Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I’m from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

Cubans against Cubans: No to Public Reprisals

Armando Chaguaceda

HAVANA TIMES — The practice known as the acto de repudio (reprisals) in Cuba has a terrible range of anti-social implications that make it a perverse innovation within tropical Stalinism.

Following its choreographic instructions, common citizens and plain-clothes State Security agents are mobilized to carry out the personal, moral and civic lynching of a defenseless individual. The process has been endured by poets, journalists, community leaders and the wives of political prisoners.

As an observant colleague points out, at its core the reprisals are a cynical and abusive practice, for the true author is the State/government, which pits a group of citizens against another with impunity and in an advantageous situation. It is an official initiative that is entirely different from the spontaneous protests staged by citizens around the world to condemn the abuses of an unpopular politician or a corrupt entrepreneur. It competes with similar tactics employed by the dictatorships of Somoza, Noriega and Pinochet.

The Cuban State has long employed these tactics against its critics, both on the island and abroad. It has even used it against people who do not actively oppose it but who simply choose to turn their back on utopia at a given moment. During the 1980s, in the midst of the Mariel exodus crisis, the country’s high leadership pitted Cubans against those who wished to leave the country. Insults, beatings, and the throwing of stones and eggs at homes and individuals marked more than one life and subjected many to trauma, pain and shame (simply imagine the children who witnessed or suffered these actions). A friend of mine even lost a neighbor, who suffered a heart attack during this uncivil harassment.

Acts of reprisal were carried out in the 1980s against people who wanted to emigrate.

Like many, my family, which considered itself “revolutionary” and loyal to Fidel Castro, however it refused to join these fascist mobs. It even went further than that. I recall that, during those sad days, a friend from school would come over to my place. He was a shy kid from a humble family, whose parents had been stigmatized as “disaffected.” Recently, this person found me on Facebook and, in his message, full of vivid memories, he thanked me for the moments of joy he found in my home, where he found the toys he didn’t have and the friend he was denied elsewhere.

Like me, my friend left Cuba and today lives abroad. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of other Cubans live beyond the island’s borders, and their remittances help those they left behind to get by. Before, they were scum. Today, they are referred to as “Cuban émigrés.” No few of them, however (and putting all technicalities aside) are in fact exiles, banished from a specific way of life, individuals who fled a country where dissent, autonomous forms of organization and even seeking to realize the ever-changing aims of the “revolution” with independent thought were penalized.

The years go by, some things change, but the nature of such practices remains the same. Cuba has even brought about the trans-nationalization of these acts of reprisals, through Cuban embassies that organize, with the enthusiastic collaboration of naïve youths (who truly believe they are fighting imperialism) and the participation of seasoned Stalinists, these shameful spectacles, at cultural and social fora in other countries. The reprisals against blogger Yoani Sanchez and those recently staged at the Civil Society forum held in Panama, in the presence of Cuban dissidents, are recent cases in point.

But the worst takes place on a daily basis back home. The last incident evincing the political manipulation that the Cuban State continues to employ – and the precarious degree of disinformation and incivility that affects part of the population – can be seen in a video (below) where residents of the neighborhood of Miramar, Havana, demand that the authorities put an end to the Sunday rallies of the Ladies in White. Their demand is based on the claim that these affect the peace of the neighborhood, public morale and the education and stability of their children. They are addressing the same authorities that have no qualms about taking children to “reprisals” and exposing them to physical and emotional violence. We are talking about the same people who do not complain when the State takes their children out of the classroom, but who now exercise their right to make public petitions to ask that the right to protest be taken away from fellow citizens. In their demands they call on the State to continue to punish the already oppressed.

Sucelys Morfa González, segunda secretaria de la Juventud Comunista (UJC) during the events in Panama.
Sucelys Morfa González, the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Youth organization, the UJC.

The background to this tragedy is easy to grasp: if the rule of law existed in Cuba, those who support or oppose the government would be entitled to protest in a peaceful manner and under the protection of the authorities. If this isn’t the case, that’s because our political system does not embody any kind of democratic model – neither the liberal-representative nor the popular-participative one. It is quite simply a mechanism for administering, without any counterweights or ratificatory channels at the citizen level, the enormous power that the hopeful masses gave a handful of military strong-men more than half a century ago. We are not, however, condemned to be like this forever.

We can, for instance, imagine that those who defend the “revolution” – they do exist and have their reasons to do so – could rally down Old Havana’s Paseo promenade, towards Revolution Square, while dissidents would enjoy the right to do so down 5ta Avenida, in Miramar. When that can happen, I assume some important questions would be answered. Can a simple protest rally overthrow a government that boasts of massive popular support? Can the Cuban police play the same regulatory and non-repressive role that law as order forces in sister nations (such as Argentina and Ecuador) play during demonstrations by citizens? Will we confirm that those faces we see time and time again, yelling at the top of their lungs during public reprisals, are average, common Cubans who negotiate the agony of looking for food and transportation to go and show support for their government? Will it finally be demonstrated that government opponents are a handful of “mercenaries and imperialist agents”?

I dream of the day in which all Cuban citizens and foreign sympathizers of this phenomenon some still call the “revolution” simply refuse to lend their bodies and words to these fascist practices, in my native country and abroad. I recall that black and irreverent poet who, during a forum organized by several colleagues at a cultural institution in Havana, was applauded after condemning reprisals as one of the shameful aspects of “our revolutionary process.” Unfortunately, that applause did not turn into a Decalogue or an axiom for the majority of those present, who today look the other way when these things take place. It is not a question of embracing one ideology or another, of becoming a dissident activist or distancing oneself from the official discourse of the Cuban government. It is a question of simply saying “no”, once and for all.

Ultimately, the “reprisal” – like any attempt at legitimating or concealing it – is a form of domination that dehumanizes, crushes souls and places a high wall on the road towards civility. One need not become a martyr. One need only refuse to join in and feel that this refusal makes a difference. When decent and thinking people of any creed or political affiliation refuse to legitimate such a loathsome practice, the Cuban nation and its global allies will have taken a civilizing step forward. Throughout this period in history, Cuba has known common citizens whose personal ethics – Christian, neighborly or revolutionary – has prevented them from turning into thugs or predators.

  • Moses Patterson

    Berta Soler is an incredibly brave woman. I have personally witnessed a street reprisal. It took place on Calle San Lazaro a few blocks north of calle Infanta. Apparently, Sra. Soler was holding a meeting inside the home of a member of the Ladies in White who lived on San Lazaro. Just a meeting of a handful of middle aged women!I saw a crowd of 50 or so people in front of the house screaming Viva Fidel, blah, blah, blah. The Castros go to the men and women’s prison and recruit prisoners who are scheduled to get out in the next month and say if you are willing to attend and participate in this rally you can get out early. The crowd is sprinkled with plainclothes state security agents as well. It lasted about an hour. Soler came outside in the midst of the caos and volunteered herself to be arrested to prevent the cowardly Cuban police from kicking down the door. This is a despicable practice and yet another reason to celebrate that the biological end to the Castros tyrannical rule comes soon.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    This is Socialismo! This is what the racist Analyser, the misogynist immigration lawyer Dan, the ever quoting others Mr. Goodrich, emagicman, Dani, and others support, this is what they would like to impose in the free capitalist world that they so despise.
    Let the State control everything even the human mind!
    This article well describes the logical consequences of the imposition of Marxism/Leninism. How the Castro family regime has built up a façade of false legitimacy and respectability as if representative of the Cuban people. There is no room under such a system for individual thought, let alone action.
    Dictatorship is evil and Cuba has suffered under it for fifty six years. Ones heart can only bleed for those who have no choice but to endeavor to exist under such tyranny.

    • dani

      You aren’t very good at guessing my views. I don’t approve of acts of repudiation and intimidation of any kind. That includes the actions that the Dixie Chicks were subjected to in the US. I don’t agree with the author of this piece regarding the protests against Yoani Sanchez in Brazil. They were peaceful enough and I don’t think the Cuban government was involved. As I’ve said previously, Obama should negotiate the end of these acts by committing to stop all illegal and violent activities and stop financing the opposition in Cuba. That seems common sense to me.

      • Griffin

        “They were peaceful enough and I don’t think the Cuban government was involved.”

        In other words, you do support repudiation mobs, and are willing to excuse the Castro government of any blame. Then in the next breath, you blame Obama for not negotiating away these mob attacks on dissidents.

        • dani

          It is tedious having to answer posts when it’s obvious you haven’t even properly read my comments. I said specifically the protests in Brazil against Yoani Sanchez which were peaceful as far as I could see and there is no indication that the Cuban government was involved. Why can’t people protest against a public figure if they don’t like what they stand for. You wouldn’t complain if people in Brazil protested against Mariela Castro for example.

          • Griffin

            I read your comments quite well and noted your eagerness to excuse away the violent repressions carried out by the Castro regime. You are either phenomenally naive or functionally supportive of the Castro regime if you believe the protests against Yoani had no connection to the Cuban government. The protests against the dissident groups in Panama a few weeks ago were similarly organize by the regime.

          • dani

            Where have I shown “eagerness to excuse away the violent repressions carried out by the Castro regime”? I certainly thought I clearly said “I don’t approve of acts of repudiation or intimidation of any kind”. I know, I’ll repeat it a few times “I don’t approve of acts of repudiation or intimidation of any kind”, “I don’t approve of acts of repudiation or intimidation of any kind”. “I don’t approve of acts of repudiation or intimidation of any kind” Have you got it now.

            Where is the evidence that the Cuban government was behind the protests in Brazil. From what I could see the protesters were a bunch of Brazilian lefties. Whether you like it or not, there are plenty of people in Latin America who don’t like Yoani and what she stands for. But then you always did like your little conspiracy theories.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        In short Dani, you claim innocence but support the guilty?

        • dani

          In short I support the truth as I see it.

          For example. I agree with some of Obama’s policies regarding Cuba on others I don’t. If someone said he eats babies for breakfast and drinks down their blood I would disagree. If someone says he is an ineffective president I would agree. Does that make me a supporter or not a supporter of Obama? The trouble with you lot is that you are all completely totalitarian by nature and prisoners of your own warped dogma.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            Your last sentence neatly summarizes your lot! I guess Dani that we ought to accept that ne’re the twain shall meet. “Our lot’ is concerned about freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of expression, human rights and opportunity to allow people to improve their lives by work and application of their talents. “Our lot” although hoping for a better life for the people of Cuba, recognises the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba as oppressive and dictatorial seeking to retain control and power over those people. “Our lot” obviously includes a spectrum of different political adherents – from parties that support multi-party democracy. In our view “your lot” comprises people that support a totalitarian system where a few unelected (no open election in fifty six years) people controlled by one family determine the lives of millions and keep them subjected. Cuba under that regime does not require an immigration policy, for people do not choose to arrive, but to leave.
            Much of a fertile country lies barren and that will not change under a regime that obviously does not understand that a country’s economy is its production.
            What is the future for my four year old Cuban God-daughter? More of the same? That apparently is what “your lot” seeks and supports!

    • John Goodrich

      Capitalism is a totalitarian economic system. PERIOD.
      Socialism and communism are democratic economic systems that have never existed in the 100,000+ year history of humanity.
      The systems in Cuba and the Soviet Union etc were and are STATE CAPITALIST ( and NOT socialist and NOT communist) in which government officials confiscate and distribute the profits from the workers instead of the corporate boards and owners of free-enterprise capitalism doing that confiscating and distributing, .
      Both free-enterprise capitalism and state capitalism are totalitarian so get off that high capitalist horse.
      You support a totalitarian economic system and actually think it’s democratic
      You have no clue as to what democracy is all about nor, I suspect, would you embrace democracy once you did understand what it is

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        Dear me Mr. Goodrich you are continuing with your academic hobby horse and still failing to address reality.

  • Red Soldier

    Absolute “freedom of protest” actually silences the voices of the oppressed and is therefore not freedom. True freedom must be regulated to ensure equality…

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I suppose that is a fair description of the regulations imposed by the Russians upon the countries and peoples of Eastern Europe until the Soviet system rotted from within!

  • John Goodrich

    What is it with the opponents of the Cuban Revolution?
    How can they continue to attack the Cuban government and the people of Cuba for defending the revolution ?
    The deliberate omission of any mention of the GOUSA’s ongoing and 54 year old EXISTENTIAL attack on the Cuban Revolution just as it has done in over 70 other instances of imperial interventions over the past 50 years or so amounts to a massive lie.
    An analogy; A poor little lady is mugged by a 320 lb. thief .
    She is charged with threatening the thief and punished for 54 years by having to live in unending poverty
    Her life story as written by people like the author and (others who need the money) never would mention that 320 lb mugger and blame the old lady’s predicament on her failings..
    Imagine also anyone in 1944 USA running around with a swastika flag or spouting pro-Nazi propaganda publicly -what do you suppose would happen to them ?
    The GOUSA is no less an existential threat to Cuba’s sovereignty that were the Axis Powers during WWII and the Cuban people have a duty to break the heads of anyone waging war on them or those who support the USG plans for subjugating Cuba and reinstalling free-enterprise capitalism as was always the intent of the (imperial ) GOUSA .
    Were normal relations to be established between the Empire and Cuba, were the imperialists controlling Congress and the White House willing to end their long economic war to kill the Cuban revolution -which they are NOT- then I will be the loudest voice here complaining about the (Leninist/anti-democratic) Cuban leadership .
    But not before the USA calls off its war on all the people of Cuba .

    • informed Consent

      The people of Cuba font defend the revolution. Interesting that once you spend time there and people, even in government, warm up to you, you realize that there isn’t much conviction in this “revolution” they’re just trying to survive. The only ones defending the revolution are those in power

    • Hubert Gieschen

      John, you claim to be an anarchist. What is it with you that you never speak up for Cuban anarchists only ever making excuses for stalinists? Which side are you on?

  • John Goodrich

    Gosh Moses,
    There you were right in the middle of a protest against the Cuban government and you never raised a hand to defend the poor LIW !
    I assume you will provide the sources for the information about criminals being released by the government specifically to participate in the anti-LIW rallies.
    I also assume the source will be a website out of south Florida that also deals with bigfoot sightings and UFOs.

    • Moses Patterson

      Your reading comprehension continues to come up short. The Ladies in White were holding what appeared to be a peaceful and private meeting in a private home. Castros’ thugs had organized a small but rowdy repudiation rally on the street outside that private home. This was hardly a protest AGAINST the Castro dictatorship.