session of the OAS in 2001 where the Inter-American Democratic Charter – the same document now being derided by current president Nicolás Maduro – was approved by acclamation.

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Postscript (May 5, 2017): This was the last post before taking almost a year off for two different academic jobs, the second of which has just wound down. In all these months, Venezuela went from just plain dysfunctional to descending into a situation akin to Syria, North Korea, or South Sudan (that is, if we are to believe Nikki Haley, the learning-while-doing US Ambassador to the UN)

The OAS has had Venezuela on its crosshairs for quite a while, but it has redoubled the criticism since Maduro all but invalidated the National Assembly, now under opposition majority, as a branch of government (he is reportedly set to deliver what some say is the knockout blow). Of course, one thing is clamoring to impose the Charter onto countries like Mexico for doing nothing (and remaining in cahoots with the drug cartels) while journalists are being gunned down, but another is to be put under that same standard for behaving like a sore loser and kick the table after losing an election. The difference is that now, because immunity from international criticism while leveling it against others has always been an explicitly stated chavista foreign policy objective, Venezuela wants to leave the OAS.

And there are still people in the US who take Venezuela’s side. (No, there is no logic to withdrawing, as this HuffPost entry argues, other than Maduro not owining up to the consequences of his decisions and, instead, blaming something or someone else for the hot mess he is in [the similarities with the attitude of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are nothing short of remarkable]. Besides, if that logic was indeed predicated on the terms of being treated “unfairly” by some world body for actions justified by the notion of inviolable state sovereignty, Israel would have grown sick and tired of so many “hostile” UN Security Council resolutions on the Palestinan issue and left a long time ago.)

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Götterdämmerung to the Tune of a Bossa Nova

Demonstration demanding Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, March 2016. Photo credit: Miguel Schincariol/AFP. Source: noticias.uol.com.br

Dilma Rousseff got kicked out of office and will be impeached. Her best efforts at denouncing the move as “a coup” against her were all for naught. Her party cries foul and says it is all a right-wing conspiracy. International progressivism screams to the top of its lungs that a head of state elected by 54 million citizens has been forced out and it is all part of Washington’s plan to undermine Latin American unity and the conquests of its people. (Yeah, sure.)

Conspiracies are not very likely to pass muster with Occam’s razor, so I will pass on talking about claims of a right-wing cabal. On the other hand, it is curious to listen to the accusations that the US is behind Rousseff’s ouster, even if she has not said anything like that in public. It may be even funny to listen in, because the accusations fly in the face of prior skepticism toward reformist policies. In a book chapter on Venezuela, Greg Wilpert argues that the policies of Latin American social-democratic governments like those of Rousseff and her mentor Lula da Silva, notwithstanding that they benefit millions of people, are not sufficiently transformative because they do not aim at abolishing the abusive neoliberal status quo. In his view, Latin American social-democrats belong to the izquierda permitida, the “good left” — a term usually presented with evident suspicion, if not all-out scorn, and always in opposition to (what progressivism believes is) the authentically transformative projects of radical democracy. And back in 2015, James Petras, writing for Latin American Perspectives, concluded that Rousseff did a 180 toward neoliberalism the moment the Brazilian economy started to take on water. Now, as if by magic, Rousseff is a martyr of the cause of the proverbial wretched of the earth, placed in the same pedestal as Hugo Chávez. In other words, Rousseff is a victim of neoliberalism — the same system left mostly intact by Latin American social-democracy during the famous “pink tide.” In addition, the same Lula who made a very public promise to not rock the neoliberal boat when he was first elected in 2002 now has his reputation being “tarnished” by them neoliberal bastards, who have unleashed a meritless and politically-motivated anti-corruption investigation against him with the purpose of impeding his (possible) second re-election bid in 2018. So these social-democrats are not wash-outs or sell-outs anymore. What changed?

I am of the opinion that misrepresenting fiscal data to hide a budget deficit, as Rousseff is accused of doing, deserves a legislative censure at best. Maybe a vote of no confidence at the most extreme. Impeachment is a punishment that just does not seem appropriate. It is better suited to more egregious felonies, like covering up a burglary or lying under oath. But the fact is that there is a law in Brazil against misrepresenting fiscal information, and it appears that it does merit an impeachment. If the accusation holds water, it would prove that the Workers Party deviated from his leftist origins and got “intoxicated with power,” as the New York Times says. (The offense in question was supposedly made for electioneering purposes.) As far as that goes, the Workers Party is no different from any other Brazilian political party full of sketchy, sleazy people. Not in a Downsian fashion, at least (that is, a party that competes for power simply to enjoy the status, perks, and rent that come with public office and not for ideology or political agenda). The Workers Party tasted political power and it was delicious. And it looks like it could not get enough of it. Was it gluttony?

Meanwhile, a whole slew of the opposition pols who clamored for impeachment have been accused of corruption – a sad fact. Rousseff, to her credit, has not been targeted by any anti-corruption investigation. Not even by “Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato),” which uncovered a kickbacks scheme that went on for years at the state-owned oil company, Petrobras (much of which occurring while Rousseff was part of its board of directors, though). Still, she has no right to cast the first stone. First, there was the mensalão bribery scandal of the early 2000s, for which a number of Workers Party notables (as well as pols from other parties) were indicted and found guilty, including Rousseff’s predecessor as Lula’s chief of staff, José Dirceu. Rousseff had nothing to do with that scandal, but because it was instigated within her party it must be an embarrassment to her, if it is not already, because of the guilt by association. And second, Dirceu (still imprisoned for the mensalão scandal) and the Workers Party treasurer were arrested last year in connection with Lava Jato, adding to the embarrassment. As for progressives, the involvement of some of Rousseff’s fellow party members in those scandals was unceremoniously pushed aside in their statements (reminiscent of the claim that human rights are an ideological weapon being used to destroy the Cuban Revolution) casting dispersions at anti-corruption probes. In short, if they target Lula or Rousseff, they are baseless and have to be politically motivated. If they target Eduardo Cunha (the Speaker of the House of Deputies, separated from the post by the Brazilian Supreme Court on corruption charges) or acting president Michel Temer, their heads must roll.

Speaking of Temer, he will have to hope he does not fall from the rodeo horse and get pummeled under the hoofs. Lee Alston, of Indiana University, has this take: Temer should aim to set Brazil back to the type of disciplined fiscal policy that will provide a strong foundation for policies of socioeconomic inclusion like Bolsa Família and the like – the same type of policy implemented by Fernando Henrique Cardoso long before Lula was even elected. The devil, says Alston, is in the detail of whether Temer is imaginative, adaptive, and resourceful enough to do that. At least, he retained a popular figure in Rousseff’s government – the head of the central bank – and appointed him finance minister. But in turn, Rousseff’s supporters in and out of Brazil will not give him the benefit of the doubt: he is a coup-monger who was an informant to the US embassy (according to Wikileaks) and will sell out Brazil on a free trade agreement with the US. Already, two of Brazil’s largest labor unions have announced that they will not cooperate with him, a few South American heads of state refuse to recognize him as president, and his decision to appoint only white males for ministerial posts was not welcome by feminists (he has since appointed a woman as head of Brazil’s development bank). But curiously, Temer has also drawn fire from the same people he is supposedly in cahoots with, because business leaders are not happy with the finance minister’s idea of imposing new taxes. And then there are the anti-corruption probes: if he orders to stop them, Brazilians of all stripes will remind him every day about his illegitimacy and give him an even harder time. It is obviously too early to make a sound value judgment, but given all this context Temer could end up being an ineffectual and hapless head of state rather than the hired gun for neoliberalism his detractors portray him as. He does not arouse my contempt, but my pity.

None of this means that Rousseff is guilty as charged. What it does mean is that all this ideological chest-beating from her side is similar to the tantrums of a teenage drama queen. Where were Cindy Sheehan, Tom Hayden and all the other people who signed an online petition demanding Rousseff’s reinstatement (see the full list here and here) when José Dirceu was giving a bad rep to Rousseff’s party by engaging in bribery and graft? And how is it that a social-democrat who never aimed at abolishing Brazilian neoliberalism is not a martyr? And assuming that Rousseff did violate the law and there is hard evidence of it, why should she not be held accountable for her actions?

In the end, anyway, Brazil is a hot mess. First the Olympics of Superfluousness, then Zika, and now this, on top of the issues it already has. Rather than being the Country of Tomorrow, it is merely the Country of Always Been, or maybe of Never Will Be.

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Kiss and Make Up? (III): Obama’s Cuban Vacay

Cubans observe Air Force One approaching Havana Airport on March 20th. Source: centralmaine.com

Hell froze over. A sitting President of the United States has visited Cuba for the first time since the 1920s. It is the biggest step yet toward the normalization of relations that Cuba and the US began late in 2014. With this visit, Cuba has been officially elevated to the rank of countries the US has disagreements with, but is still willing to talk to face-to-face and even seek cooperative agreements with, just like with China and Russia. Obama’s first-ever presser in Cuba, next to Cuban president Raúl Castro, proclaimed the new state of affairs.

Politico came up with a rather interesting play-by-play account of that presser, hailing it as “how Obama set a trap for Raul Castro.” Maybe, because according to that account Castro was visibly uncomfortable when a CNN reporter asked him about Cuba’s political prisoners, to the point that Castro ended the presser by saying that it was “not right” for him to be asked about the issue. And Obama was all too happy to join in on the fun and push Castro into the limelight. El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-speaking, Castro Brothers-criticizing official organ of Miami’s Cuban diaspora, passed judgment on that awkward day: Raúl Castro is not ready to field questions from anyone who is not on his government’s pocket. But what is more interesting to me is that both presidents have declared to the whole universe that they agree to disagree on fundamental stuff like human rights and political freedoms. In a retort to Obama, Castro said that it was inconceivable in Cuba for the government to not guarantee health care, education, food security, and social security; and that civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights were interdependent and indivisible.

So we now arrive at an Odd Couple conundrum: can two countries with different and deeply held views on democracy make normalization work without driving each other crazy?

On the Cuba side, there is nothing wrong with demanding that socioeconomic equality be a foundation of the political system, because it does have an effect on whether citizens feel that they are truly equal under the law, are wholly included in the political process, and receive the same opportunities to reach the peak of human promise. That is the spirit of the Cuban Revolution, and no one can blame it for that given the sordid state of Cuba before 1959. On the other hand, Castro did not explain what exactly did he mean by “political freedoms,” but it is obvious that dissent is not one of them. The reasons are not difficult to find if we put a little intellect into it. Insofar as Cuban socialism and its tenets of socioeconomic equality are advertised to Cubans as the ultimate source of all legislation and a representation of a common interest in national sovereignty, Cuban socialism is similar to the prototypical Rousseauian general will. And because the general will represents everybody’s best interest and is always right, it is always better to obey a law that has its source on the general will even if you disagree with it. Ergo, Cubans must be forced to be free, like Tania Bruguera, “El Sexto,” the Ladies in White, Heberto Padilla, and Oswaldo Payá can tell. Thus, the problem here is the same one that affects traditional religion: when ideas become an omnipresent and infallible dogma that does not countenance disagreement with it. In those conditions of groupthink, the economic, social and cultural rights that the Cuban Revolution claims to have achieved, for all their validity, are pointless. That, by the way, is nowhere to be found in the minds of people who have support Cuba under a “different strokes for different folks” take on democracy, which Laurence Whitehead describes as being infamously susceptible to use as a way to tolerate retreats from (liberal-)democratic values. One point for the US.

On the US side, neither is there anything wrong with asserting that no government, not even the most progressively-minded, should assume that individuality is superfluous, especially when it comes to the impact of government decisions on ordinary lives. This why the right to dissent – the same right Cuban supporters in the US take advantage of when making their case against the embargo but seemingly cannot conceive Cubans on the island to have – matters. But we also know, unless someone is living on a rock or ignores the following on purpose, that the US has ghastly flaws — rising income inequality, African-Americans killed by (usually White) police officers or overpopulating prisons, health care being a good on the market and not a right, politicians being sold to the highest bidder thanks to easily circumvented campaign finance rules, etc. In such conditions, the political freedoms for which the US if worldwide famous are just as pointless. (Fortunately, though, Americans can speak out against those injustices and/or vote for people who promise to reverse them, like Jill Stein or even Bernie Sanders.) Moreover, it is also a historical fact that despite rhetorical artillery barrages like Ted Cruz’s, the US does have a negative historical record in Cuba, among other counts, by virtue of negating its full independence after the Spanish-American War and enlisting the help of people like Fulgencio Batista, the dictator whose henchmen beat and tortured Cruz’s father. And when scandals like Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo detainees show up, or when Obama does not appear to hold all Latin American countries to the same human rights standard he holds Cuba to, Obama’s human rights “trap” is in reality a flimsy one. One point for Cuba.

Assuming that normalization will survive the upcoming change in administration and a new Congress, the fact that the US is treating Cuba now in the same way it treats Russia and China is more promising than 50 more years of the same old policy of antagonism so cherished by the GOP, the hard line of the Cuban diaspora, and even Democrats like Bob Menéndez. (Donald Trump would not follow along. He would probably bomb Havana and have Fidel Castro waterboarded.) But that promise means that both sides have high expectations to meet. The US must recognize that it did not play fair with Cuba in the past and, accordingly, still not take normalization as a Trojan horse for the kind of regime change it tried to carry out in Cuba decades before. It also has to recognize that there is nothing wrong with socioeconomic equality in and of itself and concede that the Cuban Revolution has a good point there. But in turn, Cuba must recognize that the totalitarian party-state model, with its penchant for repressing society, now belongs in the dustbin of history and that there is nothing wrong with recognizing political individuality, because it is impossible to expect all citizens to agree to what the government will do to them. Cuba does not need to continue emulating the atmosphere of Donald Trump’s rallies (“get him out of here!”) by ostracizing an artist who utilizes art as a vehicle for political self-expression, a mother that wants her son released from jail or someone like this guy. The bushes that survive the high winds are the flexible ones, not the stiff ones. Besides, the generation of the Sierra Maestra is withering away, including Raúl Castro, who announced upon his re-appointment as head of state in 2013 that he will retire in 2018. It is time to rethink the Cuban Revolution, especially when so many Cubans simply want a better life for themselves without having to vote with their feet.

But however you slice it, hell did freeze over. I guess that means the Curse of the Billy Goat will finally be broken and Cubs will win the World Series this year.

“The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention.” (Red Smith, New York Herald Tribune, October 4, 1951)

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4F

A sympathizer of chavismo holds a flag and a Hugo Chávez doll while participating on the march commemorating the 24th anniversary of the February 4, 1992 coup. Photo credit: Oswaldo González. Source: Ministry of the Popular Power for Communes and Social Movements, Bolivarian Government of Venezuela

As I was doing some online research for a manuscript that will be sent to a peer-reviewed journal, I came across with the news that Venezuela observed the 24th anniversary of the even that made Hugo Chávez a household name: the military coup that he led in February 1992. The Bolivarian spin machine made sure that the significance of that event, as they see it, was not lost on anyone (my translation):

With joy and patriotic sentiment, the revolutionary people commemorated this Thursday, February 4th the 24th anniversary of the civic-military rebellion [..].

This commemoration began on February 4th, 1992, when Chávez, along with a group of military patriots and sectors of the people, initiated the struggles against the policies that favored oligarchic sectors and harmed the Venezuelan people.

In that context, the date represents the popular insurrection against neoliberalism and the capitalist system that devoured the resources of the nation.

[…]

It is important to highlight that this act of patriotism and gallantry was declared Day of National Dignity because it is considered one of the most transcendental events in Venezuelan history.

Every country can establish as many of these big days as it wants and justify them as it wants, so long as the explanation makes sense. But at a moment when the Venezuelan economy is in unquestionable shambles and the opponents of chavismo have made it all the way into becoming legislative majority, this particular commemoration has all the trappings and feel of a rally-around-the-flag ploy, conveniently set up to prop up the strained morale of chavistas and make everybody forget that things are just not good. Chavismo continues to be under siege even if it also continues to have the lion’s share of political power and a military that is unabashed about being ideologically pliant. Every time President Maduro insults those who do not agree with him, he gives Donald Trump a run for his billions.

I have always thought that the Venezuelan people (or rather, that 59% of valid votes for president in 1998) cannot be blamed for bringing Hugo Chávez to power. He was a product of the circumstances. In general terms, Venezuelans in February 1992 lived under a political system dominated by Acción Democrática (AD) and Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI) – two political parties that were practically indistinguishable ideologically, increasingly unrepresentative, and too willing to turn the other way rather than to crack down on corruption. The system, known by scholars as puntofijismo (named after its constitutive agreement, known as Punto Fijo Pact) was also fueled by oil revenues that were heavily spent on what was essentially a large welfare state, so by the early 1980s, when oil prices plummeted and the foreign debt crisis of 1982 began, the economic panic button was pressed. AD and COPEI governments tried to remedy the situation with neoliberal measures such as a sharp currency devaluation (the notorious Venezuelan “Black Friday” of 1983) and spending cuts, but their unpopularity contributed to discredit the parties further and led to the 1989 street riots known as “Caracazo,” as well as 5,000 more demonstrations in the following three years. Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez found time from his duties as an army lieutenant colonel to become a full-time conspirator and organize, along with other like-minded officers, the February coup, partaking from the generalized sentiment against puntofijismo.

What is interesting is that Chávez took his time in embracing socialism, so one can only wonder how much of a “popular insurrection against neoliberalism” the February coup was. Gregory Wilpert suggests that Chávez did not decisively declare himself a socialist until 2005, and before that (including his 1998 presidential bid) his leftist inclinations were vague. Also, according to Heinz Sonntag, the circle of military conspirators who orchestrated the coup were less interested in socioeconomic revolution than in a purely political revolution (as in radically changing state institutions). By the same token, Michael Coppedge argues that the main goals of the February coup were to remove the elected but detested government, end impunity, and rekindle prosperity – goals widely shared among Venezuelans at the time. None of them, however, indicate the type of socioeconomic change advanced by 21st century socialism (as a matter of fact, two of Chávez’s co-conspirators, Yoel Acosta and Jesús Urdaneta, eventually distanced themselves from him once he embraced socialism). Coppedge also presents an interesting argument: ordinary Venezuelans got morally outraged because they were paying the consequences of corrupt adecopeyano politicos plundering oil profits and running the economy to the ground. Venezuelans did oppose neoliberalism violently, but Coppedge suggests that it was because of the timing of the measures, since the economic crisis was not deep enough for Venezuelans to adopt a “wait-and-see” stance. After 1992, says Coppedge, when a non-adecopeyano government implemented more neoliberal policies to reverse a more prolonged crisis, there was no second “Caracazo.” In any case, it seems reasonable to think that neoliberalism was opposed in 1989 because it deepened an economic crisis that should not have happened in the first place, not because of anything inherently reprehensible about neoliberalism itself. In this sense, February 4th has more in common with the traditional Latin American coup (i.e. the military stepping in to save the country from its inept civilian rulers) than with a crusade against neoliberalism. And finally, forgotten by the current powers-that-be in Venezuela, is the fact that a second military coup was carried out on November 27, 1992.

These statements do not intend to rehabilitate puntofijismo. If anything, they echo Jennifer McCoy’s thoughts on the dangers of over-institutionalization: the old parties grew so attached to their traditional ways that they could not – or perhaps did not want to – see the writing on the wall and adapt to a changing society, new demands, and new political actors. In turn, this story does not justify anything that Chávez, Maduro, and their respective governments have done until now.

Maduro and his fellow chavistas did not come up with a tall tale. It just needs to be told without all the ideological exaggeration.

PS: As a way to show that history repeats itself, especially to those who do not learn from the past, President Maduro has decreed the same currency devaluation implemented by adecopeyano governments. Most astoundingly, on a televised 5-hour speech, he expressed his hope that the people would understand his decision, alluding to the “Caracazo” – and perhaps hoping that something similar will not happen on his watch.

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A Latin American “Asterix”

A 1984 Cuban postage stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of Cuban cinema with cartoon character Elpidio Valdés on the forefront. Source: Radio Rebelde (Cuba)

This post contains links to video clips in Spanish.

I love Asterix. I have always been fond of that little Gaul who constantly outwits Julius Caesar’s legions with the help of his superhumanly strong friend Obelix, who in turn constantly gives them a thrashing. More than the historical setting, what attracts me from that comic is the quality of the drawings and, especially, the humor. I have a handful of volumes at home; my favorite is one in which Asterix and Obelix join the legions, but obviously not out of treason. Then one fine day, as I was wandering around YouTube, I found out about a Cuban cartoon that may be Asterix’s kindred soul from this side of the Atlantic.

Created in 1970 by Cuban cartoonist and filmmaker Juan Padrón, himself a towering figure of Cuban animation, Elpidio Valdés tells the adventures of a brave cavalry officer in the National Army of Liberation (the mambises) during the 1895 Cuban War of Independence. Riding his horse Palmiche and accompanied by his equally courageous companions Marcial and María Silvia, Elpidio constantly battles and routs the Spanish troops led by General Resóplez and his colonels Andaluz and Cetáceo. Sometimes, he faces off and invariably defeats the Cuban peasants fighting on Spain’s side
known as rayadillos, especially the cigar-chomping Media Cara and his perpetually drunk stooge Cortico. Between 1970 and 2003, Elpidio appeared in 25 short features and four animated movies, and had his own comic strip for a time. Four decades after its creation, Elpidio Valdés is so popular in Cuba that it is considered a pop culture icon.

It is important to point out that Asterix upends history because what happened in reality was that Caesar’s legions conquered the Gauls in 52 BC. In turn, Elpidio Valdés does not upend history; it depicts something that happened very repeatedly in the 1895 war: the mambí army trouncing the Spanish army in battle. But there is a reason why Asterix and Elpidio Valdés are kindred spirits even if their adventures have different degrees of adherence to historical facts: both characters represent people who appear at first to be no match to a superior opposing force but nevertheless find a way to defeat it. The Spanish army had some of the latest weaponry, logistics, and numbers to muster; but the mambí army fought a guerilla war that wore them out. It is a David-versus-Goliath theme that can be found in conflicts like the Vietnam War or the Soviet-Afghan War. And who does not like an underdog story?

Although the Elpidio Valdés cartoons are produced by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, ICAIC), itself a branch of the Ministry of Culture, they do not carry the openly propagandistic message of other animated works (this one in particular is considered by ICAIC itself to be the film that officially inaugurated its animation department). But neither do they fall far from the tree of the official zeitgeist: by tapping into a key conjuncture in Cuban history, Elpidio Valdés connects to the undercurrent of national liberation that lies at the foundation of the Cuban Revolution. To use history instrumentally is not new (in Mexico, PRI hegemony relied significantly on exploiting the imagery and pantheon of the Mexican Revolution), but to describe Elpidio Valdés in that fashion – as an instrumental use of history – makes much sense. And given that conclusion, it also makes sense to place these cartoons within the basic guideline of Cuba’s cultural policy: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.” (In all fairness, however, ICAIC produces animation that is not propagandistic or politically instrumental in nature, like the famous Filminutos shorts.)

And yet Elpidio Valdés cartoons are real cool. The shorts produced since 1978 have better looking drawings than those produced in the four previous years (production began in 1974, according to ICAIC) and, therefore, are my personal favorites. Throughout, though, there are sprinkles of humor and quite a few adaptations of classic cartoon gags, like palm trees that double as daggers and sentry posts that become rockets (both seen in the second produced short of the series). And every now and then, the bad guys get literally kicked in the family jewels. Also, in the short feature “Elpidio Valdés se casa” (“Elpidio Valdés Gets Married”), Elpidio is so nervous on the day he weds María Silvia that at one point he leaves his dwelling all primped up, but with no trousers on (he is shown wearing skivvies, though). But these cartoons also have an educational element; for instance, in shorts about some of the firearms used by the mambí army and the weapon of choice of its cavalry, the machete (the latter has original music from Cuba’s leading nueva trova singer-songwriters, Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés).

In all, for all my criticisms of the Cuban government, its ideology, and its unjustifiable short leash on artistic expression, Elpidio Valdés is something I really enjoy watching. Like an Asterix comic book.

Bonus feature (in Spanish): Elpidio Valdés faces off against the NYPD.

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About the Right to Rave


Cuban migrants in the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. Photo credit: Reuters. Source: Telesur

(Published earlier this month in the Spanish online newspaper Mundiario)

I have the impression that progressives have found a very subtle and worrisome way to let themselves be seen: by obtaining my e-mail address without my knowledge and consent. For some time now, I have been receiving messages from the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity for the Peoples, an activist network based in California that initially demanded the liberation, which happened last year, of five Cuban intelligence agents indicted and jailed in the US for espionage and currently campaigns to “support the just struggles of the peoples of the world, from Latin America and the Caribbean to the Middle East.” The messages they send make it automatically to my spam folder and, for that reason, they are largely ignored, but every now and then they send something that makes me react.

Hours before the end of 2015, I received from them a message wishing me a happy new year with something written by Eduardo Galeano, entitled “The Right to Rave.” It is the next-to-last part of his book Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking Glass World and invites readers to “set our sights beyond infamy to imagine another possible world” – a more humane and less consumption-crazed world where los jodidos [roughly translated to “The Screwed Ones”] can finally exercise their right to a dignified life. Galeano offers a long list of “raves” that certainly deserve the support of the human race, so there is nothing wrong with imagining that other possible world. Neither is there anything wrong – theoretically – with the Committee doing so.

Meanwhile, several thousands of Cuban migrants on their way to the US were stuck in Costa Rica since the preceding month, in a legal limbo that came about after Nicaragua closed its border and sent soldiers and police officers to forcibly clear the area. Official Cuba was silent for days, only to declare later that those migrants left their country for economic reasons and therefore did not deserve to be treated like political refugees by the US, to which it blames for the crisis by keeping the Cuban Adjustment Act in the books […]. Costa Rica welcomed the migrants, but Nicaragua’s decision forced it to stop granting temporary visas and the government has said that it will not admit more migrants and cannot continue sheltering those that made it any longer. In response, Central American countries have prepared a plan to solve the situation that includes flights scheduled for later this month to El Salvador, from which the migrants will be transported by road to the Mexico-Guatemala border.

The dreamers of that other posible world that wished me a happy 2016 citing Galeano have not paid attention to these events. Their silence regarding the odyssey of these migrants is now longer than the Cuban government’s, but it is equally eloquent. Neither has there been any condemnation against the Nicaraguan government for beating and shooting [with plastic bullets] a group of migrants that are supposedly to be treated with respect and dignity and not as common criminals. But there are condemnatory statements against the US because of the embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act. In all, it seems that these supporters of utopia think that the Cubans stuck in Central America do not have the right to rave and that the right to see, hear, and remain silent is a problem exclusive to neoliberal societies. In other words, the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity for the Peoples seems to have determined that these Cuban émigrés do not meet the necessary requisites to become part of los jodidos. For that reason, there will not be a permanent online campaign on their behalf, as it will still continue for revolutionary Cuba.

By definition, those who emigrate rave. Simply put, they rave about a dignified life that will allow them to realize themselves as human beings and cannot be obtained in their countries of origin. Cuba-based blog Havana Times explains the reasons for the rave among the Cubans that leave or want to leave: “[i]t’s not hatred towards the revolution, its disillusionment. Too many economic failures; poor leadership; a bad system; far too many obstacles everywhere; too many prohibitions still standing, and scant, next to no power granted the people to have a say in improvements. We rely 99.9% on a tiny and exclusive group of people who earned their right to govern the country more than 56 years ago in a guerrilla war and they hold absolute power, propped up by laws and legitimated by international recognition.” That is the self-critique that neither the Cuban government nor the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity for the Peoples will engage in because it is not convenient to notice that the emperor has been wearing no clothes for a very long time. On the contrary, it is better to continue waving the flag of the other possible world to prop up the crumbling revolutionary edifice, for the sake of utopia. In any case, that the Cuban government has said that the émigrés in question are mere economic émigrés is an admission (accidental, but still an admission) that the Cuban Revolution has nothing to offer, except maybe long speeches pontificating against neoliberalism and defending the right of Bolivarian Venezuela to exist.

One of Galeano’s “raves” is that politicians will stop believing that the poor like to eat promises. The Cuban government and the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity for the Peoples believe that the Cubans screwed by the economic failures, the obstacles everywhere, having next to no power to have a say in improvements, and the lack of opportunities (and, of course, political repression) like to eat the official speeches delivered every July 26. Nothing can be further away from the truth. That is why it is embarrassing to assume that Cubans living in Cuba do not have the same right to rave the other Latin American jodidos have. Or that they do not have justified motives to emigrate, economic or not.

As far as I am concerned, my disappointment with the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity for the Peoples is so great that from now on every e-mail I receive from them will be blocked without remission. Maybe I should have done that a long time ago.

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Remembering a Writer Latin America Lost in 2015


Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)
(Photo source: http://www.guiaespiritualmente.com)

Although we cannot guess the time that will be, at least we have the right to imagine the time we want it to be. In 1948 and 1976, the United Nations proclaimed long lists of human rights, but the immense majority of humanity enjoys only the rights to see, hear and remain silent. What if we start by exercising the never-proclaimed right to dream? What if we rave, for a little while? Let’s set our sights beyond infamy to imagine another possible world:

air will be cleansed of all poisons except those born of human fears and human passions;

on the streets, automobiles will be run over by dogs;

people will not be driven by cars, programmed by computers, bought by supermarkets, or watched by televisions;

the TV set will no longer be the most important member of the family and be treated like the iron or the washing machine;

people will work for a living instead of living for work;

the penal codes will incorporate the crime of stupidity, committed by those who live to have or win instead of living just to live, like the bird that sings without knowing that it sings or the boy who plays without knowing that he is playing;

in no country shall young men who refuse to serve in the military go to jail, but only those who want to serve;

economists will not refer to consumption as “living standards” or the amount of things as “quality of life;”

cooks will not believe that lobsters love to be boiled alive;

historians will not believe that countries love to be invaded;

politicians will not believe that that the poor like to eat promises;

solemnity will not be thought of as a virtue and no one will take seriously anyone incapable to kid around;

death and money will lose their magical powers, and neither by death nor by luck will the scoundrel become a virtuous gentleman;

nobody will be considered a hero or a fool for doing what is fair rather than what is the most convenient;

the world will not wage war on the poor, but on poverty, and arms industries will have no choice but to declare bankruptcy;

food shall not be a commodity or communication a business, because food and communication are human rights;

nobody will die of hunger, because nobody will die from indigestion;

street children will not be treated like garbage, because there will be no street children;

wealthy children will not be treated like if they were money, because there will be no wealthy kids;

education will not be the privilege of those who can pay for it;

police will not be the curse of those who cannot buy it;

justice and liberty, Siamese twins doomed to live apart, will get together again, very stuck together, back to back;

a Black woman will be President of Brazil, another Black woman will be President of the United States of America, an indigenous woman will govern Guatemala, and another one will govern Peru;

in Argentina, the crazy women of Plaza de Mayo will be held up as examples of mental health, because they refused to forget in a time of obligatory amnesia;

the Holy Church will correct the Ten Commandments and the Sixth Commandment will order that the body shall be celebrated;

the Church will also dictate another commandment, one that God forgot: “thou shall love nature, of which you are a part of;”

the deserts of the world and the soul will be reforested;

the desperate will no longer be desperate and the lost will be found, because the desperate became so from too much waiting and the lost got lost from too much looking for;

we will be compatriots and contemporaries of all those with the will for justice and beauty, regardless of where they were born in and what they have lived through, without the smallest regard for geographic or time boundaries;

perfection will remain the boring privilege of the gods, but in this klutzy and fucked up world every night will be lived as if it was the last one and every day as if it was the first one.

“The Right to Rave” (fragment),
from Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World (1998)

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