»The proliferation of news platforms, analysis, and creative work online that aim to address the sociopolitical conditions in the country has been considerable in Cuba in recent years; even more considerable if we consider the limitations to Internet access on the island. These platforms have also managed to gather, in a virtual community, Cubans in and outside the country, which supposes the virtual attainment of what we desire in the real world. It is something.«Boris González Arenas
Cuba-based Boris González Arenas is a current fellow for cultural journalism at Akademie Schloss Solitude. The special fellowship program is co-funded by the Carl-Zeiss Foundation and supports young independent cultural journalists whose work helps establish a critical society in developing countries. During the three-month fellowship, Boris González Arenas will share his content in different formats on Schlosspost. In a short self-introduction he provides insights into his topics and the daily situation he faces working as a freelance journalist in Cuba.
In Cuba, »independent« means being on the margins of the government. From the beginning of Castrism, the state assumed ownership of all production, administration, and distribution of goods – to keep it short, let’s say material and spiritual goods. In order to monopolize such »services,« the Cuban state relentlessly hounded any activity or activist that stood in its way. The Cuban economy rapidly collapsed, and education mutated into doctrine. In these years, abandoning Cuba has been virtually the only goal that deserved massive protests. Nevertheless, the state obtained what it wished and, as the lonely tenant in his penthouse, Fidel Castro obtained it, too. Since then, »being on the margins of the government« is not a valued social condition.
It is true that some margins are less valuable than others. Since the mid–1990s, the state recognized a heavily regulated group of entrepreneurs. It called them »cuentapropistas« (self-employed entrepreneurs). This gave our protoentrepreneurs some right to exist. Journalism and independent political association are on the opposite margin, where I have been working for the past six years.
The proliferation of news platforms, analysis, and creative work online that aim to address the sociopolitical conditions in the country has been considerable in Cuba in recent years; even more considerable if we consider the limitations to Internet access on the island. In and around these platforms is an extraordinary group of intellectuals and journalists that have managed to brilliantly portray the country’s social reality. These platforms have also managed to gather, in a virtual community, Cubans in and outside the country, which supposes the virtual attainment of what we desire in the real world. It is something.
Political activity, nevertheless, is more limited. Cuban laws obstruct the development of independent political organizations. Legal dispositions, however, are relatively unimportant if we consider the military organizations dedicated to hindering political activities. In the pursuit of such objectives, they are allowed to violate every rule, law, or regulation and act with complete impunity. Abduction, imprisonment, isolation, prosecution following false allegations, workplace harassment, theft of personal goods, harassment of families and friends, slander and physical aggression are all part of a wide spectrum of tactics administrated individually and collectively. This activism is appreciably more harmful.
As a member of the political opposition and journalist in Cuba, I have first-hand experience of this ordinary harassment campaign. We also have to deal with the ever-growing community of political prisoners. Political activists are not the only ones to be detained or abducted; their families and children can also be occasional victims, which creates an environment of anguish and disheartenment.
It is within this scenario that a group of opposition organizations and independent activist has created the MUAD – Mesa de Unidad de Acción Democrática (Roundtable for United Democratic Action). I am currently a member of MUAD’s executive secretariat. The platform wishes to become a political space dominated by consensus and convergence. The Civic Platform #Otro18 is another initiative dedicated to stimulating political participation through elections. In the current electoral process, we have been able to corroborate the biggest obstacles faced by freedom in Cuba: restrictive laws and paramilitary intervention. The process, it seems today, won’t result in the much-desired access to even the smallest power spaces.
The three months working within the Akademie Schloss Solitude’s residency program will enable me to better express the meaning and the consequences of what it is to be an »independent« activist in Cuba. It will be a unique opportunity to break the blockade that Castrism imposes on our democratic initiatives. Moreover, it will also allow me to create communication bridges between Cuba’s civil society and independent political groups and their counterparts in Germany. International collaboration and support are essential to the people that, like us, work to build democracy in Cuba.
Most Cuban oppositionists consider every small progress a great triumph. These gives us the strength to continue fighting. This is the value of small steps forward in a dictatorship.