Thursday, January 3, 2008

Exile: Fear and Shame

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the determination to live with dignity, rejecting abuse and humiliation."

- Jorge Mas Canosa*

Looking back on some notes, I noticed that a lot of rhetoric by hard-line Cuban exiles focuses on honor and shame. Miguel A. De La Torre wrote thoroughly on this "religion of el macho" in his examination of the "exilic Cuban" through religion, culture and politics. The predominance of feelings of shame and honor may provide some insights into the history of the "intransigent" and past violence in Miami.

his past Saturday, veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, along with their friends and family, reunited at the historic Orange Bowl in Little Havana. It was here, 45 years ago on December 29, 1962, upon their return from a poorly-planned invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro, that President Kennedy promised the veterans a "free Cuba." Today, President Kennedy is regarded as the man who betrayed their cause, with some in Washington at the time regarded as the veterans' "most powerful enemies," but a cause still pursued in exile nonetheless. At Saturday's reunion, the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association also unveiled a new model for the future "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library," also known as the Cuban Exile Museum and Library.

If there are any men in exile who are held in the highest esteem, they are the veterans of Brigade 2506. For some hard-liners, men like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch make that list too. They are considered the heroes of exile, those with dignity, who walk vertically, and continue the long history of Cuban militancy (like Martí and Maceo), towards freedom. These men embody the opposite of humiliation, cowardice and shame.

But, after the invasion, and once President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev both agreed in October 1962 to remove their missile systems from Turkey and Cuba respectively, and end the Cuban Missile Crisis, exile militancy was AGAIN betrayed. On March 9th of this year (Radio Mambi - "En Caliente" Morning Show), Armando Peréz Roura put it this way:

"La beligerancia (the spirit of militancy) was lost when Kennedy sold us out... during the Missile Crisis, sold us out to the Soviet Union, when the fight was already won. And, when he signed the Kennedy/Khrushchev pact. Unfortunately, at that moment they sold us out and turned us into slaves of communism." [MP3]

According to hard-liners in Miami, since the loss at the Bay of Pigs, communism has been allowed (especially by the US) to spread over the rest of the Western hemisphere. In order to remedy this humilitation, Peréz Roura, program director of Miami's most-listened-to Spanish AM radio station (WAQI), has repeatedly and publicly stated his wish for a "crusade... against those terrible evils which threaten the entire continent."[MP3] This evil is, of course, communism of yesterday, and socialism of today. Peréz Roura sees no difference between the two and recently asserted (Tome Nota - Oct. 16) that socialism of the 21st Century is a "weapon of mass destruction" that has caused the death of some 60 million people in the last century. As a result, according to Peréz Roura and other hard-liners, there is "only ONE way" to confront this movement of communists/socialists:

"The way is [obvious] because all of this [Communist domination] would have already become reality years ago, if we [the US] had not acted with a heavy hand."[MP3]

The "heavy-handed" approach by the US across Latin America has many examples and seems to be widely supported in Miami by hard-liners and some in the media. The most extreme view was again repeated this past Saturday evening on Radio Mambi ("Puntos de Vista" Show - 10pm) with one of the hosts saying that all communists deserve to be six feet under, and that once all the communists die "we will finally breathe freely." But, according to the host (a self-described "man of action"), this war against communism will be a long struggle.

My interpretation of this acceptance for exile militancy by hard-liners can be better understood once we consider the shame felt of being in exile (due to communism), the arguments or moral justifications against the official enemy (communism), and the history of militancy and betrayal that some exiles have experienced or continue to suffer. But, the danger of militancy lies in the uncontrollable and implacable force for violence and revenge. There are no assurances of long-lasting peace when groups accept to use violence (or a "heavy hand") as a solution. In addition, drastic actions that risk the security (or potential cooperation) between regional neighbors only serve to endanger it. A militancy that is willing to sacrifice it all does not seem justified, and the "intransigent" who demands justice may inadvertently undermine it for the rest.

A propensity for hostility and aggression may stem from what James Gilligan refers to as "the primary or ultimate cause of all violence": the emotion of shame. This simple model may provide some insight, but only to a certain extent in explaining violent acts committed by some hard-line exiles (and not all exiles) towards the cause of a free Cuba.

Searching through the database at the Terrorism Knowledge Base, one will notice that Miami ranks among the cities with the highest incidents of terrorism in the US. New York, with the most, has 171 documented incidents, followed by Washington DC with 89 (total of city and capital), then Miami with 59, and Los Angeles with 39 (despite having a population almost five times larger than Miami). Most of the incidents listed from Miami are Cuba-related and dated from the seventies and eighties (almost half are from the seventies). Specific details of those incidents can also be found here and here.

Following James Gilligan's theory, "[t]he purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride, thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame." Considering that during the seventies two US administrations (Ford and Carter) made attempts to normalize relations with Cuba, the reaction of hard-liners with acts of violence may have been actions in defense of perceived attacks to their image and identity: the honor of militancy (and the history of militancy) to overthrow the Castro regime (or oppressive governments) and being victim to communism (the origin of exile).

If the Cuban government (communism) is the source and cause of exile (with its inherent shame) then one can understand why hard-liners in Miami today reject normalization and propose a "total change" in Cuba. This also may explain why Unidad Cubana (a hard-line organization) has specifically forbidden the communist party from a possible future democratic Cuba. A "total change" in Cuba would accomplish eradicating (through political force or violence) any trace that caused exile in the first place and finally allow exiles to "breathe freely" again. In the meantime, as long as some trace of communism remains in Cuba (by negotiation or compromise), then there is no reason to return to Cuba, just as Jose Martí expressed in 1887. Pérez Roura has expressed repeatedly that if he is ever to return to Cuba it will be with his head held up high (pride), and not any other way (with shame). This is perhaps a predominant feature of what it means to be an "intransigent": [T]o diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with [pride]. Following this logic, and considering other additional conditions, may explain why violence became widespread in exile.

There's are some moral principles involved that may have justified acts of violence in the past by hard-liners. I've identified three main principles:

1) "Bad behavior does not deserve a reward." Following this principle, actions by an individual or group are by default generally limited to hostility. All other actions, especially those that may appear to be ambiguous or positive, are forbidden. Thus, current US policy is justified since it is apparently hostile, while ending the embargo is forbidden since the action itself can be perceived as positive (even if it was not intented to be). Abandoning militancy also may be perceived as positive.

2) "Bad behavior deserves punishment." This principle justifies retribution (or revenge) against all enemies (in our case, the Cuban government). To do otherwise sets a dangerous precedent, harms lessons of the past, and allows shame and humiliation to spread. In exile, this principle is further strengthened by a militant history where violence (as punishment) is seen as the only path towards remediation.

3) "Threats and aggression suffered by enemies are justified for the greater good." With the ultimate aim to eradicate the origin of evil (communism) and free Cuba, exile militancy and violence is excused even if innocent people suffer. The intent here is towards a "free Cuba" by whatever means (including violence), not to harm people, but those that stand in the way shall not derail this goal. Not even the US government. This principle also describes the sometimes conflicting interests between the US government and exile militancy, such as in handling exile terrorists or attempting to reach agreements with the Cuban government on some issues.

Let's add the perceived betrayal throughout history of the hard-line exile that has added to its suffering, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the lack of reporting or bias from the American free press about the "real" Cuba, or the refusal by the US government to use the "heavy-hand" in solving problems in Latin America and Cuba. That betrayal is further worsened when one considers that the US is the country that has also helped exiles the most. This explains why some hard-line exiles feel extremely grateful (and patriotic) towards the US, but at the same time feel that they are on their own in the struggle for a free Cuba. That hard-liner feels confused when heroes like Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Eduardo Arocena or Santiago Alvarez are imprisoned. That hard-liner also wonders why the US has not already used the "heavy-hand" to confront Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales or Rafael Correa, and instead may consider that perhaps there is a conspiracy involving the US and its worst enemies.

The social conditions for violence must also be considered. Martha Minow has generally described these conditions as: "socially approved violence, tacit permission to discriminate, and pervasive violence in mass culture."

Assuming that "[n]o other military in world history has been so widely deployed as that of the United States," it seems easy to accept that a militant ideology is an integral part of our functioning society, along with the violence it may generate. When the US began its mission in Iraq, it didn't take long for the late Agustín Tamargo in 2004 to ask: "And Cuba, President Bush? What about Cuba? Why yes on Iraq and no on Cuba?" The tragic consequences of such actions don't dawn upon the militant. But, again, the hard-liner felt betrayed by the inaction of the US to intervene in Cuba.

Discrimination (especially political) is also common, especially on Radio Mambi where there is a virtual ban on divergent political views. In other outlets, voices opposed to US policy towards Cuba recieve little coverage locally, and if expressed must be immediately rebutted or delegitimized. On the other hand, supporters of US policy recieve ample media coverage and little criticism from their hosts. The general acts of discrimination easily label one a "communist" or "apologist" in order to discredit, render voiceless, or dismiss without consideration. Without an avenue of defense, these views (and its individual) are left vulnerable to acts of hostility.

Memory and history of the hard-line exile perhaps marks the most important element that allows exceptions for violence. Hard-liners are always prepared to recall and express how the Cuban people always had to settle their problems through armed struggle. From recollection of the heroes of Cuba's first struggle for indepence to the Bay of Pigs (or even the sabotage missions of the seventies), the spirit of militancy has been internalized through memory by some hard-liners, such as Alpha 66 (who say they still train with arms at their camp "Rumbo Sur") and the F-4 Commandos (who say they continue with sabotage missions inside of Cuba). Appeals to memory and selected history form the basis of the militant hard-liner and again identifies the exile as the displaced victim of disaster or betrayal.

Flora Keshgegian further articulates how "memories are key to diasporan identity" from the perspective of the Armenian diaspora:

"Diasporans are, by definition, displaced. One could well argue then that diasporans' lives are defined not by location so much as by memory. Having lost 'homeland' and place as a locator of identity, diasporans define themselves by their memorative narratives. In a sense, all that diasporans have of their homeland are the memories of it... If memories are key to diasporan identity, and if those memories are of disaster, [...] then letting go of the memories of disaster would constitute a further loss of place and identity. Diasporan identity is thus constituted, at least in part, in relation to a past trauma."

Since memory and identity are so close and dependent in exile, violence may be the defense to hard-liners who see themselves threatened by US normalization with Cuba. This policy attacks the essential elements of the hard-line exile, especially their vision (or memory) of a "free Cuba." Keshgegian continues:

"Further, these memories of disaster or catastrophe often are compared and contrasted with an idealized image of homeland and place... This interplay, and even mutual dependence, between the disaster memory and the idealization of homeland and how each holds the other in place may be said to be a key dynamic of diasporan identity. There remains a basic desire for what can no longer be (and, in reality, never was): a home not fraught by disaster or even turmoil, an Edenic existence. Loss is measured against this ideal. Life in diaspora is witness to the loss and to an attendant yearning for the idealized time and place of 'home.'"

The fear of losing a militant Cuban history through normalization may also foresee the end of experiencing the "free Cuba" some hard-liners wish for. Additionally, those who seek violence (or power) may also be defending their valuable "nationhood" threatened by the long wait in exile (close to a half-century). As Larry Ray remarks about those who would suppress "the plural nature of modern identities": "[N]ationalism is an allegory of irresolution, an expression of fear of the transient nature of the nation."

The building of the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library, and have it placed prominently in downtown Miami, seeks to preserve that "nationhood" and may be but another extension of the exile's desire to present a unified (and militant) identity, thus denying the fear of losing their history (and memory) and even their honor, embodied in their exile heroes.

Unfortunately, due to this exile identification with militancy (in order to fight threats of normalization with Cuba) many innocent families in Miami became victims of a cycle of violence, regardless of which side they where perceived to be on. Already mentioned, the seventies in Miami were notably violent, and as a result, families such as that of Juan Jose Peruyero still have to confront that violent past. While such violence no longer threatens our community, there are still victims of acts of intimidation and abuses of power. This is the atmosphere of the current battle of ideas in Miami.

*[Miami Herald, November 25, 2007, Cubans Cling to Faith (Op-ed) by Ninoska Pérez Castellón.]

[Photo of Brigade 2506 veteran at Orange Bowl, December 29, 1962, by Cecil Stoughton, JFK Presidential Library and Museum]

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