False Facts: The Cuban Gov. Campaign against Dissidents

The new communities of activists, journalists, artists and intellectuals grow in accordance with civil society itself and the private sector.

20 de diciembre 2020


There’s an old song by Noel Nicola that Santiago Feliu played and sang like no one else. It’s entitled Sobre el dato falso” [On the false fact]. The song points out one of the gravest problems of this global era. One of its verses says that asking for a lie is like “asking for a piece of gold or of bread”. In another verse, Nicola’s poem says that asking for falsity, “splits my soul in half”.

In these times of fake news and conspiracy theories, such dramatic defense of truth seems a relic of the past. Something belonging to the days of the Cold War.

Peter Sloterdijk’s The Political Epidemics (2020), offers some clarity to all this. He speaks of the suspension of disbelief as an innate part of a bipolar world. This has been rapidly overtaken by a radically illusory strategy, where politicians make deliberate use of sham and fakery. Trump and Putin, Bolsonaro and Maduro, are enormous swindlers. They routinely lie, without even hiding the factory seal on their lies.

Stigmatizing all opposition as terrorism

Sloterdijk says that all those political figures, from “apparently democratic governments, stigmatize all classes of opposition as terrorism. They do so to install a state of emergency and even martial law for self-defense.” He adds: “as soon as the terrorists identify the terrorists as terrorists, the spirit of the era reveals its cards.”

All those politicians aren’t just “liars, who paint as liars the critics of their decisions and unmaskers of their lies.” Above all, they administrator policies that have brought “lying to an era of artificial irrefutability”. They have taken this strategy to the highest level of ideological speculation. The aim of the propagators of the new political epidemics is to create a total relativism, inside the democracies. Such policies leave cynicism as the only valid option.

The so called “war against terror” was a close ancestor of this undermining of the truth. It ushered in the proliferation of states of emergency, following the 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Center. The war against Iraq launched by George W. Bush’s government wasn’t based on any evidence that Sadam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. The hypothesis, the possibility of such existence, was enough for Rumsfield, Wolfowitz and Perle to formulate the doctrine of “preventive war”.

How this strategy has played out in Cuba

In Cuba, during that same spring of 2003, there was a wave of repression. It brought the firing squad execution of three young migrants, and the arrest of 75 peaceful government opponents.

The legal procedures employed during those days couldn’t have been more irregular. They revolved around Law #88, passed in 1999, and other decrees billed as the “legislative antidote to the Helms-Burton law”. Both passed by the Cuban National Assembly.

Under these statutes, opposition leaders faced the accusation of being agents of a foreign power seeking to overturn the government. However, they believed in peaceful resistance, and no arms were found on any of them. In addition, many, especially in the Christian Liberation Movement that Oswaldo Pava led, also opposed the US embargo.

In the end, all 75 were tried for political crimes: enemy propaganda; illicit association; “distorting reality”. None were tried for being agents of a foreign power.  None could be proven to be seeking the overturn of the government. From that time on, the legal charges against opposition figures in Cuba bear inconsistencies that can’t be easily reversed. It’s easier to charge a dissident with “pre-criminal” behavior, than for any violent action against the government.

Artists, journalists and intellectuals smeared

Those inconsistencies become sharper in the cases of the new communities of activists, journalists, artists and intellectuals. These grow in accordance with the growth of civil society itself and the private sector. Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar were harassed and beaten. They smeared and stigmatized them, but they could never open criminal charges.

They tried to charge and process artist Tania Bruguera, but despite several arrests, they didn’t succeed. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara has been recognized as an artist by a number of official publications. These include “The Bearded Caiman”, the Cuban Youth’s cultural magazine,and the Casa de las Americas website “La Ventana”. Nevertheless, Otero was jailed to keep him from attending a public kiss-in the LGBTQI community was holding in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. They charged him, however, with violating the Law of National Symbols. He was later freed, following a national and international solidarity campaign.

Charges of “mercenaries” and “terrorists” have been lodged against the youth from the San Isidro Movement. Participants in the protest held at the Ministry of Culture have been smeared with the same charges. These media accusations, lack all legal substance. They violate the norms of due process, established in the 2019 Cuban Constitution.

When a state media outlet accuses a youth of being a “terrorist” or “mercenary” without proof, they’re doing something more serious than defamation. They’re violating the principle of presumed innocence.

It’s been going on for decades

Those from state media who launch those accusations are doing the same thing they’ve been doing for decades. The more rational ones maintain that receiving financing from the United States is equivalent to acting as a mercenary. They maintain this accusation even if those accused aren’t making war or inciting violence. However, not all the financing for activists or artists comes from the US government. Much of it comes from private foundations. In some cases, these same foundations have also helped fund government institutions.

The majority of the democracies regulate and penalize political parties who receive financing from foreign governments. However, they’re more flexible in terms of funds for the development of civil society. In Cuba, as far as I know, there isn’t any law against outside financing. Nonetheless, the official media sees the transfer of funds as reason to accuse someone of being a “mercenary” or “terrorist”.

In the end, the accusation of “mercenary” of “terrorist” in itself is the false fact. It’s false, among other reasons, because it offers no precise information regarding the outside financing, or its penalization under the law. All this is happening at a moment when the capitalist transition in Cuba is advancing. In the end, what they seek to criminalize isn’t so much the disposition of foreign funds. It’s taking a public stance against specific government policies.

House arrest and State Security interrogations

For more than two weeks, dozens of young people have remained under virtual house arrest. This policy has affected those who were involved in the San Isidro and Ministry of Culture incidents. For a number of nights, these same youth have been the subject of slander in the National News. Almost every day brings an article in Granma or Cubadebate where they’re painted as accomplices of a “soft coup” spearheaded by Donald Trump. Several of them have been subject to preventive arrests and State Security interrogations.

When Camila Lobon, one of those youth, asked the agent watching her house what she had done, the agent replied: “You know what you did, and why we’re here”. That phrase captures the central argument of the political epidemics of the twenty-first century. Under regimes like the Cuban one, legal rights are subordinated to theology. Crime of conscience are converted into violations of the law.

This article was originally published in “El Estornudo”.

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Rafael Rojas

Historiador y ensayista cubano, residente en México. Es licenciado en Filosofía y doctor en Historia. Profesor e investigador del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) de la Ciudad de México y profesor visitante en las universidades de Princeton, Yale, Columbia y Austin. Es autor de más de veinte libros sobre América Latina, México y Cuba.


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