Yunior García Aguilera (Photo: Yander Zamora / EFE)
Yunior García Aguilera is today, probably, the most guarded man in Cuba. State Security knows what time he gets up, what he has for breakfast, what he talks about with the people in his house, who he happens to meet on the street, how many people he talks with on the phone and what messages he exchanges.
If any of that can serve to mark you as a "mercenary," "stateless," "puppet of the Empire," or a student of any witchcraft or black magic course, then it will be used without the slightest qualm — if necessary, with a few touches of edition not always well achieved—, and expanded by the system of media that finances the public treasury and that are under strict control of the Communist Party of Cuba and its ideological Department.
However, State Security and other organizations created to "defend our democracy" have found it difficult to anticipate what Yunior thinks. For this reason, they did not initially understand the magnitude that an organization like Archipelago could - and still can - take and the call for a civic march that is already counting down. Fueled by the discontent that exploded on July 11, the initiative has gained thousands of followers inside and outside of Cuba.
The holguinero is the largest island of a plural platform —too much for the liking of some— and has become one of the most formidable opposition leaders of those who have stood up to the government in the last sixty years. You can be in communion or not with his ideas, think well or badly about his methods and links, but the truth is that the playwright has in his favor, in addition to a lot of daring, three scarce elements in the arid panorama of Cuban politicians: youth, charisma and intelligence.
Like anyone who opposes absolute power, various accusations have been leveled against him, some ridiculous and others well-founded and complex. However, people continue to gather around him who see him as an alternative to the hopelessness of a system whose resources seem less and less effective in generating consensus. Who really is Yunior García? What does it have to offer Cuba and its people? It is likely that we still have to wait a while to find out. For now, we will only have the answers to a few questions.
I would like to start by talking about the material that was published a few days ago by the website The reasons for Cuba , in which there are two points that are probably the most debated: the course you attended on the role of the armed forces in societies in transition and the fragment of the video in which you see yourself entering a US diplomatic residence in Havana.
I met Laura Tedesco and Rut Diamint, the teachers who have been talked about so much, at a Jacuzzi performance , which was held at a Theater Festival here. When the play was over they came to greet me and we exchanged contacts. Some time later they invited me to this event in Buenos Aires, it was something academic at a university there and I accepted because I was interested in the title, which was Dialogue on Cuba ; I was attracted to those kinds of exchanges from civil society, and also because of the fact that there was no real compelling reason not to attend an event like that.
However, State Security saw me before and after that trip to Buenos Aires. In the interviews / interrogations they were not too concerned about my attendance at the event, in fact, I clarified to them that I had no intention of being a collaborator and they told me that they were not going to propose it to me, since they had plenty of collaborators there. What worried them was what I as an artist might say to the press. I made it clear to them that what I would declare anywhere was the same as what I had said here — the fifteen questions at the Holguín UNEAC meeting had already passed. So, I decided to go to the event.
Once there, I suggested that for the next edition they try to include a more heterogeneous group of civil society so that in their studies on the Island they would have a more accurate idea of the plural thinking of Cubans with respect to reality. They accepted the idea and in the second edition a very varied group participated that included a doctor, as is well known, plastic artists, social media influencers , self-employed workers, students. I was as an artist.
I must emphasize that in both cases I carried out my travel procedures openly through the institutions to which I belong. I did the procedure with my institutional passport for the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, after presenting all the documentation that takes such a trip.
In other words, did you go to those courses for which you are now accused with an institutional passport?
Exactly, as I told you, I carried out all the procedures through the UNEAC. Obviously, for State Security, none of this was a secret, beyond the fact that the doctor turned out to be an informant, as it was a public, open event, it was not a secret. Upon my return to Cuba I had no contact with anyone from the FAR, nor did I dedicate myself to anything that State Security now suggests. I did not even pass the Military Service, I have never fired a firearm, therefore, my knowledge about armed forces is quite limited.
These activities consisted of plural conversations by a heterogeneous group of Cubans about our reality and the role of the army in democratic societies. Nowhere was there a plan to penetrate the FAR, far from it, that's ridiculous.
It is striking that you have gone with an institutional passport and that State Security knew all about those events, and that, however, they now present them as a kind of coven.
Yes, it is curious. State Security knew everything perfectly because, as I already mentioned, I was questioned by them before and after the first trip. I lived in Holguín at the time, the first questioning was done in the AHS cafe, and the second in one of the UNEAC offices. Therefore, there was no secret or surprise in any of this.
On December 3 of last year, which was the first time that Security contacted me after November 27, the officer who would attend to me from that moment made it clear to me that these trips did not interest them, that they were aware that I was not a mercenary, but they were concerned that an artist would get involved with some of the people who were on 27-N.
Look how much history has changed from then until now: at that time those trips were not important and the Minister of Culture invited me, that same day, to the supposed dialogue that was going to take place on December 4 at the Ministry of Culture - activity to which I refused to participate for reasons that I have already explained.
That being the case, I imagine you were surprised to see all this.
It didn't surprise me because they had already started using it on social media. The anonymous profile Karlito Marx, who has been attacking me since 27-N, has referred to these trips continuously. Professors Laura and Rut even wrote to La Jiribilla after articles on the matter appeared , said medium refused to publish them and El Toque took the text from them.
The other element of the material in The Reasons for Cuba that I wanted us to talk about is the video clip in which you are seen entering a US diplomatic residence in Havana.
Fabiola López, the journalist from Telesur , asked me about that when I left the Municipal Government of Old Havana and I commented that, indeed, I had had a meeting with the United States ambassador. I told him that the topic of our conversation had been the embargo, because all of us who attended the meeting are against it and we explained to Mr. Timothy Zúñiga-Brown what we believe about the sanctions, which affect the Cuban family, the entrepreneurs and the people in general.
That meeting, whose purpose was to talk about issues related to the podcast and internet access in Cuba, was long before the Archipelago was born , I don't remember the exact date. The person who received us at the ambassador's residence was Alexander Augustine Marceil, the official who appears in the material of The reasons for Cuba. For me he was just another official, I didn't know him, obviously I didn't know anything about his background.
The conversation revolved around the problems caused by the embargo. When they asked me if I had any particular request, I said that it would be interesting to be able to go to the United States Congress to talk about those sanctions that directly affect the Cuban family.Nothing was said about the Archipelago , or about the march, those projects did not exist. The first person I told about Archipelago was Silvio Rodríguez in the meeting we had.
After the Archipelago was formed and the march was announced - which is what has brought us all the avalanche of attacks - we made the decision not to establish contact with any foreign government through diplomatic headquarters. The United States ambassador even called me to invite me to a meeting and I politely declined, to avoid manipulation and because our desire is to do everything in an absolutely sovereign manner.
After that meeting you had at the diplomatic residence, were you summoned by State Security or were they not aware of it?
No, I was not cited. In fact, the agent who takes care of my case mentioned it in one of the interrogations they made me, and I told him that that meeting had not been a secret at all, it is not something they had against me. I even challenged him to inquire with Mr. Zúñiga-Brown about the reason for the meeting and what I had raised there.
Did more people attend that meeting or was only you invited?
Yes, there were more people invited, but it does not seem correct to reveal their identities without their authorization.
You were telling me a while ago about the invitation that the Minister of Culture made you to the "dialogue" after 27-N. After the birth of the Archipelago and the beginning of your political activism in a more marked way, have you had contact with someone from the government or institutions, beyond those that occurred with State Security?
Actually, the Security for quite some time, since before all the attacks began, they did not question me or quote me. In this last phase they have closed any contact, something of which I am glad because it is not a pleasant experience or one that can benefit me as a person, quite the opposite.
Yunior García in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020 (Photo: elTOQUE)
Those who have contacted me have been the people from the place where I work, the National Council of Performing Arts, whose vice president, together with the president of the Havana Theater Center, called me to tell me two things: one, that they do not support what we do from the Archipelago - it is clear to me because personally I have received attacks from the institution's Facebook page -; and two, that my theater group would not close, that I would concentrate on continuing to present projects to continue working.
How surreal that
Yes, it is very contradictory.
I know that there have been bad experiences in the past with attempts to enter into dialogue with the government - this post-27-N you just mentioned is one of them. Despite these failures, would you be willing to dialogue with the government if they invited you, the Archipelago and other actors of Cuban civil society?
Unlike those who repeat that phrase that we often see on social networks and that does not have much historical basis: "there is no dialogue with dictatorships"; I do believe that dialogue has often helped countries in the transition to democracy in a civic and peaceful way. Therefore, I consider that it is a key element in the immediate future of Cuba for the solution of the conflict that we are experiencing.
In that sense, I answer that I would accept a dialogue that would be truly transformative, that is, a process with neutral observers, with guarantors, and in which agreements are really reached that solve the conflict that we are experiencing, that arrives at a solution truly democratic.
What agreements could those be?
A dialogue for a plebiscite, to achieve the freedom of political prisoners, for a concrete transformation of our reality. With such a process, I would agree, even if they did not invite me, even if they considered me an invalid interlocutor - and the attacks show that I came to the top of their black list - even if it was without me, I would agree. I believe that many dialogues are necessary to resolve the conflicts in Cuba.
You have talked a lot about the need to build fraternity among Cubans and to transcend stereotypes and pigeonholes that have separated us before. However, there is a part of the Cubans in exile and also some from within the island who do not necessarily speak of annexation, but of a relationship of tutelage or subordination of Cuba to the United States. It is an ancient dilemma between us. What position do you take as a political activist towards these Cubans?
First of all, the opinion that Cuba would function better if it were closer to the United States is not only of the exiles or of certain groups, but it is the opinion of the Cuban government. That's why he's doing everything he can to re-establish relationships and start doing business in every way imaginable. Of course, Cuba would do better if it had normal relations with the United States.
As for subordination, the answer, of course, is that there should be none. Cuba must have the best possible relations with all countries, including the United States, which is our neighbor. The premise in these relationships must be respect for national sovereignty, but that is a sovereignty that must reside in citizens and not in a political party, whatever the sign.
On July 11, Yunior García and other citizens demonstrated in front of the building of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, in Vedado, Havana. (Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE)
However, I can understand the positions of a part of the Cuban community settled in the United States and that has suffered too much. Many of them have dual citizenship and a double sense of belonging, for the land in which they were born and for the land that welcomed them. This is one of the issues that should be addressed with emphasis on the national dialogue that we lack, the relationship with exile and the way to reconcile some positions with our wishes for sovereignty.
However, I believe that never before has Cuba been so dependent on the United States as it is now, especially from the discursive point of view. In all the speeches of Cuban leaders, at any level, the United States is present as a key element. That country is the cause of all our ills; therefore, it is also the solution to all our problems, if we follow the same logic of the government.
The embargo has been used excessively as an international political tool to obtain diplomatic victories. Sometimes it seems to one that the embargo is something that they do not want to give up, because it constitutes an important political tool for the regime.
For all these reasons, the issue of relations with the United States is one of the most complex things on our foreign political scene. We must have normal relations with them, based on mutual respect and principles of non-interference, but also non-belligerence. We must bury that Cold War heritage that some, on both sides, insist on keeping alive. Of course, when we build a truly independent and democratic nation, we will have to work hard towards the best possible relationship with our exile and with the entire international community.
What they still insist on calling Revolution is nothing more than an exclusive dogma. They use the socialist ideology only to perpetuate themselves in power through the single party, but in practice, they care little about progress or social justice. They are a caste that hijacked the sovereignty of a country and is not willing to share power with anyone, just that.
At least Díaz-Canel and very recently José Luis Toledo Santander, president of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly, dared to say it : "in Cuba there is no separation of powers." I don't know how certain analysts who call themselves democrats interpret that statement, but for many inside Cuba it was already very clear for a long time: there is no democracy, there is no rule of law and there is not even a Republic. It is a tyranny of a book, without any reasonable doubt.
In order to build a new social pact, it is necessary to completely depart from these exclusive schemes. Every citizen, regardless of their ideology, is part of this complex equation that is Cuba, beyond propaganda. If we persist in ignoring or eliminating elements of that equation, we will never have a Nation, but rather ideological fiefdoms faced to the point of exhaustion. From both ends they inoculate us with a trench thought. In the corners of the ring NO to dialogue is shouted and combat is stimulated. Each vertex arrogates to itself the divine faculty of imposing on us with whom to speak and with whom not. I do not accept those rules of the game.
Archipelago is not a political party pigeonholed in a political color, it is a pluralist platform. We want to promote, from the point of view of civility, a broad debate that does not exclude anyone. We are not looking for alliances, but encounters. Nor do we establish pacts, because the social pact that we intend will have to be built between all of us. Any program that persists in exclusion would be more of the same. And it would not be worth so much effort to, once again, replace one dictatorship with another. We have been in this history for seventy years.
The campaign against the march, but especially against you, gets worse as the days go by, what do you consider to be its influence on the people, both in supporters and opponents?
His supporters do not need to persuade them too much. Fundamentalism is immune to logic, argument, and reality. Their strategies focus on that part of the population that is beyond their total control. To do this, they resort to the murder of reputation, and in that campaign there are no moral limits. I know worse attacks will come as your anxiety and despair increase. On the other hand, dividing has been his favorite tactic.
They are already giving talks in the neighborhoods, with photos of me even, saying all kinds of atrocities. They will also do this with the youth when classes start. They have approached other members of the Archipelago to sow suspicion between one another. It was the same as they did with 27-N. They insist on calling us mercenaries, even though they can't prove a single penny to us. They insist on relating to the United States government, even though they are certain that such a relationship does not exist. They are ardent defenders of Goebbels' premise: a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth.
His strategy, on the other hand, with more radical sectors of the opposition, is to generate suspicion. For that they divulge implausible conspiracy theories that, despite that, always find someone who welcomes them.
What do you think will happen next November 15?
I can assure you that we will never renounce the right to conquer our rights. We will do all we can civically so that our right to demonstrate is respected. However, and in this I want to be very emphatic, we repudiate any type of violence, so we will avoid confrontation.
The march that we have called is precisely against political violence, that is why we want to generate a civic and peaceful demonstration, without confrontations between Cubans. We don't want neighbors to jump on their neighbors. To do this, we have thought of a marching liturgy that seeks to promote that civic spirit.
However, we are not responsible for what happens that day. The Cuban State is responsible for public order and is the one who must ensure that there is no violence from anywhere that day. The police must ensure the safety of all Cubans, without exception, both the protesters and those who sympathize with the regime. That is your responsibility.
We are aware of the risks we run: the State can infiltrate violent people to blame us for the acts they commit, it can release common prisoners in days close to the march - it is already doing so - it can use multiple resources to distort our march.
Archipelago is responsible for the call it has made and we, personally, take responsibility for our individual conduct during the demonstration. The rest is the absolute responsibility of the authorities.
I can go to prison, but fortunately the Archipelago does not depend on a single person-island. And Cuba will learn not to depend on caudillos or messiahs to make postponed dreams come true.
What would be the most urgent changes for you?
There are many Cubans with concrete proposals and solutions. This national debate is urgent. And then we will have to be able to take our conflicts to the polls. The solution for Cuba should no longer depend on the proposal presented by a single group. Deep debate and consensus are needed, a collective construction of a democratic Republic with a solid rule of law and true social justice is needed.
The most urgent change is in language and in thought. They gave us a false feeling for a long time: this is not fixed or destroyed by anyone. That sadly popular thought is a gag imposed by power. It is a Gordian knot that we must cut, as Alexander did.
I know your full attention must be on the 15-N march, but I imagine you have thought about what comes next. How does Archipelago plan to channel its proposals? Do you think this pressure works?
There are no changes without social pressure. Shaking a country is our activism, not only for the regime to react, but also for society as a whole to remove the laziness, fears, fear, immobility that many times has marked Cubans. We must understand that we have to fight for our rights and participate in the life of the country, without hypocrisy or simulations. And I think that to a large extent important things have been achieved, this has been a great shock to the nation.
We know that our lives will be very difficult from now on, all this marks a before and after and nothing will ever be normal again. But we are willing to continue assuming a civic and peaceful path to motivate changes. After the march, initiatives will continue to emerge that seek popular sovereignty to take sides in political affairs and end in the fact that the will of the people is expressed through the ballot box. We will have to reach a referendum, a plebiscite, a transparent and reliable mechanism that allows Cubans to express their will, and not a group that imposes its views on others.
It cannot happen to us what other times in the history of Cuba, that one faction replaces the other in power and in the end what happens is a change of dictatorships, but a democratic and Marti society is not built. All civic paths that do not include violence are valid to get to that point.
The power has not shown signs of maturity. He has reacted in panic to his own people, with violent threats and repression. The only thing that matters to power is to preserve itself absolutely. It is not enough to "reform" what suffers from serious structural problems. The changes that Cuba needs cannot mean a return to the past either. We must finish bringing Cuba to the present and make it move towards the future.
On what bases would your political proposals be based, as the leader of a group, beyond the immediate ones that have already been formulated? What elements of the current system would you keep?
I have criticized many times what I call the Krim 218 Syndrome, and that makes us perceive the reality of Cuba in black and white. There are always nuances. And there are, of course, many things that should be maintained and improved. But without dictatorship or single thought, without exclusion or discrimination of any kind. Matters such as health and education must be guaranteed universal access. We must combat social injustice and prevent the gap between one and the other from becoming unbridgeable. We must eliminate poverty and assist those most in need.
But for that, it is necessary to generate wealth, eliminate all absurd obstacles to entrepreneurship, truly liberate the productive forces, stop being obstinate that the State manages what, obviously, it does not know how to manage. The conditions will have to be built so that people participate effectively in the solutions and not just limit themselves to throwing their complaints in empty sacks.
It is false that national independence has been achieved. Sovereignty will have to be taken away from the caste that has kidnapped it, and finally handed over to the citizens.
In your work as a playwright, Martí is a regular presence. Who are your references as a political activist?
I have many references, from Mandela to Martin Luther King. But Martí continues and will continue to be my main guide. And it is not a Martí of quotes taken out of context or stone busts. I have deeply studied his work. I have written a script for a movie about a living Martí, here and now. To write it I needed to immerse myself in his life and in all his texts and it was there that I came to understand him for the first time. If Martí were alive, those who seriously know his work know perfectly which side he would be on.
Martin Luther King Jr.
At what point did your political spark awaken? Was there a specific event that served as a trigger?
Like many young Cubans, I was a member of the UJC in my years at the National School of Art. I was also a delegate to the X Congress of the FEEM in 2002. At that time I was already a rebel with ideas for change. But 2003 was the year that was a shock to me. The black spring and the unjust shooting of three young men was perhaps the trigger. I left the military in the UJC and since then I began a process of delving into a history of Cuba that I did not know. Vitral and Encuentro magazines became part of my library. Reinaldo Arenas, Lezama, Cabrera Infante and others began to influence my way of seeing reality.
Nobody changes because someone comes to tell them that they are wrong. It is an internal process in which each person is forming their own truth. It changed me to discover that what they called "mistakes of the past" were still realities of the present. It cannot be changed so that everything remains the same. The word change is, unequivocally, a revolution that begins inside your head and then you can no longer prevent it from expressing itself and prompting you to do what you consider to be urgent, necessary and useful.
Politically, how would you define yourself?
Today's world, although polarizations seem to multiply, is pathologically ambidextrous. Left and right are often confused. "Communist" China is today the country that pollutes the planet the most and plans to become the next empire. The Cuban tyranny perhaps exploits its proletarians more than anyone else in the world. Nothing is irrevocable in a universe where dialectics prevail. I am a pluralist, a nonconformist, a creator. I resist putting false labels on myself.
You have talked about the risks of political activism in Cuba and how much their lives will change from now on. Some speculate that many of you after 15-N will go to prison and then be exiled, as has happened in recent times. Are you ready to go to prison?
If I'm honest, no. I was not fully prepared for everything that has happened to us. I try every day to fight my anger, that anger that is generated by powerlessness; I try to find lucidity, good sense. For these things I think that one is never prepared, but this is the path we chose and dignity is the most important thing. Dignity is sometimes the only thing left, the last hold that you can hold onto as if it were a log in a troubled river, you don't know where it is going to take you but it is what keeps you afloat.
That is why what comes I will assume with the greatest possible dignity, without renouncing my principles, my ideas, without falling into rage and, above all, without becoming the same as what I am critical. I will always try not to become what I now criticize.
Something that drives me is the shows of support when I go anywhere and meet real people, not manufactured people who respond to very specific interests, but people who have nothing to lose. That restores my faith.
Every day I wonder if all this is worth it. There are people who believe not. In Jacuzzi , one of my works, a character has a monologue in which he is asked: "Who are you going to die for?" He begins to make a description of what he understands Cuban society to be and, according to that character, it would not be worth taking risks for that part of society. But when you go out into the street and people give you a hug as a sign of solidarity, even if they don't fully agree with your ideas, that restores my faith.
We are not doing this out of heroism, or to go down in history, or to be in the books, or to have a street named after you, or because in the middle of a park they make you a bronze statue; We are doing this because we cannot help it, we know what we have to do. It is like a voice that tells you: "Don't do it to be thanked, do it because you know you have to."
Along the way you have become a leader for many and I believe that in the same way that we are not prepared to suffer reprisals like the ones you have suffered, it is not common to be prepared to be a leader that people take as a reference, whom people seek to listen or read to breathe calmly after an attack.
I do not know if he is the leader that people expect or need, because I have many shortcomings since I am trained as an artist, not as a politician. But all those shortcomings, those gaps — which I will have to fill at some point with readings and experiences — make me remain human. It is like a cross that must be carried, but you are not carrying someone else's cross. You carry your own cross and the responsibility is with yourself, not only for what people expect of you, but also for what you expect of yourself.
There were many comments to this interview, largely favorable. All can be read here https://jovencuba.com/derecho-conquistar-derechos/
Following are two of the more substantive criticisms.