HAVANA TIMES — Abraham Ortiz is a Cuban who has lived the last year and a half in Spain. In his first visit back to the island he shares with us his perceptions of life across the Atlantic and here in Cuba. Today we bring you part two of his interview with HT.
HT: Yesterday you said that you are helping the director of a documentary about censorship and he asked for “images of other dictators.” Do you mean there’s a dictatorship in Cuba?
Abraham: Yes, when a president holds power for so long there’s a dictatorship. I once heard Fidel say he didn’t believe that talent was exceptional, that there could be many Nicolas Guillens or many, many Beethovens. I wondered if there could be many Fidels. His hold on power contradicts his words.
HT: But Fidel is no longer in power.
Abraham: How is it that a president can fall sick and tell his brother “hold onto to this for me for a second” and “keep on pitching,” as if our country were a ball? Why not let the people choose?
HT: What do you think of the measures taken by Raul Castro so that Cubans can buy and sell their homes and cars? And what about his immigration reforms?
Abraham: I think they were a long time in coming. This is what happens when one person thinks for the whole country.
HT: If your wife stays outside of Spain for two years, will the government consider her as having emigrated?
Abraham: No. But here the policy was based on the perception that those who left the country were traitors. That perception hasn’t changed in the roots of the thought of those who run this country. They feel that they educated you, clothed you and fed you, and therefore you owe them.
HT: Isn’t it true that we don’t have to pay for education or medical care? Isn’t it fair to expect repayment?
Abraham: Yes, but the state has to pay you when you work, but it doesn’t. That’s why we have the saying, “They act like they pay you, and we act like we work.” You can invent an earthshaking device and you’ll go unnoticed. What doesn’t go unnoticed is that the government educated you, although it really didn’t invest that much in you anyway.
By keeping everyone poor, they can hoard the wealth of the country and then give people trinkets one day to placate them. Under socialism people are treated like children. It’s like the parent that takes care of a child all their life and then says: “If you walk out that door, don’t come back” or “if you go, I’ll disown you.”
That’s what they did to people who left here. It was a position of: “If you go, I’m going to take your house.” They had to change because the economy isn’t holding up. At customs, they just charged me 440 CUCs (about $500 USD), and my wife 50 CUCs. Do you know how many monthly salaries they can pay people here with that?
This is how they can continue justifying their illusory expenses. They can manage the country’s wealth as they please. At one point they decided that it was fashionable to have social workers, so they created an army of them. It’s not profitable, yet Cuba has more social workers than anyone. And since the “government,” “revolution” and “Fidel” are synonymous, he gets the credit. Do you know of any institution in Cuba that wasn’t created by him? It’s not possible for one person to think for a whole country for 50 years.
HT: How do you see the future of Cuba?
Abraham: I think it’s going to have to hurry up. I think the generation between 35 and their 40’s is the better prepared, but they’re wearing down. They’re underutilized. They’re not evolving. I always have optimistic thoughts and I think the country can do well in the future, but we need to hurry. We have to get rid of a lot of the old guys who are running things.
HT: And maintain a single political party?
Abraham: No. I think the situation should evolve to where there exist more political parties, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves with the multiparty system. A country with twenty-four parties that are stealing and lying doesn’t develop. There should be two or three, maybe four. I think we should get rid of Raul or Fidel.
HT: But Fidel longer counts.
Abraham: Many people say that investment in Cuba won’t take place until he disappears. It’s a psychological question. He’s like a father figure. Socialism is based on the manufacturing of icons to manipulate reality.
When I thanked Abraham, thinking we had ended the interview, he reminded me that we hadn’t talked about culture.
Abraham: There’s no culture. We’ve reduced the concept to music and dance to entertain people. Those who think the design of a cellphone or a computer or a city isn’t culture, are being left holding the bag. Culture is to learn and to put what you’ve learned to the service of others.
HT: You’re saying there’s no culture in a country where the admission to a movie costs four cents (USD) and a ticket to the ballet costs a dime. Right now the international ballet festival is underway and that only cost 90 cents (USD). Everyone here has access to culture.
Abraham: Here people have access to part of the culture, to what the government wants you to have access to. But do you have all your needs met and are also able to go to the movies and the ballet? Can you buy a computer, a television? How’s the furniture in your house?
HT: How often do you go to the movies, the ballet or the theater in Spain?
Abraham: Those are very expensive. But here in Cuba you do those things at the expense of not being able to buy a computer, having broken furniture and not having any shoes.
HT: In any case, I can’t address those problems with the money it costs to go to the ballet or see a movie, which is very little.
Abraham: That’s what I told you earlier: they keep you poor and manipulate the wealth that you get.
HT: Which is to say I’m poor but educated.
Abraham: It’s like the noni fruit. They overestimate it to you and then tell you, “I’m not going to give you any meat, but I’ll give noni.” It’s another trinket for people’s diversion. When you have enough money to go on a Caribbean cruise, I’ll see if you prefer the film festival. Those guaranteed benefits you have come at the cost of everything you sacrifice.
HT: Do you feel you have guaranteed benefits in Spain?
Abraham: Yes, people live perfectly fine. The society is designed to make the individual mindless.
HT: Isn’t that a contradiction?
Abraham: For us, dumbing down is bad because we have a certain cultural level, but 80 percent of the population feels good that way. We can’t impose our assumptions on others. There are people who aren’t interested in Swan Lake. It’s all the same to these people if that bird drowns or the lake dry up.
HT: Someone who has been dumbed down is easier to exploit and dehumanize?
Abraham: From my perspective, yes. But most people feel good and have the right to choose.
HT: Here I choose to go to the theater and ballet.
Abraham: You think that you chose within the universe of options but they have chosen for you. They take away your access to a lot of things, but they leave you with those trinkets: the cinema, ballet, Tropicana. It’s not so bad. Moreover, it’s easy to charge a dime to go to the cinema when they don’t pay for the films.
HT: What’s left of your dream of becoming a writer?
Abraham: I wrote a lot when I arrived in Spain, stories and even a book of poems. But there it’s not like here. If you’re not working in Cuba, you start writing, and literature serves as therapy. There, you have to pay the bills or they’ll take the house. If you have to give up writing, you give it up. But I do want to get back into writing when I return to Spain.