Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana 10 August 2016 – The recent broadcast of
a television program from Miami with Maria Elvira Salazar as moderator,
where there was a heated debate between the well-known Cuban opposition
leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, and the also well-known Castro regime
panderer, Edmundo Garcia – former presenter from a decadent musical
program on Cuban television, before he chose to settle in Miami "for
personal reasons" – has sparked an avalanche of wide-ranging comments
about the performance of one rival or the other, as well as about the
appropriateness or otherwise of the topics introduced by the host on the
While the confrontation between an opposition leader living on the
island, and a regime defender – but not a "representative" – of the
Cuban dictatorship was original, the truth is there are antecedents
where supporters and opponents of the Castro regime have faced off
before the cameras.
Almost 20 years ago, on 23 August 1996, Maria Elvira herself
participated, along with two of her colleagues, in moderating an unusual
debate between a representative of the opposition in exile and a senior
official of Fidel Castro's government.
The memorable and passionate debate between Jorge Mas Canosa, then
chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Ricardo Alarcon,
then president of the National Assembly of Cuba, was recorded
simultaneously from both sides of the Florida Straits – Mas Canosa in
Miami, Alarcon in Havana – and released by the CBS television in more
than 20 countries.
Lasting almost an hour, that discussion made clear the superiority of an
opponent who expressed himself with total freedom, in contrast to the
obedient servant of a totalitarian ideology, tied to slogans and
cliches, who was literally run over by his rival.
An important moment of that program came when Mas Canosa exhibited the
dehumanizing nature of the assumptions on which the Castro regime
stands, reading Alarcon the text, printed on the back of a Cuban
internationalist's card, with a phrase from Che Guevara taken from his
speech during the Tricontinental Conference: "… the revolutionary needs
to know how to become a cold killing machine…" There is nothing to discuss.
Saving the differences, the most recent debate between Jose Daniel
Ferrer and Edmundo Garcia repeats some elements of that one from two
decades ago, namely, the passionate defense of diametrically opposing
positions and the adherence of the Castro regime supporter to the same
scheme of slogans and repetition of the discourse dictated by the Cuban
However, a great many of the colleagues and friends who from Cuba and
from emigration have shared with me their views on this program, agree
that Ferrer fell below expectations, and could and should have been more
precise and direct in his responses to the hackneyed postulates and
attacks of Mr. Garcia.
They feel, moreover, that the confrontation demonstrated, on the one
hand, the ability developed by the Castro regime's servants in the media
to evade positions about the Cuban reality and the continuing violations
of the rights under the dictatorial Castro regime, clouding the
atmosphere and attacking the adversary with the usual disqualifications
that are repeated ad nauseam in the official media of the island; and
secondly, the lack of training of the leaders of the opposition in
controlling the debate and taking advantage of the many weaknesses of
the pro-Castro discourse, even when it is presented by a minor extra
lacking any credentials, as is the case with Edmundo Garcia.
Personally, I agree with most of these opinions, but I know, from the
times I have been able talk with José Daniel Ferrer, that his ideas are
better informed and his discourse is better articulated than that he
offered us during his presentation in Miami.
We have to recognize that, like it or not, Mr. Edmundo Garcia, an emigré
who defends the olive-green caste from the comfort of a Florida city –
which however, he considers a nest of terrorists – dominates the job of
disinformation, and misinforms, distorts and disguises truths before the
cameras with astonishing tranquility. José Daniel, on the other hand,
was visibly uncomfortable. His natural setting is the tribunal of the
streets, the passionate call, the colloquial discourse among Cubans; not
the media. A limitation that must be overcome.
The use of inexact or poorly enunciated terms on the part of the
moderator was not helpful, nor was the poor selection of the video that
should have been shown (but wasn't) of the beatings the political police
deal out to opponents. The well-trained and opportunistic Edmundo knew
how to use these failures to his favor.
These and other miscues explain how Garcia handled himself and dared to
say without blinking and without a blush on his cheeks, that the painful
events of the 13 de Marzo tugboat massacre, when a group of innocent
Cubans were killed by Castro's military forces, were the direct
responsibility of the victims.
He also downplayed the scandalous hiring of foreign labor on the island,
when there are thousands of unemployed Cubans, a fact that Ferrer
pointed out to him and that the ineffable Edmundo Garcia considered
something "normal." I can understand that Ferrer could barely contain
his outrage in the face of the rampant cynicism of this man, and to a
certain extent this explains to me Ferrer's distraction while responding
in the debate.
Another unnecessary altercation between the two was related to the
number of activists and members belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba
(UNPACU), recognized as the largest opposition group inside Cuba. A
topic on which Ferrer was left in the dust by Garcia. The latter tried
to ridicule the figure and question the veracity of the numbers quoted
by the opposition leader, when in reality what is essential here is not
the number of members of this or any other opposition party, but the
legitimacy and fairness of their demands and their right to exist as an
alternative to the powers-that-be.
It is known that, in a dictatorship, the opposition is always a
minority, so there is no need to emphasize how many fans support one
team or the other. Why play this crooked game of the Castro regime's
servants and make it so easy for them?
But, put in that position, Ferrer coud have, in response, reminded
Garcia of the ridiculous membership numbers of the Cuban Communist Party
(PCC), which the last Congress officially cited as 700,000 – despite the
almost 60 years "in Revolution" and the more than 50 of a "single party"
– which constitutes barely 6.36% of a population of 11 million people.
Isn't this a compelling piece of data if we are talking about legitimate
rights based only on a question of numbers?
Moreover, Ferrer should avoid comparisons between the Castro regime and
North Korea, or extemporaneous allusions to the similarities between it
and Stalinism, the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler, or other equally
The Cuban reality, by itself, is sufficiently subversive so as not to
have to appeal to historical or geographically distant paragons. It
would have caused a better effect to enumerate the many and urgent
existential problems and the absence of freedoms in Cuba than to try to
describe the fascist nature of the Castro regime, which we all know ad
One of the most recurrent vices of the opposition is precisely this,
taking every opportunity to characterize the island dictatorship,
instead of putting your finger on the everyday problems of the Cubans,
or disclosing your own platforms and proposals to reverse them.
For example, the government's blockade toward prosperity and the
happiness of the population is reflected in the continuing, growing and
unstoppable emigration of Cubans. Or there is the subject of the laws
that have been changing in recent years, with the express ban on Cubans
investing in Cuba, or unionizing, or the free contracting of workers, to
mention just a few. These are issues that would have been difficult for
Mr. Garcia to rebut, or had he done so, he would have done so very
badly. Not to mention other sins, such as a lack of freedom of the
press, of expression and of information, or the right to strike and
other issues of great importance, timeliness and relevance to those they
were talking about.
It is clear we must urge finally overcoming the media oversimplification
of bad Castro regime and the good opposition. We simply have to engage
in effective opposition and if the media over there or everywhere offers
the space, we have to take advantage of the opportunity to present our
own message, instead of allowing others, from the comfort of the
television studios with one eye on the audience ratings, to write the
script for a sterile course. It is not reasonable to squander the moral
capital of a leader on a mediocre program.
Of course, to achieve this it would have been necessary to have a good
script and a better moderator. Maria Elvira pitifully lost control of
the program, which at times seemed like a cockfight arena without any
order. Although she probably considers this a manifestation of
spontaneity and democracy.
She was also truly unfortunate in some of the issues focused on, looking
for easy sensationalism – like the Chanel fashion show on the Prado or
the arrival of US cruise ships to the Port of Havana – rather than
essential questions that really affect Cubans' daily lives. The right to
attend a parade is truly innocuous compared to the pressing problems of
Cubans: the total absence of freedoms and the material needs of an
entire nation. Frivolity strikes when it comes to politics.
In the end, the moderator repeated to the combatants the exact same
question that 20 years ago she asked Mas Canosa and Alarcon: Would you
be willing to recognize the triumph of your adversary in democratic
elections? And their answers demonstrated once again the moral
superiority of free thought: Jose Daniel, as Mas Canosa did before him,
said he would accept the decision of the people at the ballot box; not
so Edmundo Garcia, who declared that he would take to the Sierra Maestra
before accepting the electoral triumph of UNPACU. Perhaps this was the
high point of the program.
However, what I really deplored in the end was the fact that a leader of
the prestige and courage of Jose Daniel Ferrer would accepted a debate
with a character who isn't even a legitimate representative of the
dictatorial regime he defends. In any even, there was nothing to gain. I
would say Ferrer spent artillery shells to shoot a mosquito… without
In my opinion, the problem of the program-debate in question is not who
came out better or worse, or who better defended his position. The truth
is that the debate of José Daniel Ferrer versus Edmundo Garcia should
never have taken place, because it tends to lend prestige to someone
like Garcia, who does not have the least relevance now nor will he
later. A political leader must be careful when choosing his opponents.
Either way, I take this opportunity to express my solidarity with Ferrer
and my respect for his performance as an opposition leader, his honesty
and courage in the defense of that cause that belongs to many Cubans
like him and like the members of UNPACU. Know that my criticism is
anointed with the greatest good will, so I reject in advance any
misrepresentations about it. In any case, opinion journalism is the way
some of us contribute to the development of democracy and freedoms. I
have reason to have confidence in the greatness and ability of Ferrer to
understand this as well.
Note: The video is not subtitled in English
Source: Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya – Translating