The Cuban Intelligentsia: Debate or Hide

What is an academic? What is an intellectual? These are some of the questions that have haunted me for years, even before I graduated in Hispanic Philology. Immersed in adolescent insolence, I thought at some point that to be one or the other it was necessary to assume certain poses, gestures, even modes of dress, or to smoke. With time I understood that erudition need not be accompanied by a pointed goatee, a haughty look, some glasses halfway down your nose, nor one of those tilted berets our students like so much. I knew people who brought, along with their knowledge, audacity, wisdom and spontaneity, an immense wealth of culture and a commendable humility. Many of them didn’t even manage a college degree, nor did they publish a single book. I also noticed that, frequently, the Cuban intellectual world does not structure itself on the basis of wisdom, but on opportunism and ideological fidelity. Examples abound of “honorary degrees” awarded as prizes to militants, instead of honoring them for their professional skills. Also abundant, lamentably, are those expelled or relegated to research for reasons based strictly on politics and not on science.

But beyond appearances, as a mark of a wise fraternity or as demonstrations of loyalty to the government professed by so many of our illustrious, there is a characteristic that recurs alarmingly in our national intelligentsia: it is their inability to sustain a debate with people from within the Island who do not belong to the institutions sanctified and created by the powers-that-be; their ineptitude when it comes time to accept the challenge of a discussion with those who think differently. An old Cuban academic traveled from Havana to San Francisco and tolerated from the public there that any American could pose questions he never would have entertained nor even listened to in his own country. He took a plane to participate in the 2012 Latin American Studies Association conference and seemed disposed to sit on a panel where there are liberal perspectives, as well and democratic and anti-totalitarian ones, which he would never allow a place here. What’s more, his presentation uttered outside our borders is, clearly, several degrees more daring and critical than what he would say to his students, his readers or his colleagues in Cuba. However, once he returns to the island territory, if he is called to an exchange of ideas from civil society, the opposition, or the alternative scene, he acts like he didn’t hear the invitation or insults his counterpart. He denigrates them, has a fit, calls on Daddy State to defend him; all this and more rather than accept the exchange of arguments and positions that is so urgently needed in our country. In short, he hides.

Thus, the time has already passed of looking in dictionaries and manuals for a definition of what is a wise man. I am not going to describe here all the points that help me get a very personal idea of the culture of each person, but I will tell you what characteristic heads my very subjective list. It is a person’s art for polemics and controversy, his disposition to listen to even the most antagonistic theses or the most conflicting opinions. I admire those who are capable of debating with their ideological opponents without falling into arrogance, verbal violence or personal offense. It doesn’t bother me if some dress in what they believe is the garb of an intellectual, nor that they say they agree ideologically one hundred percent with the government which, coincidentally, pays their salary. What irritates and disappoints me is that, being supposedly at the vanguard of the words and thought of this nation, they refuse to use their words and ideas in debate, evading their scientific commitment to seek the truth taking into account all the variables.


17 thoughts on “The Cuban Intelligentsia: Debate or Hide

  1. Cuban opposition leader Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was released by police on Wednesday after being detained last Saturday in a violent incident at his city of birth, Placetas, in Villa Clara province.
    “My first words are to express my thanks to all those persons of good will who, somehow or other, decidedly contributed to my release,” said Antúnez in a statement made available by the Miami-based Directorio Democrático Cubano (Cuban Democratic Board).
    On Saturday, Antúnez was arrested, beaten and sprayed with pepper gas in a police jail cell.
    The domestic opposition movement and human rights activists had consistently denounced his detention.
    Last Thursday, Antúnez participated in a teleconference before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee dealing with the domestic situation in Cuba and the recent acts of harassment against the peaceful opposition.
    The U.S. government had demanded Antúnez’s immediate and unconditional release. At a recent press conference in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland deplored the oppositionist’s arrest.
    Criticism has become strongest because Raúl Castro’s government seems to have activated a campaign to block the opposition’s plans to honor political prisoners on the occasion of Fathers’ Day, next Sunday.
    In the past 48 hours, the cell phones of several dissidents in Villa Clara and Santiago appeared to have been blocked by the authorities so they could not speak with supporters or journalists.
    “These actions highlight once again the repressive nature of the Cuban government, particularly with regard to citizens who peacefully express opposite points of view,” Nuland said. “We shall continue to support the Cuban people in its desire to determine their own future.”
    Joining the chorus of figures and personalities in U.S. politics who demanded Antúnez’s release was Senator Bill Nelson. In a letter to the chief of the Cuban Mission in Washington, Jorge Bolaños, the senator asked for an explanation.
    “I beg you to determine at once all the facts surrounding this affair and notify my office about Antúnez’s whereabouts and well-being,” Nelson said in his letter.
    Antúnez, 46, was released from prison in April 2007 after serving a 17-year sentence for allegedly engaging in enemy propaganda, attempts at sabotage and other crimes punishable by the Cuban penal code.
    Two weeks ago in Miami, groups of Cuban exiles showed a documentary that contains testimony from former political prisoners about the coercive methods used by the island’s prisons, and the consistent violation of the immates’ basic rights.
    The documentary, titled “Cuba’s Prisons: A Sequence of Terror,” was filmed and edited surreptitiously by members of the Oriental Democratic Alliance (ADO), a coalition of opposition groups in Cuba’s eastern provinces. The documentary included a testimony by Antúnez.


    MIAMI HERALD: Some of Cuba’s secrets are not so secret – Once-secret phone lists and other sensitive leaked information have been linked to a contract IKEA had with Cuban prison factories. – By Juan O. Tamayo

    Miami blogger Luis Dominguez obtained the number when he passed himself off as a Colombian woman on the Internet and flirted for eight months with Castro, a physician well known for his involvements with Cuba’s baseball teams.

    The cell numbers for two of Fidel Castro’s less well-known sons were also on the list, but without the secrecy. Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle was listed under his own name, and Alex was listed as “Alex Castro Soto del Valle MININT.”

    The list of sensitive numbers was briefly published, accidentally or on purpose, on the Web pages of Cuba’s state-run telephone monopoly, ETECSA, a few years back. Dominguez and others made copies before it was removed.

    A man who answered Antonio Castro’s cell number Thursday said “He’s no longer here” and hung up. There’s been no indication that Castro had any business dealings with EMIAT or IKEA. El Nuevo Herald calls to EMIAT offices in Havana seeking comment were cut off when the caller identified himself.

    “The Cuban government tries to hide all the information, but in the age of the Internet it can’t do that well at all,” said Dominguez, whose Web page, Secretos de Cuba, publishes the private telephone numbers and addresses of government officials.

    An Internet report on the IKEA deal for Cuban prison labor also led a defector from the film section of MININT’s Counterintelligence Directorate (DCI) now living in Florida to contact El Nuevo Herald last week.

    His DCI bosses ordered him to shoot a 10-minute film showing the high quality of the manufacturing shops at the Combinado del Este prison for men and Manto Negro prison for women, both in Havana, in 1986 or 1987, the defector said in an interview.

    A DCI camera crew was put on the job because it could be trusted to keep quiet about what it saw or heard in the prisons, he added. Cuba does not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit its estimated 200 prisons.



    MERCOPRESS: Petrobras abandons oil exploration in Cuba ; all eyes set on Repsol-YPF-March 10th 2011

    Marco Aurelio Garcia, foreign policy adviser to President Dilma Rousseff, told reporters in Havana exploratory work off Cuba’s northern coast had not shown good results and that Brazil wanted to concentrate on its own oil fields.
    Asked if state-run Petrobras had abandoned the offshore Cuba block, he said: ”Yes, that was already decided some time back. Petrobras withdrew from that (block). We’re sorry, but the truth is you have to work with tangible elements and there wasn’t any security of that in this block“.

    Petrobras signed up for one of Cuba’s 59 offshore blocks in October 2008 in a Havana ceremony attended by then Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Cuban President Raul Castro. Lula da Silva had vowed Petrobras would find oil for Cuba heavily dependent on imports from oil-rich socialist ally Venezuela.

    The Petrobras block was just offshore from Cuba’s biggest oilfield, east of Havana.

    Garcia apologized for Brazil deciding to drop its Cuban block. ”We’re very sorry and the truth of things is that … Brazil will have to concentrate on our prospecting,“ Garcia said in a press conference. ”You know that we now have big reserves, maybe one of the biggest reserves in the world.“



    FOX NEWS LATINO: Cuba Struggles to Make Oil Dream Come True – May 27, 2012

    But the first attempt in nearly a decade to find Cuba’s hoped-for undersea oil bonanza has come up dry, and the island’s leaders and their partners must regroup and hope they have better luck – quickly.
    Experts say it is not unusual that a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) deep exploratory well drilled at a cost of more than $100 million by Spanish oil giant Repsol was a bust. Four out of five such wells find nothing in the high-stakes oil game, and petroleum companies are built to handle the losses.

    But Cuba has more at stake, and only a few more spins left of the roulette wheel. The enormous Scarabeo-9 platform being used in the hunt is the only one in the world that can drill in Cuban waters without incurring sanctions under the U.S. economic embargo, and it is under contract for only one to four more exploratory wells before it heads off to Brazil.

    “If oil is not found now I think it would be another five to 10 years before somebody else comes back and drills again,” said Jorge Pinon, the former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and a leading expert on Cuba’s energy prospects. “Not because there is no oil, but because the pain and tribulations that people have to go through to drill in Cuba are not worth it when there are better and easier options in places like Angola, Brazil or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.”

    A delay would be catastrophic for Cuba, where 80-year-old President Raul Castro is desperately trying to pull the economy out of the doldrums through limited free-market reforms, and has been forced to cut many of the subsidies islanders have come to expect in return for salaries of just $20 a month.



    Stage Left Studio – 214 W. 30th Street, 6th floor- New York, NY 10001
    Between 7th and 8th Avenues- across the street from St. John the Baptist Church
    easy access from 1,2,3 and C,E and A subway lines.

    June 1, 2, 6, 9, 13 & 16…… 7:30pm
    June 3, 10 & 17……………… 2pm

    CUBAN PLAY: “Be careful! The sharks will eat you!”

    The show is a stunner; written by a man who experienced his father’s, HUMBERTO ALVAREZ, unimaginable courage in the face of crushing historical events that rendered an entire nation of people indescribably helpless.

    These are the parallel stories of Mr. Alvarez’ beloved island; the glitz and glamour of Havana nightlife and what was about to bring it all crashing down thunderously on the world’s stage.

    The sultry beats of the spectacularly celebrity-drenched-mob-controlled-money-laundering-Internationally-infamous TROPICANA in the 1950s, the danger of Fulgencio Batista’s fall and Fidel Castro’s rise to power, a political revolution and an imagined CIA attempt to separate 14,000 Cuban children from their parents, the longing for a better life that propels people to throw themselves under the cover of a moonless night into the unknown Caribbean Sea; THESE ARE THE EVENTS THAT SHAPED JAY ALVAREZ’ FAMILY’S ESCAPE FROM CUBA in 1964.

    CHARISMATIC ENERGY. “While the production seems stripped down to whatever Alvarez could carry on his back, his charismatic energy filled the theater as he portrayed a number of characters, most notably his mother, Chiqui and his father, Humberto… there was enough humor, human engagement and outbursts of cubanismos to make the show a wondrous and compelling watch.” — Erasmo Guerra, NY Daily News

    THRILLING. FASCINATING. SPELLBINDING. “the story is told in such a fascinating way that you are spellbound. Jay Alvarez’ remarkable one man show is thrilling and seamless.” — Suzanna Bowling, Times Square Chronicles

    DEEPLY COMEDIC. INTENSELY GRIPPING. A FLAWLESS PERFORMANCE. “If you don’t tear up at his portrayal of his mother agreeing to send her two oldest sons to the US for protection, well then you might not have a soul.” — Trish Vignola,

    YOUTUBE :Interview with Jay Alvarez – creator & star of “Be careful! The sharks will eat you!”

  6. photo in this blog hides a meaning which may be one finger for yani and two for mariela who is in higher position compared with the lower position of yoani ….or the pozition of the naked academic….of the so called M with a hidden A in it created by pozition of the body,legs and arms,hands and fingers hidding the mariela’s name in it.Who did this? a spy? cuba intelligence is cooperating with…?

  7. in this blog we can easy see that yoani is considering mariela fake a ademic or intellectual…but arent they all like mariela../even worse because they did sell the world and themselves to get what mariela already have as a person respected and covered with priviledges,people,money etc …but yoani does have to operate hidden…scared…beaten…misstreated.
    maybe yoani is right to be upset and writte this blog angry with an imported photo from canada,a country similar as cuba…where you think a lot how to grow the ideas

  8. is this post against the so called intellectual Mariela? Is yoani jelous of mariela,her attention,freedom,priviledges,posts,carriere…which will be working in UN or hidding somewhere ?

    mariela doesnt give a dam about gays…but she is just using them to unite both usa and cuba,their similar rainbow societies and colours,their majority of their pinks…

    mariela is a seller,a hired company agent,working for corporation cslled cuba…so why to blame her for her job like any other politician,for being a lier and hypocrite….because she is like everybody,like every government,elite,organization,un,nau for which she does work,contribute to build…

    if mariela is trying to build what the world corporation and its buseness partners and elite want…than she is okey buildin a world that will look as present cuba…

    the problem for the world corporation business is yoani,the rebelle who dislike the big business in cuba’s corporation which identify her same as the street protestors in many countries now beaten,arrested,censured,hunted,jailed,tortured,ingured,killed.

    so yoani is consider enemy but mariela the future leader of the world run by elites,a mix of nazi-socialists dame as eu now…and mariela can be consider more a nazi liberal pink…and yoani a radical social democrat…which is considered enemy

  9. academic or intellectual…dont exists…is not the teacher,leader,politician,artist,journalist,religious man,prist,monk,scolar,writter, seeing police beating the student,youths,adults,seniors now hungry,homeless,unemployed

    academics and intellectuals are the enemy of the humanity,the demolition man of the dociety,the hypocrite,the destroyer,the anti human,anti life,anti progress,anti God

  10. Yoani, a great post.

    I’m sure you’ve heard already, Baby Doc (Mariela) Castro gave a wonderful performance of intellectual honesty in San Francisco.

    She called you a Miama Mafia, mercenary, annexationist, etc, as she calls anyone who disagrees with the Castro dictatorship.

    Then quoting one of Castro’s agents in Paris (Salim Lanrami, the same guy who made up an interview with you), she proved that it was “mathematically impossible” for you to write 2 or 3 paragraphs a week. LOL

  11. Cube Libra, you still here? You swore you were moving to Cuba, what happened? You don’t like socialism?

    I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath, you seem to be a compulsive liar. Like your buddy Fidel who promised elections in 1959.

  12. “It doesn’t bother me if some dress in what they believe is the garb of an intellectual, nor that they say they agree ideologically one hundred percent with the government which, coincidentally, pays their salary”.
    Well if it doesn`t bother you Miss Sanchez, please stop your whining and crying and complaining.
    As you have noticed, more and more people of all classes are either ignoring or rebuking your lost and senseless cause. First the Brazilian envoys refused to even aknowledge your cause. Then the Pope refused to comment on the way the revolutionary government rules the country. Aleida Guevara boasts about all the achievements of Fidel Castro and his brother. Then Camila Vallejo said straight out that Cubans had nothing to complain about. And now Mariela Castro brings it out in the open that it is impossible for Yoani Sanchez to write all her comments on this blog and is backed by the Cuban Mafia in Miami.
    Looks to me that the candle of solidarity that supports your defamatory cause is burning near to its end. Besides the aproximately ten or 15 people on the English version of this blog, and the maybe 30 or 40 people on the spanish version, not a great uprising the way I see it.

  13. the first and the last true academics were in the middle east and ancient greece who maybe were the same kind of wisemen…but the last 2000+ years the so called academics were just clowns…and mind was not ised much but the sword and weapon,poison and intrigues…evils,darkness so there is no light anywhere but junk generations,people,government,leaders,rich,poor,eastern,western,etc in the junk jungle

  14. academic = wiseman = lighted = illuminated = fire…but there is darkness or night and the lights are to weak to change the night to day…and they just serve the darkness,night…so is academic…almost a nothing…as a faded star ot planet light

    sun only can change the night to day…so for God the academics are nothingness and so are all the rulers,leaders,kings,lighted or faded…they serve to the darkness and where is darkness means the sun,light,fire,miss and the day too or the academic

  15. an academic is just an agent,salesman or a misionary who can meet other agemts and misionaries of other sects or cults…or companies,corporation,nation but he is sent there not to import but just to export or just to listem,see,spy on others…
    than this agent comes back and report to his boss who hired and use him and can pay,replace or fire him.All the rainbow colors are different but they are not…non of them is the God s color…which is white and in rainbow there is no white color.
    Cuba is red or green or pink in the rainbow colors does not matter…but there is not in the God side and so are other idiots…nations or company,corporation,their ideology,mentality,system,lazy government,leaders,academics,masses or all kind of junk…because when all the colors fade or unite in black,evil way,easy change than there is an evil united army standing as black,darkness against the light…sun,God.
    So there are no academics there and if someone is called so doesnt mean that he is so

  16. MIAMI HERALD EDITORIAL: Lies, damned lies and Cuban ‘diplomacy’- U.N. body’s questions put Cuba in the dock

    Even by the standards of Cuban diplomacy — a web of deceit and cover for espionage — the performance of the Castro representive before the Geneva-based Convention on Torture last week has been a mind-lowing exercise in hypocrisy and Orwellian double-talk.

    • To the committee’s questions about penalties against dissent, Cuban representative Rafael Pino Becquer, deputy attorney general, said no one declared “socially dangerous” by law has been sanctioned: “Rather, they were influenced by education programs and thus re-educated.” File that under punishment by another name.

    • How about Cubans detained without notice and held incommunicado? According to the Convention’s own report of the session, Pino said incommunicado detention does not exist, and that “detention upon arrest may not exceed 24 hours and that every detainee had access to a doctor.” Deny, deny, deny.

    • Asked about harassment of human rights defenders and independent journalists, Cuba’s representatives simply declared that they “were not genuine human rights defenders.” An outright lie.

    And so it went. The entire Cuban reply to the questions posed by members of the U.N.-affiliated body consisted of a series of clumsy evasions and pants-on-fire whoppers. (“The intelligence services did not [i.e., do not] detain people.” Or this one: “Any person who suffered damage or prejudice caused by State officials acting within their official function could claim reparation and compensation by law.”) The trick there is “by law” — not by practice. The reality of Cuba is that the law on any given day is whatever the Castro brothers ordain.

    To listen to Cuban officials, the island is a virtual civil liberties utopia, with habeas corpus enshrined in law and rigorously enforced (as if), and their prisons model venues of rehabilitation: “Cuba had a progressive approach to detention.”

    If the latter is true, why does Cuba forbid the International Red Cross to visit the island’s prisons? Why has Manfred Nowak, the U.N.’s expert on torture, repeatedly been denied access to those prisons, despite a supposed “invitation” from Cuba back in 2009?

    Maybe it’s because conditions in those prisons are so horribly wretched, as a video smuggled out of the prison and posted on The Miami Herald website makes plain, that Mr. Nowak would be nauseated if Cuba allowed him to conduct a genuine inspection.

    The Convention on Torture’s questions will lead to a report on Cuba which, we hope, pulls no punches. Meanwhile, anyone interested in the real Cuba can visit non-government websites online such as the Cuba Archive Project, or read a letter signed by over 100 former inmates with a total of 3,551 years in Cuban jails who can attest to prison conditions.

    No matter what the Convention ultimately finds, of course, it’s not likely to alter Cuba’s behavior, but at least it will be put on notice that the regime is not fooling anyone.

    The last report issued by the panel on Cuba, published in December of 2005, contained a host of recommendations that Cuba ignored. They included investigating complaints of abuse, public inspection of prisons, an independent judiciary and allowing independent NGOs to monitor the protection of human rights.

    We won’t hold our breath, but for the moment, at least, it’s refreshing to see a U.N. agency sending a signal that Cuba is a routine violator of human rights, instead of cozying up to the Castro dictatorship as too many U.N. agencies have done for decades.

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