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.

  • Mr. Kofi123,

    You did not see the beggars in the Monte Avenue, near Monte y Cienfuegos st, or in the park at Cuatro Caminos, near the Mercado Unico in El Cerro neighborhood in Havana? Then you are blind or did not visit these places.

    Did you go to El Fanguito, La Güinera, San MIguel del Padrón, Palo Cagao or any of the other poor neigborhoods around Havana? There you can see poverty, drugs and violence.

    Of course, if you was taken around tourist areas, it will be a little bit harder to spot these things and then Cuba would look like a postcard.

  • Can you describe how does my logic implies that Cuba had a higher living standard than the US? Besides I have very good idea of what you know about Cuba which is not much by the things you write, and please, do not call me asere, I am not your asere.

    Just by what you say about Americans living in Cuba it is clear that you do nor know much abut the country. Most of the Spanish, Italian, Chinese and others immigrating to Cuba where not rich people retiring overseas but working or low middle class trying to improve their situation.

    Go and live in Cuba as an standard Cuban if you love the dictatorship so much, why are you not living in that paradise?

  • Find out more about Cuba from unbiased sectors. Better yet visit. There are groups now going down to Cuba at very reasonable rates. I just came off a very inexpensive, very educational, and enjoyable week in Cuba. This is not a commercial. I don’t work for Code pink.
    I didn’t see the homeless, drunks and addicts, ill health, and misery you find in capitalist run cities. I have not been to any socialist or communist run places except Cuba so I will suspend my judgment.
    But I know the American mentality well. Cuba and other paradise like places are viewed as places of conquest. After the conquest these places are thrown to the streets like used goods. Similar to what is happening to Puerto Rico, .
    First they send in the good guy Obama to lull the Cubans into a dream like state. Then comes Trump with the hardball to close the deal. How Cuba have been able to survive through all these sociopath presidents to me is a miracle.

  • Yet more stuff about the US, don’t bother addressing me with it as I find it tedious and boring. My concern is in addressing the plight of Cubans. Now let me again ask you Gordon which companies are considering establishing manufacturing plants in Cuba?

  • I am “watching” this discussion go back and forth about the the evil Cuban political leaders and the salivating monster to the north. You made a point though here, the surrounding countries “helped ” by the US are in bad shape. I refuse to visit them being female and travelling alone most of the time (including Mexico and S.America) but I also refuse to visit the US because of the dangers there . ( 1 out of 3 with guns). Cuba needs to wiggle out of the Castro chains and maintain their distinct culture and identity while doing so just as the US has to keep their hands off as they face their own dictator should Trump get in because I no longer believe in the common sense and intelligence of the average American.

  • We can differ on whether or not Castro should have given his people total democracy or to what extent. What is not in dispute is the 800 pound Gorilla to the north salivating for the chance to turn Cuba back into a banana republic with malls, polluting auto’s, McDonalds, and the host of imperialist programs.
    I am from a country close to the Cuba, the Bahamas. A place with the best beaches in the world. But I would not live there. The beaches are owned by the corporations. It’s a place with no more cultural dignity in my opinion. Or Puerto Rico which is about to go bankrupt.
    Is this what you want for Cuba? Another playground for the rich and famous? Then you seem people who criticize Castro now would be saying, “why didn’t Castro hold his ground? Why didn’t he remain stronger? At least we could still breathe the air and swimin the water.

  • USA – Debt at all levels to GDP ? Only 38 % of Americans pay income tax. Many US corporations have their head office in counties that have low tax rates. The USA is ” Going down in flames like Jesse James – Si !!! ”
    email – [email protected]

  • According to your logic, Cuba had a higher standard of living then the US… it must have… there were thousands of Americans living there pre 1959. And ademas, you have absolutely no idea what I know or do not know, seen and have not seen in Cuba, asere.

  • Most of that $20 million never leaves Miami. What’s left is largely used to pay living expenses for dissidents who have lost jobs in Cuba. No one is getting rich.

  • You are pushing your luck a bit here. The Wikileaks papers note that Yoani Sanchez was offered money. There are plenty of images of cheques and receipts for money paid to dissidents on the internet. $20 million is budgeted per year to spend on dissidents which given that there are only around a thousand makes them probably the most highly paid political activists in the world.

  • Check the number of Italian and Spanish people asking for permits to immigrate to Cuba in 1958. Cuba had the best distribution of wealth in Latin America (not my assertion but that of CEPAL leftist economist Juan Noyola, who lived inn Cuba for along time and worked for Castro.)

    When I was in elementary public school, there were Lebanese, Spanish, Italian and Chinese people in my school. Why would their parents go there if they could be much better in their own countries? Why would nobody from these countries would emigrate to Cuba now? Cuba was a receptor for immigrants, now it is a source of emigrants, ¿Does it tell you something that there are Cubans emigrating to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Guatemala and even Haiti?

    You need to go and live as a common Cuban before spouting nonsense about a country that is not yours and that you do not know. Keep talking about USA but please, do not meddle with Cuba without any knowledge about it.

  • Yet another tedious dissertation about the problems in the US – its boring! As for “Castro is a genius to put in place free healthcare”, he was only copying programs which already existed in democratic countries – the UK commenced its public health care program in 1948! As one with a reasonable amount of experience having sat on two schoolboards, having a teacher as a wife and having four children, good teachers do not exert dictatorship, they keep control, but allow freedom of thought. I understand that freedom of anything is anathema for those who support communism (called ‘socialismo’ in Cuba), but that is why countries that have communist dictatorships lag so far behind the free world or as was the case with the Soviet Empire, implode.
    Cuba as a nation has a history of over 500 years which contradicts the statement that it is a “young nation”. It is correct that it has suffered a great deal, being under the appalling Spanish rule for over 400 years, a rule which Cespedes, Agramonte, Maceo and Marti fought against and gave their lives. That rule only ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1898.
    The people of Cuba already possess talents, they are prevented from utilizing them by a dictatorship which is opposed to expression of individuality demanding conformity as a ‘mass’. “People have to think as a mass, to think as an individual is criminal.’ Ernesto Guevara.
    The alternative world that awaits Cubans when eventually liberated from repression, is not that of Batista who faded into history when he flew to Dominica. The alternative is democracy with freedom of speech, freedom of the media, freedom of open multi-party elections and opportunity to develop individual talents and abilities. That cannot be achieved by dictatorship whether it be political or in the classroom.

  • That development was limited to a strata in Havana, and at most a few provincial capitals. In the countryside, where the majority lived, only 2 percent of households had indoor toilets. Plenty of parasites to go around though. I don’t know about Spain, but I lived on the Italian border for 7 years, and your assertion that Cuba in 1959 was more developed than Italy is proprio una stupidaggine . You need to read some Walter Lippman. In America, our rulers and their theorists have also believed that “democracy” was much too important to leave in the hands of the unwashed masses.

  • Yes. The salary is $30 CUC. I remember hearing a “contractor” complaining on video that she would not continue marching unless she got paid.

  • Your comment is based on false information. Cubans suffer from high indices of cancer, heart disease, and hypertension.

  • It is good that at least you recognize that you base some of your opinions on ‘limited observation’. Noting that saved me from feeling absolutely outraged, as a Cuban, at your comparison of Cubans with children that need a domineering teacher. That unbelievable notion that we are some kind of mentally underdeveloped humans in contrast to the cultivated Americans is really insulting. In fact, judging from the sorry bunch of characters the ‘mature’ Americans have been voting for in this elections, I think you description of a people in need of education applies better to you and your peers.

    All nations have the right to err, and to correct their mistakes, and this right should rest on the citizens, not any illuminated elite. Democracy should be the state of every human society, not dictatorship. The Castros have been in power for 57 years, as many as there are from the independence of Cuba to their sizing of power. Cuba has been an independent nation for more than a century. How many more generations do you think are needed for the Cubans to know what kind of country they want?

    As I say before, pigs and chickens are well cared for by their owners; they get free medical care, free housing and free training (education), but no human being would say that is a good model for human society. That you think that it is good for us is preposterous.

    Additionally, it is clear you have not checked any of the pre-Castro statistics about Cuba. Cuba was a country well in its way to development, with a vibrant economy and the largest middle class in Latin America, with living standards higher than Italy or Spain at the time. It was not poverty what triggered support for Castro, but the breaking of the Constitution by Batista Coup d’etat.

  • Failed systems end. Change will come.

  • My limited observation of the Cuban people under Castro’s dictatorship is a well cared for people compared to my experience in the US. Sure we have a lot of treedom’s. The freedom to be homeless, to have bad health, to be in debt, but not to live a disease free life. The disease in the US are reserved for the wealthy, well educated, and mostly non white.
    Taking a young country like Cuba who just suffered under exploitation of Batista, then exploited sexually, emotionally, and economically by the US; to then give them total democracy is like letting a sick child on their own.
    Castro is a genius to put in place free healthcare as one of the first measure of the revolution. If you don’t have good health all the money in the world is worthless to you. Contrast Cuba’s health care with the profit driven US healthcare and you see why us Americans are so sick.
    “The point is that nothing in this world justifies a dictatorship” is statement without validity. As a former teacher a successful classroom depends on a dictatorship. After the teacher establishes the rules and the students become mature enough to conduct themselves in a responsible manner, only then does the teacher let up and give the students a bit of democracy.
    Cuba is a young nation. It has suffered a great deal. The people still need time to heal and develop their talents. You who are pushing for an immediate democracy only care about your own selfish ideological dream. You like pure democracy become a democrat or a republican in the US.

  • The key sentence in Osmel’s article is:
    ”The point is that nothing in this world justifies a dictatorship of a ny kind, not education, not health, not destroying fascism, not destroying communism, not even economic success.”
    That poses a serious question for those of us who contribute our views to these pages. Each of us has to be honest and declare openly, whether we are against dictatorship or not. I personally have on several occasions written of my opposition to dictatorship of any kind. Cuba suffers under a dictatorship and expressing views supportive of the Castro family regime is supporting dictatorship. That is unarguable.

  • The Ladies in White are often accused of being mercenaries. Untrue. Expenses like cell phones, flash drives and laptops are often given as gifts buy foreigners but NO ONE receives a salary to protest.

  • Of course you were told that that is the government propaganda they want to you and others that anyone to decedent or protest again the Castro’ s dynasty is been pay. Those ppl get some aid from the Cubans in exile because they can not work in a country were the labor force is in control by the government, no private business would hire them for obvious reason, and they can not start any private business initiatives because inspectors and fines would put them out business. So my dear let me give you an idea, you seems to think outside of the box. Next time in Havana try to meet some members of the opposition and independent journalists ask them questions get answer. Let see how the government treat you then.

  • Well spoken. It would appear that our political views are diametrically opposed. But we are in agreement that that no government should abridge our right to express our differing views. The Castros are evil. History will note that their evil is not of the socialism they forced upon the Cuban people but of their tyrannical thuggery to suppress the views of those who disagree with them.

  • By one of my guides on our Code Pink Cuba trip we were told that people believe the Ladies in White that protest on Sundays have been paid to do so. Is that true?

  • Keep voicing the opinions sir. It may start a tide of interest

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