Elian, a Rafter Member of Parliament, & Echoes of July 11th

Elian Gonzalez holds a Cuban flag during a Young Communists League congress in Havana. Photograph: Ismael Francisco/AP

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – Elian Gonzalez, the rafter child, spoke about democracy this week, about a country belonging to everyone, for everyone and with everyone. It’s easy for him and his loved ones to say this, as they’ve always had everything, and he’s even almost forced to say it, because it would be very traumatic to admit that his father made a big mistake by going to get him from the US.

I would even go out on a limb and say this this was even more traumatic than what happened adrift at sea, where he lost his mother, and that is something nobody forgets or can recover from.

But he’s putting himself in a really tough spot, and it’s impossible to explain and justify a system that has been making most of the population work to the bone (not him, of course), and is even capable of sending lackeys to the street to hand out beatings to anyone who thinks differently. What democracy is he talking about? 

Oh Elian, how many Cubans who marched for you are you letting down?! He says the first thing is knowing what the Cuban people’s concerns are. I already know that he doesn’t walk down our streets or use public transport, or even knows what a line is. OK. But him not reading, from the comfort of his own home, posts on social media or watching viral videos of people who are fighting over a pack of sausages or the thousands of Cubans who arrive and the US and talk about all of the hardship they experienced on the island, is a bit too much.

He has been a member of Parliament for a good while now, and he’s never proposed a solution to our problems; but that’s obvious if he ignores them. It seems like he doesn’t have a single friend in his little bubble that is dissatisfied because they are unable to speak their minds, or build the business they dream about because of some red tape or because they don’t have an important family member, and I’m not even getting into material problems, which I’m sure his friends don’t have either.

Last week, recordings of one of the many emergency meetings that were held in July 2021, amidst the mass protests that shook the country, were leaked.

They mostly deal with the words of First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in Artemisa, Gladys Martinez, in which she orders for any protest to be repressed “even with the flag pole.” She says they can get more sticks if needed and that if any repressor is hit with a stone or injured in any other way, they should report it, because this is a weapon in their favor in the media war, even if they got hit once and hit others 100 times.

That’s how Cuban TV covered the news at the time, with different officials making appearances with injuries as a result of the clash with protestors, but nobody said that they were the ones going out there and looking for it, nor was an injured person from the other side seen, and there were lots more.

This was also used for a future legal trial (the provincial Public Prosecutor was present, according to Martinez’s own words), and this argument was used to imprison hundreds of Cubans, many of whom are still behind bars.

Other details came to light in this conversation, such as complaints from some “revolutionaries” that didn’t come forward despite having rank and a car, the lack of megaphones to overshadow the protesters’ voices, and the lack of support for repression from residents who claimed they were impartial, for which they were called “worms”, the Government’s greatest insult to anyone against them.

They insisted on identifying the protest leaders, and for hate rallies to be held at the workplaces of anyone who took to the street, not to mention the trials that came later. This was all part of Plan Baragua, which in theory included door-to-door work to get people to join rapid response brigades; I can’t be sure of the latter, nobody came knocking on my door at least.

For that reason, when lots of people see celebratory photos, they wonder: What is there to celebrate in Cuba? Repairs in marginal neighborhoods that followed the July 11th protests didn’t last very long. Nobody remembers them anymore, nor are leaders coming to visit them.

Other quirks might be hard to understand, but Cubans need joy just as much as they need oxygen. This, except for those who are experiencing the repression firsthand or through a close relative (child or parent). The rest can’t stop but have a good time every now and then, although whenever the Government is in the middle of this, it’s used as propaganda, to give the impression that the Cuban people are happy with what’s happening on the island.

If the Cuban people really were happy, they wouldn’t have left in the hundreds of thousands, nor would thousands of others want to leave. The same Cubans that are dancing and singing for any holiday might also be waiting, or wishing, for Parole to put water between them and leave the country that gave them Life.

Nor does it make any sense that the majority of these same people go out and march on May Day if they are called upon. We’ve said it to death, but people living abroad, and even those who were even born in Cuba, forget that lots of people work for the State and they run into problems if they don’t pay heed to these summons. Others have businesses and don’t want to have problems and go as well, because everything is voluntary, but voluntary in Communist style: nobody is forcing you to go, but be wary of the consequences if you don’t.

These consequences might be a private tug on the ear, coercion, even a sanction that might lead to unemployment, either because they fire you directly, or indirectly because it’s better to resign than put up with a lower-paid position or a disciplinary measure for no reason.

I say this because I don’t want anyone to be confused, because happy moments that are inevitable for every human being don’t mean that we agree with what is happening around us.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times