Cuban writer and journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez (Matanzas, 1989), co-founder of the El Estornudo magazine, attends elDiario.es from New York. He is in contact with colleagues and friends and closely follows the latest protests against the government on the island, which he left in 2015.
A few months ago, in another turbulent period starring the dissident agitation of the San Isidro Movement, Álvarez returned to his native country to inform and support the activists, but was arrested twice – and later released. His intellectual acuity and critical capacity distance the writer from the polarization and dogmatism that regularly accompany the debate around Cuba.
His novels usually have an autobiographical touch and both serve to rethink Cuba. The first, ‘The fallen’, is a sentimental portrait of today’s Cuba through the voice of the different generations of the same family: a convinced father and a son disenchanted with a revolution he did not know. The second, ‘Falsa Guerra’ (published in April of this year), is a story of exile as the protagonist through different characters and visions.
What are the protesters who took to the streets on Sunday asking?
They are asking for everything, although it seems that they are not asking for anything. The slogans are freedom, down with the dictatorship … Basically that supposes a complete package of social reform.
In any case, what is being asked is the radical change of a political system that has expired. The administrative structure of social life in Cuba is a corpse that is necessarily kept standing.
In recent months the atmosphere has been especially hot, first with the San Isidro Movement and now this. What has changed?
What has changed is the exhaustion of certain historical forces that are artificially maintained. There is an accumulation of very deep causes and conjunctural elements that act as a catalyst, such as when you mix two chemical elements and a combustion results. In this case, within an obsolete government apparatus, outdated and disconnected from people’s lives, ingredients such as a collapsed health system, deaths from the coronavirus, a very acute economic crisis and the loss of salary value have been added. among others.
It is true that we are a country that does not know protest as a form of political expression that assists us. My best friend told me this Tuesday that watching the videos is like a player making his debut in first class and making a hat trick. It is surprising that a country that makes its debut in this form of freedom does it so convincingly, which fills me with satisfaction.
When it comes to political consciousness in Cuba, concepts such as lethargy and resignation are often used. Is this description fair? Why are popular mobilizations in the country so exceptional?
If there is one thing that totalitarian logic has been able to do well, it is to metabolize that satiety and fatigue so that the government body does not overflow and does not collapse. That has included different migration valves and a minimum income distribution in which you do not fall into absolute misery, but which keeps you in a state of permanent poverty. This keeps you in a vicious circle governed by the logic of survival that also prevents you from gaining awareness of your rights and becoming a political subject. You are closer to an animal relationship with the environment in the sense that you have to survive and go out and find food. What is done in Cuba is basically hunting on the asphalt.
Those things overflow for the reasons I said earlier. The model he proposed, which was an authoritarian model, has been exhausted. It is not even an ideologically consistent country, which is something we could say about Cuba 30 years ago, when Fidel Castro was in command, for example. Now it is a country in which its rulers and leaders are doing exactly what the rest of Cubans do: trying to survive and endure one more day.
Cuba remained around the force of the symbol of the revolution, but right now that is also leaking. It is a collapse of the minimal consensus that they had managed to manage to stay on their feet. It is a consensus that they have not had for a long time, but which has now been expressed in a formal way.
So do you think that there really is a social majority against the government?
Rather, a social majority that is not with the Government. There are many people who remain in a strip where they have not yet acquired the category of citizen. But this group is getting closer and closer to expressing a concrete position and demanding their rights.
Why is Cuba still viewed from the outside in terms of the Cold War from a self-styled anti-imperialist left and anti-communist right?
Due to opportunism, complicity and intellectual laziness. But in any case, it seems to me that the responsibility falls mainly on the left, which is precisely the one that has to review its sentimental altar and update it to truly propose a possibility for the future because basically that left, when it works in those terms with Cuba, it does nothing but oxygenate the right that claims to fight and continues to maintain the status quo.
Many times, the issue of Cuba in other countries works as a catchphrase or pretext to establish positions and alliances at the national political level in a context that has nothing to do with the Cuban. And that happens a lot in Spain, for example.
Has the disappearance of the last name Castro changed something in the political leadership?
Undoubtedly. Consensus could be articulated around that meaning. A consensus that also includes fear, doctrine and other non-democratic practices, but that managed to maintain a balance and the permanence of Castroism in power.
Does President Díaz-Canel not have the legitimacy of origin?
Not remotely. He is an official. A third-rate bureaucrat who has become president thanks to his obedience. It has no particular quality that has put it there, except perhaps not having been too relevant or transgressive at any time that they did not rip its head off. And that people know.
What future do you think these latest protests have?
Well look, they have everything ahead. As always happens in these circumstances, we are at a time when they can be wasted, but they have a power that has not been seen in 60 years of the Castro regime. It is an unpublished element and it would be very reckless of me to launch an idea that is new for me, in the same way as for those who took to the streets. Never has an event like this touched me so closely.
Part of that power perhaps lies in that uncertainty and that means that the stage is still open and that it has the possibility of becoming anything. That’s certainly a good thing, but it also poses risks.
Once again, his latest novel is set in Cuba and has something autobiographical, although this time from the perspective of exile. What is exile for Carlos Manuel Álvarez?
Exile is the possibility of inventing a personal homeland.
Precisely one of the cries of these marches is “homeland and life.” To continue with the definitions, what is the homeland?
Homeland is a very harsh concept. We are going to try to update it and we are going to say that the homeland is that hidden figure that hides in the July 11 protest. If I have to fix a homeland, I fix it in a moment and in an outburst like that.
Doesn’t it have to be linked then to the place or the feeling of pride that unites you with that place?
Absolutely. That is one of the most reactionary feelings there can be. Being from a place is something that belongs to contingency and chance. You don’t belong to a place if you don’t invent that place, which is what you have to do with your homeland. The concept of homeland is always established from the exclusion of the other.