Dangers and Paradoxes of Contemporary Cuban Society

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Foto: Linda Anderson
Foto: Linda Anderson

HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, a relative who is fond of me and is familiar with my political views decided to give me some advice under the influence of alcohol. I of course make no secret of the journalistic pieces I write for Havana Times or anything else I do in this connection. These are totally public actions.

In Cuba, however, if you don’t tell people about these things, they never find out about them. For the great majority of people, the Internet is something as abstract, as distant, as a NASA space flight or a Chanel fashion show.

To write for a foreign, online periodical and to be critical of the system prompts fears in those close to you. My relative was saying to me: “I’ll help you in whatever you need, Osmel, but I’m worried about you. These people are capable of anything, and they can make you disappear. They can stage an accident, get you into an ambulance or frame you, planting marihuana on your farm. If they see you as a threat, they’ll pulverize you before you even raise your head.”

Several people have been warning me of these dangers since I started publishing articles in December. Even before, everyone agreed on this, ever since I wrote those essays expounding on my neo-socialist ideas and State Security confiscated the writings. The funniest part is that some of the people who warn me are Party members or people who apparently support the government and the revolution. Contradictory, isn’t it?

My father is fanatically loyal to the revolution (though he criticizes some things), but, at the same time, he is afraid for me. The curious thing is that we have never directly witnessed any case that could justify such fears, even though there are indications. One hears macabre stories about crimes that go on behind the curtains. Camilo Cienfuegos’ death is the most popular. More than half the people I know believe he was lynched following dark events surrounding Huber Matos.

A similar case can be found less than 300 meters from my house. A family of Lebanese descendants, the wife, children and grandchildren of a Rebel Army official, have not known the whereabouts of their husband, father and grandfather for over 50 years. The widow and son have requested information from the government in vain, trying to find out his whereabouts or the location of his grave. They are not only unaware of how he disappeared in the 60s, when he left for the province of Matanzas on an official government mission and never returned. They are also uncertain whether he is dead or not. He disappeared, no doubt, but, how many more like him are there?

There are unofficial videos going around showing the police beating dissidents who attack the revolution and its leaders, carrying signs with such messages. Others tell incredible stories of abuse and torture. The absence of a free and independent press makes such news sensationalist and underground, making it impossible to rigorously condemn such practices.

Foto: Elizabeth Cadogan
Foto: Elizabeth Cadogan

That is why confronting the system in any way is dangerous. These people do not act out in the open, as Batista’s men did. They do not force you go into a Jeep in front of everyone, they do not beat you or pull your nails out. Nor do they castrate you in cold blood. Their methods are refined and subtle. Their torture is essentially psychological. As I see it, is the worst kind: it is hard to document and it is more effective and degrading. Combatting a regime that bears its claws is easier than fighting one that appears to do nothing but keeps everyone scared and committed.

I personally consider what I do, conveying ideas, opinions and information, a duty. To debate with Cuban and non-Cuban readers is a rewarding experience. It’s normal for us to be different, for us to think different and for us to have different viewpoints. The most important thing is that we share something very special: our love and concerns for Cuba, and our interest in its future.

The revolution’s defects are so aberrant that it is sometimes hard to be objective and put them on a balance, against its virtues. That is why so many are hypercritical, to the point they are unable to recognize a single true achievement. This is a bit much, as even Pinochet’s dictatorship yielded some positive results. The point is that nothing in this world justifies a dictatorship of any kind, not education, not health, not destroying fascism, not destroying communism, not even economic success.

If I or any other alternative communicator ceased to write because of fear, this would be outrageous. Jose Marti said it clearly in The Golden Age, a classic volume aimed at children. “A man who conceals what he thinks is not an honorable man.” To respect the law is a civil duty. But unjust laws, born with their backs to the people and against their interests, are not laws but spurious edicts. If any law against honesty exists, I prefer going to prison to renouncing to my basic rights.

To live among paradoxes and danger without abandoning one’s basic principles is a challenge. We aren’t heroes for trying, not in the least. We do not belong to the heroic generations of the past, who earned their merits between sabers and gunpowder. Our battle is one of ideas, but our cause is as dangerous as it is just and sacred: to bring all possible justice to Cuba.

26 thoughts on “Dangers and Paradoxes of Contemporary Cuban Society

  • Thanks for the level headed response to my position Carlyle. More effective learning take place with such exchanges.
    This is truly a complicated issue. Basically, I have a mistrust for most governments in general not matter what they proclaim.
    Obama has demonstrated a lot of courage to go to places like Iran and Cuba instead of the usual knee jerk name calling.
    I plan to visit Cuba again for three months in Nov., Dec., and Jan. Hopefully I can learn a little more.
    Where do you live Carlyle and how often have you been to Cuba?

  • kofi123 Do you really think that in one brief week you could properly assess Cuba? I can show you enormous residential areas in Cuba where misery is the norm, people sleeping on the side-walks, drunks lying in the downtown, rampant prostitution. Add Cuba to your list of places where you are reserving your judgement.
    This has got nothing to do with the US, you overestimate its significance. Anybody who reads or participates in these columns has read repetitive criticisms of the US, most being by dis-satisfied US citizens, none of whom choose to move to Cuba.
    The US will not decide the future of Cuba. As a non-American, I can only speak well of Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba and the views he expressed. Obama demonstrated that ‘change’ in Cuba has yet to occur and explained that if expecting change in US policies towards Cuba, there has to be reciprocity.
    I am glad you enjoyed your week in Cuba and hope that you will return for further longer visits.

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