Writing for Havana Times

By Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES – When people ask me why I don’t write articles anymore, I can only answer: because writing about Cuba is a devastating exercise.

I came across these photos today and understood just how innocent we were when we used to write about the country we wanted, and even tried to build, without thinking that this represented a war.

The photos are of the Havana Times group. We would meet every six months, getting together was a party, having a picnic and discovering every time how much serious conversations get diluted down among Cubans, because everything is tinged with never-ending jokes and laughter.

I haven’t been able to find this common sentiment that unites us, in this kind of unspoken complicity, with people born outside of the island.

I don’t know whether it’s because we live in a tense situation where censorship is accepted as an evil birthright, or whether it’s because of incredible, surrealist solutions, given so many shortages. Or because of the dual condition of expansion and claustrophobia that living surrounded by a deep-blue sea has, whose presence gives us both this simultaneous feeling of hope and tragedy.

I’m looking at these photos and I can count how many have left. I know that displacement is natural in every society, group, family, but this movement is forced in Cuba, imposed because there are no future prospects. So, these photos of the group represent the history of the entire country, of every generation post-1959.

Many leave because of political pressure, knowing that they can’t come back. Others, who don’t have any restrictions on coming back, say that every time they return, things are a lot worse, and they begin to experience a strange break between the mental country they long for and the real one where the dominant belief (passing through resistance and emotional heartbreak) is that there is nothing left to save here.

I can’t put myself in the shoes of somebody who has emigrated no matter how much I’ve experienced exile in some form by the dismantling of my own family, and all the groups I’ve got involved in and developed some sense of belonging. None of them exist anymore, and at least half of their members have chosen exile.

I understand those who see me as if I were stuck on a piece of wood, out at sea, while a storm approaches and everyone around me is on a sturdy boat.

I understand the desperation. On July 11th, all of the utopias that had been naturally gestating among civil society – with spontaneous proposals to restructure an absolutely incompetent system, dysfunctional to the point it affects almost every one of us -, came crashing down in a single blow.

The response has been: NO. For artists, independent journalists, the self-employed, animal rights advocates, the LGBT community, the opposition. We can’t contribute to improving our own society. As a result, we can’t belong. The only right we’re granted is to sit on the sidelines and passively watch the destruction of everything we love, of everything that matters to us.

Being Cuban thus transforms us into carriers of a congenital disease that progressively and sadly eats away at us from the inside.

A general condition that now hangs in the island air. We breath it in and it forms part of the reality we share, just like the landscape, or the weather.

But the question we must ask is: how much sadness can we bear?

Read more of Veronia Vega’s diary here.

16 thoughts on “Writing for Havana Times

  • Hi Circles,
    I’m very much aware of the chronology. I know that Fidel was alive when President Obama visited. I said he was ailing. That means very unwell but still alive.
    I said he was dead when trump took office. This is a fact.
    President Obama was righting a historical wrong. According to him and his advisers, these policies were not aimed at winning over the ailing Fidel Castro.
    They were righting a wrong and aimed at provoking long term gradual change. That’s what he said. He should know. They were his policies.
    The rejection of these policies by trump had everything to do with winning FLA electoral college votes and nothing to do with Fidel Castro’s article. You think trump reads Granma?
    The guy probably doesn’t ever read anything.

  • Hey Nick, just for the record Fidel was very alive when Obama visited Cuba and then Fidel wrote a front page editorial on all the Cuban print media which was read word for word on the TV news several times. This was the original article we published on Fidel’s editorial that effectively closed the doors on Obama’s overture. https://havanatimes.org/news/fidel-castro-breaks-silence-chides-obama/

  • Hey Curt, just for the record here is our article in HT about Fidel setting the tone for greater repression and putting a stop to the opening. https://havanatimes.org/news/fidel-castro-breaks-silence-chides-obama/

    His rejection of Obama’s overtures was discussed in every Communist Party cell in virtually every workplace and neighborhood in the country and the State Security began harassing and interrogating more people. The brakes were put on the opening to new small scale private businesses.
    The added repression didn’t all happen in one day, although we did have a couple of our writers called in almost immediately.

  • Anti Imperialist,
    You clearly failed to understand the rationale behind President Obama’s policies toward Cuba. Here quite clearly had the intention to right a historical wrong. His policies were absolutely in no way whatsoever aimed at provoking any unlikely acquiescence from an ailing Fidel Castro. He stated this quite clearly.
    Why don’t you look into what President Obama said about what he did before you start trying to contradict?
    Fidel Castro was responsible for many things but he was actually dead before tromp assumed presidential office. Therefore it is absurd to try and blame Fidel Castro for trump’s anti Cuba policies.
    The vast overwhelming majority of countries in the world voted against trump’s dirty policies toward Cuba. But you, Anti Imperialist, look for ways to defend them.
    You claim to think that President Obama’s policies were preferable to those of his successor, but then try to blame his successor’s policies on a dead man.
    Why are you are so desperate to blame Cuba or Cubans for U.S. policies?
    Nobody in Cuba is to blame for the twisted U.S. policy toward their country.
    But apologists for these policies will always look for a way to blame Cuba rather than those responsible in the USA.
    Even going to the absurd extreme of trying to blame the dead.

  • Mr Anti Imperialist,
    Raul and Fidel never told Obama to fuck off. Fidel wrote a commentary criticizing Obama. I happened to read it. It wasn’t the most congenial column, but I would hardly call it a total rejection of Obama. The increased oppression you describe didn’t happen until well into the Trump presidency. I saw a very positive environment when I went there in 2016 after Obama’s visit. I stayed in a Casa Particular, not some walled off compound in Varadero. Throughout the relationship between Cuba and the US in the last 60 plus years, repression increased when hostility from the US increased, particularly in the Republican administrations of Reagan,Bush Junior and Trump.

  • Nick, in the past you have often referred to the Obama opening with Cuba in a postive light for the Cuban people you know and have observed. I would agree. You use it as an example of how US policy toward Cuba would be more constructive and better for everyone. I agree. However, you always fail to mention that the Cuban Communist Party, led by Fidel and Raul Castro basically told Obama to fuck off and ratched up the repression against all internal opposition of any kind and made life harder, not easier, for the private entrepreneurs. This was nearly a year before Trump took office and soon after made bad worse. Why do you always fail to mention this in your critique of US foreign policy towards Cuba?

  • Anti Imperialist,
    I don’t blame the USA for everything that goes on in Cuba as you like to suggest.
    Once more we have an example of you taking it upon yourself to try and twist my words in order to make your lame accusations about ‘defending the Diaz Canel regime’.
    I blame the USA for what the USA does. I’m not going to blame anyone else for what the USA does. And I state that these policies are a huge factor regarding what goes on in Cuba.
    Always will be.
    You are an apologist for those US policies which are quite deliberately and quite specifically designed to make things as bad as possible for people in Cuba.
    Why are you so keen to defend these policies which are so overwhelmingly rejected on a regular basis at the UN?
    Why are you so keen to defend trump and the way he bought FLA electoral college votes?

  • Nick it’s too bad you leave out the other half of the events in order to defend the Castro-Diaz Canel regime. You said: “In Cuba there was more optimism than I have ever known. There was a feeling that pages could slowly start to turn.” You are half right. Yes the opening offered to Cuba by Obama was very popular at that time, I’d wager that in March 2016 Obama was far more popular to the average Cuban than Raul Castro.

    But here’s what you conveniently leave out in your never-ending effort to blame the US for Cuba’s problems. That detente and the help for private entrepreneurs and tourism that Obama represented was given a slammed door response from Fidel Castro and replicated throughout the Communist Party and government. Repression on the island against any criticism or independent ideas was then stepped up and has continued ever since.

    Cuba missed the boat because Fidel trashed Obama’s offer, who in Fidel’s logic was trying to destroy his fiefdom but through different means. Then came Trump.

    So the hopeful times you mention came to an abrupt end not because of Trump, who yes, did take advantage to make things worse a full year later.

  • Mr P likes to talk in riddles.
    It just so happens that I like swimming in the sea. Which would seem to derail the riddle-infested hypothesis.
    The thing I don’t get about people such as Mr P is this:
    Under President Obama the policy of the regional superpower toward Cuba was one of detente. He was the first U.S. prez to treat Cuba with any reasonable degree of respect. In Cuba there was a distinct hopefulness that things may change for the better. There was a cautious optimism. The was an increase in U.S. tourism which improved the flow of dollar. Entrepreneurs in Cuba started to see possibilities.
    I have dear friends in Cuba who will attest to this. In Cuba there was more optimism than I have ever known. There was a feeling that pages could slowly start to turn.
    Then along comes the professional brown-nose donald trump who understands that putting the presidential tongue up the a-holes of certain Miami dwellers could win crucial FLA electoral college votes. Then comes the curse of Covid which decimates tourism revenue. These twin factors cause Cuba to undergo an economic collapse. Along comes Biden and does he do anything to alleviate the situation?
    He does nothing. Coz he too needs those FLA electoral college votes like a junkie needs the next hit. So there is a continuance of policies which are quite deliberately and cynically designed to make a bad situation even worse for people in Cuba.
    Obviously, the USA is not the only issue here. Clearly there are serious problems in Cuba. Anyone who knows Cuba, knows that.
    But the warped U.S. policies are most definitely a huge factor. And they are quite deliberately designed to maximise problems in Cuba.
    The likes of Mr P refuse to address this. In fact, they inhabit a world governed by denial.
    They just lick the boots of compromised and gutless U.S. politicians and in between their boot-slobbering, they bleat on about grandiose themes such as ‘freedom’.

    And then the whole sh*t-show goes round in another pointless circle.

  • Nick and Karim obviously disagree with me. Both make the argument often used by people who feel safer swimming in a swimming pool than in the ocean. But a person who really knows how to swim can swim in whatever body of water they find themselves in. A person who really seeks freedom can resist oppression no matter what system they are oppressed by. The key is how bad do they want it.

  • Dan sounds like what I call the petrified left. In that mindset, Cuba has two choices Batista or Fidel and his offspring. No reason for Dan to advance from that. Better to live in the long gone past. There is nothing else in his mentality.

  • If all Cubans had the moral fibre of Veronica, Batista’s great grandson would be president today.

  • Mr Patterson has a skewed version of reality.
    When confronted with the undeniable fact that his beloved country flies in the face of global opinion and continues with its supremacist and imperialist policies toward Cuba, Old Mr P merely trots out the same old excuses that were trotted out years ago by the people who subjugated his forebears.
    In previous comments Mr P has stated that he believes that people of his nationality are inherently more exceptional than the rest of the human race.
    That big old down-stamping boot is on the other foot now Mr P? Isn’t it?
    Mr P, why do are you such a constant apologist for your country’s disgraceful Jack-boot policies toward Cuba?
    Cuba has it’s problems. It most surely does. It’s problems are legion.
    But your gutter dwelling U.S. politicians merely compete with each other as to who can make the problems for Cuban people even worse than they already are.
    All with the dirty, stinking, little objective of securing FLA electoral college votes.
    Mr P, why are you so quick to lick the boots of these disgraceful U.S. politicians?

  • Veronica ends by asking the question: “But the question we must ask is: how much sadness can we bear?” Profound question in light of the daily dire circumstances faced by the majority of Cubans today.

    As an outsider looking in, I think Veronica is very modest when using the descriptive noun: “sadness”. After many years having developed friendships and acquaintances in Cuba a more descriptive, all encompassing word that captures Cuba and ordinary Cubans’ deep underlying sentiment in their hearts and pocketbooks today is: “suffering”. Absolute suffering.

    I don’t think many Cubans would exit their country, abandon their coveted homeland because of sadness in their circumstances though I understand what Veronica is saying. Sadness piled upon more citizen sadness compounded on a daily basis and pounded into parents by a totalitarian state then transmitted to children eats away at the soul, the very core of existence. Daily sadness with no respite from this psychological impediment will eventually lead to hopelessness, a willingness to simply capitulate.

    Citizens leave their country in droves, if that is a motivation, because the situation in the country, any country, is so hopeless and as a result the tremendous psychological and physical pain and stress makes departure a very viable option. And, as Veronica has witnessed many Cubans have exercised their departure destiny and many more are continuing to exercise that option, resources permitting. That is sad, sad indeed.

    Those Cubans like the author and many patriotic Cubans like her who choose to be left behind are seen, to use Veronica’s metaphor, as simply the citizens stuck on a piece of wood, out at sea, while a storm approaches and everyone around them are on a sturdy boat. Sounds hopeless.

    When asked why Veronica does not write any more she replied “. . . because writing about Cuba is a devastating exercise.” It really must be depressing, soul wrenching being a Cuban citizen and having to write about your beloved country which is slowly, or rapidly, depending on whom you believe, transforming before your very eyes into a society that is dysfunctional, destitute, and unlivable for many, many Cuban citizens.

    For artists, independent journalists, the self-employed, animal rights advocates, the LGBT community, the opposition, all want to see political change of the sort that provides a modicum of some freedom of expression. July 11th happened and it was summarily and publicly quashed with severe punishment to the perpetrators. Does one contemplate that same youthful street resistance protest in the future will translate to better results with the present totalitarian government rulers? Don’t know. Didn’t the acclaimed genius Albert Einstein once postulate: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    Again, how much sadness or, more overtly evident, suffering, will Cuban citizens bear before tacit indifference turns to outright overt resistance? Though not comparable in many ways – that is, the battle between Cuban citizens seeking change and Cuba’s dictatorial government – there is a proverbial David and Goliath battle taking place today in Ukraine and David, against insurmountable odds and against a delusional totalitarian dictator, has proven to be strong, courageous, determined in defending its citizens’ goals with tremendous human suffering and lives lost.

    Those Cuban citizens who have the fortitude, the determination, the vision for positive change can take solace in knowing that even a biblical story transformed into reality before the world’s eyes can have residual residence even in Cuba today.

    Cuba’s history shows that prior to 1959 when the majority of Cubans were exploited and had to endure suffering at the hands of a United States puppet dictator – Battista – brave and courageous Cubans – Davids – said enough is enough and the despicable dictator and his followers were eventually sent packing.

    Absolutely, Cubans need to once again, and again, ask: How much are they willing to bear and suffer for a potential Cuba that could be a prosperous, progressive nation. I have no answer. Only resident Cubans can answer.

  • Moses Patterson it’s not that flat of a deal, the US has a more open policy in which bloodshed is avoided, in the case of dictatorships more resources are spent, a lot is lost with a civic march because lives can be lost, it is not only imprisonment, it is impotence. This type of system only leads to terror, to desperation. You can exemplify it to 1800 which was a time when black people were enslaved and discriminated against, they had no way to do anything and even if they did, they did not have the courage to do it. The system of dictatorship in which the Cuban people or the Nicaraguans are governed is ancient. It is not easy to fight against this insecurity in which not even the authorities can be trusted.

  • I have this conversation with my Cuban wife and we never agree except to try to avoid this conversation in the future. She says that I don’t really understand and I say that she doesn’t want to admit that I am right. Here’s the crux of the disagreement. I say that Cuba is not the first country nor Cubans the first people to face oppression. As an African-American man, I have seen vicious, insidious and hateful racism in my country first-hand. My parents grew up in a segregated south. They were denied the right to vote until well into their adulthoods. My mother bears the scars from the bite of a police dog simply because she dared to participate in a nonviolent March. There are thousands of other Negroes in the US who share her story. I say Negroes because my parents shed blood to be called African-Americans. Even so, I have been called Ni**er to my face a number of times. What’s my point? I believe that until Cubans are prepared to suffer as my parents suffered to force their country to change, the Castro dictatorship will stay in control. Paraphrasing the famed Civil Rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer: “…until Cubans are sick and tired of being sick and tired” change will not come. The famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass is quoted that “Power concedes nothing without demand”. Black folks here in the US have made their demands and we are still making them. When will Cubans instigate another July 11? And July 12…July 13? The Castros can’t put everyone in jail.

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