By Peregrino Perez
HAVANA TIMES — It takes a lot of intellectual energy to understand Cuban reality. There are a large number of facts that are extremely contradictory.
On the one hand, elections are called for and over 80% of the population take to the polls. And the government has used this as a sign of the people’s support. Meanwhile, wages are just about enough to cover our very most basic needs, which creates a lot of dissatisfaction. Voting in Cuba doesn’t mean that you can influence the government’s decisions. It’s just another exercise to assess their popularity.
People who don’t know what everyday life is for ordinary Cubans on this “marvellous” island find this especially hard to understand. Maybe a conversation I had with some friends a few days ago will shed some light on such unusual situations.
I met my friend at university, she’s an extremely intelligent and skilled person. I remember that she was always willing to “kick up a fight”, she refused to do tasks that she felt were inappropriate. I remember how we used to make fun of the teachers who used to try and impose official ideology on us with arguments that weren’t very solid or believable. So I had quite a surprise a few days ago when she told me about her role in the Communist Party’s ranks, taking on the same functions as those teachers we used to make fun of.
It was really sad for me to hear her arguments. She told me that she is still the same person, but that in order to hold an important position in this country, you need to serve in the party’s ranks. Her pragmatism, as well as her skill, have helped her climb the professional ladder. However, her rebellious nature has been tamed.
This sine qua non condition is one of the reasons Cubans go to take part in the elections. A real fear of the negative consequences that might come their way if they don’t go to vote exists, a fear of being included on a blacklist. Whether they are looked into or not, isn’t really the matter at hand. The fact that people believe the possibility exists is enough.
My other friend who took part in this conversation told me that he voted because he does believe in the system in spite of material shortages. He even accepts State Security’s repression of dissidents as a necessary evil. My friend bases his opinion on the fact that he prefers Cuban society to society in the United States, especially after gun attacks at schools and acts of racism.
I must add that my friend only reads news in the government contolled media, which are extremely biased and normally only show the world outside of Cuba as if it were on the brink of collapse. I believe that it’s wrong to have a worldview that only deals with our reality and the US. Even if that were all true, that isn’t enough to give up on creating a better Cuba.
These are two young Cubans’ opinions who characterize the majority of Cuba’s youth. Some only “play the game”, like Gorki (the singer from Porno para Ricardo) would say. Others blindly join official discourse, but luckily there are less and less people who do this. They are “realists”, they don’t believe they can do anything to improve our situation and they do the best they can to adapt, to survive.
These attitudes remind me of a phrase I read that Benjamin Franklin once declared in 1755: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
These conditions might be acceptable to some people because they aren’t looking at things in the long-term. There are problems that we are facing which, might not represent chaos in the short-term, but will be very difficult to resolve in the future and they will only get worse over time.
The quality of services such as education and healthcare have spiralled downwards into decay. This will be very hard to reverse as a plausible solution can’t even be conjured up in our imaginations. Shortages of good teachers and experienced specialists in emergency rooms have become a constant.
Dissatisfaction drives Cubans to emigrate wherever they can. And, often, it’s young and well-trained Cubans who leave. The Cuban population is aging. A crisis of values has invaded many homes and reggaeton isn’t the thing to blame for this, it’s a consequence instead. It’s the tip of the iceberg and when measures are finally taken to resolve these problems, it might just be too late.