By Michael Soltys
After last month’s violent incidents at the Book Fair, Cuban dissident Hilda Molina went “clandestine” yesterday in a discreet fourth-floor salon of a downtown hotel at an event organized by CADAL (the Centre for the Opening and Development of Latin America). This time the occasion was not to present her own book Mi Verdad but the work of a former political prisoner Jorge Olivera Castillo.
This “very Cuban” writer once believed in a revolution two years older than himself to the extent of going to fight in Angola “exporting subversion” — brainwashed but essentially human. Much like the neurosurgeon Molina, Olivera started to dissent from Fidel Castro’s “Stalinist” regime in 1993 with metaphor as his chosen vehicle, as in the 15 short stories of the book presented yesterday (Antes que amanezca y otros relatos). These metaphors describe the existential anguish of a people compelled to live a lie for over 50 years — the hunger and the lack of even water which forces people to rob for the black market, even dead bodies. The regime of the Castro brothers has caused a “genocide of the family” via intense militarization but also a homophobic hell for Cuban gays, constantly exposed to blackmail and driven to suicide.
No wonder three million Cubans had fled abroad (many of them showing absolute contempt for death in doing so), continued Molina. It irked her that the Cuba of recent years is considered a tourist paradise by many when this is achieved on the basis of placing Cubans last, discriminating against the island’s own people (including medical tourism, as she herself well knows).
Molina was preceded by City centre-right PRO deputy Martín Borrelli and Chilean Christian Democrat Senator Patricio Walker.
Borrelli contrasted the May Revolution whose Bicentennial is justifiably being celebrated now with the wrong kind of revolution in Cuba, saluting the memory of hunger strike martyrs Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He also stressed the threat of Venezuela, where Cuban military training is now underway, and pointed out that the fuel sale scandals now being probed helped to finance the pickets who disrupted Molina’s book presentation, among other things.
Walker was optimistic that it was the beginning of the end for the Castro regime with growing disenchantment even among the global left after the hunger strike deaths. He stressed the importance of international pressure, which in Chile’s case had forced its dictator Augusto Pinochet into the 1988 plebiscite he finally lost (all dictatorships, left or right, are equally bad, Walker stressed, and none are irreversible, as the case of the Soviet Union has shown) — human rights should take precedence over principles of non-intervention without double standards in every international forum, including the Organization of American States (OAS). But the people itself must be a protagonist — hence the importance of the Varela Project eight years ago as a democratic initiative not born in Miami.
The transition towards democracy in Chile must be carefully prepared, not improvised, Walker said, pointing to Chile’s 1990-2010 multiparty coalition as an example. Within that coalition he praised 2000-2005 socialist president Ricardo Lagos for backing his call for human rights in Cuba — he was less enthusiastic about Michelle Bachelet, the successor of Lagos who visited Cuba last year. Now there was a new president, the rightist Sebastián Piñera, with whom Walker had crossed party lines to press for freedom in Cuba.