Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: An Interview With One Of Cuba's Biggest Dissident Bloggers

If you live in Cuba, you may or may not recognize the names Yoani Sánchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, unless of course you are one of the few with access to the internet or part of the vocal "opposition."  However, if you live almost anywhere else with unlimited access to the internet, Yoani and Orlando are practically household names. As pioneers of the Cuban blogging movement, they have become more than just a thorn on Castro's side. The most prominent of the 50+ "dissident"/citizen bloggers living on the island, they have been touring the world since Cuba relaxed their exit requirements in January 2013. Making headlines in every city they visit, the controversial bloggers have spent their time abroad talking about their lives under the regime at universities, non-profit organizations, and news outlets. This is not without consequences — the bloggers are met at every trip with protesters defending the communist country. Why are these citizen bloggers receiving so much attention?

I had the pleasure of interviewing wordsmith, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, to try and figure out why.

[Interview originally in Spanish and translated into English. Orlando's poetic responses do not translate well into English so original responses are included.]

1. What are your thoughts on your time abroad? Are you returning to Cuba? Is so, when and what do you plan to do upon your return?

In January 2013 the Cuban government, after a delayed immigration reform that does not guarantee the rights of the Cuban migration, granted its citizens two years outside of Cuba without having to show our accounts or pay for our time abroad. My cultural exchange visa with the USA is valid for 6 months and it's renewable. So there is no rush. Cuba, like the sky (or scaffold) can wait. There I am, as in any corner of the planet, the same writer and photographer who blogs freely among the fences; also editing the magazine VOCES. But if I go back, it will be the same feeling of emptiness and resistance against boredom involving all despotism. Cuba tires. Nobody deserves to have a homeland for too long.

En enero de 2013 el gobierno cubano, tras una tardía reforma migratoria que no garantiza los derechos migratorios de los cubanos, concede a sus ciudadanos 2 años fuera de Cuba sin tener que rendirles cuenta ni pagar por nuestra estancia en el extranjero. Mi visa USA de intercambio cultural tiene 6 meses de validez y es prorrogable. Por lo tanto no hay prisa. Cuba, como el cielo (o el cadalso), puede esperar. Allá soy, como en cualquier rincón del planeta, el mismo escritor y fotógrafo que bloguea con libertad en medio de las alambradas; también edito la revista digital free-lance VOCES, que ya consta con 17 números. Pero si regreso, será la misma sensación de vacío y de resistencia contra el aburrimiento que implica todo despotismo. Cuba cansa. Nadie merece tener una patria durante demasiado tiempo.

2. Do you believe Cuba will become a democracy in our lifetime? Why or why not?

No. Like many other phenomenons and institutions of the social fabric, the notion of democracy already has been extirpated from Cuban life by Castro, who, contrary to what is commonly said, is a phenomenon preceding half a century (or perhaps century and a half) to the Revolution of the Castro brothers, and it will continue. 

No. Como tantos otros fenómenos e instituciones del tejido social, la noción de democracia ya ha sido extirpada de la vida cubana por el castrismo, que, contrario a lo que se dice comúnmente, es un fenómeno que antecede medio siglo (o acaso siglo y medio) a la Revolución de los hermanos Castro, y que la sobrevivirá otro tanto.

3. What role do you think digital culture has played in Cuba's political affairs? What are its implications in Latin America?

A vital role. Although the Cuban government denies Internet service to Cuban citizens in a personal capacity, does not provide mobile web access, blocks all free traffic of information; the independent blogosphere is a magnifying glass to look inside the world of the island, and to stop the secrecy and impunity with which the Cuban government treats its own people. But the ruling elite has created an official blogosphere that reproduces in cyberspace the belligerent logic of the revolutionary monologue. It will be, therefore, a little war of attrition and digital defamation of the Cuban alternative bloggers. Hopefully Latin America and the rest of the world understands that freedom in Cuba has won many battles, but may eventually lose the war, as the resources for repression are unlimited. 

Un rol vital. A pesar de que el Estado cubano niega el servicio de internet a los ciudadanos cubanos a título personal, a pesar de que no se brinda acceso web en los móviles de los nacionales para así bloquear todo tráfico libre de información, la blogosfera independiente ha sido como una lupa para que el mundo mire al interior de la isla, y que cesen el secretismo y la impunidad con que el gobierno cubano trata a su propio pueblo. Pero la élite en el poder ya ha creado una blogosfera oficial que reproduce en el ciberespacio la lógica beligerante del monólogo revolucionario. Será, pues, una guerrita digital de desgaste y difamación hacia los blogueros alternativos cubanos. Ojalá América Latina y el resto del planeta entienda que la libertad en Cuba ha ganado muchas batallas, pero puede a la postre perder de la guerra, pues los recursos para la represión son ilimitados.

4. What is your dream for Cuba?

That a second Cuba existed anywhere else that wasn't the island. The resources and the illusion of freedom already exist in the Cuban exile. Leave to Castro what belongs to Castro. It would be much easier to legally acquire a piece of land in the vast American continent, with the United Nations' international approval, and live there with good Cubans who want to live in the beauty of truth. 

Que existiera una segunda Cuba en cualquier otra parte que no sea la isla. Los recursos y la ilusión de libertad ya existen en el exilio cubano. Dad a Castro lo que es de Castro. Sería mucho más fácil adquirir legalmente una porción de tierra en el vasto continente americano, con la aprobación internacional de Naciones Unidas, y habitarla con los cubanos buenos que quieran vivir en la belleza de la verdad.

5. What made you start blogging? What did you do before then?

I am a graduate in biochemistry from the University of Havana. I worked as a molecular biologist and then as editor of a cultural magazine. Now "I blog, therefore I am." As a writer with four books of fiction published in Cuba, I was unheard of in and out of the island. I needed to salvage my voice through all of the political propaganda. I wanted to star in or encourage the changes in my country. I wanted to blow up the consensus and the concept of "cubanía" (a word unknown even to Microsoft Word) as something stagnant, as a barren stereotype. I wanted to work the art of provocation and the pulse of the ephemeral. I wanted to be not one, but countless authors. I wanted to leave multiple traces while changing the face of my rhetoric. I wanted to write the posthumous novel of the Revolution and blogging trains me to do so. 

Soy graduado en Bioquímica por la Universidad de La Habana. Trabajé como biólogo molecular y luego como editor de una revista cultural. Ahora "blogueo, luego existo". Como escritor con cuatro libros de narrativa publicados en Cuba, me sentía inédito dentro y fuera de la isla. Necesitaba recuperar mi voz en medio de la propaganda y el panfleto político. Quería protagonizar o propiciar los tiempos de cambios en mi país. Quería dinamitar los consensos y el concepto de "cubanía" (una palabra desconocida incluso para Microsoft Word) como algo anquilosado, como un estereotipo estéril. Quería trabajar el arte de la provocación y la pulsión de lo efímero. Quería ser no uno, sino infinitos autores. Dejar rastros múltiples mientras mutaba el rostro de mi retórica. Quería escribir la novela póstuma de la Revolución y bloguear me entrena para lograrlo.

6. What have been your favorite moments from this time abroad?

New York City at 6 a.m., the view from the wing of an American Airlines. The cold dead forests in La Crosse. A secret alcove in Chelsea and in Opa Locka. The hateful face of an American paid by the Cuban consulate in Washington to spread revolutionary propaganda at a university in this country. Jaime Bayly, twice. The subways of Manhattan. The free Cubans in USA.

New York amaneciendo a las 6 de la madrugada, vista desde el ala de un American Airlines. Los bosques muertos de frío en La Crosse. Una alcoba secreta de Chelsea y otra de Opa Locka. El rostro lleno de odio de un norteamericano pagado por el consulado cubano de Washington para distribuir propaganda revolucionaria en una universidad de este país. Jaime Bayly, dos veces. Los subways de Manhattan. Los cubanos libres de USA. 

7. What would you like to share to the PolicyMic audience?

I would like to invite you to Cuba. Travel, watch, live, forget. Do not be lured by the hypocrisy of utopia. Nor by the propaganda that ignores that life on Earth is isotropic. The Cuba of the American Academy does not exist, it is only there that all the documentation is preserved. 

Me gustaría invitarlos a Cuba. Viajen, vean, vivan, viren, olviden. No se dejen deslumbrar por la hipocresía de la utopía. Tampoco por la propaganda que ignora que la vida sobre la Tierra es isotrópica. La Cuba de la academia norteamericana no existe, si bien es sólo aquí que se conserva intacta toda la documentación.

For more on the Cuban blogosphere, follow me @adefillo