It has become customary on our National Television News to see groups of people protesting in various parts of the world. It is ironic for us, Cubans, to see spontaneously mobilized sectors of a society on the news of the only information system we have a right to. It is both gratifying – we feel there are people out there who confront the powers-that-be with civil action; and saddening – we are suddenly made aware of our terrible loneliness, tiny beings compared to the omnipresent state.
The other day images flashed by of a protest by immigrants in the United States and some of the demonstrators were speaking to the cameras. One woman of about forty complained that she had spent several years in the country and was still undocumented, and if the immigration authorities found her she would be deported to her country. I looked at the television and thought, at times this island of mine grows in my mind and I forget what a small space we occupy in the world. How can a person say this in front of the camera? Now the agents will know her face and go looking for her wherever she hides!
I forgot that immigration officials, intelligence and counterintelligence, law, government, media and trade unions don’t all answer to the same entity, much less the same party, and that the political police – bless freedom – don’t exist. In my country, for example, the Cuban consulate has foot soldiers in Spain who send photos to the Cuban secret service and the Ministry of the Interior so they will know “who behaves well out there and who does not.” The guardians receive orders directly from State Security so that some “complicated” citizens cannot access public institutions, official journalists are fired from their jobs for publishing in sites critical of the official ideology, those who dare to report the news without asking permission can wake up one day sentenced to twenty years in prison, while political opponents bring the anger and reprisals of the whole Party Central Committee down on their heads.
I watch the illegals in the United States with their banners and defiant eyes and feel a twinge of envy, I know my neighbor would never dare to say in front of the lens what that woman just shouted to the whole world. My neighbor does not fear being deported, she has an identity card, a legal address and a face that, nevertheless, would show no disagreement under any circumstance.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.