On “banishment” and freedom

Last Wednesday, after days of negotiations with Catholic church leaders and the Spanish foreign ministry in Havana, Cuban government authorities agreed to release fifty-two of the nation’s political prisoners.

Although some advocates for the prisoners’ release have hesitated to celebrate, wanting to wait until the government makes good on its word, others are jubilant. A trusted contact of mine, who has worked as a foreign correspondent in Havana since the mid-nineties, wrote to me on Friday saying that “Raúl está acelerando al paso.” Coming from someone who has seen all that has happened in Cuba since the height of the Special Period,[i] this means a lot.

There’s plenty of light, but there’s heat too. Hard-liners in Miami criticized Spain’s efforts in the negotiations after foreign minister Miguel Moratinos offered that Spain would grant immigrant status to all fifty-two of those being released. On Babalú, a Miami-based anti-Castro blog that garners roughly twenty-one thousand hits per day, Alberto de la Cruz decried Spain’s foreign ministry for facilitating the “banishment” of some of the “bravest dissident voices on the island,” and then senselessly invoked human rights abuses committed by the Spanish military in Cuba during the war for independence (1895-1898).[ii] Speaking from a community of Cubans who went into voluntary exile after Fidel Castro declared the socialist character of Cuba’s revolution, de la Cruz calls for these prisoners, once released, to remain on the island and fight for a different kind Cuba libre. But what kind of life can one have as a formerly incarcerated dissident in Cuba? I don’t know, and I’m pretty sure de la Cruz doesn’t either. Human rights activists on the island are also divided over the question of whether the prisoners should accept Spain’s offer or remain in Cuba, with some adamant that exile will mean the “abandonment” of the island.

If they are to choose whether to live in exile in an ostensibly free country, or to rebuild their lives in Cuba, where they will unquestionably live under the watchful eyes of state security for the rest of their days, Spain may not be such a bad choice. AFP reported that Cuba would allow prisoners’ immediate family members exit privileges, so that they could accompany their loved ones to Spain. This would help to eliminate one of the most painful aspects of exile, the longing for family. Neither option is perfect, but having the freedom to choose (if they are in fact granted this upon release) should be a welcome thing.

Note: I know that half-wired is supposed to focus on digital culture in Cuba, but this news was too big to go unmentioned. In my next post, I’ll discuss the role of new media in this development.

[i] Cuba’s “Special Period in times of peace” occurred in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba underwent immense economic hardship. Shortages in food and medicine and a widespread breakdown of public services triggered many incidents of social unrest.

[ii] De la Cruz also sarcastically suggested that Cubans should “thank” Spain for putting Cuban peasants in concentration camps in 1896, at the height of Cuba’s war for independence (from Spain). He includes several frightening photographs of mass graves and emaciated prisoners in nineteenth-century Havana, reminiscent of the Holocaust.


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