- Posted May 20, 2014 by
Why am I not at LASA Congress?
Letter to the Latin American Studies Association (LASA)
Why am I not at LASA? Because my country, Cuba, persists in the realm of abnormalities and incongruities. Cuba, for example, has boasted the largest number of representatives at LASA conferences, yet has represented the lowest degree of pluralism within its panels and papers. Cuba - a country inspiring the utmostpassions throughout the Western hemisphere - is the nation that least tolerates the diversity of passions stirring within its boundaries. Indeed, in Cuba - as it was commonly said in Latin America years ago - the law only exists for one’s enemies.
It is for these three reasons that I cannot participate in this year’s LASA conference. Last year was the last time that "Official Cuba" achieved monopoly over the paradigms which framed discussions about Cuba, from within Cuba, in an event of this magnitude. In 2013, I was able to participate in this prestigious gathering of ideas (for the first time), along with two dear colleagues. It was our opportunity to reveal (also for the first time) the existence of independent thinking within Cuba — perspectives which tend to be critical — and to make it known in the very same space that had for years had been considered the sole dominion of official thought. It seemed that the government had begun to accept normalcy, at least in so far as a conversation among different Cubans all living in the same national space. Nonetheless, the State's response to this civilized exchange of differing passions within Cuba was intolerance. Such a response threatens to reverse the very right to difference, which is the way forward for Cuba's transition to normal. Thus we see that government uses - and abuses - the law, for its benefit.
Which law? The one that stems from power, not authority. On January 26th, 2014, I was arrested for trying to organize an Alternative Forum to the Second CELAC Summit. Why this Alternative Forum? To be able to talk about the Constitutive Declaration of that sub-hemispheric space that brings together Heads of State from Latin America and the Caribbean - as would be the case with any summit anywhere around the world. What does the CELAC Constitutive Declaration say? Well, that all Latin American and Caribbean citizens indeed have the fundamental rights that we should have and that the States are obliged to protect these rights. All, that is, except the Cuban State. It was on account of this exception to the rule in the Americas that I was held in a cell for four days. For four days I was interrogated, having been arrested for defending what my country’s government is supposedly defending. The State used an old-fashioned, Stalin-like accusation: Spreading False News against International Peace, according to Article 115 of the Penal Code. This Article attempts to discipline opinion via the last, Soviet-style Constitution in the world: the Cuban Constitution of 1976. The authorities say that my numerous texts and essays about Cuba’s reality, and especially about the issues of race, are a threat to world peace. After I was freed, the State imposed a Cautionary Measure on me that stipulated I had to present myself every Tuesday at a police station, to sign in, until the day of my presumed trial.
No one attending LASA to discuss Memory and Democracy could support such an incredibly ridiculous pretext. Precisely because I organized a panel for LASA 2014 titled “Cuba: The Memory of Democracy,” my country’s government remembered that I am an “enemy of international peace” and subjects me, once again, to a Cautionary Measure that had been suspended a month earlier. On Tuesday, April 8th, I stopped signing form 378 at Havana’s Police Station #5, because I was informed that no further action had been taken (it had expired). On Wednesday, May 7th, I was ordered to report in, only to be told that the Cautionary Measure against me was being reinstated: Now I am required to sign in on form 414 at the very same Station, exactly two weeks prior to the LASA meeting in Chicago, where so many Latin Americanists from this hemisphere are meeting. This is an excellent example of power that goes out of its way to demonstrate that it is above the law.
Yet, I do not write this letter in complaint; Ideas have consequences and one must accept them with resolve. My only desire here is to inform you about what continues to go on in my country, a situation
that is hidden beneath the pro forma narrative the Cuban State uses to project its image, one that is totally the opposite of the realities within Cuba. What is important here is a precedent that uses legal, cautionary measures against people, something that could well be a prolongation of a more than fifty year-old suspension of rights in Cuba. It criminalizes ideas and initiatives that result from people thinking and having ideas, something that can only be accomplished via difference. Let us say that this is my warning to Academe.
Manuel Cuesta Morúa: Historian and political activist
Havana, May 19th, 2014