Journalist and writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez, 32, has been in exile in New York since the start of the year. Persecuted by the Cuban regime for participating in the San Isidro movement, identified as a threat by the island’s dictatorship leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, he told Folha he was euphoric and worried about the protests that have took place last Sunday (11). “A door opened never to close again.”
Álvarez says he was interrogated several times, including after participating in a hunger strike calling for the release of artist and political activist Denis Solís. During the same period he moved to the United States, he was selected by Granta magazine, specializing in literature, as one of the 25 best young Spanish writers. He is the founder of an independent publication, El Estornudo, in which award-winning works, such as the Gabo Foundation, have been published.
How did you feel on Sunday? Euphoric but incomplete, since I am far away. I think that’s how a person in exile feels. Although it was a heartwarming surprise to see that people finally let go of their fear and took to the streets, I felt bad that I wasn’t there. My reaction must be the same as that felt by other political exiles when something important happens in their country.
I wanted to do a lot of things, write, speak, play remotely. But, from a distance, it seems that not everything we do is enough. I wish I had been to Havana, but I am happy and hopeful.
How do you define the San Isidro movement? We started out as an artistic and civic movement. Initially, we did not imagine acting directly in politics or against the regime. What united us was the non-respect of the decree of the dictatorship which limited freedom of expression. [a norma, de 2018, obriga artistas a registrarem suas atividades e, assim, eles passaram a ser mais controlados], but we only became a political group after we started to suffer many acts of censorship and persecution.
In a way, the regime’s reaction ended up giving political relevance to our meetings, and we responded with a political speech against the government. But we didn’t think at first that we could be a threat. We wanted to be an artistic and popular response to the threat to freedom of expression. Our meetings had music, readings, unbelievable that they saw in it a force that could shake the regime. I think it has become something different. Due to the broadcast on the networks, he became a reference against those who were angry with the dictatorship in various parts of the country.
It’s odd that Díaz-Canel is trying to publicly disqualify YouTubers and artists, it seems he’s scared. Do you think the regime is in a fragile period? It seemed clear to me that Díaz-Canel is afraid. In fact, his fear is not new, it was the fear that made him the most obedient heir to the Castros, the one who withstood so many beheadings from other rulers who wanted what he wanted. Fear breeds obedience, and he does it now because he’s been afraid his whole life. He has to make up for the fact that he is not of the revolutionary generation, that he is not a Castro, so he uses his own fear to terrify the population with these threats which might be considered disproportionate at first glance. Not now, he’s created a real enemy.
It is difficult to make predictions about what will happen, it depends on the support of the military and the government apparatus for its project. He may radicalize and convince the top to radicalize, as happened with [o ex-presidente da Venezuela] Hugo Chavez after the coup attempt in 2002. The other option is for him to weaken himself and thus dynamite the system little by little.
You have been detained more than once. Can you tell us what the regime’s repressive apparatus looks like from the inside? They have many features. I say that because they’ve done a lot of things with me, so I think it’s because they’re developing these different techniques. I have been kidnapped, arrested and interrogated in different ways. Usually these interrogations are very long, but they can take different methods. Some are aggressive, trying to break you down with threats. Others use a conciliatory tone, the kind that shows a willingness to help. Others make you speak to try to fabricate a crime from your own testimony. Then they say things about their friends, their family. They try to get you to give information about people. Psychologically, they are difficult to go through.
Are you scarred? I’m apprehensive because my whole family is in Cuba. I turn on the TV, look at the list of prisoners, and many are my friends. It’s like my whole bubble is living it, and I watch it from afar. Again: the feelings are contradictory. I want everyone to be safe and I am also proud to see them fight. I really want to be with them.
What can happen now? I don’t know if there will be another exit to the streets right away, but things are very tense and it is clear that a door has opened never to close again. The timing may vary, the pandemic is one thing that makes everything worse, but I don’t believe in hindsight. It was as if the majority of the population had finally learned a lesson after 60 years. But the difficulties are immense, the fact that there is no political opposition, that we are in a serious economic crisis. I have seen calls and I think there will be other acts. We can then measure the reaction power of the regime and set new goals.