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Protest leader Yunior García left Cuba under intense pressure


Cuba hurts. Cuba disappoints. Cuba bewilders the outsider and the insider as well.

In a blow to the youthful freedom movement sweeping Cuba, one of its most visible organizers — Yunior García, the playwright whose image holding a white rose out a window of his mob-besieged home circled the world — has left the island.

He couldn’t endure anymore the regime’s unrelenting acts of aggression against him, his family, and his home, the 39-year-old has said in interviews.

“At one point in the day, I cracked,” García said of last Sunday, when his plan to walk alone holding a single rose as a symbol of peaceful resistance was foiled by police and hostile crowds accosting him at home.

He’s not the only organizer of civic protests to be recently forced out by the regime.

There’s “a silent exodus of the movement across the country, and they [Cuban authorities] are targeting everyone. One by one,” says Cuban historian and Florida International University professor Abel Sierra Marrero. “It’s very sad. Reality is so obscene.”

The offer on the table is prison time or exile. Since its inception, the Cuban dictatorship has used this tactic to get rid of the opposition. It takes a superhero to choose barbaric prisons over the shelter of exile.

And, once again, those who leave, like García to Spain, upstage those who stay paying a hefty price.

Like Reinel Rodríguez, only a child at 15 detained at a center for problem youth for having participated in the historic protests of July 11.

Like Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the Afro-Cuban artist named a Time magazine icon for his unrelenting stance against government censorship and his leadership in the San Isidro artists movement that ignited the island-wide call for change in July.

Like Maykel Osorbo, one of the rappers in the twice Latin Grammy-awarded anthem “Patria y Vida,” and who is, in the aftermath of a six-day hunger strike, reportedly ill and being held in a maximum security prison.

In contrast, El Funky, another of the rappers on the video watched by millions around the world, won his freedom by agreeing to leave for Miami. He wanted to participate in the Latin Grammys and he was on fire on stage in Las Vegas Thursday night. A victory over his oppressors.

History repeats itself

Some leave and some stay. History repeats itself — and anger, bitterness and hopelessness take hold of Cubans on the island and the diaspora. At 62 years in, the dictatorship continues to demonstrate that it has all of the malevolent tools necessary to force dissenting Cubans out.

And we, from the comfort of exile and a life rebuilt, also repeat a pattern.

Some are harshly judging both García — who called for Monday’s “Civic March for Change,” tagged #15NCuba — and El Funky, who chose to take his cause to the Grammy stage instead of jail.

“With Yunior, the subject is complicated,” Sierra says. “When you assume a responsibility and you summon people [to march] and you are their representative, the media spokesman interviewed all over, it seems dishonest to me [to leave]. Fear is a powerful feeling, but I would never ask someone else to put their life on the line — like that 15-year-old kid in jail — when I’m not willing to put mine. You have to be consequential.”

Yet, I’m not so ready to blame the victim of the regime.

I offer a third view: This well-charted turn of events in Cuba is only possible because the left in the United States and Latin America care more about their own agendas than the usurpation of the most basic rights of the Cuban people.

The left continues to believe in a romanticized script of the Cuban Revolution as purveyor of social justice, one that has long been debunked by reality. So much so that the current democratic movement in Cuba is a product of the left, born and raised under the regime.

Or did everyone miss the line in “Patria y Vida” where the rappers bemoan the commercialization of Che Guevara’s image? Or the movement’s 27N Manifesto of what a new Cuba would look like? It doesn’t speak of U.S.-styled democracy but of plurality, inclusion, and dialogue.

The Cuban government couldn’t get away with the violence it is perpetrating against its people if 40 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress hadn’t voted “No” to supporting the protests in Cuba. A despicable act perpetrated by the usual run of New England cottage liberals, California pool liberals and the Black Caucus that still believes the Castro brothers elevated Blacks in Cuba. In fact, Blacks are the most marginalized and poorest citizens.

The Cuban government couldn’t get away with being one of the longest-lasting dictatorships in the world if the likes of Mexican President Andrés López Obrador, who was very fond of Donald Trump, didn’t shamelessly defend Miguel Díaz-Canel when asked about the brutal crackdown of protesters.

But Cuba’s allies, including the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, remain in place, unflinching at the horror of social justice activists supporting abuse of other Blacks. The blows to the head, the trials without a proper defense, the sentences of 10 or 20 years for speaking up and organizing don’t matter.

And then, there’s the fickleness of ordinary Americans.

They partied hard in Havana during detente, but tune out of the conversation when the Cuban people need them most. Shameful.

Yunior García wouldn’t be fleeing if all the above were on his side, pressuring the Cuban government to stop pitting Cubans against one another.

Leaving hurts the opposition

Yes, García’s leaving hurts the opposition, and perhaps my defense of his right to leave and be free to pursue his fight abroad is wrong. In a way, it’s patronizing and infantile, as Sierra says, to cast him as a “pobrecito” leader incapable of the required rigor.

“Decisions have a political cost: discouragement, lack of credibility and motivation,” Sierra says. “Change begins with criticism, scrutiny and assuming a posture of ethics and responsibility.”

But not everyone has the fortitude of longtime leading dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, arrested on July 11 as he attempted to join a protest in his eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, and now serving more than four years left on a prior conviction.

His crime: He refused to follow the conditions of his house arrest that he refrain from political activism.

Where to go from here?

Where do Cubans go from here?

“Nowhere,” Sierra says. “We have to wait. Now is the time to network, think,” to give visibility to the political prisoners, and to avoid “operating with slogans and emotions saying that the regime is weaker than ever.”

It’s not.

It’s strong and brutal and “the fear of a social explosion” has dissipated, replaced by the silent exodus of organizers to be followed by that of ordinary people who are “the force for change.”

Dissidence. Crack down. Exile.

Rinse and repeat.

But before you judge, remember: We all left, too. That’s the problem.

This story was originally published November 19, 2021 6:00 AM.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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