To Leave or Not to Leave Cuba

Verónica Vega

To leave or not to leave. Illustration by Yasser Castellanos
To leave or not to leave. Illustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — In a conversation we had between the many of us who write for Havana Times, somebody brought up the topic of choosing to emigrate and the editor said that it would be a good subject for us to discuss: whether we would leave or not, and why.

I thought a good title for the piece would be “Why I still haven’t left Cuba”, as it seems to make more and more sense that definitive emigration appears on the Cuban agenda.

And, I remembered a more or less recent visit to a friend of mine. My friend, an excellent carpenter, told me that he was in the process of applying for his Spanish citizenship and that when he’d finally receive his “freedom pass”, he’d try and explore the options of taking his wife and daughter too.

This took me by surprise as he’d always displayed a genuine interest in the Island’s future, and he’d even considered the possibility of collaborating with one project or another, which were founded with the aim to promote openness, diversity, dialogue, consensus… everything necessary to bring about real change.

Another friend was there too, a former classmate from my son’s preuniversity course. When the host discovered that this young man’s mother was living in Europe and that the rest of his family was living in the United States, he naturally asked him when he would leave. The young man replied: “I don’t really intend to leave; I want to study here and do something, whatever is within my reach, for Cuba”.

My friend reacted with more emotion than surprise and said: “If only I could be surrounded by people like you”.

He then went on to tell us about his daily contact with customers, people who were becoming well-to-do, only focussed on material goods, and he’d come to the conclusion that any mental future should start with exile.

I understood at once as my friends from the 80s and 90s had emigrated, and my new friends have slowly (and continue) to disappear. However, meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think about my other friend’s remark, an ex-diplomat, who had just about travelled the world over: “Some people leave not because they want to live better, but because they want to eat better, which is something entirely different”.

I found myself asking how much such a general and ingrained opinion can influence our appreciation of reality, and whether this certain “exile syndrome”, to give it a name, is contagious. Unleashing a stampede, like what happens when a crowd is informed of imminent danger.

Even the fact that we limit ourselves to either staying or leaving is indicative of the limits inherent to our condition, because people from the first world travel the world over, they move here and there without the traumas we suffer. They have the advantage of being able to use technology to communicate with their families, nobody labels them “stateless”, they don’t run the risk of losing their citizenship nor inherited property. Moving from one place to another is a part of their culture, since they were children.

But, in regard to this very Cuban dilemma, I have heard extremely radical opinions like that of someone I know, who is married to a foreigner: “Everybody should leave, especially young people”.

I didn’t even bother to ask him how an entire country ending up deserted could possibly be the solution. I just thought about how individual life is for everyone, and about how we don’t stop living, no matter where we are. Extreme circumstances can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out their best, like what happened with Nelson Mandela when he spent many years in prison.

I believe that in this vast physical and mental universe in which we exist, everybody finds what they need for their own personal development. Bearing in mind the fact that we aren’t even fully conscious of the present we’re living, as thoughts about what we did or what we’ll do always occupy our mind, always between hope and memory. We perceive and value the world through a filter created by the subconscious accumulation of personal experiences.

A French filmmaker conducted an interview with a Cuban poet and a performance artist. He said on-screen: “When I told people in Miami that I had been free in Cuba they didn’t believe me, but it’s the truth.”

I told him I believed him. Like everything we go in pursuit of outside (peace, balance, happiness?), only to discover that they are only shadows, reflections, illusions, freedom is an inner state of being, which however doesn’t stop the struggle for greater legal rights in a society which needs it urgently, like Cuba.

But, why are we, condemned to separation and confrontation for decades, going to reduce something so immense, volatile and prodigious as our existence, to a simple Manichean equation?

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9 thoughts on “To Leave or Not to Leave Cuba

  • Moses or whatever your name actually is, wake up and smell the roses of reality, people nwant and expect a change!.

  • Who told you the Cuban “electorate” had the power to Change anything?

  • “Throw out the Americans from G.Bay”. Really? Despite the fact that the US has a legal right of use to that base. Besides, not to overstate the obvious, but who exactly do you mean when you say “throw out….”?

  • Let the real cuban people decide their future. Throw out the Americans from G.Bay. Start afresh, never mind what has taken place in the distant and recent past. Write a new chapter in Cuban history and look forward not backwards at what was but look forward to what the Cuban people working together could achieve. and will achieve. Cut loose from all these hangers on and make your own future. Remember history is consigned to the past, start afresh one new nation.

  • Get a cruise ship job. In 2016 – 27 new cruise ships will hit the water. The average full time cruise worker earns US $ 40,000.00 a year. The newest Carnival cruise ship will have a Havana theme.
    Merry Christmas to all from Gordon ” Cubaking ” – Michel ” ThunderKing ” – Angelica ” CubaQueen ” Robinson – Port Alberni B.C. Canada and Guardavalaca Holguin Cuba
    [email protected]

  • ‘they wish to keep the Cuban people in relative poverty ”
    The U.S. government has maintained an economically crushing embargo on Cuba for 54 years FYI.
    The purpose of the embargo was to impoverish the entire population of the island to the point that they would overthrow the revolution. The embargo succeeded only in impoverishing the entire population as you are seeing it today.
    The embargo is being maintained for the same purpose as when it was first put in place.
    The real sad news for you is that the Cuban electorate shows no signs of considering much change in who runs the country and how.
    Its people like you, ignorant of actual U.S. foreign policy who want Cuba to change back to the way things were .
    The “new guard” will have the same outlook as the “old guard”
    That’s in large part due to the fact that Fidel was a superb teacher of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. intentions around the world.
    You should try reading ” Killing Hope” if you have the stomach for it and gain an understanding of real history. Visit the website and read the introduction to the book….if you can. . .

  • The old guard will be departing shortly. They could show decency by helping the transition but they fear the end. Only Raul seems brave enough to show some pragmatism, openly.

  • Excllent reflection….

  • A lot of young Cubans do not hold the same views as their elder statesmen, these young people want the opportunity to shape the future of Cuba, however the old guard do not wish to relinquish power, they wish to keep the Cuban people in relative poverty. I would urge the old guard to relinquish power as soon as they possibly can and let the new generation of Cubans plan and shape their future.

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