A Threat to Freedom: When We Let the Fear Make Us Censor Ourselves


"Guardian Angels"

I see police everywhere. I don't know if they are stuck on my retina or if in recent months there has been an alarming growth in their numbers. They come in Mercedes Benz trucks, stand three at a time on the corners and even show up with their German shepherds at various places in the city. While hundreds of round modern cameras watch us from above, those in uniform control us on the broken sidewalks at street level. They come out of nowhere and disappear when we need them most. Astute in detecting a sack of cement transported without papers, they rarely emerge at night in the slums where the number of crimes grows and grows.

There are also those in plain clothes, those "guardian angels" with a permanent presence in any line, cultural center, or human gathering. They are no longer as easy to spot because they've changed their rayon pullovers, checked shirts and military haircuts for costumes ranging from braids with colored beads to letting their underwear show above the waist of their pants. They sport cell phones, sunglasses, and leather sandals, but still seem out of place with the expression of someone who does not blend into the situation they inform about. They go to the Film Festival but have never seen a Fellini film, they are in the art galleries but are incapable of saying whether a painting is figurative or abstract. In short, they have been taught to camouflage themselves but they can't erase their sneer of contempt toward the "petit bourgeoisie weakness" that is art and its manifestations.

What I fear the most, however, is not this group with the metal badges on their chests, or those under cover who write reports, but the coercive police inside all of us. The one who blows the whistle of fear to warn us of what we do not dare, and who shakes the shackles of indifference each time we add to our critiques or opinions. The one who has attended the Academy of Self-Censorship and is a skilled soldier in showing us the roads that bring no trouble. The one with a Penal Code with at most a couple short articles: No. 1 "Don't look for problems," and No. 2 "What you do won't change anything." If we wake up one day wanting to silence the pounding of that one's boots inside our head, then we remember the bars, the courts, the chill of a provincial prison. He doesn't need to take a cudgel to our ribs, because he knows how to pluck the strings of fear, and with the phrase, "Stay calm, it's better to wait," he executes the karate kicks that leave our body immobilized, aching in anticipation.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.