Illustration: Mary Esther Lemus
Silvio, Montaner and the Cuban People Who Aren’t Stupid
12 / julio / 2023
In this permanent chaos that is all anyone is talking about, singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez and writer Carlos Alberto Montaner have made headlines again. Silvio, after publishing possibly his harshest opinions about Cuban reality and the countries that continue to call themselves “socialist”. Montaner, because he made what was the hardest decision of his life, ending it with Euthanasia, after turning 80 years old and seeing his abilities heavily affected after being diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (a disease from the Parkinson family).
On June 26th 2023, Silvio said in a comment on his blog Segunda Cita: “the transition phase called Socialism hasn’t invented a mode of production that is superior to Capitalism. All of the socialisms that have survived and prosper today, have capitalist economies.”
He added: “One of the great – greatest – problems we have is trying to lead society as if it were leading a Party meeting. There’s no doubt that we had times when our people almost entirely identified with the Revolution and its Government. But you have to be blind not to see that this isn’t the case now.”
Putting the icing on the cake, the musician accepted: “We have to lose our fear. In order to be truly revolutionary, you have to know when to put collective wellbeing above the security of a certain group or social status. The Cuban people aren’t stupid.”
Such opinions immediately take me back to a controversy between Silvio and Montaner in 2010, which was reproduced at the time by different media platforms, including El Pais, which featured it in full, serving as an resourceful archive.
On March 31, 2010, in a poem published in Rebelion, the folk singer asked: “If the thousands of Cubans who have lost family / in CIA attempts were to write a letter of complaint / would Carlos Alberto Montaner sign it?”
The following day, Montaner responded in an open letter:
“Of course, Silvio, I’d sign this complaint. The CIA, like every intelligence service, has committed wretched acts that deserve to be condemned. The US Army has done this when it cruelly abused prisoners. The United States Department of Justice, and even the Supreme Court, continue to do this when they deprive certain prisoners of protections under the Law. I find all of this, including the death sentence, abominable.”
“Now, Silvio, let me ask you: would you sign a letter that denounces the abuse of Cuban political prisoners and the harassment of the Ladies in White? A letter in which we express our respect for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Guillermo Fariñas and anyone else willing to die to defend their dignity as a human being?”
Then, the author of “Ojala”, without directly responding to his adversary’s summons, said among other things:
“You are painting a distorted Cuba proliferated by monstruous (international media) chains. Cutting and pasting shares of hate that have brought down planes full of innocent people.”
“I still have many reasons to believe in the Revolution, rather than its detractors. If this Government is so bad, where did this population that is so good come from?”
In his second intervention, Montaner said:
“Ay, Silvio! I’m painting a distorted Cuba? Do you think that 20% of the population having fled onboard anything they can find ever since the Revolution was established, over half a century ago, is such a trivial thing […]? Are the executions by firing squad, abuse in prisons, hate rallies agianst anyone who dares to criticize the regime false? Is censorship a lie?”
“I think it’s fair that you continue to sing about what you think and insist on defending the Revolution and the Communist dictatorship. That’s your prerogative. I’ll say something else: the Cuba millions of Cubans dream of must be a country where you can sing about what you think, but there is also room for Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino, Paquito D’Rivera and Los Aldeanos. A Cuba without exclusion.”
Before ending the dialogue, the folk singer took the offensive again in his longest letter and pointed out:
“I have pointed out, in some interviews and songs over this career of over 40 years, what I consider reprehensible about the revolutionary process. I’ve also supported this process in others, without ever falling into servility or propaganda. There is no duality here. I am the same Cuban trying to help his people in both cases.”
“The opposition, in prisons, face the same drama they face in the streets: they don’t have a people, their positions are far-removed from the masses.”
“I don’t agree with hate rallies, but other Cubans get so angry to the point they commit them. Cubans in Miami are doing the same thing. That must be the saddest part of our karma. […] Censorship exists in Cuba, just like it does in other countries. There’s censorship also where you are right now, especially for anyone who doesn’t think like you.”
“If you really want Cuba to be better, change your way of thinking and start fighting against the blockade. The blockade is genocide, immoral, disgraceful. While it exists, there will always be a reason not to lower our guard the tiniest bit.”
The author of “Latin Americans and Western culture”, in his longest and well-argued response, argued:
“I’ve heard the argument that democrats from the opposition lack the Cuban people’s support before. I heard it in Franco’s Spain where, in fact, the Socialist Party barely had a hundred active members before the Commander disappeared. I heard it in Czechoslovakia, when Charter 77 – founded and led by respected Václav Havel – was mocked, because the opposition against the Communist dictatorship only amounted to two dozen brave souls. But what happened when the rivers of participation opened again and the oppressed could speak their truth? The Democrats suddenly multiplied in the millions and pro-government parties shrunk until they almost disappeared amidst such shame. The people were able to show their real faces […]. It won’t be any different in Cuba.”
“You say you don’t agree with hate rallies, and I believe you, but it’s not true that they happen because “other Cubans” spontaneously get angry at people such as the Ladies in White and attack them. These acts are orchestrated by the Political Police and the Communist Party.”
“You’re asking me to speak out against the blockade. Of course, I will. I also want it to end, but before that, let’s clear up a few points on this issue. First of all, as we Cubans know full well, the US is Cuba’s main seller of food, while remittances from emigres make up one of the island’s main sources of revenue.”
“I propose to you, in nothing but good faith, that we create a committee to fight together against the US blockade simultaneously, in favor of granting amnesty to prisoners of conscience, in favor of granting the right of freedom of association and speech, in favor of Cubans being able to enter and leave Cuba freely. This committee could be the beginning of a reconciliation, peace and progress for our country, which we both ultimately want. Let’s fight together for a better future for our children.”
What came next was an abrupt cut in the dialogue from Silvio, who in a simple paragraph explained himself: “I can’t spend all my life on this, which is like going to the office for you, and means being absent from work for me [..]. Leave this Cold War, fight against the blockade, do good for the children on this land where you were also a child. If you are able to dignify yourself before our children, then we’ll all have won a little bit.”
Montaner also ended with a few lines: “I understand your reasons for interrupting this exchange of letters. I’ve taken away some positive conclusions from what you have written. I hope, when the time comes for profound change, you are among those who are contributing to the path for freedom and democracy.”
Thirteen years have passed by since. Cuba has become poorer in every aspect, which maybe nobody saw coming in 2010. Hunger. Repression. Mass emigration. Ruin. The “time for profound change” seems to be very close at times, but then seems lost in a disconcerting future at others. The Cuban people can’t take anymore. But they wake up every day and they have to keep on surviving, what a solution!
What does the folk singer from San Antonio de los Baños think about his dialogue with Carlos Alberto Montaner, the most systematic and harshest critic of the Cuban Government in recent decades, now? How much longer can he defend a system that is led not like a society, or even a Party meeting anymore, but as an estate, where the foreman always has his whip out ready?
Silvio’s poetry, patrimony of human beauty, will transcend us. His great social work, as well as the huge tour of concerts he holds in the poorest neighborhoods, dignify him. But his stubborn political commitment, silence when it’s time to speak out – when almost nobody is safe – will also catch up with him.
The Cuban people aren’t stupid.
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