Two Letters and a Country in Waiting

Alfredo Fernandez

HAVANA TIMES — For those of us with access to Internet, e-mail or at least possess a flash drive, two open letters have been circulating in recent weeks that have been the subject of much comment.

The first open letter was written by the political scientist and editor of the journal Temas, Rafael Hernandez. It was published in May on the website of the Joven Cuba blog, and is entitled Carta a un joven que se va de Cuba (Letter to a Young Person Who’s Leaving Cuba). In it the author criticizes the previous two generations of youth who choose to leave the country as the only solution to their problems.

The second letter came signed “Ivan Lopez Monreal” and is a response to Rafael’s letter. It’s titled “Carta de un joven que se ha ido de Cuba” (Letter from a Young Man Who Left Cuba),” and though I have no way to authenticate his existence, I can at least guarantee that the writer is knowledgeable about Cuban youth and their most intense desires. According to the author, the letter was written in Pomorie, a seaside resort town in Bulgaria.

Rafael’s letter is written from the view of a real possibility of a “salvageable revolution.” This is seen by him as possible only when people join efforts to build socialism. Therefore Rafael, from his partisan paradigm, directs himself toward young immigrants asking: “Was it because you never read ‘Socialism and Man’ at school?”

Citing Che Guevara, a Cold War ideologue, and reverting back to the non-existing bipolarity of capitalism vs. socialism, Rafael — while not denying the possibility of a serious dialogue about the nation — reveals himself to be intellectually incapable of grasping the complexity of the times.

In the letter from Ivan Lopez, the question about reading “Socialism and the New Man in Cuba” go unanswered, because for him, the arrival of the “New Man” as a result of socialism is at best irrelevant. Therefore he expresses something like:

“I saw my father, who served in Angola, his face pale without answers, the day that a hotel custodian said he couldn’t continue walking down a beach in Jibacoa (in front of an international campground) because he was Cuban. I was with him. I saw it. I was ten years old, and a ten year old boy doesn’t forget how the dignity of his father goes to hell. It didn’t matter that he came back from the war with three medals.”

Something as vital to human beings as the formation of values, according to Rafael Hernandez, is not only possible under socialism, but these values are inherent to it. Therefore he writes in his letter:

“Social justice and equality are just that: principles and values that must truly be exercised, without subjecting them to class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ideology, because they represent the most important achievement of all, that of the full dignity of the person. Well, if you agree with that, maybe you’ll be surprised to hear that you are a creature of socialism.”

In the experience of Ivan Lopez Monreal, socialism is the exact opposite, with it understood as something that limits principles and values. Values that in his case only took place thanks to money:

“I had good teachers, but when they left they were replaced by less prepared ones which, in turn, were replaced by social workers who wrote “experience” with an “s” and were unable to pinpoint five Latin American capitals on a map (this wasn’t told to me, I experienced it). My parents had to hire private tutors for me to learn. They didn’t pay the tutors; they were paid by my aunt who lived in Toronto. So if we’re honest, most of the training that I have I owe to the patrons of the Greek restaurant where my aunt worked (…).”

For Hernandez, the atavism on not staying on the island is the only thing that will guarantee the right to vote. Hence, the idea doesn’t even cross his mind that Cubans could continue exercising their right after leaving the country. Therefore he says: “If you live outside the country you won’t be able to vote, much less occupy any responsible position. So you see, your decision to leave also has profound implications for those who stayed.”

It seems that these “profound implications (…) for those of us who stayed” referred to by Rafael are such, because he, like Ivan, is sure that one cannot really hope for much to come from the reforms of General/President Castro.

Anyway, for Ivan elections are meaningless under a single party:

“(…) I am warned that if we continue leaving there will be fewer young people voting and therefore fewer eligible. And I wonder: What good is my vote? What I can I change? What did the delegates to the National Assembly do to make me interested in them? (…) both of us know that the National Assembly, (…) only serves to pass legislation unanimously. It’s paradoxical to call a parliament an institution that meets one week a year. (…) And during that time it limits itself to approving the mandates of the State Council and its president. (…) Unfortunately, I can’t vote for this president. And you don’t know how much I would like to.”

In the open letters of Raphael and Ivan, two Cubans cross paths: one in a symbolic and an especially nostalgic way. The other excited, real, no doubt forthcoming.

The overly long spectacle of a generation that tried to change everything is ending. A Cuba that is plural, open, inclusive and distant from dogma is now knocking on the doors with hands as strong and sure as those of Ivan Lopez Monreal.


6 thoughts on “Two Letters and a Country in Waiting

  • Why is it that when “Lawrence W” comments, it is simply “comments”. But when Griffin and I submit our humble opinions, it is propaganda. Speaking for myself, I come to my opinions through my personal experiences in Cuba over many years. I have many lifelong relationships in Cuba and I truly wish to see a more free and democratic society flourish in Cuba. I don’t care if it is socialist, capitalist or ruled by a king for that matter, only that the people decide for themselves what they want. This has not been the case for at least 53 years. As for circumstances in the US, yes, times are tough. As Bill Clinton said yesterday, people have been betting against the US for more than 200 years and each time when the situation looked bad, America has come through stronger. I believe this will happen this time once again. This may seem like bad news for Lawrence W but I even defend his right to disagree with me. A right he does not possess in Cuba.

  • Even better, Lawrence W., would be for Grieg to travel to Cuba (learning as much Spanish beforehand), then, once there, getting off the tourist track of Habana Vieja, the Vedado, Varadero, and the jinetero laden cascas historicas in Trinidad, Santiago, Cienfuegos, etc., and out into the neighborhoods.
    As Mark Twain said, more than a century ago: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
    …from “Innocents Abroad/Roughing It”
    OTOH, one of my favorite authors, Jose Lezama Lima, only left Cuba for two short trips during his lifetime, yet managed to write “Paradiso.” Then again, there are exceptions to every rule–and besides, rules are made to be broken!

  • ‘Grieg’, unfortunately is challenged in the understanding department. Sounds like he’s jumped in at the deep end here before learning to swim. He’s typical of Americans sustained in ignorance by the continuous propaganda that emanates from their government – made more effective by not being recognized as propaganda. We get a glimpse of how it works by seeing ‘Moses’ and ‘Griffin’ relentless propagandizing on this website. You can imagine what Americans are subjected to.

    ‘Grieg’ writes, “like most Americans, i believe Cubans live in a repressive society with no opinions of their own and harsh penalties for disagreeing with the party line”.

    Reading the pointed criticisms of the Cuban government that appear in Havana Times somehow has not affected his belief that Cubans have no opinions or suffer harsh penalties for disagreeing with their government.

    Rather than ask HT writers to simplify their prose, it would be more appropriate for ‘Grieg’ to up his game. It won’t happen unless he understands how he is being propagandized by his government and his country’s media and finding independent, objective sources for information. Use Wikipedia regularly for this purpose.

  • Ha! A prime example of the pot calling the kettle black! (I find it hard to decipher Greig’s own cipher). Be glad that the HT staff (Circles?) has taken the trouble to translate most of the diaries, features and interviews from Spanish to English. I can assure you, Greig, that most Cubans DO have opinions of their own, that these opinions are oft at variance with those of their government, and they are definitely not shrinking violets in expressing their displeasures; furthermore, Cuba is decidedly NOT the DPRK, and, comparatively speaking, there are no harsh penalties for disagreeing with the Party line (aside perhaps, from being canned from your $20/month state job, but by hustling here, finagling there, you can do so much better!). Here in the States, on the other hand, anyone who disagrees with the wars we’ve made, or our uncritical support of Israel, for example, is either marginalized, or ignored–or both! As A.J. Leibling so wittily and waggily once stated: “In America there’s freedom of the press in America–if you OWN a press!” (to which now must be amended the ownership of tv channels, radio stations, film studios, etc., though at least with the internet a bit more of the alternative viewpoints get more play than in the past). Perhaps many of the Cuban contributors have to be careful in how they express such criticism, but such circumloqution makes for more interesting prose (as was the case in Eastern Europe before the demise of the Socialist Camp. The subsequent literature of Eastern Europe has not been nearly so interesting; in fact, for the most part it has been a descent into mediocrity. Then again, so has our own literature, especially now with the passing of the lessayists and novelists Gore Vidal and political journalist Alexander Cockburn!)

  • People who publish articles in HT, and people who comment on them, must be free to express themselves as they see fit. Your comment seems arrogant and even juvenile.

  • My comment is not just about this column, but concerns the majority of writing i find in this interesting newsletter, namely there is so much turgid, aged, jargon–not clear comprehensible prose, but words…socialist words, i guess…so difficult to read that they are off-putting. Usually i understand–after a lot of work–what your commentators are saying—but, why can you all write clearer, why make us work so hard? It is encouraging that so much logical, social, and political sentiment is expressed here because, like most Americans, i believe Cubans live in a repressive society with no opinions of their own and harsh penalties for disagreeing with the party line–which y’all do now and then. That’s teriffic. Perhaps you (all of you) are just too imbued from childhood with a certain vocabulary and expressions and lack examples of otherEnglish language journals and newspapers to the extent that you can’t write differently. But i for one wish you would try.


Comments are closed.