HAVANA TIMES — As a result of Cuba’s recent “presidential transition”, the subject comes up wherever you go and comments were in this tone:
“These people arranged everything to stay where they are, but what about us?” an old man said in a line to buy chicken, “Nothing will improve. Wages won’t go up and prices won’t go down. The whole world is spinning and we continue to be still.”
The tone of his voice and the expression on his face transmitted a profound loss of heart.
Another man agreed and said: “Continue to live the same struggle, day after day. Running about, trying to invent how to fill a plate of food.”
In the ETECSA line, a young woman muttered with an ironic smile: “Change? The collar, right? Because it’s the same dog.”
“This is going to carry on like always,” a neighbor said, “That’s why I’ve already arranged my departure. We’ve got to keep on leaving…” he added with a cutting gesture.
A nurse friend of mine commented with a sigh: “We have been closed in on every front. People here aren’t going to fix anything, everything is just going to continue getting worse. The guy over there (Trump), is closing the doors more and more everyday. We have a sea there, but for what… Now, we really are trapped.”
A relative listening to her remark confirmed every one of her words with an expression of morbid affirmation.
So much resignation stirred something within me. I wanted to at least tell my friend that change is latent and unobstructed in each and every one of us. However, I stopped myself knowing that she is very sick. I know the foundations of her state dependence: living a basic lifestyle, an apartment that has been assigned to her by the public health sector, paid for in decades of self-sacrificing service and silence.
This is a worse fence than the one Trump is imposing, or the recent “transition”, which nobody believes to be a transition towards progress. Implied negotiation of working and intellectual skills, plus the ability to understand and differentiate between what is and what isn’t. And of course, being able to express it.
However, did they really take away our ability to speak our minds and act, or did we give up on exercising it?
I remember that when Fidel Castro passed away and crowds flocked to sign the book of condolences, which was conveniently placed in a local organizations, several people I know admitted they did so because they were coerced by their job or they didn’t want to lose their self-employment license, or young people because they were doing their Military Service and refusing to do so in this case, was unthinkable. A pre-university student told me about his disgust about the way they were led through Jose Marti Memorial, where the post mortem tribute to the leader took place:
“I felt like a cow being led to the slaughterhouse. Guards very rudely told us to turn off our phones and that we couldn’t laugh.”
Others simply signed the book out of precaution. To avoid any problems, “not putting a target on your head” seems to be the most sensible decision. However, problems are just postponed. At some point along our journey as a country, we will clash with others who share its essence.
How have the Cuban people been hypnotized and hold the disastrous belief that we can only be passive witnesses of the damage being made in our society?
Because of our dependence on the omnipresent State, partly, because of a lack of opportunities to prosper, to seek information, and because the time we have in a day is used to keep us in basic survival mode. Partly because attempts to change something were destroyed in the face of bureaucrats’ stubbornness, in the face of the system’s ineffectiveness, which isn’t causal. Partly because even the most trusting discover that complaints become stagnant and repressive forces stop being subtle and start being very noticeable.
Partly because even those who take refuge in the government’s official discourse slowly discover that there is an abyss between words and viable options. And those who continue to cling onto their loyalty to a utopia (thinking that it’s a betrayal to stop believeing), end up trappped in insuperable contradictions, repeating answers that are unable to transform with the dialectics of generations, events and a world moving forward.
Partly because of the solitude that protesting implies as does a handful of individuals taking on the State.
However, if we only observe and remember, we will realize that nothing is static, not even in a country which has suffered the consequences of having an airtight, mistaken and stubborn government; which is tackling historic immaturity, trivialities of the Tropics and the “curse of having water everywhere”.
Two decades ago, having dollars in your posession was a crime. Self-employed workers had far less opportunities to invest and develop. Independent journalism barely existed. People didn’t speak their minds on the street so openly. CDR meetings, accountability meetings, were huge. Today, attendance at these events is a serious problem, the population’s apathy can’t be concealed, representatives don’t have any way of recovering their lost trust. Younger generations don’t believe in a socialist utopia.
As I’m writing, a group of artists are organizing a biennial without any state institutions’ support. Environmentalists and animal defenders are coming together, drawing up strategies to make our environment more healthy without waiting for (or relying on) the support of state entities conceived to deal with these matters. There are alternative magazines which promote cultural and business projects and circulate independently.
If I had told my friend all of this, I know she would have sarcastically asked:
“But, what does that change?”
Because according to her, and the vast majority of Cubans, change implies a significant pay rise, greater food options, filling their wardrobes, being able to move around in their city and country comfortably, being able to pay for a passport, a visa, a trip abroad or a few nights in a national or foreign hotel with their income.
Like the vast majority, she doesn’t think about other freedoms such as freedom of speech, press, creation or association. She doesn’t know, nor does she want to know, that these are the first freedoms we should be defending, as the change for us to demand anything else stems from these.
I made up the rest of this conversation in my head and in this article. I imagined myself telling her:
“Acting with freedom, even in projects which don’t change the country, changes the lives of these people. You can feel trapped and everything seems to be static when you don’t do anything to bring change about.”