Drawing the Line in Cuba

Veronica Vega

Occupied sidewalk. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The timely intervention of a reader in my post “The advantages of being poor (I)“, has triggered a seizure of thoughts in my head. The reader, who signed Octavio Lopez, says:

“The behavior described in the article on the difficulties with rice, is widespread in the population in dealing with deplorable conditions of all kinds that affect their daily existence. That has been the largest and most successful achievement of the ruling elite, having tamed the people, instilling, almost genetically, resignation to the disastrous situation in which it is immersed, without reacting or really doing anything concrete and effective to improve their living conditions, other than leaving the country.”

For starters, I agree with every word of the comment, even though it was not that discernment which led me to write the post. I recognize that irony is a slippery resource that can make us fall where we’d prefer not to.

But now I want to talk about this sensitive issue that people leaving comments (both Cuban and foreign) mention: What have we ordinary Cubans done to get out of this mess? Why don’t we protest the low wages, price gouging, poor product quality, deteriorating education or medical care, lacking public transportation, etc.? Why is the solution still a raft or a visa?

I find it curious (and I don’t mean the reader, Octavio Lopez, because I do not know if he lives in Cuba), that most of the forum participants comment from other countries, but are very lucid in their view of what would work, with concrete proposals, and speak of the need for courage. I have seen this in discussions on Havana Times and other sites like Diario de Cuba, which I also write for.

I assume that from a distance and with free access to information, the picture can be seen much more objectively and solutions seem to apply. However, as in sports predictions, I fear the reality is more complex than what a statistical analysis can provide.

That genetic resignation mentioned by the reader, which is no fatalism, but the consequence of individual and collective selfishness, is very tangible, and manifests itself much more than the rising impulses of nonconformity.

Everyone knows, for example, that complaining about such an overwhelming reality as the exorbitant prices or poor quality of food products is a useless waste of time, and there is no consensus on how to process this general dissatisfaction.

People are neither organized nor care to be. If you try to organize you are stigmatized and isolated, and worse: those who supported you in secret abandon you in public.

There are people who are afraid of losing what they have, but there are also many people who simply are not interested in lifting a finger to support a cause that is not their own, because they have found personal escape routes, or because the price of justice seems too high.

And to top it off, the existing organized groups are fragmented and must deal with government hostility and public indifference.

There are individual complaints that prosper, yes, but in the very long-term and at high moral and physical cost. The “established channels” (ie official), are practically a joke, no wonder people say the “Cuba says,” TV program should be called “Cuba does,” but what still doesn’t exist is an awareness that we can be the doers.

When a collective problem cannot be solved collectively, there is recourse to try the individual solution, or if that’s also not possible, obtain relief from a commentary, a satire … to radicalized politics, or exile. Defying the will of the sea or destiny (individual), is easier, it’s been proven, than getting an entire nation to agree on anything.

However, domestication is not only external, but internal. You can be free from the moment you decide not to cooperate in the things strictly dependent on you; not working for the state, not shouting slogans you don’t feel, not accepting benefits in exchange for political loyalty, not attacking others for their thoughts, expressing your truth in a space like this.

And finally: making adversity a motive to raise awareness is also an individual right, and a way not to cooperate with injustice, at least instead of sinking into total neglect.

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.

13 thoughts on “Drawing the Line in Cuba

  • A friend of mine who is a specialist in Afro-American music and culture told me that he wasn’t highly rated as a singer because he sang too much like Mr Charlie. Though he was certainly highly rated and made an impression in Wales.

  • Oh but a few hundred Cubans are standing up to the regime and have been doing so for decades. The result is always the same. The regime crushes them. There is no media coverage, no help from anybody. They remain alone.

    Again, I insist your comparison is unfair to Cubans and minimizes the power of the totalitarian regime which rules over them.

    Martin Luther King Jr was murdered by a lone career criminal with a deep racial hatred. He had no connection with the US government.

    Who murdered Oswaldo Paya, Orlando Zapata and Laura Pollan?

  • I don’t know what Moses’ opinion on Robeson is, but my impression is that Robeson seriously handicapped his impact with Americans by his close and uncritical embrace of Stalin’s USSR. Whatever the racial problems in America he spoke out against, his moral standing was seriously and fatally undermined by his wilful blindness toward Stalin’s Terror.

  • To say nothing of his sonorous baritone voice. On the contrary, he is highly regarded by the African-American community.

  • Moses, can you explain to me why the black population of the US fail to recognize the incredible courage shown by Paul Robeson. He after all was pursuing their cause prior to the Second World War. He following the lynching of four young black men in the south proposed to Harry Truman that he should introduce anti-lynching law – to be told: “Its not the right time yet. In 1950 Robeson when addressing the United Nations accused the US of genocide. I had the privilege of seeing and hearing him in Europe in 1948. Following his return to the US the state department took away his passport because the government did not think it was good for the US to have him speaking in other countries. Martin Luther King was a child. Recognition of Roibeson’s pioneer role would not detract from King’s leadership role.

  • Your comment is correct. However, you fail to include the reality that none of these additional ‘resources’ were available in the early days of the civil rights struggle. In the early and mid-fifties, led by small church pastors and local community groups, the civil rights movement began. Only AFTER church bombings, suspicious disappearances and the murder of local civil rights workers did the national press, celebrities and northerners begin to pay attention. What I am suggesting is that if Cubans were to coalesce behind a unified ‘Martin Luther King’-leadership and show some home-grown desire to resist the Castro tyranny, I have no doubt that an international support infrastructure would emerge. But, first, Cubans must stand up on their own.

  • Not to take anything away from the courage and dignity of African-American civil rights marchers, the comparison to Cuba ignores several significant differences.

    In the US, civil rights activists had allies in the media, in politics, internationally, in churches and among national celebrities & intellectuals.

    In Cuba, the people have been so thoroughly cut off from each other, they have no allies in the struggle against the dictatorship. The media is controlled by the regime, which is why they abuse the modest efforts of Yoani Sanchez to publish an independent blog.

    There are certainly no allies for the dissidents among the political class, the churches are largely silent, and internationally, the artists, celebrities and intellectuals are far more likely to parrot the regime propaganda than they are to support the dissidents.

    The Freedom Marchers in America were photographed and lauded on the cover of Life magazine, their rallies made headline news. In Cuba, the dissidents are attacked & arrested and jailed alone & isolated.

  • Moses, many of the correspondents are theoretical socialists – like the UKs Fabians. To them the matter is of academic debate. You and I being fortunate enough to be married to Cubanas know the reality of Castro “Socialismo”. We know that racism is rife in Cuba -the Constitution is meaningless. But to answer your question – having posed the same one to myself for several years, Cubans are afraid because they have been controlled by “el poder” for all their lives and being an island they have no neighbours. When the USSR Empire imploded, East Germany was amongst the many countries liberated. A business friend of mine with his factory about 1 hour south of Hamburg, decided to build a new plant in the former East Germany to contribute to its redevelopment. I had the pleasure of visiting it only five weeks after it opened. He had decided to employ East Germans but found a problem because they found it difficult to take decisions. This was a consequence of always being controlled from above by the faceless and unwilling to hold open discussion because like Cubans being subject to the CDR, they had been subject to the Stasi.
    In conversation with a young Cuban who had graduated in English, he said to me that his grandparents had experienced sufficient bloodshed during the revolution and that: “We can wait, we don’t want to see more bloodshed”. You have mentioned the courage of Yoani Sanchez and the Ladies in White. But demonstration is illegal and so is the ownership of arms. The CDR is a reality, the Communist Party is a reality. Cubans ask themselves: “Who can I trust, who can I talk to?”
    The walls have ears and dissidents go to rot in jail.

  • just another Caribbean country with little will to change . where is your arab spring.

  • While it may be convenient for you to parrot the regime’s talking points, the fact is that the US embargo has nothing to do with Cubans unnatural fear to speak out for themselves. Cubans still stroke their chins to imply Fidel instead of speaking his name out loud. He is 86 years old and wears diapers. Why be afraid to say his name at this point?

  • The problem is over 50 years of unjust sanctions from the US . Even though 67 % of Cubans were not even born at the time of the revolution.

  • Excellent article….. great insight….

  • The elephant in the room is the question “Are Cubans guilty of cowardice?” To a great degree, the answer is yes. Despite the different circumstances, as an African-American, I can best draw upon the experience of the African-American over hundreds of years in the face of bitter and unrelenting racism in the US. Yet, time and again, African-Americans, at the risk of their very lives, chose to confront their racist oppressors. Cubans seem sheep-like in their acceptance of the Castros tyranny, preferring to take their chances with the sharks in the Florida straits. My mother (and my dad) marched on Selma in 1965 and faced police dogs and fire hoses. At 5’2″ and 125 lbs, my mom showed more courage than countless Cuban men who bow and scrape under the heel of the Castro regime. How sad is it that among the greatest risk-takers are the Ladies in White and Yoani Sanchez?

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