I don’t get mixed up in politics

Veronica Vega

Photo: Doug Haight

HAVANA TIMES — Not getting mixed up in politics is a premise of the majority of citizens in any society. Because ordinary citizens only aspire to live within a social framework that works the best it can, not relying on their active participation.

Cuba isn’t an exception to this rule, in fact, it takes it to the extreme instead. Politics is a scabrous subject which borders on paranoia and the absurd.

Parents warn their children when they are very young, about what they can and can’t say in public, and this becomes a biological reflex. It’s automatic, like a second instinct for survival.

However, the surreal thing is that political indifference entails not disagreeing (in public), while the Cuban people scrupulously take part in rituals to exhibit their political loyalty to the government. That these only reinforce administrative ineffectiveness and the neglect of the population doesn’t matter.

We live surrounded by slogans, by a hyper-politicized media. Photos of war heroes can be seen in a Communist Party building just as they can be seen in a factory; Marti busts pop up where you least expect them. Che and Fidel’s faces have even been drawn in parks with WIFI hotspots.

Children who are learning how to identify colors and shapes, are already memorizing Fidel Castro’s Concept of the Revolution. As well as the “I want to be like Che” which children repeat like robots at schools, they now also say (with the same lack of will and conscience): “I am Fidel.”

In fact, these “pioneers” are only pioneers because they go to school They will become CDR (Committees in Defense of the Revolution) members as soon as they turn 16 years old without first being asked whether they agree to this. The same thing happens with teenage girls and the FMC (Federation of Cuban Women). A worker parades at the May 1st March carrying a poster given to them by their workplace and candidly says: “I don’t get mixed up in politics.”

After Fidel’s distressing phrase “with the Revolution, everything; outside of the Revolution, nothing,” “apolitical” artists weeded any trace of criticism against the system from their work. And this tension can still be felt today and even within Cuba’s counter-culture.

On the internal digital network that links up Havana’s municipalities (SNET), there are two strict norms to abide to and if the user violates these, they are banned from using the service: zero politics or pornography. Nonetheless, the network joined in with the postmortem tribute to the Revolution’s Commander-in-Chief.

Given the fact that nearly everything is wired the opposite here in Cuba when compared to the logical order of things anywhere else in the world, this is not getting mixed up in politics, it’s the opposite in fact. Because not publishing the news about the leader’s death and using sad official language, would be exactly the same as running into political problems. That is to say, the network’s existence was on the line.

I remember when several HT colleagues met up one day at a friend’s house and we were talking about the situation on the island, criticizing it naturally. The host, a Cuban who lives abroad, interrupted us several times stressing the fact that he thought the same way we did, but that it didn’t do us any good to talk about politics so much because that’s how we make “them” (that is to say, the government) happy.

Photo: Franco Cariño

Another person in the group responded: “The problem is precisely the opposite: we need to be talking about politics even more.” I thought he was right then.

Today, I continue to think he is, but at the same time, I understand the host’s argument better now. Talking about politics so much, even if it is to shake off the gag we’ve had tied on for half a century, the molds of indoctrination, induced confusion, is the same thing as not being free.

Of course, debates like this one being public and safe for anyone, no matter what they say, is much-needed, filled with passion instead of fear.

Even if we are separated (voluntarily, unconsciously or tacitly) by ideologies and labels. We need politics (read here dissent) to not be a taboo anymore. We need to overcome guilt. The complex of hurting or being hurt just for expressing an idea.

Finally reaching a time when politics is just another subject of conversation. As natural as talking about film or baseball. However, first debating everything that has been prohibited over these years is inevitable. With or without hate, with or without anger.

Until we accept that something as basic as thinking isn’t a right given to us by any system, but an innate gift that we have because we exist. And disagreeing is the natural expression of the diversity of this thought.

The moral assassination that Hannah Arendt speaks of is never dull, because it was the reason for the Nazi Holocaust and the paralysis of civil society and, as a result, human progress.