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(en) polemica cubana: A CAT AND GAY ANARCHISTS IN CUBA
Thu, 16 May 2019 10:41:29 +0300
Saturday morning, early in Havana. Near the Place de la Revolution, biologist Isbel Torres
arrives by bike bringing a basket of vegetables. He will prepare a vegetarian meal for
everyone. Optometrist Jimmy Roque, Isbel's companion, is waiting for us in the house where
they live together. An anarchist and gay couple living in a busy building, perhaps it does
not take more to displease the Cuban government. Then comes the historian Mario Castillo.
All are members of the anarchist libertarian Atelier Alfredo López, a Cuban
anarcho-syndicalist. Since 2010, the group has organized debates, demonstrations and
direct actions on the island. The interview must be done in a tone of voice a little weak,
---- VICE: When the Libertarian Atelier Alfredo López was born and what are you doing there?
Mario: Our first activity took place on April 25, 2010 to organize our participation in
the march of May 1st. We organized a meeting to talk about the May 1 anarchist origins and
then prepared posters for the march. We had a group of affinities about libertarian
issues, we were born from there.
Isbel: We have organized several meetings to try to influence the community and to inform
on part of the history of the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement in Cuba. To
recover, for example, the history and the place where Alfredo López disappeared. At
school, nobody tells us that he was an anarcho-syndicalist leader, we are told that he was
a leader of the workers or that he was a communist.
How to be anarchist in Cuba?
Isbel: I think the most interesting thing is to have to invent it. Many countries have
anarchist traditions, but in Cuba, anarchism has been totally eradicated from the
political imagination, references to anarchism are almost nil. Here, when we talk about
anarchism, people do not know what that means.
Jimmy: It's hard, it cost me my job, I was fired because I was anarchist.
And how do you know?
Jimmy: They told me.
Where were the anarchists in the revolution? With Fidel Castro?
Mario: The Cuban anarchists know from the beginning the true face of Fidel. Many of them
knew about Castro's political intentions and his nationalistic and megalomaniac mentality;
he was someone who was willing to make any type of alliance to gain power.
And after the revolution, what happened to the Cuban anarchists?
Mario: they were repressed. Anarchists were one of the favorite front lines of the
revolutionary government. There were executions, arrests and some went into exile.
In the 1980s, there was information circulating about a libertarian group called Zapata,
some of its members would have remained in prison until they died. What happened to them?
Mario: I looked for their families, I have their family names and I know some of them were
from San Cristobal and Los Palacios, but I could not find anything more. It seems like the
consequences of fear, for a moment I thought it was just an invention of people doing
research on the history of anarchism in Cuba. In more than ten years of research, I am
still at the same point, without information. After the revolution, the Communists took
control of the apparatus of culture and education, and they created a new historical
memory in Cuba, of which they are the only protagonists. This caused havoc because it
erased any memory of the social struggle in the country.
Since the government can tell the story in its own way, you are not afraid that in 20 or
30 years the same thing is going on for the Libertarian Atelier Alfredo López?
Isbel: We are talking about different circumstances. Now we have the opportunity to talk
about our daily history and part of our work is to document all of this, to make ourselves
visible in other countries like Brazil, France, Germany, so that they know our existence.
And how does a young Cuban anarchist know anarchism when he has never read books on the
subject and knows only the official story?
Mario: Anarchism was discovered only by pure chance. It is possible that new technologies
have helped us. On the internet people can also find some of our work.
The Cuban press is tightly controlled, as is it to have one voice in the country?
Mario: It's just a tool of the state in the process of nationalization of the social
imaginary. Watching television has become a political attitude in Cuba. For young people
this means that you are part of the system and you indoctrinate. People ask, "Why are you
watching this shit? ".
I see that the Cuban youth today has more proximity with Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar than
with Fidel. Why ?
Mario: I personally think that those who control the country know that myths, symbols and
references to the past are now worn out. They channel this crisis to other myths that are
less harmful to them, I think we are well aware of this symbolic crisis that we are
Isbel: The system is meaningless for the future of youth. Where are the codes of beauty
and success? In capitalism. The rulers have created a society so boring that all the
images of success and beauty that fascinate young people are extracted from what they see
abroad, because this society does not have the capacity to create such references.
Mario: The references that young people are looking for are harmless to the status quo,
they do not pose a problem for the government. Young people think in the short term and do
not care what will happen in Cuba in 20 years.
And what will happen in 20 years?
Mario: It will be a "normal" capitalist country, with ultra-rich, gentrified
neighborhoods, racism, a destroyed environment.
What is your opinion of the changes that will be made possible by the end of the US
Isbel: The US government has changed its strategy to return to the same situation before
the revolution. This relationship helps to convert Cuba into what it was before the
revolution - an island for recreation and tourists. This means a huge impact on the
environment, for example. The entire coast is now ready for further exploration and more
cruises. Tourism will destroy Cuba.
After the revolution, all Cubans had a home, health and education for free. How is this true?
Isbel: The housing problem is one of the most serious. There are people who lost their
homes because of a cyclone in 2005 and are still homeless, they are in hostels. In
addition, the normal is to live three generations under the same roof, which generates
great family conflicts. Imagine for the LGBT community, how hard it is to live in homes
where others do not accept you.
Mario: And there are already slums in provincial capitals. When traveling by train to
Camagüey, passengers must organize and close the windows as they may be attacked during
the night. Education has been universalized, everyone has access to it, but has also been
fully nationalized and subordinated to the interests of a ministerial elite. Education is
authoritarian with a lot of propaganda.
Jimmy: In terms of health there is a lot of bureaucracy, it is very difficult to get a
specialized consultation because you have to provide a lot of papers.
Mario: The most important source of capitalization of the state today is Cuban doctors who
work in other countries like Brazil and Venezuela. This creates a national process of
compression of the health system.
Isbel: The priority is to export doctors, for that so many health centers here do not work
with professionals. It's not that Cuba is motivated by a humanitarian sentiment, it just
sends doctors to countries where they have more money.
Sometimes you do not feel close to the right in his claims?
Isbel: I think so, but it's a question of perspective. Cuban national dissent from the
right is an opposition that does not have many proposals. They respond in a common sense
to very simple requirements on human rights and democratic freedoms, essentially trying to
normalize Cuba, to make it like other countries in the world. There are many elements that
we also claim such as freedom of expression, human rights, but the problem is the country
you imagine for the future. For the right, there is talk of creating a "standard" country,
but for us it means a radical paradigm shift in development and emancipation. Dissent
criticizes the pace of change, they want more speed. For us, the problem is not speed,
What's the worst for Castro, a Yankee capitalist or Cuban anarchist?
Jimmy: A Cuban anarchist, obviously. Because the other has the same thought as Castro.
And what is worse for a Cuban anarchist, a Yankee capitalist or a communist like Castro?
Mario: Neither is useful for the society we dream of.
Isbel: The way you ask the question assumes an alleged dichotomy, but all that does not
exist. In the anarchist perspective, the two options are equal. The Cuban state is already
creating spaces where it is being pulled back in order to give investment opportunities to
large foreign capital. For example, the port of Mariel, built with investments from Brazil
and which is precisely a future space of direct exploitation of workers.
Mario: There is no conflict between them, they are similar. They are perfectly allies. To
open a small capitalist enterprise, here you go to a municipal body and it gives you
permission. But to create a cooperative, one must obtain the authorization of the Council
of State, the highest authority of the government, which generally does not grant it to
you. In other words, the Cuban government has more confidence in a capitalist than in the
self-management of workers.
And how is the repression of the Cuban government?
Isbel: We have no experiences of strong repression, what we have is a constant monitoring
of our homes, our phones, our emails. Not because we have suspicions, but because we have
evidence. In 2009, we organized a march against violence in Havana and the following year,
using just our phones, we called for another march on the same date. But all that was
wrong, it was just a matter of making fun of the security of the state. We went to the
place where the meeting was supposed to take place and we saw all the security equipment
that occupied the place.
Mario: After 50 years of institutionalizing fear, there is no need for explicit
repression. The fear is already installed in the society, that is enough. Like the police
in Brazil, they have batons and pepper spray, they also have the same things here, but we
know they do not have a great need to use them.
What happens if the police find us here, three anarchists and an international journalist?
Isbel: Today, nothing is happening.
Mario: It can happen a lot of things.
Jimmy: They can put us in jail, maybe.
Isbel: Precisely because we do not know what can happen, it already gives an idea of the
kind of country in which we live. The structure of power does not function exactly in
legality, they have processes of their own, they act as they see fit.
For the magazine Vice of Brazil
Photos: Libertarian Workshop Alfredo López
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