Fuenteovejuna: Lessons of a Leaderless March
Echoes of the peaceful independent march carried out last May 11th by Cuban LGBTI activists in Havana’s Central Park and along the Paseo del Prado, continue to move social networks with mostly messages of support and solidarity towards this historically victimized community, which has been discriminated against, and also – unfortunately – with the repression that was unleashed against the protesters during and after the event.
We must recognize the courage and determination demonstrated both by the LGBTI in claiming their spaces, their identity and their rights, as well as other activists of the independent civil society that participated in the act in demonstration of solidarity and support.
Numerous have been the voices that have denounced the violence of the repression, reflected in the abundant graphic evidence provided by participants, press reporters and eyewitnesses, but despite the unjustifiable use of brute force, beatings and arrests against peaceful demonstrators, who only fostered messages of love and inclusion, the truth is that the march can be considered a success for the Cuban LGBTI movement and, by extension, for the entire civil society.
To objectively analyze the facts and understand the scope of a march that, in any other geographical context could be considered insignificant, it is necessary to divest the criteria of any prejudice or sexist, political-ideological or sectarian atavism. The ability to call and carry out an independent march in Cuba, in defiance of official regulations and without waiting for “permission” from the autocracy and its officials, constitutes a demonstration of legitimate citizenship on the part of a group of Cubans, beyond conditions and labels, which we should all celebrate and support, especially those who, from the time of the dissidence, are committed to the triumph of democracy.
Freedom of demonstration, then, should be understood as everyone’s right, not as a the property of anyone or any group, so that it would be healthy to abandon any hint of elitism, pedigree or “droit du seigneur”* and to ponder the facts for what was done, not for what some believe should have been done or said, which attitude – on the other hand – is typical of the Power that oppresses us all.
Some have criticized the demonstrators for not raising explicitly anti-government slogans – and needless to say that any movement, thought, or independent demonstration in Cuba is implicitly anti-dictatorial – or have reproached others for supporting the LGBTI march and (allegedly) “not showing solidarity” with some opposition groups. Fortunately, this reluctance to recognize the merit of the effort of others is a minority position.
A first relevant and peculiar element of the LGBTI march of May 11th is that it was not organized by a subject or by a personal leadership, but that it was developed in social networks from a group of activists that freely and spontaneously decided to express their determination to defend their rights to demonstrate peacefully in public spaces.
At this point, the effectiveness of social networks intelligently used for these purposes was demonstrated, even in a country where connections are precarious and excessively expensive in relation to income. Will and technology allied themselves, and the march was possible: an important lesson for all civic movement of these times.
At the same time, the “collective leadership” not only guaranteed the performance of the act by avoiding the usual limelight or egocentrism – which have caused so much harm to other civil movements and opponents in Cuba – but it also won the solidarity of other openly anti-government activists who demonstrated the respect and ethical stature of participating in it without trying to hijack the demonstration in favor of their own agendas or in pursuit of personal glory.
The horizontal perception of leadership, moreover, constitutes a strength because it dislodges the illogical traditional sense of the repressor, also accustomed to a strong vertical leadership in its own command structures. A collective leadership, on the other hand, has the advantage of relatively limiting the disarticulating and demoralizing effect of the political police in sectors of the independent civil society, since there is no individual or “ringleader” – as is usually referred to – to be located as mobilizing leader or generator of actions and proposals, whose movements can be constantly monitored or simply canceled, thus, the capacity of existence and growth of the independent group, the speed of organization of its actions, and the visibility of its proposals are enhanced .
It was not by coincidence that on May 11th, among the first detainees who were beaten by the repressive forces, were several well-known dissident activists – to whom, perhaps initially, the direction of the demonstration was mistakenly attributed – and it is not fortuitous that in the days following the march and until the moment in which this column was written, operatives and arrests have been carried out in the typical style of “kidnapping” of several participants, whose testimonies agree that their interrogators have insisted on the same recurrent point: “who organized the march?” “who is responsible?” Obviously, the regime needs a scapegoat and, most likely, in its absence, they will contrive one.
The concern and powerlessness of the Power are evident, and not only is such a disproportionate repressive effort against the managers of a demonstration perceived that, paradoxically and according to Mrs. Mariela Castro as the “maximum leader” of Cenesex, was tiny and did not represent anyone. The Roundtable, on Cuban TV on Monday, May 13th, in whose panel Mrs. Castro took part, devoted a not inconsiderable segment of its time on screen to disqualifying and trying to discredit both the march and its participants, a common practice of the regime, one which is increasingly less and less effective.
Without the slightest embarrassment, the members of the television panel lied about alleged funding received from the U.S. by the imaginary leaders of the march – although they conveniently omitted the financing that Cenesex receives from abroad – while they tried to minimize the number of participants and to distort the objective of the march.
Same as always, but different in that essential element: the regime desperately needs a guilty party, and a week after “the crime” the responsible party has still not appeared.
A little in jest, but very seriously, the situation evokes that piece by the famous Spanish Golden Age playwright, Lope de Vega, entitled Fuenteovejuna, in which peasants of that imaginary town assumed the collective responsibility for a revolt that ended the life of its abusive Knight Commander of the Military Order. Do the repressors want to know who organized the May 11th march? It was Fuenteovejuna. However, it is prudent to avoid anticipated triumphs, because the truth is that the Cuban dictatorship will definitively lose the game at the moment when all Cubans who aspire to live in freedom and democracy put aside our differences and we become exactly that: Fuenteovejuna.
*droit du seigneur: a feudal lord’s right to bed a servant girl
Translated by Norma Whiting