Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, in Translating Cuba:
Thinking About America Amid the Red Rocks of Arizona
14ymedio — On the 8th and 9th of April, along with some fifty other speakers, I was invited to the Sedona Forum which is organized every year by the McCain Institute in cooperation with Arizona State University. So I flew from the democratic volcanoes of Iceland to fall, almost by parachute, among the rusty canyons of Arizona, whose red stones immediately reminded me of Stalinist aesthetics.
This elite event takes place behind closed doors at the Enchantment Resort, a kind of luxury campsite under Sedona’s cliffs and pristine dawns, where the sky is preserved by lighting technicians to make visible 101% of its stars, constellations, comets and Milky Ways.
I sneaked in there, with no qualifications but Cuba in tow, like a conspirator sect, side by side with more than 200 personalities from the elite of American and global politics, including the National Intelligence Director, governors, ambassadors, ex-generals, university rectors, editors-in-chief, CEOs of NGOs, and a dozen senators and congressional representatives.
All were entertained on the family ranch of Republican Senator John McCain, a hero of the war against communism in Vietnam where, incidentally, he was tortured and left with lifetime scars by Cuban hitmen hired by the Ministry of Interior, who killed in cold blood several of his colleagues who were prisoners of war (all of which he told me with a hand on my shoulder and a resolute expression of resignation).
Until the sessions are made public on the website of this conclave, we were asked not to say anything of the men summoned there and their controversial statements. But I can reflect a little now on America as such. That word that, notwithstanding the academic left, remains synonymous with the only functioning and stable democracy in our hemisphere: “America” as an apocope of “United States.”
Without falling into apocalyptic aporiae, the American Union seems to stand, in the spring of 2016, just on the edge of one of those red abysses of the desert where the Sedona Forum took place. The United States desperately cries out for water, its eyes caked with the dry sand of freedom on probation. Between fundamentalism and schizophrenia, between fear and manipulation of the masses, between ethnic tolerance and immigration balkanization, between ghettos and wars, between nationalism and the NSA, between chauvinism and pornography, between correction and criminality, between idiocy and ideology, between capitalism and the lack of capitalists, between isolationism and abstention, between the State Department and its fourth floor despotic populism. Finally, between socialism and the wall.
The sessions included testimonies from Russian and Eastern European activists, for example, and they were chilling. For all of them, Putinism – that Mafioso model that Cuba is implementing today among the tycoons of Cuban exiles and the tyrant Raul Castro – mercilessly assassinated a colleague or loved one. Or both. Some of the panelists in my discussion, in fact, were survivors of violent attacks or the posthumous peace of free doses of radioactivity.
All these champions of human rights – including, by sheer luck, me – can or cannot return to our countries of origin some day, but all of us, within or outside of our Cubitas, face the most brutal impunity of regimes that kill professionally as a state policy. Be it in a “dictatorship” or a “democracy,” we all survive in an eternal state of quotation marks: precarious countries with a fancy for the gallows.
I understood then that the democracies of the world are a race in the phase of extinction and that we have been left very alone, like lost souls, despite the solidarity as symbolic as it is insolvent of the ever diminishing governments and institutions of the free world – where now no one declares themselves free – howling like fatally injured coyotes, or perhaps like characters from Roberto Bolaño: losers who are lost in the Sonora desert, just in sight of the Sedona Forum in new-century Arizona of the end of Europe and the United States.
I shared these 48 hours of voluntary seclusion like a half-silly monk amid futility and philanthropy. Still trying not to set off too many alarms in the debates all about this alarming situation. Still trying to seem like a person with perspectives, facing our fossil future or Fidelity ad infinitum. Still playing at being that Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who, in the Isle of Infamies, at a party under surveillance even in our most intimate lives, was an incisive and intolerable writer for the system of the rude masses.
In my talk – and hoping not to violate the sub-rosa Sedona code in saying it – I first diplomatically applauded President Barack Obama’s approach to Cuba. It is not us, free Cubans, who rely on censorship and closure, but we are precisely the victims that have suffered it most. But. I immediately confirmed in public my faith in Castroism as a thing intrinsic to Cubans, as a congenital condemnation that defines us before and after Castro.
So. I told them in the English of my childhood – when the United States was, in Cuba, an illusion that everyone believed in, everyone hoped for, everyone supported – that the heart of Castroism is unwavering and that in consequence, it will end up (and this is already starting) criminalizing the Obama administration’s “opening” and its empowerment of our civil society, far beyond the vile greed of the Chamber of Commerce of an ever more un-united Union, and far beyond the terrible Cuban-American betrayal of a nation that was never born.
In other words. I told them, as a devotee of the barbaric nature of the Castros as an incarnation of Cuban complicity which, in whatever variant, America could emerge even more shutout with its “humanitarian” intervention of bombarding us with dollars and hams and computer clicks and cellphones. Although. I also asked them – among the cackle of American laughter and sophisticated sips of wine – for a civil re-colonization, a civilizing interference that finally makes us people and not subjects of a socialism with no way out, neither by ballots nor bullets. I asked them with full responsibility for a reverse invasion of human beings without anthropological damage, while our poor people escape in a suicide stampede. Curtain.
With or without embargo. With or without engagement. With or without internet. With or without repression. With or without political prisoners. With or without a market economy and the Sugar Kings who will come. With or without the rule of law. I told them that Cuba is and will be only a dynastic tyranny in self-transition, as long as a Castro or a Callejas or a Cardinal or a theatrical etcetera of these remains alive: a caste in the throes of perpetuating itself, not from Law to Law, but from Power to Power. And so. Cubans tremble, tremble like enslaved plebeians, tremble both from the opposition and from officialdom before the specific initiative of a plebiscite as a tool of liberation, as has been proposed by CubaDecide.org led by Rosa María Payá.
And I offered them this other little tidbit. Dear little friends, American daddies and grampas: the first Cuban opponent or dissident that is inserted into some little post within the institutional machinery of the regime, be it at the grassroots level in the People’s Power or in the National Assembly itself, before or after the post-totalitarian shebang of 2018, this will not be a Cuban opponent or dissident from any Cuba, but an agent planted not in secret but brazenly by the think tanks of the Ministry of the Interior and its intelligence thugs. Full stop.
Why. Without citizen mobilization and participation, the rights of Cubans – on the island as well as in exile – will remain hostages of our national sovereignty, in the hands of a clan that controls the agenda of the secret pacts where the latest guest of horror has been the White House. Please.
Forgive me, compatriots. I went to the Sedona Forum to talk about despair and left despairing. By the same grace, at a Miami foundation in the summer of 2013, a great magnate almost accused me of “doing the dirty work of the Havana Government.” And a radical counterrevolutionary said the same thing (listen to how good it sounds): “the Havana Government.”
My answer three years ago was the same with which I concluded my plea in Arizona on the afternoon of Friday, the 8th of April:
“Better despair than demagoguery.”