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.