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    Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent

    Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent

    14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the
    streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well
    known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However,
    before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a
    model “New Man”: the most finished product of ideological indoctrination.

    Like all Cuban children, Avila shouted slogans during his school’s
    morning assembly, participated in countless repudiation activities
    “against imperialism” and dreamed of resembling Ernesto ‘Che’
    Guevara. But while, in school, they taught him the social achievements
    that the Revolutionary process brought to the population, at home
    reality was stubborn and showed itself to be something quite different.

    The residents of Yarey de Vázquez – the Puerto Padre municipality of
    Puerto Padre where the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement was
    born – are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat. A
    place lost in nothingness, where many families still use latrines for
    their bodily needs, and live in houses with roofs made of palm fronds.

    Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life
    did not resemble the official version he was being taught. Born in 1985,
    in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping
    up the island, he was barely walking a year later when Fidel Castro
    ordered the closing of the free farmers markets in the midst of the
    “Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies.”

    Eliécer Avila reached puberty during what was called the Special
    Period. With the voracity that still characterizes him, he faced many
    days of his adolescence with his plate half full, or almost empty. He
    hand stitched the shoes he wore to school, invented all kinds of
    “outfits” from his grandfather’s old shirts, and turned off the light
    when it was time to strip down to his underwear, so no one could see the
    holes.

    With a natural leadership quality, in which a certain humor mixes with
    an undeniable histrionic capacity to narrate anecdotes, the young man
    made his way through those years without climbing aboard a raft to
    escape the country or ending up in jail. Those who knew him predicted a
    future in politics, because of those “fine lips” that helped him in
    student meetings and in romantic conquests.

    A little bit later, luck smiled on him. He was able to enroll in the
    University of Computer Sciences (UCI), founded in 2002 in the middle of
    the Battle of Ideas. UCI was located on the site that had once been the
    Center for Exploration and Radioelectronics Listening, known as the
    Lourdes SIGNIT Station, where until 2001 Russia – and the Soviet Union
    before it – had had its largest spy station outside its borders. UCI was
    a school for trusted young people to become computer soldiers for a
    Revolution that fears the Internet.

    While a student at UCI, Avila led Operation Truth. His task was to
    monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government. In those
    spaces, the young revolutionary sharpened his arsenal of tools for
    political struggle that included everything from hacking to the
    execution of the reputation of anyone who opposed the Plaza of the
    Revolution.

    Little by little, like acid that filters through the cracks, those
    anti-government arguments he read on the web began to sink into his mind
    and mingle with his own disagreements. Restless, in 2008 he took his
    turn at the microphone during a visit to UCI of Ricardo Alarcón, then
    president of the National Assembly. The minutes of that public
    appearance that followed marked the rest of his life.

    The video of the collision between Ávila and Alarcón jumped to first
    place in the hit parade on the clandestine networks that distributed
    audiovisuals. No one wanted to miss it, especially the moment when the
    leader of Parliament justified the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans
    by saying how congested the skies might be, if everyone were allowed to
    board an airplane.

    Now, nine years later, the young activist prefers not to be called
    “Eliécer, the one who debated with Alarcon,” but for the rest of his
    life it will be his most important letter of introduction to millions of
    Cubans. His challenge of power, with simple questions and a firm voice,
    has been one of the most accurate and best documented gestures of
    rebellion in almost six decades of Castroism.

    After that, he received his punishment. After graduating, the
    authorities sent him to a remote Youth Computer Club to purge his
    audacity. It was the decisive moment in which he decided to cross the
    red line towards independence. He left the state sector, founded the
    Somos+ Movement and relocated to Havana. One audacious act after another.

    The attacks rained down from all sides. State Security raised the level
    of pressure on his environment, traditional opposition leaders threw
    darts at the upstart, and there was no shortage of those who claimed
    that he was only a mole for the political police disguised as a dissident.

    Since then, Ávila has tried to give shape to a civic discourse that uses
    new technologies and a less politicized language, closer to the concerns
    of ordinary people. But, like every dissident, he is caught in the grip
    of charges of illegal action, subjected to constant vigilance and
    assigned the halo of demonization imposed on anyone who does not applaud
    power.

    The numerous trips abroad that he has made since the Travel and
    Immigration Reforms of 2013 have allowed him to know the world, only to
    discover that the most exciting and indecipherable of the territories
    that await him is located in the future Cuba. That country so many have
    dreamed of and that is taking so long to arrive.

    Recently he went a step further and announced that he was prepared to
    represent the electors of his constituency as a delegate. A somewhat
    remote possibility, given the oiled mechanisms of control over the
    People’s Assemblies maintained by the ruling party where, by show of
    hands, the attendees must nominate the potential candidates.

    This week, the guajiro of Yarey de Vázquez has crossed another line. A
    public protest at José Martí International Airport has resulted in his
    house being searched, and him being arrested and charged with “illicit
    economic activity.” The trigger was the seizure of his laptop at Customs
    when he returned from Colombia.

    Now, it is expected that the siege around the young leader and his
    Somos+ Movement will continue to close. Nothing is more disturbing to a
    system that has played with social alchemy than a creature from its own
    ideological laboratory turning against it. Eliécer Ávila will be doubly
    punished because power acts with more fury against its own, when it rebels.

    More articles in English by and about Eliécer Ávila can be read here.
    translatingcuba.com/category/authors/eliecer-avila/
    With online translation:
    www.cubaverdad.net/weblog/?s=eliecer+avila

    Source: Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent –
    Translating Cuba –
    translatingcuba.com/eliecer-avila-the-new-man-who-became-an-opponent/

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