Cuba and the Semblance of Freedom

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Tania Gonzalez from the Cuban TV program “Cuba says”.

HAVANA TIMES — Once a week, Granma, Cuba’s most important newspaper, publishes a two-page section with letters from readers who complain about day-to-day problems. The staff publish their opinions in this same section and the State entity implicated offers a reply.

From time to time, in the evening news, Talia Gonzalez and other journalists host an investigative segment known as Cuba dice (“Cuba Says”). With the criticisms, the segment always offers information on the achievements of the revolution in the sector involved and tries to blame the problem on people, not the system.

In different provinces and municipalities, there are radio and television spaces where the people criticize and authorities make excuses. Comedians can make jokes that contain social criticism and musicians publish songs that could be considered protest pieces or criticisms of the country’s situation, with some freedom.

Before, any slip of the tongue got you banished and earned you the pertinent punishment. That’s no longer the case. Buena fe, a successful Cuban duo, has become famous thanks to thorny pieces with keen criticisms of the system, and they are even invited to play at official functions. Nelson Gudin and Luis Silva, renowned comedians, do the same and haven’t lost their television programs because of it.

Homemade parodies criticizing sensitive situations, such as those of medical doctors working abroad and salaries, hit the streets and everyone can watch them thanks to the well-known “weekly package.” Increasingly, we hear people talk freely on the street without so much fear in their voices. Some do so openly and others still lower their voices when the opinions they express are particularly thorny.

We could therefore reach the conclusion that, in Cuba, people are already allowed to criticize their government.

Kool-Aid for sale. Photo: Juan Suarez

Fidel Castro, the supreme leader, was more severe in terms of the “ideological battle” and didn’t believe in diversity when it came to opinions. He was rather convinced that revolutionaries had the mission of convincing everyone, “one man at a time,” of their truth. According to him, he was imitating the Catholic Church, which had survived two millennia thanks to that.

Raul Castro, either because he thinks differently or is bound by a different situation, and has been more tolerant. He has openly called on people to express their opinions and asked the State not to meddle in relationships among people. Be it because of intellectual keenness or by accident, the fact of the matter is that he has discovered that “criticisms” aren’t as dangerous as his brother thought.

The important thing in terms of preserving the status quo isn’t what people say but what they dare “do.” Social control in the country is so effective that it paralyzes the disaffected, even though they are the majority. The result is that many people dare criticize but very few dare do anything about it.

It’s true there’s an opposition in the country: the dissidents at home and organizations abroad. But next to no one knows about them. The State’s monopolistic control of the media and political censorship keep these from divulging their ideas and projects in the country. But there are alternative mechanisms and these are practically never used.

Since their financing and means of divulging their message come from abroad, they address their messages more towards a foreign public than a domestic one. They therefore end up steering their political programs in a similar fashion. This way, it isn’t hard for the government to label them mercenaries and for people to end up believing them.

Different voices are emerging, but this focus on foreign audiences prevails even among the most determined of the lot. A serious and viable political program in Cuba has to seek support abroad, of course, but it also ought to address what the majority of Cubans want and need. To decipher this requires study, analysis and altruism.

Today’s typical Cuban doesn’t want to become involved in politics. They see this as a fruitless pursuit. Some hold this view out of fear, others out of convenience and the majority out of individualism and a lack of civic awareness. They want to leave the country or set up a business here, or find a niche within the State somewhere and “suckle at its teat” a bit, while it lasts. They say this without reservation: “I need to focus on my stuff, because no one can fix this mess.”

There is, however, a more compelling reality to bear in mind: criticizing isn’t enough, we need to do something in order to change things.

We need to sow civic awareness and self-confidence. To believe that this shy liberalization in terms of freedom of opinion is the beginning of respect for this basic human right by the government is foolish. It is merely a bit of bait being used to distract the more enthusiastic of the lot while they try to recover strength. They want to “turn the screws” again, as Cubans say.

People criticize to no end. Even Raul Castro criticizes the government! But this does little or nothing to get us out of our predicament, a process that must begin with understanding the need to change our system into a democracy.

Yes, it looks as though they’ve got a good plan to push the country forward. It looks as though there’s more freedom to express opinions, as though we might finally have a voice. It looks this way, but, I believe that, even though it looks this way, it’s not.


25 thoughts on “Cuba and the Semblance of Freedom

  • March 15, 2016 at 7:23 am
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    You are missing the point. Japan doesn’t sponsor, mentor or adopt other countries.

  • March 15, 2016 at 12:00 am
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    At some point in their life, most people have used, digital and analogue, designed in Japan, my objection, the Disney eyes, tell me Moses, are you voting in the London Mayorial Election?

  • March 12, 2016 at 8:30 am
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    I read it in an article in Planet Magazine titled “A million on the move”. Unfortunately I don’t recall the author or the issue number. The underlying point is that a lot of countries have suffered huge emigration (eg Ireland). That doesn’t mean everyone is an escaping refugee.

  • March 11, 2016 at 1:43 pm
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    Please name the source that can provide the evidence ” A million Welsh people left Wales during the “Thatcher years’?
    Iam a professor of economics and have access to any/all economics statistics–worldwide.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:45 am
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    It can be tough in Chicago but not as bad as you say. At least not yet. On any given Sunday in La Habana, try marching with the Ladies in White after their church service. You will see and possibly experience police violence aided and abetted by hired thugs. Or just paint a sign that says Baja Fidel and try walking through Parque Central with it. You have missed seeing any homeless people or people begging? Walk through Havana Vieja. Just one or two blocks off Obispo street and you see enough poverty to curl your toes. I prefer Espléndido cigars over pipes. Thanks anyway.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:29 am
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    Name one country better off because of their relationship with post-war Japan.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:23 am
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    These countries do not have leadership that at one time encouraged the use of nuclear weapons against innocent American people is at the top of the list I imagine.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:21 am
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    Hahaha! I can even begin to explain let alone justify Donald Trump. But EVEN the remote possibility of Trump is a far sight better than no choice at all which is what Cubans have had for the last 57 years.

  • March 10, 2016 at 7:05 am
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    It’s hardly a good advert for the American system when the front runner Donald Trump advocates building a Berlin wall along the Mexican border, wants to reintroduce torture as a method of interrogation and wants to renege on all treaties with other countries in the region. And please don’t use the word “escape”. The levels of real refugees are around 200 overall and that is based on US figures. A million Welsh people left their country during the Thatcher years. They nearly all hated her and her policies yet that doesn’t mean they escaped. There is such a thing as economic migration.

  • March 9, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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    To paraphrase an old revolutionary: there are those who are friends, not of Cuba, but of those who hold power in Cuba, and that, only so long as they hold power.

  • March 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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    Japan doesn’t give a crap about Cuba.

  • March 9, 2016 at 3:13 pm
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    Explain it? Do you honestly know nothing of the history of the Cuban Adjustment Act or why it was implemented?!

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and several other countries with US style democracy have illegal migrant numbers that exceed that of Cubans. Interestingly, unlike Cubans who get red carpet treatment on arrival, the other Latinos are subjected to deportation, humiliation and other degrading treatment. Can you explain
    why this is the case?

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    Typical of a Euro-centric mind to see a drum as a weapon, a rabble rouser, when it is much more than that, it is a conveyer of history, a builder of social cohesion and a means for calculating the way forward. As I said to Moses, he is correct, it is debatable how much Cuba needs European mathematics or even Hindu-Arabic, but that is all I have to trade. You would be wise to take lessons before you open your mouth.

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:13 pm
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    Moses, I have limited funds, but I will pay you back 😉 If you want my opinion, Cuba should be developing its exchanges with Japan rather than the U.S., the U.S. has very little to offer that Japan doesn’t and Japan has a much richer cultural and spiritual treasury to share with Cuba, not least ideas about respect. Cuba should challenge the U.S. to do better, it doesn’t need the U.S.’s influence. The extent to which it needs mathematics is debateable. It is the only treasure I have to offer at the moment.

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:01 pm
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    Whatever you’re drinking, please order me a case. Thanks.

  • March 9, 2016 at 2:00 pm
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    You really need to get out of Varadero and Habana Vieja.

  • March 9, 2016 at 1:56 pm
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    Sorry but on each visit to Cuba I have ben approached by people begging for a handout!

  • March 9, 2016 at 12:31 pm
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    If you as a black person, in Chicago , are sprinting along the pavement, to catch a bus–
    do not be surprised if you are battered down by the police.

    There, lying on the pavement you can possibly join some homeless, drugged out or begging fellow blacks.
    In 30 odd years–coming to Cuba–
    I HAVE NEVER SEEN POLICE VIOLENCE, HOMELESS OR DRUGGED OUT OR BEGGING PEOPLE IN CUBA==
    Smoke that in your pipe Patterson.

  • March 9, 2016 at 7:40 am
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    You owe the 18 seconds it took me to read your comment. What a waste of time!

  • March 9, 2016 at 6:32 am
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    You’re right…..”drumming” is the answer here. Why didn’t we all see that!?

  • March 9, 2016 at 1:54 am
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    This is an article built on frustration… but frustration does not provide solutions… it merely leads to more negativity… sometimes, often even, by the law of dialectics, it is necessary to take a negative position, in order to arrive at the truth… however action based on negativity is the worst and most crude use of negativity… action when no one knows the solution or truth that is being aimed at is purely destructive… it should be avoided… the Sahabas (apostles of Mohammad (pbuh)) watched their every word by choice… no one forced them to be careful… they were sufficiently advanced as to take care of themselves… to watch themselves.. to worry about the slightest deviation from the path… for the beating of the wings of a butterfly can cause a hurricane… what could one wrong word do… the aim is not action or change for the sake of it… but finding solutions… this requires mathematics… Cuba is rich in non-Western mathematics… drumming… dancing… music… (although the West has these too they are not nearly so developed)… and also divination… it lacks Western mathematics and this needs to change… people need to be able to analyse problems, take positions when the answer is unknown and provide solutions… what they do not need is heedless crude action… could it be that the Cuban people are aware of this… the reason they do not get involved in politics is because they are aware that the problems are so difficult… that they do not know the solutions… and that is maturity… the Cuban people are very mature… they should dare to analyse problems and search for solutions… but it is essential to be mature about such things… mindless action seeking change is not positive… I have spoken.

  • March 8, 2016 at 10:55 pm
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    Your comment is ridiculous. You are suggesting that Cubans reject democracy because it is not perfect. At its worst, the system we are still perfecting is 100X better than what the Castros have subjected Cubans to over the last 57 years. Don’t take my word for it. Just ask the more that 44,000 Cubans who have escaped Cuba over the past yesr.

  • March 8, 2016 at 3:25 pm
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    Here’s the acid test: Paint ‘Baja Fidel’ on the front of your own house. Then wait to see how long it takes before you are arrested. Hint: the paint will still be wet.

  • March 8, 2016 at 1:59 pm
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    I think you should support your government because the so called ‘democracy’ you yearn for is a manipulated process in the vast majority of countries it exists in. With a history suggesting an unrelenting effort to invest in the welfare of all citizens, I think your government shouldn’t be condemned for the material deprivations you endure. You need unity to confront the foreign foes largely responsible for the suffering in your country
    .

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