OLPL Speaks at Johns Hopkins / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Posted on May 17, 2014
Speech by OLPL in Kenney Auditorium, Johns Hopkins University School of
Advanced International Studies, Washington DC, 16 May 2014.
As a Cuban from the Island —and all Cubans are, no matter how far and
how much time has passed since we left or were expelled from the
Island—, as a critical intellectual —that is, a writer and photographer
who believes in the beauty of truth, even when nobody listened— and also
as a Cuban from the exile, of course —because all Cubans are as well, no
matter if we still live inside the Island, where we are “inxiles”—, it’s
a privilege and a great honor to be invited here to share my experiences
and my vision with you today.
I hope that my words can give voice to the countless alternative voices
that exist and resist in my country. These are real men and women who
cannot live normal lives in their birthplace, since their whole
existence is disrupted day by day —and decade after decade— by the
perverse nature of a regime never elected by my people, by the
propaganda machinery and the impunity of the political police, in a
despotic version of socialism that, as in any totalitarian State, starts
by abolishing private property, only to end up destroying private life
as such, harassing citizens whether or not they become aware of the
power of the powerless and decide to bear witness to their own reality.
Indeed, the concept of citizen itself is officially obsolete inside
Cuba, since the term is used exclusively by the authorities when the
police carry out a detention or when a tribunal opens a trial. So, if
they call you “ciudadano” (citizen), then you know you are lost even if
you are innocent or, worse —as in a Kafka novel—, even if you don’t have
any idea of what you are guilty of. Therefore, perhaps the crime is the
social process itself.
On the one hand, I speak here quite confident, after so many walls that
seemed would never fall and yet they did fall in the last 25 years. On
the other hand, I also speak so very worried in front of other walls
that should have been brought down already and still have not been. I’m
particularly concerned about the new walls that many governments seem to
be building, in a battle that may well be developing in perfect peace,
little by little, corroding the basis of democracy on our planet, by the
use of democratic disguises that hide the intentions of the system,
until it’s too late for the people to react and get rid of the oppressors.
The Cuban people might have suffered this process twice:
1. Not only after the military takeover of January 1st 1959, but before
the victory of the so-called Revolution, the confidence of a whole
nation was betrayed by secret agendas that involved the hegemonic
potencies of the Cold War world back then, plus the never-ending hunger
for power of Fidel Castro and his closest followers. Believe it or not,
many of those men —those who were not devoured by the rage of a
Revolution so similar to Saturn, who eats his own children— those men
are still alive and in absolute control in Cuba now, although they are
not mentioned in the manipulative billboards of the CubaNow campaign
that this month is being displayed in the stations of Washington DC
metro. This gerontocracy is an elite so cynical as to call themselves
“the historical generation”. Or maybe they are just being transparent,
since it’s really impossible that history will forget or forgive this
generation created in the image and likeliness of the Maximum Leader.
Thus, despite the previous dictatorship, in 1959 Cuba lost a democratic
republic with a then recent Constitution that even today would be
considered a paradigm in the recognition of differences within unity.
2. In the 21st century itself, in this 2014 that looked like
science-fiction for the teenagers that we were in the late 80’s, a
Transition is now taking place in my country, but not from Law to Law
—as in the Spanish democratization model— but from Dictator to Dictator,
in the Caribbean style, including a dynastic tradition of blood: from
the original Castro to his brother Raul; then, when he steps down most
likely after 2018, to his daughter Mariela (now Deputy in the National
Assembly of People’s Power) or to his son Alejandro (a high-ranked
intelligence officer, the much feared tropical version of Vladimir Putin
and other autocrats of the kind), or to both. Indeed, since its
independence from Europe centuries ago, Latin America is a region
devastated by criminal caudillos that call themselves Liberators,
Saviors, and ultimately Fathers of our homeland. So, 55 years after the
enthusiasm of a Revolution, just when the light at the end of the tunnel
is a growing illusion in the soul of my nation —inside and outside the
Island—, once again a secret operation is on its way to abort our hopes
to be free.
However, nowadays an emerging civic society is peacefully struggling in
Cuba, face to face against such a transition from Communism to State
Capitalism, a strategy for the system’s survival that relies on the
populist regimes of the region, on geopolitical globalization, and on
the irresponsible greed for profits of both foreign and, most sadly,
Cuban investors living abroad, the majority in the United States, now
under an administration that, like European Union, seems more than
willing to “normalize” the relations with an “abnormal” regime,
disregarding the violations of human rights in Cuba, as part of a time
left behind long ago. Thus ensuring, by the way, a fossil future for all
Cubans wherever we may live. The rationale here appears to be that, if
democracies cannot prevail over the enemies of freedom, then it’s better
to make an alliance and, preferably, to do business with them. In free
nations maybe nobody conceives a Cold War II scenario, but the rationale
of totalitarianism is totally different for sure.
Please, allow me to re-write the famous poem of Allen Ginsberg: America,
you’ve given them all and now you’re nothing… I wouldn’t like to be the
spokesman of bad news for the Western world, but next time we take a
close look at the politic equilibrium in our hemisphere, for example, we
might be surprised that it will be too late to react and get rid of the
Dear friends: since I became an independent blogger and journalist in
Cuba, I was told, by the former Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, and
the former director of the Cuban Book Institute, Iroel Sanchez, that I
will never publish again in my country. They were both removed from
their positions later (Saturn’s law), but the unholy war of the Castros
against critical intellectuals goes on and on.
While I talk here, the Havanan novelist Angel Santiesteban languishes a
5-year sentence for a common crime announced to him —by State Security
agents— as a punishment for his opinion columns in his blog: Los hijos
que nadie quiso /The Children Nobody Wanted.
While I talk here, a journalist from the free-lance agency Hablemos
Press / Let’s Talk Press, Calixto Ramon Martinez was kept many months in
prison for reporting an outbreak of cholera in Cuba, which still
constitutes a serious health risk there, even for tourists, a fact that
the Cuban government refuses to recognize in its due importance. Finally
he was released without any explanation, documentation of his case, or
at least an attempt to give him an apology or indemnify him.
While I talk here, a Catholic Afrocuban young mother and her husband,
both peaceful pro-democracy activists, Sonia Garro and Ramon Alejandro
Muñoz, have been for two years and two months in several Cuban prisons,
subject to physical abuse and isolation periods, just because they
protested when they were forbidden to attend the Holy Mass of the Pope
Benedict XVI in the Revolution Square of Havana city, in March 2012.
Hundreds of human rights activists were then arrested, including me,
kidnapped for three days with my girlfriend, apparently accused of
attempting to take counter-revolutionary photographs of His Holiness
with the Heroic Guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara behind him, in the façade
of the mysterious Ministry of Interior where the mass took place.
While I talk here, an American citizen under contract by USAID, Alan
Gross, is being held hostage since December 2009 in a Cuban jail,
serving a 15-year sentence for charges that included espionage. A Jew
himself, he was just helping the Cuban Jewish community to have a ready
access to the internet, since the right to independent information is
not recognized by my government. In fact, it constitutes a major crime:
enemy propaganda, diffusion of negative news, among other brutalities of
our actual Penal Code. This was a miserable mafia message thrown to the
fair-play face of America: mind your own business, do not dare to try to
help the Cuban civic society or you will pay a dirty price too.
Besides, dozens of well-known terrorists have found safe haven to grow
old in Cuba and take care of their families and their fortunes, after a
whole life devoted to international delinquency, including USA
fugitives, ex CIA agents and hit-men associated with dictators and
paramilitary bands worldwide.
To put an end to this very limited list —which cannot explain the
thousands of death penalties by firing squad nor the untold number of
Cubans dead in the Florida Straits trying to escape from our proletarian
paradise— on July 22nd 2012, a car with two Cubans and two foreigners
was intercepted in a remote province of Cuba. The two foreigners, young
politicians from Spain and Swede, were beaten, taken away from the
scene, drugged in a hospital, incarcerated, and threatened with death if
they did not accept —in a public video shown by Cuban TV— that they just
had had a car crash.
The two Cubans were assassinated, God knows if after one of those
private “revolutionary trials” on the spot, so frequent at the beginning
of the Revolution, on the very highway that remained closed to car
traffic for over an hour. Their names were —their names are and will
always be— Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá. Payá was the leader and is
the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement. He won the Sakharov
Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2002. He
was a dear friend to Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. And certainly he was
the main candidate to conduct a true Transition to Democracy in Cuba,
and maybe he could have turned into the first president of the free Cuba
that is to come. A liberated Cuba that our government is indeed delaying
thanks to deaths like these and that of Laura Pollan, the leader and
founder of the Ladies in White Movement, also a winner of the Sakharov
Prize from the European Parliament, in 2005.
The family of Oswaldo Payá is now looking for solidarity to open an
independent investigation upon this extrajudicial killings, where Harold
Cepero was cruelly considered just a “collateral damage” to the
murderers paid by La Habana (maybe they were not even Cubans, so that’s
easier to make them disappear now).
In the middle of all this tragedy, I kept writing and taking pictures
out of the ruins and the splendor of my beloved and lost La Habana. In
the middle of all this pain, hypocrisy coming from my neighbors and
relatives and even from the hierarchy of the Cuban church, many have
kept informing the world about our unreal reality. Surrounded by a lot
of apathy, but also with the pleasure of staying to work for the
well-being of the only spot on the planet that we can call our home.
Surrounded by hatred and hopelessness, I hopelessly fell in love there,
with someone more courageous and with much more peace in her heart to
struggle for freedom in my homeland, after half a century of civil
apartheid, military impunity, lack of solidarity from the international
community, and a massive anthropological damage that has turned Cuba
into a post-national country that only cares about escaping from itself,
and where disappointment is paving the way to defeat for those of us who
still cherish hope.
We, Cubans, do need your help now, please, to overcome all the
frustration that is extending its roots in a people that has been
traditionally noble, friendly, truthful, hard-working, brave, fond of
freedom and also full of joy.
Dear friends: I won’t be the spokesman of bad news for this session, but
let’s not forget for a minute that the oppressors are active out there,
and they have an incisive instinct for self-preservation. Allow me to
finish by re-writing the Cuban repressed and finally exiled poet Heberto
Padilla, with his “Prayer for the end of the century” / “Oración para el
fin de siglo”: Nosotros, hijos y nietos de terroristas melancólicos y de
científicos supersticiosos, sabemos que en el día de hoy está el error
que alguien habrá de condenar mañana. We, children and grandchildren of
melancholy terrorists and superstitious scientists, we do know that deep
in today lies the error that someone shall condemn tomorrow.
Contrary to the famous and infamous speech of Fidel Castro in 1953 —“La
Historia me absolverá” (History will absolve me) —, the world may
absolve them, it doesn’t matter. History will condemn them anyway.
Thank you very much.
Note: The speech was written and delivered in English.
Source: OLPL Speaks at Johns Hopkins / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo |
Translating Cuba –