Cuba: The Importance of Hearing People’s Opinions

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Food service for the people. Photo: Juan Suarez
Food service for the people. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Carrying out surveys about crucial issues in modern Cuban society is Havana Times’ most recent interesting initiative. The first survey was about the “death penalty” and now it was about “the wave of antisocial behavior” we have here in Cuba. The latter, because of its greatest impact and the extent to which it creates the first, forces me to sit down and reflect upon the subject.

It’s a pity that the sample size of those surveyed was so small (only 38 participants), which infringes the survey’s result. There aren’t many of us Cubans living on the island who read HT and, personally, I’ve only gone to the website while surfing the internet a few times. Thanks to the newsletters that Circles sends out, I’m able to keep myself up-to-date.

Then there’s the issue of where these opinions are coming from: I can assure you that when it comes to giving your opinion on Cuban issues, there are significant differences in viewpoints of those in and out of Cuba. And I’m only referring to ordinary Cuban people, not the compromised extremists we have on both sides.

I’m guessing that those surveyed were those who read alternative media in Cuba or are residents abroad. We comprise a social group that represents about 33.33% of all Cubans. The other 66.66% couldn’t take part in the survey, however much Circles wanted to include them too. And although these issues aren’t of so much importance that they need multiple media channels, that does have an effect on the fact that we need a “civil” opinion about our own civility.

Like what happened with the death penalty survey, for example, my experience on the street tells me that the majority supports it. However, a survey amongst Cubans with an alternative way of thinking, public spirit and knowledge of our human rights, like those of us who read HT, have very different opinions. When I talk about this issue, I’m always alone in defending my position, not because Cuban people are bad or dehumanized, it’s got nothing to do with that. It’s just that we’ve been indoctrinated for decades and they’ve instilled this lynching doctrine so as to get rid of the “people’s enemies”; besides removing our sense of civil duty, so that instead of having citizens, they have an army of committed devotees.

In Old Havana. Photo: Caridad
In Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

It’s only when we’re able to shake off these psychological ties they’ve put on us and are able to open our mind up to different ideas, different sources, that we’re able to give a more fair opinion. As our Maestro once said, out of everything you hear “you should raise your truth”, even though we’re still “amongst men who won’t respect it.”

Social indiscipline in Cuba, corruption, marginalization, the widespread tendency to commit crimes, among other calamities, have many root causes. However, in my opinion, the second most voted option, “miserable salaries that create antisocial behavior and values” (24%), is really in first place due to the high number of evils that it creates.

The most voted answer, “the de-structuring of society, politics, family and social anthropology which has taken place due to the revolutionary process”, I believe is greatly important, but less so than others which also relate to the government. Maybe from the Cuban diaspora’s view, it would have produced the same result as it did, but if it was carried out amongst the general population, I don’t think it would.

One cause that wasn’t directly included was: “the planned, state-run and bureaucratic system.” From what I understand, this is the greatest culprit of our historic and social evils. This model is a breeding ground for serial criminals. Everything has to be done illegally because if you go down the legal route, all you have are obstacles, bans, restrictions and hurdles to jump through. It resembles the last answer but it has a different focus.

Another point in this problem is political antisocial behavior, which will never be dealt with by official media, of course. The fruit of manipulation and indoctrination, the belief that only the historic generation and their chosen ones can govern, lead and steer this country has been created. “They’re the ones who know”; “they won this in the Mountains”; “they already gave up so much for this, they deserve it.” These are subliminal messages, conditioned reflexes in the minds of us Cubans, which we’ve heard for decades, everywhere all the time, along with boastful photographs.

Just like everybody knows that Coca Cola and Habanos are good without ever having tried them, just by hearing about them, the same thing happens with Fidel and Raul in the minds of people. The majority of Cubans, even those outside of Cuba, don’t believe that change has to do with them, politics either. They excuse themselves using the cliche that’s been used to death: “I’m apolitical, I only care about my business.” However, the truth of the matter is that our civility has been mutilated from the inside, because the government has castrated it.

Nevertheless, in spite of this, we can’t blame the Cuban people for being “victims of the system”, once we’ve freed ourselves from their spell. On the contrary, we should help them get rid of their evils and respect their desires and beliefs at the same time, without imposing our “truths” on them. Sometimes I read and hear comments like this one: “fuck them for being stupid”; “if they want to have better lives, then they should open their eyes and figure out what’s going on.” It’s the equivalent of leaving a domestic abuse victim alone to her fate because she defended her abusive husband out of fear and manipulation.

I always defend the importance of taking into account what the Cuban people are currently feeling. Many people want to impose the vision that has been cultivated abroad, giving themselves superiority and thereby supremacy. However, if we want democracy, we have to believe in it and not dishonor it before it’s even been established. Nobody should pick a fight with their fellow countryman for thinking differently.

The way I see this issue is like this: I have my differences with the PCC and I disapprove of the fact that they govern this country in a tyrannical fashion, however, if they were to win the first elections, I wouldn’t get angry, as long as these elections were democratic and carried out in a constitutional state. How many Cubans who call themselves democratic would react in this way? Would they really be democratic if they do the opposite?

There are a lot of serious problems that we have to fix here in our future Cuba, but we’ll be able to do it as long as there is democracy. A lot of extremism, a lot of intolerance, a lot of antisocial behavior. Social indiscipline is the most visible aspect; however, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The first thing we have to do is find out what the root causes of this evil is so we can eliminate them and then we have the arduous task of educating people. Bravo to Havana Times for taking this important “first step”. Let’s hope there is more to come.

9 thoughts on “Cuba: The Importance of Hearing People’s Opinions

  • By “the enemy” George are you referring to the general population of Cuba?
    As I read your explanations, you are in favour of your so-called “direct democracy” provided that it is controlled by the Castro communist regime and that the voters obediently accept Cuba as a one party state controlled by a regime which has never been elected in open free elections, not even by “direct democracy”.

  • You are either naïve about the workings of power in Cuba or believing your own propaganda. Even under Fidel there were times when the Communist Party had one opinion and Fidel had another. Despite his misgivings, Fidel went along with the opinions of the Communist Party. It is true that whilst under constant threat, it is vital to present an outward appearance of consensus, but that doesn’t mean that debate does not take place internally. Multi-party representative democracy was rejected precisely because it offered the opportunity for the enemy to practice divide and rule by solidifying any lack of consensus into factions. Direct democracy avoids this stumbling block and as I said would actually strengthen the Communist Party as organ of the people by giving outward legitimization of its policies and raising the consciousness and responsibility of the population.

  • There is absolutely no possibility of the people of Cuba being allowed to veto any decision taken by a communist dictatorship and even you George must recognize that! What Raul Castro decides is implemented. Period!

  • Direct democracy already exists in part in Switzerland and is very successful. Electronic direct democracy has yet to be implemented anywhere in the world, though some countries are looking into it including Sweden. Who designs the policies upon which the public votes? In Cuba this would be the Communist Party. You may think this is only a cosmetic change, but in reality, requiring the people to approve or veto any new legislature would have a profound effect, legitimizing the government and raising the consciousness and responsibility of the population. It is a far better use of communications technology than mindless gossip.

  • Power of the rulers over the governed is an allure not easily dispatched. A check and balance system works best as it struggles against those who want their way and only their way. It is up to the governed to considers their consent conditional and be prepared to fight for their liberty.

  • You missed the important line George. You should have commenced with:
    “In my opinion”
    Your peculiar concept makes one really major error. If there are no elected politicians both government and opposition parties, who puts forward the ideas upon which the electorate votes? Who explains the advantages and disadvantages of these mysterious proposals that come from some mysterious source? Who prepares the national budget?
    Actually your proposal is one for the simple minded living in the stone age, but with the Internet available.
    I vote for less tax!
    I vote for more social programs!
    I vote that others pay my costs!
    That simple!
    At some time in your life you should have endeavoured to serve the public by standing for office. You might then have understood that political opinions and expression of them have to be logically linked. It’s called policy George. That is what people vote for.
    However, in my opinion the Havana Times is not the place for such discussion as it is about Cuba – where only one type of so-called ‘voting’ is permitted and that is for the Communist Party of Cuba.

  • All over the world, multi-party democracy is breaking down. Parliamentarians no longer represent the people they are elected to represent. Polls are all very well, but they are only listened to enough for the parliamentarians to save their skins. HT polls are merely a token effort since they are in no way representative, as this article points out. What is really needed is direct democracy. Cuba should invest in an internal intranet specifically for direct democracy, making every citizen a parliamentarian. If it does this it will lead the way in people power. This is a far better use of communications technology than access to the external internet, actually empowering people to make decisions rather than engage in destabilizing gossip.

  • You can express your views as many times as you like, but will anyone in government listen to you and better still will they act on public opinion? I am all for people expressing themselves and even suggesting positive changes. Let us hope that Mr Castro and his colleagues listen, no start to listen to what the real Cuban are saying/suggesting. Please Mr Castro I implore you to take notice of what the people would like and do something positive for the benefit of all Cubans.

  • Thankyou well done. This is a very good place for different opinions. We need to have different points a view as one person or group is not always right. At the moment even trying voice your view can get you fired or worse in Cuba.

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