Just Between You and Me

Kelly Knaub

An Old Havana Street. – Photo: Kelly Knaub

HAVANA TIMES, July 31 — I’ve spoken to several people in Cuba who have opened up to me about their political views and personal life experiences in this country.  Each conversation is always proceeded by a verbal agreement to not repeat what is being told to me; the person then looks around to make sure no one else is listening, and, in a lowered voice, begins to tell me what things are “really like” for them here.

Fidel’s recent appearance on the Round Table program helped me initiate one conversation.  I was curious to know what one individual thought about the show.  This person complained that there were no questions pertaining to problems in Cuba and expressed how Cuban society has suffered under the Revolution.

“Cuba is a theatre,” the individual said.  “There’s no work here.  People go to work and talk all day.  There’s free education but no jobs!  What progress have we made?  It’s sad what this country has become.”  I listened intently.  “Does everyone in Cuba feel this way?”  I asked. “No,” the person replied. “Not the people that work for the government or the children of the Communist Party members.  So be careful who you talk to.  You can’t talk about these things with just anyone.”

A Rainy Day in Cuba. Photo: Kelly Knaub

A Cuban friend previously told me he or she wouldn’t mention anything critical about the government in front of this person I know; this person I know expressed the same mistrust and hesitancy to say anything critical in front of my Cuban friend.

One individual – who forbade me from sharing any personal details whatsoever about him or her on this site – reiterated just how quiet one must live in Cuba.  “It’s dangerous to talk,” the person said, looking around.  “With the politics here, you have to be really careful.”

Most foreigners don’t exhibit the same wariness and suspicion that seems to permeate the Cuban national conscience.  One thing I’ve noticed is that people who are visiting for short periods of time tend to have more positive views of the country; non-natives who have lived here for longer periods tend to be much more critical.

I recently met one foreigner on vacation who shared his optimism about Cuba.  This person said the “lack of racism” —sure to be a hot controversy— and religious harmony in this country make it eligible to be one of the most highly functioning and peaceful societies in the world; the only obstructing factor, this person said, was “the system.”

A Central Havana Street. Photo: Kelly Knaub

Another foreigner who has lived here for more than five years said that, in order to live reasonably well in this country, Cubans would have to earn at least $200 Cuban Convertible Pesos a month (US $250) in comparison to the average $20 CUC most Cubans earn (and in the regular national currency).  This person said there is a sadness and despair beneath the happy facade of people in this country.

Someone told me to be very cautious in Cuba since I’m an American. This person advised me to make sure I do everything by the book with my student visa. “If you don’t,” the person said in a lowered voice, “they might think you’re trying to infiltrate!”

As a journalism student, not being able to get people to talk to me on record about what things are “really like” here presents a dilemma, so I’ve attempted to relay some anonymous opinions.  I’m simply trying to understand a little bit about Cuba and what Cubans really think about things, apart from the propaganda I’ve been fed by both the Cuban and United States government.  But remember … this is just between you and me.

7 thoughts on “Just Between You and Me

  • The late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is quoted as saying: “Failure is not fatal; but failure to change might be.” Fidel, Raul and the PCC should take this to heart.

    On the other hand, look at how the U.S. has armed the right wing government of Colombia, and how Colombia is now apparently preparing to invade Venezuela. This should let everybody know how under-the-gun Cuba has been and is from the U.S., and what any government that challenges U.S. hegemony can expect.

    All those who do not take the real state of affairs in Latin American into account, and only blame the Cuban leadership for all the problems, should look at the whole picture.

    I don’t think any particular socialist transformation in any country will have much of a chance at building a workable socialist society until the U.S. has made that transformation itself. This is a good reason why the Cuban leadership should experiment with cooperative forms of employee ownership on the Mondragon model. By beginning the conversion over to a workable cooperative form of socialism, and show the people of the world that it is possible, Cuba could revolutionized the U.S. in short order.

    If Cuba stays with the dysfunctional state monopoly socialist model however this lack of change–as John Wooden’s wisdom indicates–might well prove fatal for the socialist Cuban state.

  • A good start Kelly. Perhaps in a few more years- 5 to 10, and with more cuban experiences, you may dig up what Cuba is really like for Cubans. Even though you now have a sense of what it is like, you still paint a rosy picture compared with reality.

  • “they might think you’re trying to infiltrate!”

    Doesn’t matter they think every American is a spy. Except maybe Lucious Walker.

  • Thanks, Kelly! Your impressions coincide with my own. You must be trustworthy–otherwise all the folks who confided in you wouldn’t have opened up about their critical feelings. No need to give specifics anyway, as what you are reporting has been echoed by many other knowledable frequent visitors to Cuba. Still, I have an intuition that the situation is changing, and Cubans have less to fear for expressing criticism of their government.

  • Grady

    Cuba is a beautiful place to visit and Cubans are awesome! 🙂
    Are you satisfied now ? 🙂

    On the other hand it is so hot in the summer you will really think you are in hell 🙂 and your suspicions will be confirmed if with any luck you get see a devilish Fidel Castro talking on TV 🙂

  • Dear Kelly

    I am glad you are reporting about this. Not sure of you remember when the Pope John Paul II visited Cuba on one speech he mentioned.

    ” Do not be afraid!”

    I think when he said that he was asking the people of Cuba not to be afraid of their government and also to the government not to be afraid of changing. They have been in power by force for so long that is hard for them to change. I sad to hear that people are still afraid. This is the same as when I was there!

  • Good journalism, Kelly. Thanks. Please give us more, especially about what might be good about the Cuban way of life. If a journalist came to the U.S. and only wrote about the negative aspects, it would make the U.S. seem like a complete hell-hole. I doubt that you mean to convey that impression of Cuban society.

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