An old song by Noel Nicola, which Santiago Feliú probably performed better than anybody else, points to one of the most serious problems of the global era. It is entitled “Sobre el dato falso” (“About the False Fact”), and in one of its verses it says that asking for a lie is like “asking for a piece of gold or bread”. In another verse, Nicola’s poem points out that the possibility of offering a false fact, in all conscience, is equivalent to “splitting the soul in half”.
In times of fake news and conspiracy theories, those dramatizations of the truth, very typical of the Cold War, seem discontinued. In The Political Epidemics (2020), Peter Sloterdijk exposes it with clarity: the suspension of disbelief, typical of the bipolar world, has been quickly surpassed by a radically illusory scenario, where politicians make deliberate use of farce and imposture. Trump and Putin, Bolsonaro and Maduro are great con artists, who routinely lie, without hiding the brand name of their lies.
Sloterdijk says that all these politicians, from “apparently democratic governments stigmatize all kinds of opposition as terrorism in order to enforce the right of exception of self-defense, and even martial law”. And he adds: “as soon as terrorists identify terrorists as terrorists, the spirit of the times reveals its cards”.
All those politicians are not only “liars who call the critics of their decisions and the unmaskers of their lies liars”. They are, above all, managers of politics who are taking the “lie to its age of artificial irrefutability,” to its maximum degree of ideological speculation. The purpose of the propagators of the new political epidemics is to create a total relativism, within the democracies, so the cynical option become the only valid one.
A close antecedent to this de-dramatization of truth was the so-called “war on terror” and the proliferation of states of exception after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. The war against Iraq, undertaken by the government of George W. Bush, was not based on evidence of the possession of weapons of mass destruction by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The hypothesis, the possibility of that existence, was enough for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle to elaborate the doctrine of “preventive war”.
In Cuba, that same spring of 2003, a wave of repression took place that resorted to the execution by a firing squad of three young migrants and the arrest of 75 peaceful opponents. The judicial processes of those days could not have been more irregular. According to Law 88 of 1999 and other decrees of the so-called “antidote legislation against the Helms-Burton law” passed by the National Assembly, the opponents were to be accused of agents of a foreign power that was seeking the overthrow of the government, when all of them were in favor of peaceful resistance —no weapons were found on anyone— and many, especially those belonging to the Christian Liberation Movement led by Oswaldo Payá, were also against the US embargo.
In the end, the 75 were prosecuted for political crimes —enemy propaganda, illicit association, “distortion of reality”— but not as agents of a foreign power. It could not be proven that any of them was seeking to overthrow the government. Since then, the judicial prosecution of opponents in Cuba has been burdened with inconsistencies that, apparently, cannot be comfortably reversed. It is easier for an opponent to be charged with “pre-criminal” behavior than for some violent action against the government.
These inconsistencies become more acute in the cases of the new communities of activists, journalists, artists, or intellectuals, which grow as civil society itself and the non-state sector grow. Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar were harassed and beaten, disqualified and stigmatized, but they were never able to open a case against them. They tried to prosecute the artist Tania Bruguera, after several arrests, but were unsuccessful. Another artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara —recognized as such by official publications such as El Caimán Barbudo and La Ventana de Casa de las America— was jailed to prevent him from attending a public kissing in front of the ICRT, organized by the LGTBIQ community, but he was prosecuted for violation of the National Symbols Law. A national and international solidarity campaign led to his release.
The charges of “mercenaries” and “terrorists” against the youth of the San Isidro Movement and the protest at the Ministry of Culture are media accusations. Lacking a legal background, they violate the norms of due process established in the 2019 Constitution. When a state media —Granma, Cubadebate or the National News— accuses a young person of being “mercenaries” or “terrorists”, without proof, it does something more serious than defame: it violates the principle of presumption of innocence.
These accusations launched using the state media have been saying the same thing for decades. The most rational among the people behind them maintain that receiving funds from the U.S. government is equivalent to acting as a mercenary, even if no war is waged or violence is incited. But not all funding for activists or artists comes from the U.S. government, but from private foundations that, in some cases, have also transferred or are transferring funds to official institutions.
Most democracies regulate and criminalize foreign government funding to political parties but are flexible in terms of funding for civil society development. In Cuba, as far as we know, there is no law on external financing, which is strange considering that the official media make the transfer of external funds the main indication to accuse someone of being a “mercenary” or a “terrorist”.
In the end, the very accusation of “mercenaries” and “terrorists” is the false fact, among other reasons, because in many cases precise information is offered about external financing and its penalization according to the laws of the state. At a time when the capitalist transition is advancing in Cuba, what is being criminalized is not so much the reception of foreign funds as the public positioning against certain government policies.
For more than two weeks, dozens of young people who took part in the events in San Isidro and the Ministry of Culture have been placed under virtual house arrest. Several nights they have been exposed to disqualification in the National News and almost every day some article appears in Granma or Cubadebate that presents them as accomplices in a “soft coup” organized by Donald Trump. Several of them have been subjected to preventive arrests and interrogations by State Security.
When one of these young women, Camila Lobón, asked the agent guarding her house what she had done, the agent replied: “You know what you did and why we are here”. The phrase captures the argumentative center of the political epidemics of the 21st century. Ultimately, under regimes such as Cuba’s, the law is subordinated to theology, and violating the law is always a crime of conscience.