By Erasmo Calzadilla
HAVANA TIMES, April 19 – For as long as I can remember, my friends have been trying to leave and not come back. Some have left for another world, though most have looked toward distant countries. Almost everybody in my circle from university has now left, except for two of us. That’s why they call me an exception to the rule.
It’s been a while since any of those who left have insisted, invited or offered me their help in trying to leave, since it seems like a divine power is holding me in this country. Several embassies denied me a visa, so I finally quit living with the perpetual anguish of someone who tries to emigrate but never succeeds.
My old friends and I write to each other less frequently, but when they come back one day, I’ll torment them with the question about their return. Almost all of them are crazy about coming back to Cuba for good, but they’re postponing any definitive return for when the conditions that compelled them leave Cuba have changed. Apparently, that’s not happened yet.
With so many having left and not returned, I would have been left “home alone” a long time ago if my profession as a professor didn’t annually supply me with new friends, who in turn see their friends fly off. Recently I met and was delighted by one of those transoceanic travelers. This time it was a friend of a friend; he had decided to take a short vacation in his native country before returning to face the exhausting rhythm of capitalism.
Luis Miguel is under 20, and looks it, but when he speaks he seems older. After having chatted for a good while, and taking advantage of the fact that he was born among us, I proposed that he respond to a few questions for this publication. He consented, and without making me have to beg.
When did you leave Cuba and where did you go?
I left for Spain, which is where I live now. That was this past April, almost one year ago, but this is the second time I’ve been back.
What did you do in Cuba before leaving?
Well, before going, I was focused on studying programming, not in a school, but on my own. I also spent time philosophizing with close friends. From time to time I also gave computer classes, installed programs, fixed PCs… those types of things.
… to make a living?
No, nothing like that. It was totally free; knowledge is to be shared.
So how did you make a living then?
My parents supported me, so I lived like a king. Nonetheless, they insisted that I charge when I fixed a computer for anybody, but I didn’t. I’m like a communist.
Seriously? A communist of Karl Marx?
Nooo, a communist of the community. I don’t like to identify communism -as it’s applied here- with Marxism. Here they impose things on people, things that should be socialized.
Luis Miguel, there must be very few youth in Cuba who think like you. Where did you get these ideas? Did you learn them over there (in Spain)?
No. No way. They come from my nature compadre. I already had them before I left.
And when did you begin to be like this?
When I began to wake up. I was always this way, but I did it consciously when I began to wake up, and that happened when I met “Friqui” (A Cuban word for hippy), a guy from the neighborhood who taught me how to play chess, how to program, and who lent me my first philosophy books. I remember they were something of Schopenhauer. Because of all that, I kiddingly and affectionately called him “maestro,” though he’s never been a teacher at any school.
Was there anything that bothered you in Cuba and made you feel like leaving? Did you like Cuba before leaving?
I like being here a lot asere (the Cuban equivalent of “bro” or “pal”), and wouldn’t have left for anything in the world if it hadn’t been for “the green” (military service).
What problem did you have with “the green”?
Well, I don’t like the military for a number of basic reasons, like you have to be away from home, putting up, you have to obey the orders of a superior, but mainly because I don’t like militarization.
Don’t you think that a country has to have a military to defend itself, even more if it lies near the United States and doesn’t have good relations with that country?
Militarization is manipulation to maintain power, if you don’t prepare for war, there won’t be war.
What idea did you have of Spain before you left?
It was just like I imagined; I really didn’t have any illusions. If there was anything that surprised me it was the architecture, and especially people’s what-do-I-care attitude, whereby you have your ways and I have mine, so let’s just do our own thing.
But that system is surely not very communal?
It’s not a Stalinist communal system, but it is communal.
I always heard that there are societies where people live locked in their own world, which has nothing to do with being communal?
However, I felt much of the same sense of solidarity there. People here in Cuba exaggerate the notion of individuals being selfish in capitalist societies. What’s even worse is that here -with our history of solidarity- everybody meddles in your life.
What are you doing there now?
Before this trip, I was working in a factory that built agricultural instruments, where it was stressful because I worked a lot of hours, although I hope that it won’t always be like that.
So you can’t live like a king anymore?
No, not at all.
Before the interview began, you told me that once you put up a poster of the hammer and sickle at your job? Why did you do that?
Because I’m a communist and I’m against capitalism.
Did anyone say anything to you? Did you get in trouble for doing that?
Yeah, the workers told me to take it down. They said I was looking for problems. They identify such symbols with all the bad things that were done in socialist countries.
So the people in your factory were not communists?
Yeah, one out of the twenty workers.
As for your studies, have you been able to continue them somehow?
Yeah, in my free time and on my own, but at the price of spending all my free time on them.
Do you believe that you can work your way into a career as an information technology professional?
Sure, I’ve always aimed at that. In fact I’ve already been accepted at one place, but I have a lot of conditions. I especially will not let them exploit me with a low wage.
Luis Miguel, now you know how life is in other countries and you can better compare them. Has that caused you to change any of your points of view toward Cuba?
No, absolutely not. They continue to be the same.
Have you thought of returning permanently?
Yeah, at some point I will, but the issue is “the green” (the military). If I return I’ll have to go to battle to try not to serve and that’s not an easy struggle.
But if you wanted to -let’s say you thought about it and decided to go ahead and perform your military service- could you return to your country with no problems?
Yeah, but I’d have to be repatriated.
What does that mean?
When you go live in another country on your own, and not as a tourist, you have to give up your legal address in Cuba. So to return you need to have someone who will let you live with them.
You also have to clearly explain the reasons why you left initially. You have to convince the immigration people to allow you back into your own country.
In addition, I think you can’t leave again for another five years.
Have you been able to make new friends over there?
No, nor do I want to, but I don’t know why. I don’t have an explanation for that, though it’s not easy to be alone in a country that’s not your own.
When will you return to Cuba again?
I’ll try to do it as soon as possible, and then one of these girls here will drive me crazy and I’ll never leave again.