Cuba: Para, por amor?

I have always loved the song “Cuba Va,” as interpreted by Sílvio Rodriguez. At the risk of insulting, I will make the common comparison: Sílvio is the Latin Bob Dylan. This lyric is particularly relevant:

Del amor estamos hablando 
Por amor estamos haciendo
Por amor se está hasta matando 
Para, por amor seguir trabajando.

It’s of love we are speaking 
It’s for love that we are doing
It’s for love that people are even killing
For and with love keep working.

Sílvio is a complicated figure, the “killing” line steers us right to the heart of the matter. He supported the “struggle” from the beginning. His work is a tribute to the revolutionary Cuba. In recent years, when he could have solidified a more historically “consensual” position, he persisted in defending Fidel, his imprisonment of outspoken people. He is also a member of Cuban parliament.

When can we except art and intervention for its face-value? That it is made “for and with love”? It is difficult to avoid all that is written between the lines of this “work.” And yet…

I walked past the Cuban embassy in Dili during my last stay. They had opened up shop in Timor later than many countries.

In 2005, the Timorese Ministry of Health accepted the offer of 300 Cuban doctors. The first wave arrived in the subdistricts in early 2006. (About the same number of Timorese students were given scholarships to study medicine in Cuba.) On face value, this offer was a blessing for a country that could only count on a couple of dozen doctors of its own.

Flagrant "communist" spelling error?

Yet, as things have worked out, the Cuban presence has caused mistrust and controversy in many subdistricts.  Across the country in late 2006, from the West to the East (which still supports the Fretilin government to a greater degree) I heard people telling me they distrusted the Cubans. Vicious rumors had spread that they killed babies. From Lautem to Manufahi, without prompting people told me they isolated themselves more than other malais. They show only disdain for us was a common refrain. Many people confessed that they were much less likely to seek help at the health postos now that there were Cubans there. Curiously, one Doctor “defected” in early 2006.

There is clearly a link between the anti-communist rhetoric of anti-government groups and this mistrust of the Cubans. Perhaps disgruntled Timorese nurses and doctors who felt unfairly subordinated to these doctors had a role in their demonizing.

In Avante! the Portuguese Communist party magazine, it was reported that Cuba will be collaborating with the Timorese government in a literacy campaign which uses mass media, along the lines of “Yo Sí Puedo.” The Cuban government claims that this program had great long-term results in Angola and Cape Verde. The Cubans had a much longer history of intervention in these countries.

It would be ideal if Timor could act as a “non-aligned” country, picking and choosing assistance based on need alone. I believe this is the vision of Fretilin. But a large part of the population seems caught up in antiquated Cold War rhetoric, which I believe has been consistently encouraged by certain priests and opportunist politicians. The confrontation between the Church and the government in 2004 only further aggravated the situation.

The question is, at this juncture, how and if the Cuban presence can be depoliticized in Timor, and if this new literacy program can be accepted on its face-value.

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