Wikileaks and Cuba: what if there were no documents to be leaked?

I have a lot to say about Wikileaks as far as Cuba is concerned, but rather than squawking about whether or not Michael Moore’s Sicko was banned in Cuba, I want to do some thinking about the meaning of an organization like this in the Cuban context.

Much of the conversation about Wikileaks has not focused on the cables themselves; rather, it has revolved around the question of what Wikileaks means for the US, a country that claims to uphold public rights to free speech and freedom of information.

One of the most common observations about the documents made public by Wikileaks is that they have revealed very little. Indeed, though it is far from perfect, the US  government scores relatively high on a global scale when it comes to state transparency. This isn’t to say that the US has nothing to hide, but in sum, the cables indicate that the US government may not be the conspiracy-based organization that Julian Assange imagines it to be. In Cuba, on the other hand, it is well known that secrecy and surveillance represent critical components of state stability. So I was interested to see Yoani Sánchez’s compelling (if melodramatic) post on Wikileaks and its meaning in a place like Cuba.

“What happened in recent days will significantly change how governments manage information and also the ways through which we citizens get a hold of it. But also — let’s not fool ourselves — those regimes that are based on silence and the lack of transparency, will reinforce the protection of their secrets, or avoid putting them in writing…

[…]

There are so many who don’t keep records, who have an unwritten culture of repression and who have paper incinerators that smolder all day….If some of them would emerge in a local Wikileaks, they would get the maximum penalties, be made examples of with the strongest punishments, without worrying about whether to fabricate a charge of “rape” or “bovine slaughter.” [The authorities] know that “seeing is believing” and therefore take care that there is no material containing surprising revelations, that the real framework of absolute power will never be visible.”

Until I read this post, I had never imagined that the Cuban state (or any state) might not keep records of their work. I had imagined a Caribbean version of the final scenes in The Lives of Others, where historians would bask in the suddenly opened, infinite archives of the state at the end of the Castro era. It had never occurred to me that these archives may not exist.

The power of the written word, of putting information “in ink,” is most often a given in US society, particularly as far as our government is concerned. Every agreement, action, and transaction is put in writing; documentation pervades every piece of our lives as citizens and consumers. It is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. I don’t know if Sánchez is right to suspect that the Cuban government has kept few records of its actions over the years,* but the suggestion makes me grateful that in the US, most events are documented in some way. What happens when these documents are leaked is another question. I will get to this later in the week.

*Ila’s comment (see below) made me want to elaborate on this. I think that Yoani’s post promoted an exaggerated but nevertheless interesting idea (in theory) about the meaning of documentation within a state apparatus. This is to say that I do not think it would be possible for Cuban intelligence and security forces to work so efficiently if they had no system of documentation. A number of bloggers have written about people who have been arrested or received fines from the state without being given an official explanation of why they’ve been punished. Being denied a reason, in writing, for your arrest, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been written down somewhere. But it does give the impression that documentation is somehow unimportant in this system. It may be that Yoani was drawing her reasoning from these kinds of incidents.

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2 thoughts on “Wikileaks and Cuba: what if there were no documents to be leaked?

  1. Ila says:

    There´s a saying in Spanish that goes “pecas de inocente”. Your analysis strikes me as a black and white: either they have records like most governments do (i could not tell if you were being ironic or not), or it is as Yoani says, they do not have any. Truth is that if any leak of the sort Wikileaks has made happened in Cuba, those responsible would not have the protections Julian currently enjoys.

    1. halfwired says:

      You’re right about this. I guess I wasn’t aiming for analysis—I was just interested in the idea that they could be document-less. I really doubt that this is true–in spite of some substantial and rather serious flaws, Cuban intelligence and security forces are far too efficient to be working without some system of documentation. And yes, if there were ever a Cuban Julian Assange, I suspect that person (and his or her efforts) would be snuffed out so quickly that few if any outsiders would know that it had happened at all.

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