Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Schism at Babalú Over Remittances

Is it possible for 17 Cubans (and philo-Cubans) to approach the subject of Cuba with perfect conformity of minds? Can the echo chamber be anything but an artificial construct more collegial than real? Still, if the illusion is allowed to replace reality by common assent, does it not then become more real than the truth which it conceals? To put it less philosophically, is Val's cookie cutter calibrated in such a way as to allow no deviation from his model, or do his "cookies" extend their bellies and puff their cheeks to mimic that conformity which falsely passes as unity?

I could evaluate each of Babalú's editors according to his weight and volume (however "settled"), but this is not necessary because, inspite of the artifice required to avoid Val's displeasure, they are in fact individuals and by no means in all cases projections of Val's alter ego except when they choose to be. That this is sometimes not a choice but the price of admission becomes evident when a controversial subject such as remittances, on which there is no general consensus in the community at large, is treated with one voice at Babalú, Val's voice, of course, which happens to represent the most extreme anti-Cuban (as in people not regime) position on the subject.

Can it possibly be that all 17 of Babalú's contributing writers subscribe to the "Founding Editor's" disingenuous contention that Cubans on the island "don't need money," as he recently told The New York Times?

In the face of so much devastation and human suffering, both natural and man-made, and with the regime itself having forsworn all offers of assistance from "non-fraternal" countries despite being neither capable nor inclined to supply the immediate needs of the Cuban people, can anyone who is not positively hostile to them -- and as indifferent to their survival as the regime itself is -- suggest that what needs be done now is nothing? It is Val's position that to feed the Cuban people is to feed the regime. I don't think that any honest person could dispute that. No honest person, however, would use that rationale to starve Castro's victims, either. The regime can survive the starvation of the Cuban people because it has been profiting on their misery for 50 years. The Cuban people, who live hand to mouth, in the most literal meaning of that phrase, cannot.

During World War II, American POWs were allowed to receive their salaries as well as packages from home, as per the terms of the Geneva Convention. Even inmates at concentration camps, at least in the early days, were permitted to receive cash and packages from their relatives (till there were no more relatives left on the outside to send them). No doubt feeding Hitler's victims also fed the Nazi beast, but no one then argued in favor of further starving the POWs or concentration camp inmates in order to encourage them to revolt or punish them if they didn't.

That is Val Prieto's contribution to the struggle against Castroism -- fighting Castro to the last Cuban man, woman and child. His "Pressure Cooker Theory" is not, however, an original idea; nor would we expect it to be, as original ideas, for good or ill, are not to be expected from him. Val's theory was first applied in Weyler's campos de reconcentración, where Cuban non-belligerents (pacíficos) were interred during Cuba's War of Independence from Spain (1895-1898). No provisions of any kind were allowed into the camps which were intended as incubators of starvation and disease. Nearly a half-million Cubans, 20 percent of the island's civilian population, were killed there. Photographs of the few survivors are interchangeable with those of the survivors of Hitler's concentration camps: the same skeletal bodies, the same dehumanized expression in their eyes; and the same immemorial reproach to humanity.

The only difference between Weyler and Prieto is that the Spanish general practiced genocide on Cubans to prevent them from rebelling against their oppressors whereas Val would subject them to the same rigors in order to achieve the opposite effect. Clearly, it is Weyler who was the general. As I have elsewhere demonstrated, men who cannot rise from bed in the morning cannot be expected to rise in arms in the afternoon. Starving a people will not prod them to rebel; only men with full stomachs have the luxury of making revolutions.

While Val was pontificating on the need to tighten the belts of all Cubans in this crisis -- a subject also dear to Raúl, who is, however, more used to loosening them -- his contributing writers maintained a respectful silence: respectful to Val, of course, and, therefore, craven and complicit. This, of course, should surprise no one with even a superficial knowledge of the workings of Babalú; and, certainly, no reader of this blog.

After 5 years and ten thousand posts, no member of Babalú's "magnificent cadre of writers" has ever expressed an opinion contrary to one taken by the "Founding Editor" and paterfamilias of all their satellite blogs. And I mean just that and no more: it is inconceivable that any of them would actually write a post refuting Val. I do not know if the contributing writers (who are not even allowed the title of "editors") must obtain prior approval from Val before publishing their posts. I should think not since self-censorship tends to be more draconian in most cases than if imposed from above. Still, I may be wrong since in judging Val I tend to use logic where logic is seldom called for.

There is only one Babalú's contributor who has ever challenged Val when he delivered himself of a particularly onerous opinion about Cubans. On occasions that Val took to asserting that Cubans have "no balls" or were lazy and pampered and could only be awakened from their supposed ennui by heating up the pressure cooker, Marc Másferrer was sure to take exception in a tightly-worded comment. He was never joined in his criticism by any other of Babalú's 17 contributing writers, though one or two may have privately expressed reservations (or not). I have chronicled all these debates because any free exchange of opinions at Babalú is an event rare enough to be newsworthy (see here; here; here; and here).

Val's replies to Marc or anybody else are always more like rants. He dashes them off in a fevered moment and the absence of punctuation and atrocious typing gives some idea of how distasteful it is for him to be obliged to defend his opinions and what an imposition it is for him to do so. Usually, he ignores completely what the commenter has to say, preferring, instead, to take umbrage at the fact that he would raise an objection. With Marc, however, Val has shown more consideration until lately. Having Marc as a contributor adds considerably to Babalú's credibility. Marc is not only the only professional journalist on Babalú's staff but his blog Uncommon Sense is undoubtedly the most useful and necessary of Cuban-American blogs. You will not find much in the way of pyrotechnics there or personalismos. His style and manner is suited to his subject, which is a somber one -- the plight of Cuba's dissidents and political prisoners. Marc's reputation for fairness is such that almost everybody links to his blog, even those bloggers whose concern for Cuba's political prisoners is not exactly at the top of their agenda (Peters and his clones).

A week ago, when Babalú reprinted Yoani's column "Scorched Earth" from Generación Y, Val appended a coletilla to it objecting to her conclusion that "the most viable initiative [for helping victims of the hurricane] is for family members abroad to send cash to their relatives in Cuba." If anybody else had said anything of the kind Val would not have been as restrained in his reaction. Still, Val's anger at Yoani's endorsement of remittances, coupled with the ineluctability of reprinting her latest post, which he had committed to do by prior agreement, must have continued seething in him and exploded like his proverbial pressure cooker when Marc stepped up to defend Yoani's position (nobody else was going to at Babalú):


I must disagree with Yoani. The most viable initiative is not sending cash, but getting the Cuba government to allow humanitarian and relief organizations and agencies into the island. Whow bring with them the infrastructure to distribute aid and repair Cuba's infrastructure on their own.
Posted by: Val Prieto at September 9, 2008 08:08 AM

It does not have to be an either/or situation. Yes, the humanitarian aid should be allowed in, but the United States also should at least suspend limits on remittances and travel so family members in the U.S. can provide quick assistance to their loved ones. Cubans need all the help they can get, so this is not the time to continue a policy that even when the weather is good, is an embarassment to the United States. Otherwise, our desire to help is held hostage by the dictatorship. Some may think that is OK, for how it enhances their political position. But as long as Cubans are suffering during the current crisis, that is a morally indefensible position.
Posted by: Marc R. Masferrer at September 9, 2008 09:34 AM


Serioulsy man, Im starting to think you dont really see this issue clearly. Quite simply: First, if there isnt enough food and water for Cubans on the island right now, how can there be enough if more Cubans show up? The last thing any disaster area allows is more people in, period. Water and food and shelter are jsut going to magcally show up with dollars and tourists from abroad?

"Cubans need all the help they can get, so this is not the time to continue a policy that even when the weather is good, is an embarassment to the United States." I suppose you may see th epolicy as an embarrassment, I dont. What I see as an embarrassment is to FUND THE VERY SAME GOVERNMENT THAT IS FUCKING YOUR FAMILY. Otherwise, our desire to help is held hostage by the dictatorship. Some may think that is OK, for how it enhances their political position. But as long as Cubans are suffering during the current crisis, that is a morally indefensible position. I see you still havent fallen from the tree. EVERYTHING IS HELD HOSTAGE BY THE DICTATORSHIP. INCLUDING YOU AND ME. AND FEEDING THAT ANIMAL ONLY MAKES IT STRONGER. And please, dont you ever state to me that my position on this is politically motivated. I take that as an extreme insult and offense. If thats what you think of me and other folks with the wherewithall to see beyond th eregime's platitudes and propaganda, then perhaps you are in the wrong place. As for Cubans suffering in the "current" crisis, what the fuck do you think theyve been doing for years? What the fuck do you sthink theylll be doing twenty years from now when we, ourselves, are economically backing, supporting and propping up the very same poeple that are the cause of their suffering? My God, man. Stop staring at the fucking tree and look at the fucking forest al around you. Posted by: Val Prieto at September 9, 2008 10:40 AM

One cannot act against character, and for Val, who is more impulsive than most men, it was inevitable that he would reply to Marc with a barrage of obscenity eventually. Val's trump card is always to show dissenters the door. In the past, he has done so with scores of commenters (including me). Insofar as I know, however, the only contributing writers accorded this treatment in the past were George Moneo and Anatasio Blanco (both since reconciled to Val and reinstated at Babalú). The difference, of course, was that they disappeared without the "Prieto treatment." In fact, their respective expulsions were first revealed by RCAB. In Marc's case, however, the admiral was hanged pour encourager les autres. Or, rather, not hung, just shown the gallows.

I was surprised that no one came to Marc's defense. Or perhaps they did and their comments were consigned to Babalú's black hole. I have enough regard for some of Babalú's contributors to at least hope that they did object privately. Of course transparency will make little leeway at Babalú so long as essential questions are consigned to secret councils.

The question for Marc now is whether to continue to tolerate Val's monomania because of the forum which Babalú provides for Cuba's political prisoners, or to sever his connection to Babalú because the only Cubans that Val approves of are those in prison.



I don’t know that I would call it a "schism," Manuel. Of course there are differing opinions among the contributors on a variety of issues but I believe that in the end – it all boils down to essentially yearning for the same thing.

"Is it possible for 17 Cubans (and philo-Cubans) to approach the subject of Cuba with perfect conformity of minds?"

That would never be possible – especially when talking about a topic that rouses as many passions as Cuba. I think we’d both agree that we’re (the Cuban people) a rather hot-blooded race and to tell you the truth, I’d never have it any other way. How many times have I sat across the dinner table from my uncle – a die-hard Republican – and been drawn into shouting matches as he attempts to lambast his nephew, the "lefty journalist" as he always refers to me. At the end of the night however, backs are patted, wine is shared and it’s time for a new day.

Debate is to be welcomed and as I said before, many of us have divergent viewpoints with regards to strategy. Where we inevitably come together is on one point: the end of the Cuban dictatorship and the homecoming that we’ve all been waiting for these one, two, three, four, or five decades.


Anatasio Blanco


Oh by the way - just to set the record straight, I was actually never asked to leave Babalu.


Anatasio Blanco

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Schism or not, I am glad that there are "differing opinions" among Babalú's contributors as regards aid to the island. I hope that yours is one of those differing opinions, though I have seen no proof of it. You devoted a post recently to a poignant letter from a relative in Cuba describing the ravages of the hurricanes. I noted, however, your relative he did not ask you for assistance. Or did you think it prudent, under the circumstances, to excise that paragraph in order not to give offense to Val Prieto? This is not only my opinion. Others who read the letter had the same question.

I don't really think that it is enough to support the end of the Castro dictatorship. It is necessary also to support the Cuban people as they struggle to survive it. I don't see that Val's "Pressure Cooker" contributes much to that nor his calls to withhold assistance to them at this critical juncture.

You state that you were "never actually asked to leave Babalú." Yet your name did disappear for a time from its roster of contributors. I can't help but wonder what exactly that "actually" conceals.

Regards to you as well.