Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eliecer Avila appears

I’m glad I used a question mark yesterday. The report of the arrest of Eliecer Avila, one of the students who questioned Ricardo Alarcon in the now-famous video of the university meeting, may not be true after all.

But what actually happened may not be so clear either.

“First reports are always wrong,” they say in the military, and from the beginning there were reasons for skepticism in this case. One was that the son of Carlos Lage reportedly traveled to the student’s batey in Las Tunas – is that an eight-hour drive from Havana? – to make the arrest.

The author of the original report, human rights activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva (whom I described as an independent journalist yesterday), stuck to his story yesterday, according to those who contacted him. But he had related it second-hand, and those who tried to substantiate the “arrest” story yesterday got nowhere.

To add to the doubts, the story got no coverage on Cubanet yesterday (today Cubanet has a Spanish newspaper story referring to a “possible arrest”); the Radio Marti website ignored it, and so did El Nuevo Herald. Today’s Miami Herald recounts the story told by human rights activists in Cuba but says there’s “no independent confirmation.” From Madrid, Encuentro referred to the Gonzalez Leiva report but wrote that he had been “driven” from Las Tunas to Havana, avoiding the word “arrested.”

So what actually happened?

It seems that Avila did go home, and he did return to Havana. He appears in a video produced by the “CubaDebate” website, whose modest motto is “Against Media Terrorism.” (A very ample discussion is at Penultimos Dias; Encuentro also has a good summary of Avila’s statements in the video.)

There was no arrest, he says in the video, he simply went home for health reasons. When he learned that his questions to Alarcon were being twisted as part of an international “campaign,” he contacted “el companero Cesar” (Cesar Lage, son of Cuba’s vice president and a student leader) to arrange a ride back to Havana so he could set the record straight. The fact that students are taking a critical look at Cuba’s policies and questioning Alarcon, Avila says, is due to a desire “to build socialism better, not to destroy it.”

Avila didn’t disavow the strong opinions in his questions to Alarcon. But now the critic is seen in the Revolution’s embrace, rejecting the idea that he had ever stepped out of it.

So what actually happened?

If you’re still asking, I don’t blame you.

19 comments:

Mambi_Watch said...

In this specific case, I see no reasons to doubt what Avila has expressed. Certainly he doesn't explain every detail about the "arrest", but lets not get carried away.

Avila does not appear under pressure in the video, and neither do the other students in the video. They all appear to be honestly expressing their thoughts, and only reaffirm what occurred in the university video.

I see no need to further speculate about certain details of this case, except of course to engage in the habitual kind of propaganda against the Cuban government.

Anonymous said...

phil,

what are you insinuating with the cynical comment of "what actually happened? . ... if you´re still asking I don´t blame you". The facts are clear. 1. The student was not arrested as reported. 2. the student maintains his criticism but declares himself to be a revolutionary, 3. media and bloggers with a certain anti-cuban bias have manipulated this story and concocted a fantasy about the student being arrested.

Stick to the facts, Phil. Don´t engage in cynical insinuations. If you have evidence that the interview that Cubadebate conducted is flawed, then produce them. If not, then report the facts as you have them.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful health system they have in Cuba!. A student has a problem with his wisdom teeth and immediately a car from the "health care system" goes to your home, picks you up there,(after advising you not to move from your home, of course) brings you to the dentist, there you have the wisdom teeth extracted and to boot then they take to a TV station whereupon you can make a video tape saying that is all a mistake, that your were never arrested and you only were taken to have your wisdom teeth removed and all is well. Oabama and Hillary should go to Cuba to learn about the wonders and expediency of the Cuban health care system. It should be an excelent model for them.

Anonymous said...

And when you are showed on the video with your hands and feet shaking out of control, one can always say is only the after effects of the anethesia!

Alex said...

What happened is clear to anybody who grew up in Cuba. He did what he had to do to save his skin, just like before he hemmed and hawed about wanting to see "the place where Che died". Please.

Phil Peters said...

Anon from 10:44, fair enough, I don’t like insinuations either.

I never believed the kid was “arrested” in the law enforcement sense (criminal charges, etc). The idea that Lage’s son accompanied cops to his house to make an arrest was also hard to believe. And the entire story on that first day was not firmly sourced, being based on one activist in Havana recounting what another activist told him from Las Tunas.

By the way, Armengol writes today that Radio Marti ran with the story (on its website, he must mean) and pulled it down hours later.

So I agree he wasn’t arrested as reported.

And he did stick to his stated opinions, which were never “counterrevolutionary” in the first place. The students on those videos were not calling for the replacement of the current government, but rather for changed policies.

So why end on a note of doubt? Because from here, we can’t know precisely what happened. Because we know that it is a long, grueling ride from Havana to a little town in Las Tunas, and the government is not in the habit of arranging rides for students. Because there was a pat quality to his answers and the other student, who sort of ridiculed the voto unido, said that’s how he voted after all.

And because in that post I wanted to record some things that were known, put some in English for readers who don’t read Spanish, and leave it at that, so anyone who’s interested could try to sort it out.

Now that it’s over, what stands out to me is not the “arrest” issue, the transportation arrangements, or the issue of Alarcon’s responses.

It’s the explicit message that within the system, it’s ok to complain about the unfairness caused within Cuban society by the dual currency system. Cuba’s foreign minister voiced that complaint himself in a neighborhood meeting recently.

I wonder if there’s action in the offing.

Anonymous said...

how the hell is it "within the system, it’s ok to complain about the unfairness" after all this???

CL said...

I think that it is important to approach this with some sort of realism. Although the Cuban Government has taken actions in the past without regard for what the international reaction would be (2003), this situation is very different. Not only has the Government encouraged the debate, which is receiving international press, but Cuba is approaching a historic moment on the 24th that could send a strong signal to the outside world (not the Bush administration) that change is on the horizon. To arrest a student right before the Council of State is constituted, three days before human rights discussions with Spain, as relations with Mexico improve and a month after serious investment from Brazil would be a strong miscalculation. If Raul is as pragmatic as some insist he simply wouldn’t make the mistake.

Furthermore, the debate has received strong response from Cuban academia and the population in general. Expectations have been raised. If the Cuban Government is attempting, as many have predicted, to strengthen the socialist structure and the economy without letting the debate affect political control, this arrest would be a Domestic Policy miscalculation (something the Cubans try hard not to do). If anything, it could have the adverse effect and lead to the debate getting out of control or a real feeling of hopelessness if the debate is cut short before reforms are enacted.

The BBC video was quickly circulating throughout Havana along with news of the arrest. The Government has stressed that the debate is internal but unlike debates in the years past it is more “sensitive” due to extensive coverage by the foreign press, increased communication on the island (digital cameras, cell phones, internet, USB devices, and even intranet, etc) and communication with relatives abroad. This “sensitivity” will be taken into account by the Cuban Government on internal and external politics until some real reforms are enacted. The fact that CANF and the Miami Herald posted the article and then pulled it moments later shows that it was everything Miami is looking for to discredit the debates, but was just too good to be true.

tranquilo said...

the problem I see with cl's analysis is that it relies too much on logic and reason. There also appears to be an assumption that regime sees itself accountable in some way for its actions -- which simply does not conform to the Cuban reality. My sense is that the regime is trying to initiate a managed and controlled debate to allow the Cuban people to let off some steam and in some instances they may make adjustments that of course do not threaten their grip on power. Whether they succeed, only time will tell.

Phil Peters said...

Anon from 12:00, I take it you think the kid got hurt somehow from all this. Maybe you know something we don't.

Anonymous said...

yes, Phil, I am sure Eliecer found the whole experience the thrill of a lifetime....sheesh.

Agustin Farinas said...

Raul Castro said: "we want people to speak up without fear".
Now let's analyze this statement. Why would anyone say those words? One does not have to be a rocket scientist or an expert in politics, to see that the guy knows there must be some kind of fear among his countrymen. Otherwise, why mention the word "fear"? Why not just say: we want everyone to speak up and crticize what they see wrong. Why use the word fear? One has to be an idiot not to see that even he knows that there is fear among the Cuban people to speak up because they know very well the consequences of such actions. All one has to do is read carefully between the lines and the truth will filter through loud and clear.

Phil Peters said...

Anon, this whole thing is dominated by lack of information, and I thought you might know something about the kid. Of course what you say is quite possible. If I didn't feel that this discussion has run its course, I would ask for bets on whether he will end up a hero, working at the central committee. Friends close, enemies closer, as they say.

CL said...

I don’t really think there is that much to discuss here now that the full video has been released. Avila openly criticizes the Gov’t on January 21st (or 22nd?) and nothing happens to him. He is not arrested. You can present criticisms to the President of the National Assembly in front of 10,000 people and nothing happens. Two and a half weeks later segments of the video make international news (Feb 7th). He is all of a sudden arrested two days later on February 9th. I don’t understand??? He is not arrested for criticizing the Gov’t, but is arrested because the foreign press finds the video. If there was any truth to it wouldn’t he have been arrested in January after he made the remarks???

mbusta said...

Additional thoughts on this story:

http://latamthought.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/cuban-students-speak-out/

Anonymous said...

Miami mafia makes up its own fantasy. you can 't blame them too much, as they have never been to Cuban or 30 years have passed since they have been there - thus, they have NO real clue what is going on.

Cuba needs freedom, but CAs in Miami have no idea about their former country/culture.. kind of like 2nd generation Irish know about Ireland adn teh culture.

Miami cubans here for some time, would never fit back into the new Cuba - free or not.

Alex said...

Last anon: many of the people who worried about Eliecer being arrested are people who grew up and went to college in Cuba. It's because we know what can happen and how it works -and even happened to some of us- that we have much more than a clue.

Anonymous said...

Well is nice to see the Anonymous from 7:18 deciding for himself who can fit or not in a new Cuba. I bet you are not even Cuban.
Who are you, the new inmigration dictator, to tell us who can fit and who can't? Supposed I was to tell you do not fin in American society, now, how would you like that one? Your use of the words "Miami Cuban maffia" betrays your inner self. No need to explain since we have heard those words from Fidel's mouth and his followers (such as you) many times before. Well guess what, "Cuban inmigration controller" and dictator to be in charge of the Miami Cuban maffia problem, this one Cuban is free to go back anytime I so desired and no wannabe dictator can tell me otherwise. Now put that in your cilindrical tube for smoking whatever you smoke, and puff on it as long as you want. Got it?

Anonymous said...

Yo puedo decir que Eliecer Avila dejo las frases mas hermoza que yo escuchado en mi vida yo puedo decir tener un pais socialista que tenga detodo dirije quien lo dirije podemos ser libres de todo de esprecion que todos comemos lo mismo hay quien come un bistey y otro no los medicos ya no se ven en los ospitales no hay cochones los banos rotos podridos y ni savanas para los enfermo no hay medicina hay que ser franco haci queremos este pais no hay que cambiar el pueblo no gana un salario para vivir cambiar cuba es algo buenopara el mundo mismo los turista se quejan de la mala comida no tiene gusto solo digo con un cambio de libertad y economico y salario cuba sera el pais mejor del mundo no digo esto para tirarle a nadie es lo que pienso viva ese pueblo cubano con libertad comida y el cambio de dinero el peso ya no bale nada es como decir un papel para ir al bano para limpiarce yo me quito el sombrero con las bellas fraces de Eliecer Avila hay que ver cambio la vida es muy corta