Habeas data


The images of the fall of the Berlin Wall I saw for the first time eleven years after the events of that October 1989.  At that time, few Cubans had access to a video player or to the foreign press. The news came to us when it was already history. The young man who defied a tank in Tiananmen Square only took shape before my eyes a decade after those events.  Not to mention things happening on our side that we barely heard about.  So, when the Maleconazo* happened in August 1994, we reconstructed the atmosphere of sticks and stones of that day from fragments disseminated by foreign television.

Gone is the time when the official newspapers, radio or television broadcasts were the only sources of information, or disinformation, that we had.  Technology has come to our aid.  Now, in spite of all the limitations on accessing the internet, seeing television programs through satellite dishes, or listening, without interference, to shortwave radio, news reaches us.

An excellent proof of this has been the rapid underground spread of the video where Eliécer Avila, a student at the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), questioned the president of the Cuban parliament.  How the recording of those awkward questions was leaked – questions that made Richard Alarcon sweat, wave his arms around and draw constant comparisons to the past – is the subject of speculation and doubt.  But within just a few weeks, a good number of Cubans had seen or heard that singular encounter.

It seems impossible to defuse this precarious and clandestine network that brings us “news of ourselves.”  The information, biased, omitted or distorted, has turned us into agile dredgers of data, masters of the art of digging up details.   Today there is the video of the UCI, tomorrow there will be the knowledge of classified, secret things that will spread through Cuban society.

While the official media keeps its bucolic lethargy, we are learning.  The young man of UCI already has a face, we know his voice, we heard the stuttering of his interlocutor.  This is not an enormous square in China with a young man facing down the tanks, and the image will not take a decade to reach us.

*Translator’s note: The Maleconazo was a protest/riot on August 5, 1994, along Havana’s waterfront seawall, which is called the Malecón.

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