Cuba against Cuba

Veronica Vega

Elian Gonzalez upon returning to Cuba in 2000. Photo:
Elian Gonzalez upon returning to Cuba in 2000. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — From the compilation of Miami broadcasts that people on the island can pick up on banned satellite antennas and dishes, I found a documentary about Elian Gonzalez.

What Cuban doesn’t know that name? Even my son, who was only four years old at the time of that incident, knows the story.

I clearly remember the wave of televised hysteria that erupted when the story broke in 1999. It was impossible not to get involved in the drama.

In a flash, a totally anonymous and innocent child from the provinces became the focus of international attention. He was turned into the object of struggle between two nations.

At least that’s what I thought back then. However, in the documentary it was a big surprise not to see any evidence that Bill Clinton, the then US president, refused or even objected to the return of the child. He merely supported US law. His actions were fair and precise.

Where did this challenge come from that caused Cubans to respond by pulling students out of schools and having them shout slogans in front of the US Interests Section?

It came from the bitter sector of the Miami community made up of émigré Cubans and Cuban-Americans joined into a sudden demand for revenge. Was it for the child who had suffered the clandestine departure, a shipwreck, the death of his mother, and now the scandal? Was it because of the tragedy he sustained when attempting to live in a “free” country?

No, it was about the stigma of exile and uprooting. It was an opportunity to discredit the Cuban revolution, communism, and to redeem the victims who hide those mythical 90 miles between Cuba and USA. It was because politics is perched on human dramas, with their pain, for building legends and statues.

But what got me thinking, what came to my mind as I finished watching the documentary, in insistent flashes, were images of Cubans carrying signs and shouting in the city of Miami, and of Cubans carrying signs and shouting in the cities of Cardenas and Havana.

Like a reflection, it was a screening of Cuba attacking Cuba – and with such anger!

And, as if awakening, I thought that this war that seemed to hang like a shadow over the island has actually been here, and among us.

It was consolidated with political classes, induced accusations, becoming visible in repudiation rallies, acts of piracy between rafters, and conflicts carried out for privileges including microbrigade apartments, telephone lines, positions of responsibility, etc.

It’s exercised by the repair technician who steals parts from your computer, the vendor who waters-down their merchandise, the baker who rigs their scale, the clerk who doesn’t give the correct change, the delinquent who attacks a taxi driver, the “anonymous” masses who accept to take part in “rapid response” harassment.

Why do we need an invading Yankee? The anger and uprooting are not only in Miami. “Homeland is humanity,” said Marti (an aphorism that’s hardly ever mentioned), but we don’t feel ourselves connected to the world, part of that extension of humanity, nor are we able to recognize ourselves as one people.

A Cuban doesn’t stop being Cuban because an arbitrary law snatches away their citizenship. The fibers of identity and nationality are much deeper. In the education we received, we were taught that nationalism is restricted to a subjective and detachable mold (you can call this Fidelism and it has been called Cuban). They didn’t teach us to accept or respect each other. They didn’t strengthen the bases of an objective integrity.

The result, of course, is counterproductive. Except for alternative groups like rappers or reggaeton musicians (who use Cuban insignia to identify themselves), the majority of young people don’t even feel proud to be Cuban.

At least here on the island, they prefer to wear caps or T-shirts with foreign writing on them (right now one can see British flags on handbags, sunglasses, shoes…). The Cuban flag only attracts tourists.

For us to feel united in the excitement of a sporting victory, or to feel nostalgia in exile, isn’t enough. We need unity that takes into consideration our differences and hopes.

Is such a thing possible? I’d like to think so, but when I try to look to the future I can’t see anything.

And it scares me to think that the same anger that made those people in Miami throw objects at the car that recovered Elian is also latent in our streets here in Havana.

It’s exploding right now, fueled by the trick of refraction (left, center, right), by demonization and euphemisms, by mirages of “national security” and distress levels that put us Cubans not hand in hand, but face to face – but we’re only Cubans against Cubans.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

Veronica Vega has 178 posts and counting. See all posts by Veronica Vega

14 thoughts on “Cuba against Cuba

  • Apologies accepted and offered in return.

    The apocolyptic pronouncements of soothsayers and sundry Casandras have always been with us, and always will. Their predictions never come to pass and it’s folly to guide our lives by their fears.

    As you know, I don’t share your faith in this transformative cooperative socialist scheme of yours. Be that as it may. But that you are free promote it, and to the degree that good hearted people pursue it and other similar projects, is all to the good.

    My main objection is not to the idea itself, but to the notion that it, or any other particular scheme, is THE WAY to organize society. People of other creeds can also be patriots. No one ideology has a monopoly on that virtue.

    The genius of liberal democracy is not that this party or that has all the answers. It’s not that it is free of corruption or incompetence; those human traits will always be with as, as well. The advantage is that it is the only system that allows any number of ideas to be attempted, critiqued and modified or combined. Ideas that don’t work are tossed out. Ideas that work are championed. Just as importantly, corrupt or incompetent people are, eventually, hopefully, fired. (not always as quickly as we might like, but at least it happens, unlike other systems).

    So toss your hat in the ring, champion you cause. Perhaps yours or other similar ideas will be part of the mix that muddles forward. But never insist yours is the only way.

  • I apologize for being, or seeming uncivil. And I apologize for classifying you as an American. Congratulations on being a Canadian. You have good reason to be proud.

    In my mind, Griffin, a person in these perilous times, whether American or Canadian, cannot be a real patriot without being a cooperative socialist transformationary.

    This is because–if I am correct–only a world network of cooperative nations, which has broken the power of the monopoly banks and military industrialists, can take hold of the sorry mess we’ve inherited and reverse the lethal destruction of the oceans and environment generally. According to many scientists, we only have a decade or two to accomplish the reversal, and many believe it’s already too late. Cheers.

  • I see no need to pepper your posts with personal insults directed at me. I criticize your ideas, not you. All I ask is the same degree of civility. If you cannot defend your ideas, or counter my critique, calling me a fence-post is not going to help you. On the contrary, anybody can see that for what it is, and admission of defeat.

    Did you say Canada “bestrides the world with a massive military machine”…? That news to me. I had no idea! I’m Canadian, born & raised here. For some peculiar reason you and a few others around here naturally assume anybody who criticizes the Castros must be American. Not so. I know Mexicans, Canadians, French, Colombians, Guyanians, Spaniards and of course, Cubans who criticize Castro. It’s a big club. There is plenty to criticize.

    To be sure, I have plenty of criticism for the USA, and I have posted some here, but I do try to keep to the topic, which is Cuba. So on that note, I condemn the Platt Amendment. I condemn American support for Machado and Batista. I reject the past political movement within the US to annex Cuba. That would have been a terrible tragedy. I am glad it did not happen. The world is a better place with a unique Cuban nation within it. For that same reason, I condemn the Castro dictatorship for smothering that unique Cuban nation under the imported blanket of Soviet Communism (however he modified it for local consumption).

    You ignored my 2nd yes/no question, but when you’re in a full on rant, why stop, eh? But I am curious, why did you give the lead character in your novel the name “Alan West”? Was it out of admiration for the Lt. Colonel and ex-congressman from Florida by that name?

    As for what you describe as my “enormous research capabilities”, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s just me, my internet connection and modest library of books on Cuba. Still I’m flattered.

    You are quite correct, I am indeed a “bitter anti-Communist”. Guilty as charged. That is because I object to all the killing these thugs have done over the past century. I find that is something worth getting embittered over. Your milage may vary, but some here are perfectly fine with it, even eager to carry on that fatal Communist tradition. I don’t count you in that lot and nothing you have written even suggests you are. For the record, I am also an embittered anti-Fascist and an embittered ex-Leafs fan, but that’s a whole other issue.

    My criticism of the Castro boys extends well beyond the “bad dictator” label you mentioned. Go back and reread my posts if you missed it. According to a biography of Fidel I read, he declared that he was indeed a Marxist, but not a Communist, except that he found in the methods and propaganda of the Soviets a system by which he could obtain and hold onto, power. Power. In another time, in another country, Fidel would have been as comfortable as a autocratic monarch or as a jack-booted fascist, which is what his brother is revealing himself to be.

    I recommend you read the blog post I linked to on the “Marxism-Leninism and the New Tax Culture in Cuba” thread. It’s about a new co-operative enterprise, which sadly, has already been co-opted by the rising monopoly mafia.

    I do agree with much, but not all, of your analysis of the errors of the Cuban system as a state-monopoly socialist disaster. That is indeed part of what is wrong with their system. My fear, and I’ve mentioned this before, is that the current leadership is laying the groundwork for a transformation into a new form of exploitative system. The last vestiges of socialism will be dropped and a huge corporate state monopoly is emerging which will assume control of the nation through the organs of state repression built up over the past half-century. We have seen this system before and its name is known.

    Even so, best wishes.

  • So, bottom line, we agree that Elian ought to have been returned to Cuba; and also that the manner in which he was spirited from the Miami house–made necessary I take it by the trenchant resolve of his relatives to hold onto him–was deplorable. Thank you.

    All that other venomous stuff you’ve thrown against the barn, hoping something might stick, seems to be the wild rantings of a bitter anti-communist who even lashes out against social-democratic nationalists in other Latin American countries trying to defend their peoples against imperialism.

    Even so, you’ve challenged me to answer a question, yes or no. The answer is a resounding “No.” But that’s not the end of it.

    The essential question, as I see it, is: Why has the Cuban government run the country in such a way that, ultimately, the economy has seized up and forced many Cubans to leave–in search of what millions of other Latin Americans have sought by coming, legally and illegally, to our shores?

    The answer I give is the pernicious, state monopoly core principle for a socialist socialist society dished up by Marx and Engels, beginning with the absurd Communist Manifesto, chapter two, last two pages. The answer you seem to give, ad nauseam, is that the Castro boys are horrible dictators.

    I answer that question furthermore as a US patriot trying to figure out how to offer my own people a new society, a new republic based on our Constitution, but with a specific Bill of Transformation that will allow us to achieve a workable, non-Marxist form of socialism. (See my book, Hope for the Future: Foundations of the Cooperative Republic Movement, and my short novel A Gladness in the Eyes.)

    You, by contrast, answer the question as someone who–apparently with enormous research capabilities and intensive, professional-level dedication–hurl massive insults and diatribes against anyone and anything that goes against the official State Department line.

    Your whole mindset seems to classify everyone the US government dislikes as a horrible dictator, while your own government bestrides the world with a massive military machine and gets off scot-free from your withering criticism.

    When all is said and done, Griffin, what matters to me as a patriot, and I believe what ought to matter to you, is how we the people, up here in our homeland, can look at the miserable state-monopoly socialist experience in Cuba and other countries–the Soviet Union, et al–and learn how NOT to design our further socialist republic.

    From the standpoint of a patriot and a transformationary socialist, I ought to be furious with the Marxian stupidity of the Cuban experiment in socialism. Perhaps I ought to vent my fury by declaiming against all the seemingly moronic mistakes of the Cuban leadership.

    Why? Because the example they’ve set before our own people is a negative example that discredits socialism, and makes it difficult for someone like me to stand up for a cooperative socialist United States.

    Also, because the Cuban and other socialists who have gotten hold of state power–with an incorrect understand of authentic, workable socialism–have allowed the monopoly banks and military industrialists to enslave and humiliate the world, and bring humankind to the brink of environmental self-destruction.

    But, as they say in Texas, talking to you is like talking to a fence post. Even so, best wishes.

  • Yes. I accept the correctness of the legal decisions taken to return Elian to his father, as they were based on US law and heard in US courts.

    I do object to the manner in which it was carried out. The image of the terrified boy being confronted by an armed US agent is appalling. That should never have happened and both sides (US government and the Miami exile community) share the blame for that.

    Now you tell me, “if you have the guts”, yes or no: Is the Cuban government justified in running the country in such a way that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have felt it necessary to risk their lives escaping?

    If that problem had been corrected, the whole affair of whether Elian should be returned to Cuba or not would never have happened in the first place. Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of Elian’s, along with their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, drowned in the Straits of Florida while trying to escape Cuba. That is the more compelling tragedy that Castro’s apologists, such as yourself, blithely ignore.

    And what of the Tugboat Massacre of 1994? Yes or No: Was the Cuban government justified in how they handled that event, when 41 Cubans including ten “Elians” drowned?

    As for the propaganda war that erupted around this event, both sides contributed to it: the Cuban-American community acted with anger, fear and hysteria, often more about their political & personal feelings against Castro than it was about concern for Elian. That said, many of these exiles arrived in Florida as children themselves during the Pedro Pan airlift. They had arrived expecting their parents would soon follow. But Castro had other plans and deliberately denied permission to many of these parents to leave, thus enforcing family separations. So don’t you trumpet the cause of “familial love” to defend the Castros, if you please.

    Fidel was a genius at maneuvering other people, including enemies, into positions that suited his purposes. He recognized at once how the arrival of Elian in Florida could be manipulated and exploited to provide maximum propaganda value. He counted on the Miami exiles reacting as they did. He too shares responsibility for the cruel events of the Elian affair. More significantly, Fidel is ultimately and solely responsible for the inhuman conditions conditions that drove hundreds of thousand of Cubans to flee his prison island.

    Opposition to Castro’s dictatorship is not a “goose-stepping ritual of worshiping capitalist materialism”, it is based on the defence of fundamental human rights. Your cheap smear conflates liberal democracy with Fascism. Considering that the US military do not goose-step when marching, but the Cuban army does, your comment was a laughable bit of projection, wasn’t it?

  • The only reason he became in Cuba, as you call it, a “propaganda show,” is because the boy was made into a big propaganda show in the United States. It was a simple moral and legal question, but interests in the US blew it up into a goose-stepping ritual of worshiping capitalist materialism over familiar love and the true interests of Elian.

    It’s you and people like you who try to use every opportunity, even an innocent child’s tragic situation, to huff and puff against socialist Cuba.

    Answer one question, yes or no, if you have the guts: “Should Elian have been returned to his father in Cuba?” Yes? or, No?

  • That is not the only question. As for turning Elian into a political prop, consider what the Cuban gov’t has done with him during the legal challenge and after he returned to Cuba. They have made his life one big propaganda show.

  • The question was whether Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba. The answer was, “Yes.” It is you, the US State Department, and the whole Right Wing who wish to shift the focus to the political argument, and use the young boy as a political football. Shame on you.

  • Walter, I have a serious question for you so I hope you take it seriously. What is it that you think we can learn from Cuba?

  • It wasnt a shipwreck, it was a raft-wreck. You ignore the part of the story that began before the raft sank. Why were Elian and his mother on a dangerous raft in the first place? Why did she risk her life to escape Cuba? Why have tens of thousands of other Cubans died trying to flee the island?

    That’s the central issue of the Elian story that the Cuban gov’t would prefer people forget about.

  • Veronica,

    I hope your assertion “They didn’t teach us to accept or respect each other” isn’t universally true. My experience with Cubans there and here in the US is like people from anywhere, all types of people with a wide variety of views on everything including especially the things some of us were warned as children, not to talk about! Politics, religion and money – and in some uptight communities they add sex! But actually when people get to know each other a little, these are some of the most hotly argued subjects.

    So in the spirit of not keeping silent about the forbidden subjects, let me point out that Americans (USA) seldom really agree and have fought many internal and even civil wars. Vietnamese continued to fight among themselves there and in the US for many years. China? How about “Taiwan” and countless secret conflicts. Sure Cuba is still a major focus of conflict with the US, but then it is both much nearer than Vietnam and China, and I might argue Cuba is almost unique in being a threat to the US political agenda – not militarily, but as an example that a poor country can defy the US again and again and retain its independence. There are lots of good reasons the US couldn’t get away with the Libya solution. Read the “Ultimate Sacrifice” by Waldron and Hartmann.

    So I do hope the best of Cuba and the USofA can be shared and violence avoided.

    We the people, have so much to learn from each other.

  • To me, the affair was fairly clear-cut. Elian survived the shipwreck and the death of his mother, and was rescued. His loving father in Cuba wanted him returned. Elian loved his father and wanted to return. Even some of Elian’s relatives living in south Florida were for his return. The law required his return. The US government returned him. End of story.

  • The argument over whether Elian should be returned to Cuba or not tends to ignore the very reason why his mother risked her life on a raft to escape Cuba with her son in the first place. If the government of Cuba was not totalitarian dictatorship, if they respected human rights and freedoms …in short, if Cuba was a normal country, then Elian’s mother, along with tens of thousands of other Cubans, would not have found it necessary to risk their lives in the first place.

    Elian’s story is just one such tragedy. There are thousands of other “Elians” drowned in the cold waters of the Straits of Florida. How many other “Elians” drowned in the Tugboat Massacre of 1994 when a Cuban coastguard boat rammed the vessel dozens of Cubans were attempting to escape on?

    That too was part of the war of Cubans against Cubans.

  • Many pro-Castro commentors to HT will often assert the inconsistent US policy that can maintain ties with Saudi Arabia or China yet reject Cuba. They understandably see the totalitarian leadership in all of these countries as equal yet the US relationship with these countries is very unequal. The Elian case is a perfect example to explain the difference. Only the exiled Cuban community in the US maintains the level of acrimony with the government of their country of birth. Only Cubans work that hard to foster a contrarian view of their homeland. Saudi and Chinese-Americans certainly have their differences but are not even close to the level of anti-government organization that exists from Miami. As a result, otherwise indifferent Americans respond to what information they are given. I remember the Elian case. On the surface, it seemed only natural to send the little boy back to his father. After all, the little guy had seen his mother die and already suffered enough hardships. Yet, played out on evening news was a Cuban community in Miami that venomously protested his return and that marched out experts who claimed what further hardships would befall the child once he returned to Cuba. This was the drama that Americans witnessed. This same level of resistance to normalizing relations with Cuba has served to stymie taking positive steps forward. Add to that the daily anti-US rhetoric that comes out of official Cuban media and you get stalemate.

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