Mashenka and the Bear

Not all of the Russian cartoons from our childhood were that bad. One particular story springs to my mind now with nostalgia, a version of the Tolstoy tale that all Cubans over the age of 30 will remember, Mashenka and the Bear.

If memory serves me right, after losing her way in the woods, the little girl manages to convince the animal to take the basket in which she is hiding to a small house in the woods. The bear thinks that the basket is full of honey. Each time the bear tries to taste the delicious treat he thinks is in the basket, the little girl whispers: “Careful bear, Mashenka is watching, don’t be a glutton.”

The paradoxes hidden in our childhood memory’s deepest recesses sprung Mashenka to my mind, when I heard a news report that lacked the sweetness and innocence of that children’s table.

The news report was about a “Cyber-Crime Conference.” An expert was quoted as saying that all criminal organizations now have at their disposal new technologies that threaten our security. The expert proposed that Nations, Internet Providers, and Software Producers agree on a way of reducing information pirating, child pornography and terrorism.

The last word he used “terrorism”–horrified me. In the name of a cause that is beyond question, they already spy on 14.6 percent of the world’s internet-using population, a percentage that will continue to grow to unfathomable levels in the coming years.

At this same conference and at other international forums, the alert has gone out that the European Union and the United States have reached an agreement on a model for control and data storage. Declan McCullagh, a journalist from Cnet, revealed that the US government will subsidize with more than $300,000 the investigative efforts that would produce a mechanism to eavesdrop on internet telephone conversations. Other mechanisms already exist that allow access to transmitters and receptors. These can record the time, geographic location, and of course the content of the information that can then be scrutinized without need of a Court Order, as the New York Times recently reported of the Bush Administration’s secret surveillance of thousands of United States citizens in utter disregard for their Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

A modern Mashenka now obsesses over us, and this is alarming. This global Mashenka does not seek protection from the bear but instead lurks, preparing to drop its lethal cargo on our heads.

In a new world order where governments kidnap their opponents, where detainees are routinely tortured in clandestine prisons, and where sophisticated state of the art bombers drop white phosphorus with impunity on civilian targets, is it surprising that the U.S. government spies on its own citizens at will?

Victims who are conveniently labelled “terrorists” cease to be victims. We should keep in mind that the sinister character in this modern fairy-tale isn’t the bear, but rather Mashenka, who is always watching . . .

Translated from the Spanish by Isabel Perea

Rosa Miriam Elizalde is editor of


Rosa Miriam Elizalde is a Cuban journalist and founder of the site Cubadebate. She is vice president of both the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP). She has written and co-written several books including Jineteros en la Habana and Our Chavez. She has received the Juan Gualberto Gómez National Prize for Journalism on multiple occasions for her outstanding work. She is currently a weekly columnist for La Jornada of Mexico City.