Cuba, a Provisional Country

Ernesto Pérez Chang

55 anniversary. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Of the feelings that assail most Cubans today when they confront our country’s harsh, everyday reality, one of the most devastating, in every sense of the word, is the feeling of transience.

No matter where you are, it isn’t hard to come upon people of different ages talking about their vision of the future, where Cuba figures simply as the country they had the terrible misfortune of being born in and the place they must get out of as soon as possible.

There is no longer any room for the doubts that, in a somewhat distant past, retained previous generations of Cubans, who set their hopes in the promise of positive change in the relationship between political power and citizens.

Alarmed by the constant failures of a system that, in their eyes, trampled the most intimate aspirations of their parents and grandparents, few are those who freely opt to remain in the country, feeling that it demands an immense commitment in exchange for a personal existence fraught with restrictions and that it forces them to adopt veritable strategies of duplicity, of sheer survival.

For such people, the world becomes a zone of repression and self-repression, torn apart by the constant pressure between what one wants to be and what one has to be, a world caught between desire and convenience, beclouded by the devastating certainty that one is going nowhere.

Born of similar feelings – disenchantment, hopelessness, apathy – the sense of transience is one of the many passive resistance strategies people use to adapt to a system with which they publicly or privately disagree.

The commonplaces we hear almost everyone repeat, phrases such as “when I get out of here”, “the day I manage to leave the country”, “things are different abroad”, “things are impossible in Cuba”, “don’t forget we’re in Cuba, kiddo”, “you’ll have to leave the country to get anywhere”, join the chorus of similar pronouncements by those who continue to age and are convinced Cuba’s problems cannot be solved as long as ideological commitments and the government’s obstinacy prevail over common sense and curtail the political freedoms of citizens.

The only prospect for change, at the personal or family level, that those who have been invaded by the sense of transience see, entails giving up on the idea of living in the place of their birth and seeking a means of escape or an act of salvation. It is frightening to see how these attitudes become generalized, but it is far more disquieting to realize they are not an option people choose but the reaction of people who feel cornered.

A closed area for self employed venders. Foto: Juan Suarez

It is not a choice between Cuba’s “supervised freedoms” and the freedoms felt to exist in a place beyond the seas. It is a question of ending a protracted and senseless imprisonment, through the possibility of choosing which they have been denied through pretexts of every kind.

A possibility, to be sure, which presupposes that a veritable financial miracle will grace their lives. Before, the sense of transience consisted in the idea of leaving only for a while, so as to return after favorable political changes had taken place. Now, the feeling is a final and definitive decision, the radical determination of people who, on seeing the doors of their country close behind their backs, feel that they are putting behind a prison term and that the time has come to bury the past deep in the ground, in order, perhaps, to resurface like a human being and not as the cog in the machine of a failed social experiment with no apparent end in sight.

Seen through the prism of our feelings of transience, the idea of returning to the place of our birth will always be associated to the innumerable, negative images of our past and, above all else, to the fear of once again enduring isolation and the compunction to renounce, once and for all, to the personal freedoms secured elsewhere, so as to be condemned to a life of survival, endurance and silence. Such fears can take hold of any human being, whether they have lived in Cuba or not – it is the fear of voluntarily submitting oneself to a world of nightmares or, worse still, to a world of death.

To a considerable extent, the place of our birth is a place where phrases such as “this is forbidden”, “don’t say that”, “you best keep quiet”, “don’t work yourself up” and “not now” resonate. The feeling of impossibility slowly delineates the contours of our personal space, to the point that our individuality degenerates into submission and our aspirations for personal realization are displaced and postponed.

Most Cubans sense this reality and, denied the possibility of revolt, of disobedience, live in a provisional, transitory world. Everything, from family to friends, from the country as a whole to one’s personal belongings, culture, language, ideology – everything is fleeting for those who await the moment in which the country of their birth will disappear irreversibly on the horizon.

If they ever return, it would be to find that other unfamiliar and artificial place they were once denied, the country in the glass display they saw, not only in tourism magazines, but in official speeches as well. The country they dreamed of living in and enjoying, provided their feelings of transience didn’t make them blot out that brightly-colored abomination, manufactured, not to sustain the economy, but to sell the world the image of a Cuba inaccessible to those devoid of financial means, that is, to the majority.

On the balcony. Photo: Juan Suarez

A while ago, I ran into a high school friend. I hadn’t seen him in more than twenty years. After giving him a hug, I asked him the customary questions: how he was doing and where he had been. He glossed over more than two decades of his life in a few minutes.

He’d worked very hard, he’d “struggled”, he told me, and only needed a bit more money to leave the country “for good”, as he stressed with boundless joy. I asked him if he had other plans, if he’d gotten married and had children. He replied only with a smile, as though the answer to the question was just too obvious.

I understood, particularly when he told me the story of his many let-downs again, that now his mind was set on leaving the country, to be able to do what he has postponed doing for so long.

“Here, you accomplish very little, maybe nothing, hell, you know,” he told me, ending his verdict with these words: “Cuba is a provisional country, bro.”

The words have been going around my mind for days, robbing me of sleep. My friend has the same age I do: forty-two.


11 thoughts on “Cuba, a Provisional Country

  • January 13, 2014 at 10:43 am
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    The technologically-led future which I ( and others) foresee will eliminate totalitarian capitalism ,eliminate the totalitarian oligarchic government form we now have and replace it with direct democracy made entirely possible by the universally available smart-phones, home computers and those available at places like public libraries.
    I say shoot your radio because your thinking parrots that of the right-wing radio entertainers and because that expression is popularly used on bumper stickers that advocate shooting your TV .
    Your thinking seems tied to that which is widely accepted, i.e. lowest common denominator -popular wisdom (which is rarely wisdom) and I knew you’d understand that bumper sticker shorthand .
    Since you didn’t I’ll take the time to make it clear.
    Rush Limbaugh et al are ENTERTAINERS .
    The purpose of their shows is to sell the sponsors’ products.
    The show that garners the largest audience gets the most money for their advertising time.
    The way to gain a large audience on AM radio is to be sensationalist ; to say the most outrageous things ; to be ENTERTAINING.
    It is not truth they are selling but Viagra , gold coins , personal armor and the like .
    Your thinking is in complete alignment with what I hear on a daily basis on these programs and even in some of the terminology you have used which is unique to this moron right radio talk.and so . In order to get you to get your thinking from credible sources I used the shorthand message ” Shoot your radio ” to get this suggestion into a form to which you could relate.
    Limbaugh, BTW thinks that Fidel Castro is still the president of Cuba AND Limbaugh , like you, consistently paints his liberal opponents with the paint of hatred, intolerance, causing people to be poor that are the attributes of his right-wing types .
    You the totalitarian use that same lame “strategerie” ( as Limbaugh frequently pronounces strategy) to attempt libeling me.
    It won’t wash .

  • January 12, 2014 at 1:31 pm
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    Since 25% of adult Cubans are militants, in the party or the juventud, no matter where I’ve been, and I may have seen more of Cuba than you have, I’ve easily and without trying come upon people who are enthusiastic about the revolution, which they insist is still going forward, though poco a poco. You need to get around a bit more, Ernesto. -Glen Roberts – iammyownreporter.com

  • January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am
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    You will always get a rational answer from me, but it will never conform to your ideological prejudices.

    Your mentality is totalitarian. You may not espouse overtly totalitarian ideology, for now, at least as far as you understand it. But your unbridled belief in a sure path to a utopian future defined as you see it is utterly totalitarian in mentality.

    Add to that your favourite catch phrase, “Shoot your radio”, which suggests your reflexive resort to violence against ideas and people you disagree with.

    So while you claim to be an anarchist and a democrat, when push comes to shove, your mentality is all too ready to jump to the authoritarian, totalitarian impulse.

    Now if you will please excuse me, I would like to read about and discuss Cuba. That’s what I’m here for, not to talk about you or your latest term paper.

  • January 8, 2014 at 9:24 am
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    Griffin,
    The past is definitely not prologue as pertains to a future with super-human AI and computers that can function at ever- rapidly increasing super- human capacities .
    You will not have to wait until 2050 because those capabilities come into being within 15 years and with the 1000 petaflop level at which human brains operate coming online in less than 10 years .
    Fact: Moore’s Law: computing capacity doubles every 18 months , dictates, with absolute sureness , that the present 12 petaflop capacity the Chinese announced last year will evolve to over the 1000 petaflop human level in that time ( 10 years)
    Are you contesting this or rather that reaching human and ,immediately after that super-human levels, will not have the effects I and many others foresee ?
    You’d do well to Google “when machines replace humans ” and read only a small part of what I’ve read for a couple of weeks and THEN, once you’ve educated yourself in fact, come back and tell me how foolish I am to believe what I do about humanity’s future.
    Lastly, and although we’ve been over this many times, and I know I cannot expect a rational answer from you , by what criteria do you find me to be a totalitarian, given that I’m an anarchist and anarchism is based on pure democracy and since I am radically opposed to both the governmental forms of all so-called “communist” countries and the oligarchic (totalitarian) system that is the U.S government ?
    Please do explain

  • January 7, 2014 at 3:24 pm
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    Get back to me in 2050 and we can have a nice laugh about your absurd prediction. Only the totalitarian mind runs on the iron rails of certainty.

    Human history does not.

  • January 6, 2014 at 9:54 am
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    I am somewhat disappointed Ernesto that in your extremely well written piece that you did not mention that the travails of the people of Cuba are due, in large part, to the economic war on Cuba that has been in existence for over 50 years.
    This length of time covers a majority of Cubans now alive and how they live.
    It must be acknowledged in any article of the type you presented in which the frustrations and immiseration of the entire population are not by any means due to faulty management ( plenty of mistakes have been made) but due to an economic war whose explicit purpose was and IS intended to create the conditions and thinking of which you supplied ample evidence.
    The younger generations know only of the present problems of their society and little of those which caused the revolution .
    The U.S is not offering any end to their war short of a return to the feral capitalism that precipitated the revolution and ,in reality, the Cuban people have the choice of sticking out the hardships inflicted upon them by the U.S economic war until it ends within the next ten years or surrendering all their many social gains and returning to the inequities and immorality of that which the U.S wishes to enforce upon them.
    Capitalism is in an existential crisis which it will not survive -due to globalization and the rapidly growing automation of all workplaces .
    It would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire for Cuban society to switch back to capitalism at this point.
    A global mutual aid society, a sharing society is what will replace capitalism well before mid-century just out of the necessity of feeding, housing , clothing that vast majority of the current capitalist workforce which will be permanently out of work by between 2030-2050 and as smart machines replace them
    p

  • January 6, 2014 at 8:24 am
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    Very interesting ideas, some of which have been presented in many other essay but it is true that the signs of change go on and off like a buoy in the middle of the
    ocean…hard to keep a hope this days especially for the younger generations…it is a shame to see one country with such a potential being mismanage for people that should go home and take a rest for life, their work time is over…enough and thanks, let us control the ship now before it touch bottom…

  • January 6, 2014 at 7:50 am
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    Good rhetorical article, but is it news? I thought we all knew about the desperate situation of cubans in Cuba.

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