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.


Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

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.

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