Grief and shame

By Ernesto Hernandez Busto:

Grief and shame

The Cuban situation is increasingly veering away from politics. The prevailing sentiment among people who closely follow the news from the island tends to be shame: decent Cubans, in Cuba and in exile, are ashamed of the direction the country has taken, the cynicism of repression, the complete lack of moral perspective that remains following the political failure of the Castro regime. The discussion is no longer political, it is moral.

Laura Pollán’s death in Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital, after a week in intensive care, raises serious questions not only about the virtues of the Cuban health care system, but also about the capacity to translate this moral indignation into visible politics.

Of course, there are always suspicions that the death of an indisputable leader of the peaceful opposition could have been caused, or accelerated, by methods that only the nightmares of totalitarian systems can conceive of. We have already seen worse; the Cuban chronicle of horror could easily admit another stain. But even if we have no proof of medical negligence, or worse, even if we cannot directly blame the forces of repression or expound on the details of her death, we have abundant proof of what the Cuban government did, in life, to Laura Pollán Toledo and to the courageous Ladies in White. Abundant proof of how they wanted to debilitate this woman, over and over; of how they tried to break her by every means possible.

I wonder, and I believe I am not the only one, what they are thinking now, all those people who behaved like rabid dogs at each of the many repudiation rallies that Laura suffered; what will she do now, for example, the woman whose insolence stands out even among the mob incited by State Security. Or another one, who personally took charge of mistreating Laura last month. Their faces are unforgettable, but they also trigger our embarrassment, a shame provoked by seeing such lamentable events, such despicable actors. Isaac Bachevis Singer’s story, The Destruction of Kreshev, offers a good summary of the morality of the pogram and its consequences; there, he says it all.

Laura Pollán was, without a doubt, a moral example—as recorded today in a good editorial. Her dignity and her Catholic faith favored a comportment that lifted her far above her detractors. She knew how to win a cause, the release of the 75, but she paid the highest price for embodying the choice of peaceful struggle and nonviolence. Her example moved even the most iconic figures of the official culture, like Pablo Milanés, whose shame in the face of the programmed bullying of defenseless women burst forth in some controversial declarations that honor the man, and that remind us, by contrast, of the shameless cowardice of those who today remain silent or continue to defame her.

Now, Laura Pollán is no longer among the living, and the Cuban opposition is in mourning. With regards to the wake, the testimonies I have received agree that State Security imposed its rhythm from beginning to end; her family and other opponents offered not the least resistance to their directions. Drowning in grief, they were paralyzed by an event that transcended them, perhaps unable to grasp the tremendous significance of her death. Grief mixed with shame, and this mixture resulted in inaction, the temptation to avert one’s face and to become defenseless against the onslaught.

I read that there will be masses in Miami, in Santiago de Chile, and in Madrid. But the mass and homage that this woman deserves remains pending; it will be remembered the day her people wake up and decide to follow her example: a humble teacher who defied a government and so managed to prove its true nature.

Ernesto Hernández Busto

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