Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
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.
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.