Cubans Have Three Options: Obedience, Escape or Rebellion

On July 11, 2021 thousands of Cubans at various points throughout the Island participated in the largest act of rebellion in the history of the country. (14ymedio)

By Reinaldo Escobar (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – To say it poorly and quickly, for a Cuban who lives on the island subject to the current dictatorship, only three options remain: obedience, escape, or rebellion.


Obedience can be taken on consciously, accepted for fear of the consequences of rebelling, or mimicked to create a space for escape.

Those who consciously accept it are the ones who possess a militancy based on their convictions. They act as soldiers, convinced that “the boss’s orders embody a mandate of the Homeland,” believing that those who occupy those very high positions are enlightened bearers of a solid political foundation and grantors of all the elements necessary to make the decisions; elements which can not always be divulged because discretion is a weapon of war and the enemy must not know everything.

Those who obey out of fear have come to the conviction that any rebellion is useless because it would be mercilessly quashed, whereas they view the crumbs offered to them as an advantage. Their low self-esteem leads them to believe (with or without reason) that they would not be capable of surviving or prospering in the competitive society to which they could escape.

The mimics are difficult to identify, because they can far exceed the displays of enthusiasm and “revolutionary fervor” of those who are genuinely convinced. You see them at the reaffirmation marches waving little flags and smiling for the cameras; applauding, praising, raising their hands to approve whatever is proposed, and, if necessary, wielding a club to confront opponents. Until their visa is approved and they gather enough money for a ticket.

The price of obedience is the surrender of oneself. The prize, the peace of not ending up in jail, and the security of counting on the assigned quota of misery.


It is difficult to calculate the exact number of Cubans who have chosen this option. To know it would require adding those who already have a residency, even citizenship in another point on the planet; those who live outside the country but return to “punch the card” before the 24 months required by law for them not to be considered emigrants, and sadly, those who rest at the bottom of the sea in the cemetery in the Florida Straits.

The decision to emigrate is not as dramatic today as it was in the half-century during which the concept of “definite departure” was in force, although black lists still exist to deny entry to those who are “inconvenient” or to sanction for several years those who are considered “deserters.”

“Traitors will not return here,” pounded the hymn of the National Revolutionary Militias in 1960, when everyone who “abandoned the country” was considered an enemy. Two decades later, in the midst of the Mariel stampede, they were described as scum. “We don’t want them, we don’t need them,” argued the commander.

When it was discovered that money could flow from abroad, the discourse changed in an attempt to depoliticize emigration. The so-called “economic motives” as a reason for escaping were used similarly by authorities to portray a normal country and by some emigrants who didn’t want “to look for problems.”

There have been many forms of escape: risking one’s life at sea or in the jungle; asking family members to legally sponsor loved ones who remained on the Island; staying behind while on an official mission, a cultural event, sports competition; requesting humanitarian refuge. The thing is to leave.

The price paid for this option is being uprooted, referring to metaphorical cultural, spiritual, familial roots which ground an individual to a place. The prize, if one arrives, are the fruits: the tangible fruits obtained through one’s own efforts.


When a person respects himself, he is not in a position to obey that which is unacceptable to him. That is the case of children who confront the absurd imposition of authoritarian parents; women who break up with their abusive husbands; a worker who encourages a strike to force the employer to increase salaries or improve work conditions, and the citizen unsatisfied with his/her government.

In countries not governed by a dictatorship, citizens are not forced to escape their country because they have, through their vote at the polls, a civilized alternative to change things. Furthermore, they have the right to rebel, expressed in the sacred right to take to the streets and protest, appealing to a degree of violence that, from the ethical point of view, is acceptable if they do not manage to be heard by peaceful means.

Rebellion has a history in Cuba. But there is no space to tell the story the whole world knows. The latest dictatorship in our history (hopefully the last) is also the longest-serving and the one that has produced the most victims.

Rebels in the mountains, armed explorers, terrorists, conspirators of all kinds were active in the 1960s. The options of peaceful resistance appeared later, defenders of human rights, political party organizers, civil society activists, independent journalists. Rebels, all of them.

On July 11th, 2021, thousands of Cubans at various points throughout the Island participated in the largest act of rebellion in the history of the country. Not against the colony, nor against the dictatorships of Gerardo Machado or Fulgencio Batista, did this many people take to the streets on a single day to protest, to demand freedom and rights.

They were the ones who refused to continue obeying, the ones who wanted to change the country, not to change countries.

The price of rebellion during the last 63 years has been high: executions, long prison sentences, attacks on your reputation, prohibitions on leaving the country, the impossibility of practicing your profession. The prize is reduced, for the moment, to the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing the right thing.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

3 thoughts on “Cubans Have Three Options: Obedience, Escape or Rebellion

  • Moses:

    First, I would like to say that everyone who contributes to this HT forum has a personal perspective based on their knowledge and lived experience. In this particular article, my written response was based on my first hand factual knowledge obtained by speaking, socializing, watching, interacting with Cubans in Cuba.

    Did I interact and get the perspective of every Cuban in the geographical area I was in – of course not. Absolutely, there will be other Cubans who radically disagree or perhaps even agree with what I was hearing and experiencing. I provided my experience, my first hand factual knowledge of my interactions with the Cubans I met and consider friends.

    The following judgmental statement says more about you than the recipient: A “Castro sycophants like Stephen” who, as you state, comments “ . . at HT for the purpose of defending the status quo in Cuba.” is absolute untrue, nonsense, and complete rubbish. In fact, what Moses has written is nothing but false judgments and inferences not based on any factual evidence. But that is his inferential opinion, and at Havana Times that is fair.

    Moses obviously has not read my past posts thoroughly, thoughtfully, or comprehensibly for him to conclude the writer to be a “Castro sycophants”, or if he did read them he seems confused and/or lacks the understanding of the presented perspective.

    Moses seems to make the assertion, concluding with “Is he nuts!”, that I am in some way equating the sacrifices Cubans make equivalent to the lives of Americans and Canadians. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I did not make that assertion and if you gleaned that from my submission you absolutely misunderstood my post’s entire thesis.

    Moses asked: Has Stephen ever been to a pharmacy in Cuba? Yes I have.

    Moses asked: Has he ever been to a pharmacy in the ‘States? No I have not. Yes, I have in Canada.

    Moses asked: Has Stephen seen what happens to a Cuban who publicly criticizes the Castros by name? Yes I have.
    Perhaps, Moses, you can elucidate the readers by explaining what was the purpose of your intrusive questions and how do they pertain to further your assumptive assertions?

    You wonder and ponder how Cubans “adapt” and ask what must adaptation look like? You answered: “It’s (sic) looks like OBEDIENCE.”

    What is the dictionary definition of “obedience”? According to my Random House dictionary: Obey – to follow the commands of . . . (fill in any proper noun, like the Cuban State) here. Obedience – obeying or willing to obey.

    Allow me to elucidate you by providing, and the readers, with one example of how covert (dis)obedience works in Cuba, and I am sure you will agree with me it is multiplied countless times throughout Cuba of how adaptation works through (dis)obedience.

    A Cuban government construction site is expecting 100 bags of cement to arrive at the government sanctioned construction site, say a hotel construction. Whoa! What happened? How come only 95 cement bags arrived at the destination point? Where are the other 5 cement bags? “Lost” along the way is the excuse/reason provided along the construction site chain of command. So called “lost” resources are a common occurrence in communist Cuba.

    Perhaps some ordinary Cubans decided not to “obey” Cuban cultural norms (thou shall not steal) but decided to disobey – adapt to the cultural norm – in order to help feed the family by discreetly selling one or more bag(s) of cement on the open market.

    This is just one example of how some Cubans are “adapting” to their harsh economic reality and in no way depicts how most Cubans act but how some react to their present dire economic circumstances. This is factual.

    Back to the definition of “obey” and “disobedience”, the Cubans, I refer, and the many like them, have no intention to be obedient to the State; more poignantly back to the definition of obey . . . “to follow commands of . . . (here insert the Cuban communist State).

    Most Cubans certainly do not want to overtly break the law – that is punishable and they know it – but they certainly covertly do not and will not obey the dictates of their hopeless communist government if they know they can get away with disobedience for a higher purpose.

    And, most do because along that construction site chain of command, they are probably all implicitly involved in the “disappearance” of government property. One of Cuba’s main goals is to try and stamp out state corruption. Adapt, yes; obedience no.

    I think the category I suggested “adapters” is an apt category in Cuba in this discussion.

  • I am always amused by Castro sycophants like Stephen who comment here at HT for the purpose of defending the status quo in Cuba. I have met a handful of Cubans in Havana who work full-time for the Castro dictatorship by responding to blogs that criticize the regime. I am not asserting that Stephen is a paid propagandists for the regime but something he wrote is one of the oft-repeated lines these propagandists use. One argument that they always make is that the sacrifices that most Cubans make every flippin’ day in Cuba is similar to the lives of Americans and Canadians. Is he nuts! Sure, there are people in the US and elsewhere who live hand to mouth on a daily basis. But, they are on the extreme margin. Has Stephen ever been to a pharmacy in Cuba? Has he ever been to a pharmacy in the ‘States? Has Stephen seen what happens to a Cuban who publicly criticizes the Castros by name? It’s big business in the US right now selling “Let’s go Brandon” t-shirts. Finally, when Cubans “adapt”, how does he suppose what adaptation looks like? It’s looks like OBEDIENCE! I think the 3 categories are perfect.

  • “To say it poorly and quickly, for a Cuban who lives on the island subject to the current dictatorship, only three options remain: obedience, escape, or rebellion.” This characterization is rather overly simplistic.

    I have met many ordinary patriotic Cubans who do not fall into the above three categories. Perhaps another category could exist: adapters.

    There are many Cubans on the island who are neither obedient enough with Cuban laws and regulations to get into any significant trouble with the authorities, and also many would never consider “escape” as an option to their existing living circumstances, and many others would certainly not go out in the streets to either rebel against the state personally nor support anyone rebelling against the state, at least not overtly.

    These Cubans, I refer, adapt daily to the current climate existing in their country. If asked about the economic conditions they are living in will, absolutely, complain among themselves about the inefficiency of the government and how this inefficiency has been going on for years and years so they simply conform with the status quo.

    In relation to the option of “obedience” the article states: “ Their low self-esteem leads them to believe (with or without reason) that they would not be capable of surviving or prospering in the competitive society to which they could escape.” A Cuban with “low self-esteem” is almost an oxymoron.

    Some Cubans resign themselves and adapt to their sad situation but not with low self-esteem but with a fervor to survive to the next day. They resign themselves to the fact that not much can be done today, so why become stressed with things that one cannot change. They continue to be Cubans, dance, play loud music, laugh, joke, party, drink – a far cry from low self-esteem – and life goes on with what little they have.

    These Cubans carry on with their lives adapting themselves daily to all the problems and anxieties any person has whether living in Canada, United States or Europe. They don’t earn enough money to purchase what they need to feed and clothe their families. They use strategies to adapt to that situation. This occurs in all countries in the world.

    These adaptive and patriotic Cubans value their family. They have hope for the future though it seems as the years pass, as children grow into adulthood and their dreams are quashed with the surrounding economic hopelessness, they do not abandon their Cuban way of life. They see what life is like elsewhere. They see the struggles and sacrifices neighbors have made to leave but want none of that. They prefer to remain within their family, within their country and be loyal to their local circumstances.

    Absolutely, in Cuba today there are many Cubans who are overly obedient; there are many who escape by leaving for another country, and as we have witnessed on July 11, there are those who choose to openly rebel.

    However, the article errs in suggesting that in Cuban society today “ . . . only three options remain . . .”. No.

    There are other options. Ordinary Cubans have historically and to this day used their shrewd adaptableness and ingenuity to carry them forward always hoping for a better tomorrow but never leaving or abandoning their beloved and patriotic homeland.

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