The Path to Impunity

Iroel Sánchez (izquierda) y Manuel H Lagarde (derecha) junto al Ministro de Comunicaciones de Cuba, Jorge Luis Perdomo

By Harold Cárdenas Lema

On Thursday, January 16, a Cuban government official published in his blog a list of independent media he accused of being ‘platforms for the restoration of capitalism in Cuba’. On the first day, only a few denounced the publication. On the second day, several of the mentioned sites faced difficulties while being accessed from the island. On the third day, the Facebook profile of the state-run radio station Radio Progreso reproduced the list in question for the ‘naïve’ and the ‘uninformed’, clarifying that these were only ‘the more reactionary sites’. Apparently, they left some out, but the list is a work in progress,

Today is the fourth day and the signals are still chaotic. Radio Progreso published with what perhaps was excessive enthusiasm, but they soon took it down from their profile. The strategy by a handful of well-positioned censors in the Ideological Department of the Communist Party and other institutions is still the one of insulting their targets by using expendable people and spaces, not involving institutions if possible. Of course, when the public debate moves beyond their capabilities to impose a specific narrative, they resort to the digital version of pounding the table, which is publishing their opinion in the mass media without allowing others the same opportunity.

Similarly, during the campaign against ‘centrism’ in the summer of 2017, the readers of Cubadebate and Granma knew the opinions of Enrique Ubieta and Elier Ramírez Cañedo, not the ones of Silvio Rodríguez, Carlos Alzugaray or Israel Rojas. Subservience to leaders and a ‘firm hand’, in the style of the former Soviet Union, are still professionally advantageous, unlike taking risks and changing obsolete dynamics.

How did we come to have a political environment where officials make accusations without producing evidence and institutions seem to have a bipolar nature? The origins can be traced back several decades, or to a date as recent as 2017, with the promotion of people with radical agendas to spheres of influence, but there are more immediate antecedents. The person who published the original list of ‘pro-capitalist’ media (which greatly differ among themselves) is the director of CubaSí, Manuel H. Lagarde. It’s not the first time this official is involved in an act of digital bullying. In the summer of 2017, together with Iroel Sánchez, he was one of the leading figures of the digital persecution they now seek to normalize in Cuba. Thanks to that, his influence was on the rise.

Only a year ago, a striking thing happened: the President publicly endorsed the inquisitors within the Cuban government. For years, and even during the most sensitive moments of 2017, Raúl Castro had refrained from taking sides in the public debate between officials and intellectuals on what the limits of the national debate should be. On July 15, 2018, the recently invested President Miguel Díaz-Canel closed the 10th Congress of UPEC (the Union of Cuban Journalists) with a speech in which he didn’t mention any active journalists, but did mention an official: Lagarde.

Making reference to a text in which the director of CubaSí also made ambiguous accusations, the President said in a praising tone: ‘M. H. Lagarde has described with irony, but without euphemisms, the new class of leaders that we’re being sold from those spaces. I recommend a thorough reading of “The New Revolutionaries”’. He went on to read aloud the most visceral fragment of the text. This happened in a few short minutes, but it was shown that day in the National TV News Bulletin, in the Granma newspaper and in any provincial media that follow the Party guidelines. I am far from being an impartial participant in this issue, because I immediately understood I was one of the people being judged, and I published a response. Lagarde confirmed his accusation of me several days later. Being a ‘new revolutionary’ must be the highest praise I’ve ever gotten.

But, how can the director of a national medium stoke smear campaigns and compose a list of official enemies? Why do we still not know the reason for the difficulties in consulting those media on Saturday? How is it possible to operate with such impunity in Cuba? Well, by rewarding and providing fuel for those who light fires in times that require unity. That sort of people is useful for internal purges, but they fragment society and generate wounds that endure in time. This impunity was reached through the arrogance of some, the indifference of others and the mistakes of the President. It doesn’t mean there’s no solution. Whoever empowered that group can also put a stop to it. This time the ball is in the presidential court.

(Translated from the original)