Is Speaking Out in Cuba a Crime?

Irina Echarry

Photo: Caridad

It seems that I’m losing ground.  Every day I lack a little more comprehension of the situation that surrounds me, and this worries me.

Television and other media sources remind us that our leaders call for the people to express themselves, to discuss our nation’s problems and seek solutions.  However, concrete practice contradicts those words.

Yesterday I was waiting for the bus and I heard a very young woman complaining about her fatigue. “I’ve had it with these buses,” she said. “Every day I have to get in this line.  If they know that we’re in the vacation period and that the P-11 bus becomes a nightmare at the 5:00 rush hour, then why don’t they put more buses on that route?”

An older woman told her that she was too young to complain.  So the young woman, who was wearing a nurse’s uniform, responded saying that she was coming off watch duty and that her age had nothing to do with her objections, that everyone gets tired from working.  The discussion turned ugly as the older woman told her that they should put her in jail for saying such things.

That reminded me of an awful story that I heard a few days ago.  It was as if it had come from the 1960s or 70s.  I won’t give the names or the workplaces so that I don’t compromise the people who told it to me.

It turns out that two older members of the Association of Combatants (AC) from a municipality in the capital went to some news media.  They were looking for someone in management to lodge a complaint.

Apparently one of the workers at that publication had spoken out against the revolution at a bus stop, and the old men thought that measures should be taken against him at his job.  Unfortunately, the person who had dared to express himself in public had also mentioned where he worked, that’s why they went there to accuse him directly.  They left saying they would be expecting a response, and that if they didn’t get an answer, they would take the case to however high.

The management determined that the man would not be allowed to publish anything for six months, and they set up a meeting on the ethical problem implied by an ideological worker expressing themselves “incorrectly” in public.

According the elderly woman of the Association of Combatants, they are on watch for such cases and that what their supposed to do is call a patrol car so that such individuals are carted off to jail.

I don’t get it.  Truly, there are many things that I don’t understand.  Is it that expression is synonymous with imprisonment?  Can we speak or not?  If people who experience the same problems daily aren’t allowed to open their mouths to express themselves, then we cannot speak even when they tell us to.

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

3 thoughts on “Is Speaking Out in Cuba a Crime?

  • It seems such a shame that people in my country (the United States) and yours have not learned the value of free speech. It is not just good for the individual, it is also necessary to the progress of society as whole. The U.S. has a free speech amendment in its constitution and, unfortunately, it is always being undermined and attacked. We are always in the midst of fights to defend this right against government encroachment. Recently, the U.S.Court decided that corporations should have the same rights of free speech as people. This has the effect of more fully, nakedly and directly unleashing to control of Big Business of contributing enough money to essentially buy politicians and disenfranchising further the great mass of working people. Cuba should learn from our sad experience and value the ideas and practice of a truly socialist and democratic approach to democracy.

  • Irina
    I feel a bit more optimistic. It is my believe that Raul do genuinely like to hear all opinions. We saw the meetings where Cubans were allow to question the government I think there should be more and more of that.
    There is the issue of inertia. People have been used to not allowing the other voices speak out. Many are afraid and they do not know of what to make of this changes and this new openness.
    The government should attach for now some amendment to the constitution similar to the first amendment in the US that guaranties free speech by law.
    And maybe it should go after those that are not allowing it.
    I wonder if he would really go that far?

    In 1989 I remember a speech Raul was giving to the military and that they were transmitting live. In that speech I recall Raul asking people to say “YES” and they did and later he turns and he asked them to say “NO” and they also follow him.
    Then visibly upset Raul explained that he had and issue with that. With people do as they are commanded without really analyzing what was asked from them. That is my recollection. I remember the following day I look in Granma for that fragment of the speech because I could not believe my memory later. It turn out that it was not printed in Granma, they actually censor that part of Raul’s speech!

    They know that by not allowing freedom of speech people will answer not truly with the answers they really feel but with what they think Raul or Fidel may want to hear. That was Fidel’s style. I think Raul is different on that respect.
    I think if the older brother was not around Raul would have done a lot more changes and more towards democracy.

    We can see that he has allowed some space for people to express themselves. Even if for now is restricted to just the internet. Hopefully this freedom on the internet could spill potentially to the written press and other communication media in Cuba.

    For this to happen there needs to be and end to the government’s monopoly over the press.

  • Such incidents you describe, Irina, seem to come right of the pages of Kafka, George Orwell, or better yet, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”! They defy logic! It seems like a topsy-turvey, nightmarish world. Here in the U.S.A. the authorities also say one thing and practice another, but for the most part they studiously ignore, or successfully marginalize, criticism which really threaten the fundamental ways they do business.

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