Cubans’ Willful Blindness

Photo: Sadiel Mederos

By Anonymous (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – In the novel “Blindness,” by Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, a plague begins to spread in which people suddenly and inexplicably see nothing but a white haze. Many books have addressed similar topics, and there are enough examples of articles on dystopia to fill pages of references, but this particular story opened my mind about human nature. The novel brought me face to face with a reality both exaggerated and credible, and rattled around in my mind for a long time until – naturally – one day I forgot it.

I recalled it again during the most difficult days of the pandemic, with those horrifying images of abandoned bodies in the world’s streets, without anyone who would dare touch them, without anyone who would at least come close enough to find out if they were really dead, or if they were still breathing. It was the year of “every person for themselves,” and although a lot of solidarity also proliferated, it was fully demonstrated that there were people willing to leave the other to their fate, while looking the other way.

Some time ago, I read that in societies under totalitarian rule, either dissidence or delinquency develops. In the article, they explained that these two responses to the excesses of power rarely coexist in equilibrium, that there is usually an imbalance in which one or the other ends up dominating. In the European countries where there used to be a socialist system, the citizens in almost all cases managed to converge and organize a system of thought and a strategy that would help them change the government. It’s not that there were no disagreements, power struggles, or heated discussions; but in the end, they succeeded in uniting to achieve the common objective: to overturn the systems that had failed so totally in their aims and in their execution.

Such an articulation of forces isn’t happening in Cuba. For years, we have had several opposition groups among us. Some are better known, while other have arisen and later evaporated. But as I see it, they clearly haven’t managed to draft a common proposal and establish a strategy, in order to present an alternative to the failed government that for so long has ruled over every part of this country that seems forgotten by God.

One of the most evident results of the total collapse of Cuba has been the tremendous increase in street crime, and the sustained violence we find ourselves subject to at every step.

It couldn’t be otherwise in a place where the State is the first to act outside the law, order, or respect for its citizens’ minimal rights. It couldn’t be otherwise in a country where the inhabitants can’t express disagreement with the decisions made by those in power; where raising one’s voice is penalized; where the consequences of demanding the smallest right can include ending up in prison; where, in addition, abject poverty increases, as does mistreatment of every type, along with hunger, carelessness and unhealthy behaviors.

For a long time, one of the best-known slogans about Cuba claimed it was the safest place in the world. It was said that the streets were so peaceful, that you could walk without being bothered or attacked at any hour of the day or night. It’s not been this way, though, for a long time.

I’ve had the unpleasant experience of having a very close family member attacked. He was on the corner near his house, when a young man, practically a teen, came up to him at night with a machete in his hand and demanded that my relative hand over his wallet. True, it was at night, but the street where this happened was well lit and there was a security camera on the corner. It was at night, but 50 meters away a group of neighbors were holding a lively conversation in the doorway. None of them lifted a finger to help, none of them even dared to look straight ahead.

After that happened, many similar stories have reached my ears in the last few months. A man assaulted in full daylight in a well-known Havana park. His attacker accused him of having raped his sister, then fell upon him with blows and stripped him of his belongings. No one interceded. No one listened to the victim. There was no one to come to his aid.

There was also the case of a woman sitting in a park in Holguin. A man approached her suddenly and smacked her hard. While he did this, he was yelling that he was her husband and she should respect him. Later, to the defenseless girl’s astonishment, he took her things and marched off, as if nothing had happened. He left walking slowly, knowing very well that no one would get involved in what had just happened; that no one would lift a finger to help the young girl.

That’s where we’re at. In a place in the world where the State doesn’t care about its citizens – and where femicides, for example, are totally ignored – you can’t expect any different attitudes to exist.

When there’s been some response to the aggressors, as has occurred in a very few high-profile occasions, they’ve become events close to lynchings. People’s first reaction was to attack the criminal, beat him, tie him up, bring him down. That’s not normal either, but it’s completely understandable.

Other maladies are also growing, as hunger, the lack of money and real opportunities for decent work, and the desperation in general continues increasing. Among the youngest, consumption has grown of “the chemical,” a very cheap drug whose active component is synthetic cannabis. If you do a quick search on the internet, you’ll be able to see videos about the behavior of those who use it.

The drug turns them into zombies, causes them to become like some sort of dolls. However, it apparently also brings them some form of relief, an alternative to the reality they’re living in, which – rightly or wrongly – they can’t bear.

It would be convincing enough to go by the psychiatric clinics in Cuba, of those who work with addictions. You can see many young people there. Sometimes, nearly always, they’re with their families, desperate souls who don’t know how to treat an addict, how to help them.

I’m not justifying, and I’d never justify a person who exercises violence against another, but I can understand the reasons behind it. Cuba is a country forgotten by the laws of man and God. The only law that’s functioning in this place is the law of the strongest. That’s what the government imposes, and that’s what its inhabitants are replicating.

While the forces of order and legality in Cuba dedicate their efforts to persecuting citizens who think in a way that’s different from what the powers have established, delinquency will continue its exponential growth. Fear reigns among the population.

No one knows for sure what will come next. For years, we’ve waited and yearned for a change that never comes. The economic sanctions imposed by other countries don’t matter, nor do the broken alliances, the debts, the lies – no one does anything.

It will soon be three years since that epic July 11, and many of those who were accused of participating actively or passively in those protests remain in prison. The sentences meted out to those who have been tried are chilling: 10 or 15 years for people who merely recorded what was happening, or who dared to offer an opinion on social media.

Meanwhile, the fundamental problems that led people to go out onto the streets haven’t been resolved. Instead, they’ve grown still greater. There’s more hunger, more desperation, more blackouts, less transportation. There’s an ever-greater exodus of Cubans towards anywhere in the world.

As in the cruelest literary dystopias, people go, leaving everything behind. They leave their homes, their lives, their belongings, their pets; they leave friendships, lovers, their religious practices, their memories, their most beloved elders.

It’s definitely a case of “every person for themselves,” and I wouldn’t dare to cast judgement. If one of the most frequent responses to fear is paralysis, the other is flight.

May the moment come when we can achieve the healthier and more advantageous reaction, which is that of confronting the terrors, embracing them, and finding solutions.

Until that happens, we’ll continue playing at dodging the crimes, even though every day they touch us more closely. We’ll continue looking the other way when one of us is attacked, we’ll continue with our mouths shut; hidden, fearful, stumbling around an inhospitable world, like the characters in Saramago’s novel who one day began to go blind, little by little and one by one.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Cubans’ Willful Blindness

  • The final sentence reminds one that in the Kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is King! Welcome King Miguel!

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