From the common position to common sense
HAVANA TIMES — During my first years in Havana, I lived in the Habana Libre hotel (the Havana Hilton before the revolution). Every morning, I would head down to the mezzanine to have breakfast at a posh restaurant. I would order a pair of fried eggs that came with thick slices of warm ham beneath, and ask for a serving of fresh cheese on the side. I would eat the eggs and put the ham and cheese inside the warm, buttered buns, wrap everything in fine, white napkins and take this snack to school.
My classmates didn’t have their breakfast at that restaurant, and the vast majority hadn’t tasted a bit of ham for years. I made a point of making them relive the memories that had been tattooed in their hypothalamus.
One afternoon, one of the “revolutionary comrades” from ICAP (the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) assigned to my family took the time to explain to me that, in Cuba, the revolution sought to make everyone equal, but that there was still work to be done and, for the time being, those “outside the hotel” did not have the same quality of life that the revolution was generously giving those “inside the hotel.”
He suggested I cease taking the ham sandwiches to school, because the kids could get the wrong idea.
At that moment, I realized the subversive nature of two of the things that went missing and people missed the most in Cuba: ham and the truth.
That happened many springs ago, but Cuba’s top leadership, twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, continues to be exactly the same today (with some small changes that the inexorable passage of time has imposed upon them).
These days, it seems to want to rejuvenate itself, take on a kind of modernization, and Cuban officials would have us see them as reformers, dolling up the impoverished socio-economic reality of the island with measures that do not even manage to alleviate the innumerable and profound shortages the population endures.
In the more than fifty years since Cuban citizens were deprived of sovereignty and the power to decide over their government, the Cuban leadership is for the first time expressing the sincere desire of a rapprochement with the United States and for the economic blockade and Helms Burton sanctions to be lifted. With the same earnestness, they are asking for softening of the terms of the EU Common Position and a normalization of socio-economic relations with Europe.
The public harangues and querulous gibberish in light of the more than predictable reaction of an economic bloc against which the revolution acted proved nothing other than a smoke-screen for self-victimization, a move that afforded the government the certainty of a people united before the cruelty of an external enemy and the permanent threat it posed.
The cooling of relations with Europe and Sweden’s position with respect to the Cuban government’s insistence on systematically violating human rights and denying the people any participation in decisions that affect their own future through votes, are, however, obstacles Cuba had not anticipated and which entail more real inconveniences than any advantages as a means of uniting the people before the “threat of evil.”
Cuba is as capable as any other nation of maintaining the cordial economic and cultural relations with all of the European Union it desires, and the EU, given its historical ties to the island, is in fact sympathetic to the country and desirous of that normalization of relations.
A number of basic conditions, however, must first be met. Without these, Europe would not be the guarantor of the loftiest civic values, and of progress and peaceful coexistence, that it has been for decades as the compass of the Western world.
Cuba must let its population in on the game once and for all. It must put an end to the repressive actions taken against the relatives of those imprisoned during the Black Spring, who were released or forced to leave the country (neither pardoned nor exonerated on lack of evidence, but rather absolved), and against those who demonstrate, in exercise of their legitimate right to demand other governmental options.
It must take such measures further in every sense and understand them as yet another opportunity and not a nuisance it is forced to address through pressure, not because the world demands it, but because it is basic common sense in terms of survival.
The country needs to modernize itself and will require a competitive working and middle class that is able to actively participate in politics and democratic decision-making processes by electing their representatives through free and direct votes. It must take human rights, respect for differences, and the freedom of information, publication, press and opinion seriously. It must allow and encourage the freedom for political association within a democratic framework, on the basis of modern and tolerant laws.
For the beginning of such conversations with Europe, Cuba should consider the possibility of ceasing to resort to illusions as stand-ins for the true freedoms the country needs and people long for or intuit they would value if they could enjoy them. Ceasing to deceive in order to present such eminent gifts as huge concessions, like the ham derivatives I would take to school for my classmates.