In the Land of the Blind

by Alina B. López Hernández

Jovellanos is a municipality in the central part of Matanzas province. During the 19th century, it was an area of high sugar production and sizeable groups of enslaved people, which explains the majority black population, one of the largest in Cuba. I lived in it from the age of 4 until I was 28. Part of my family, old neighbors, and friends remain there.

The inclination for reading and history is an eternal debt I owe to people like María and Muñeca, the librarians, always understanding and supporting whenever I was late returning a book. Or with some of my teachers from the different schooling levels: Isis, Zobeida, Digna Jones, Gladis Bellman, Gladis Rueda, the unforgettable Gilda la China, who took me to my first literary contests; all of them women, black, cultured, who could equally teach you how to read, or write a play they would stage and direct with their students.

I affectionately remember the History teachers, Julio Páez and Rafael el Gordo, who helped to define my vocation with their excellent lessons. To those I would add names such as Olga Montenegro, Geography; Crespo, Maths; Carlos, Biology; the Marxism teacher, dubbed ‘the Marxist’ by the students and whose name I don’t remember; Carabeo, Physics, now deceased; Oribe, Phys-Ed; Argüelles, Susarte and many others.

That place, to which I owe so much, is the focus of a recent campaign against La Joven Cuba.

In a meeting a few weeks ago with the Party members of the Jovellanos pre-university school, an appeal was made to teachers not to access the articles published in that medium because, according to the official, they were ‘corrosive criticism’ and ‘pure ideological subversion’.

Around the same time, another Matanzas official met with the History teachers in the municipality and insisted on the dangers of reading a medium such as LJC involves. He also made reference to how disrespectful it is to use the name of an organization created by Guiteras ‘for very contrary purposes’.

These kinds of orientations signal a true change of era. When I was young, I remember that in political circles people were urged to read texts considered to be ideologically subversive, and there was even a space for their analysis in each monthly meeting of the UJC (the Young Communist League) or the FEU (the Federation of University Students).

The slogan back then was: ‘the Revolution doesn’t tell you to believe, it tells you to read’. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. The officials in the current ideological machinery don’t risk that much. Mistaken in their appraisal of reality, with a deformed outlook due to their arrogance and with scarce arguments, they have understood that it’s hard to be a censor when you can no longer control the digital sphere. They then go for self-censorship. Not to read, not to know; that’s their advice. They would rather have people with their eyes closed in the face of change, perhaps reckoning that, as the old saying goes, ‘in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king’.

They should study human psychology better.

There’s nothing more attractive than what’s forbidden, especially when you suspect truths are being hidden from you. It now turns out that, thanks to those officials, some of my old neighbors discovered that there’s a medium called LJC… and they feel curious. As a result, I’ve had to explain some of my friends how to subscribe to LJC, which is also on several platforms, such as FacebookWhatsApp or Telegram.

We should actually be thankful for the negative publicity that the guardians of the faith are giving us. It’s quite effective in making us known and it’s also free. Perhaps we owe the sustained increase in visits to our medium to the self-sacrificing and stubborn effort of the ideological machinery in the province of Matanzas —and possibly in others. In the following graph, we can appreciate the effects of censorship.

The positioning of LJC in the world ranking in the last month. Source: Alexa

When I began writing for LJC, I was worried we’d have more visibility in other countries rather than on our own. Today I’m pleased to verify that we are widely known in Cuba thanks to compatriots from several generations, professions, and political stances. What began as a curiosity for some has become a habit. The quality of debates in the forum has improved; they are focused on the texts published and not so much anymore on irrelevant discussions about soccer, personal jokes, or offenses, as it used to be the case.

It’s the reality we live in and the clumsy and contradictory way of explaining it by those who rule the country that creates doubts in people. Now personal opinions are defined and are often opposed to the official stance. Labeling something as ‘ideological subversion’ was a usual resource in the 1970s. Here’s an image promoting a seminar on the subject that took place in 1974.

Photo: Cuba Material

Any action or idea that the authorities deemed capable of creating confusion and managed to divert the attention of the masses from the interests considered to be revolutionary, was understood to be subversive. In that stage, it was very easy to end up being labeled a subversive. It took no more than having long hair, tight pants or listening to rock music, or even reading a certain type of literature.

Nowadays, the term is less common in popular use, but it’s still part of the internal parlance of the apparatus. It’s no longer about the hairdo, the clothes, or what you read; now they pay attention to what you say or write, especially if you do it on alternative journalistic media or on social networks. Bad news for the censors: the number of subversives in the island keeps growing; being one is practically a matter of national identity.

And about the officials who consider disrespectful the use of the name Joven Cuba, an organization created by Tony Guiteras to coordinate the revolutionary struggle in the 1930s, I’d like to recommend a deeper study of that man and his time. In the interview granted by Juan Marinello, shortly before his death, to journalist Luis Báez, he lists the valuable young people who came to prominence in the 1920s and the 1930s and does not mention the founder of LJC. When asked by the interviewer about that omission, he answers: ‘Guiteras was a great revolutionary. We respect him always, but I didn’t mention him now because I meant to list those who followed the guidance of the Communist Party, which wasn’t his case’. [1] It’s not our case either, so the name is very well chosen.

Contact the author at: alinabarbara65@gmail.com

[1] Luis Báez: Conversaciones con Juan Marinello, Casa Editora abril, 2006.