Eyes Wide Open or Playing Dumb in Today’s Cuba

Photo: Marcelo Caballero / El Estornudo

By Carlos Lechuga (El Estornudo)

HAVANA TIMES – Once you open your eyes, it’s very hard to close them again. When you see something, you discover it, understand it and are enlightened. It’s pretty much impossible to go back. I was talking about this a few days ago, with my mother’s friend. A 60-something-year-old man, who has been linked to the cultural scene in this country all of his life, and while he may have been brave for lots of people, he’s a complete coward in my generation’s eyes.

We already know that bravery/cowardice is very relative, but there’s only one reality. A reality that is very hard to ignore. My mother’s friend was involved in the expulsion of a writer from a state institution because of political reasons; and he did it knowing that what he was doing was very wrong. He didn’t sign a letter to appeal the decision, nor did he stand by the victim.

It’s also true that every human being responds the best they can, and lots of factors come into play. The time period, the environment, personality, etc… I myself feel like a coward talking to people much younger than I am (people who see things clearer than me, more directly, without so many complications).

Anyway, back to what I was writing about. It’s very hard to be Cuban, to live in Cuba (or even abroad) and establish a healthy relationship with its leaders, with everything they’ve done to this country. The level of social division, of violence created by the State, of social problems and migration dramas that have made most people I know react in different ways. Mind you, and I don’t want to generalize, but people in my closest circle react in two ways: confrontation or alienation.

I don’t know why it is that I don’t know anybody in my circle who agrees with the government’s actions (from the most basic, to the most complex). That’s to say, I don’t know anybody close to me who believes in any of this, in this system, in what is being defended on TV news here every single day, in the middle of the 21st century.

Many are very active in their dissent against our leaders, and others have just found a way to disconnect from it all. It’s like if you’re not thinking about the monster, it disappears as if by magic, or just affects you less.

I have friends who chose to get off social media, and go out to the countryside more often to see this country’s beautiful landscapes, to plant, to create, to love, to sing… I also have other friends who have chosen to continue pointing out everything that is wrong here, to stay in the line of fire more, to love and to sing (but with their focus more on denouncing injustice).

It’s very hard not to see certain things, nowadays. It was easier to play dumb some years ago, when Fidel Castro was in power, without the internet, without having other forms of communication and channels to denounce wrongdoings. There were things that everybody knew about, but they were more hidden.

It’s very hard right now to wipe the image of the boxer Minister of Culture from our minds, of the Comandante’s grandson driving a Mercedes, of the clumsy hate rally that is repeated over and over again (with different kinds of violence) against those who openly dissent against the government.

It’s impossible not to identify with citizens who suffer police beatings and harassment in lines or down a back street in Old Havana. A policeman who attacks the Cuban people with punches and batons, even when they know they are being filmed.

I don’t have the solution. I’d like to have it or maybe to be braver, I don’t know. What I do know is that, as a witness and part of what we are living right now, it is very hard for me to understand a person who avoids talking or sidesteps certain issues, what’s going on, the government, the dictatorship (whatever you want to call it).

My mother’s friend is even quite a nice guy. He’s intelligent, well read, is easy to get on with; but there is an iron curtain in his head. When he sees things getting bad, it closes. A metal sheet that makes him lower his head, react with violence and try to change the subject. A “wall” that doesn’t let him look at himself in the mirror and see what’s really standing in front of him.

The guy doesn’t talk about his participation in the expulsion of his counterpart. When you mention one of those cellphone recordings where you clearly see the authorities repressing the Cuban people, he always tries to find a way to blame the victim: “Who sent him to answer?” “Why did he try to do something?” “Wasn’t the house his?” “Did he try to leave the country?”

The guy always stands by the “large group”, the State, the abuser. He’s incapable of seeing how black faces appear over and over again, among the oppressed. He’s unable to think about the level of racism that is inherent in what he calls the “Cuban Revolution”.

When he sees somebody talk about Cuba from abroad, he always says the same thing: “That’s what they say there, but why don’t they come here?” This separation of which Cuban can and can’t talk about this country, because they are abroad, is all sovereign foolishness to me.

The man asks every artist to speak out and denounce the US blockade (he hates the word embargo), but he’s unable to stop at the same time, and point his finger upwards, at his leaders. (It’s true that this man has seen videos in which people who stand up to the authorities are beaten to a pulp). The same thing happens to me, I’m very afraid, but I don’t know…

My mother’s friend is the father of a young man who is a little younger than me. A man who has told me that his father is clear of mind, that he understands everything, but that because he grew up when he did and experienced everything he experienced, it’s impossible to behave differently. This is just the way he’s wired: not to seek out problems and to pray that nothing bad happens to his nearest and dearest (because he knows lots of terrible things are happening, of course).

The 60-year-old man is annoyed with his son because he was one of the people who went to stand outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27. He is worried about his son’s future, but meanwhile, his son, thinks that his father is jealous of him. Jealous because he didn’t do anything like this when he was his age. For not having done it and still not doing it.

There are a million variants about this kind of family dynamic (that has inspired this article). It’s not at all simple. Many families have broken apart and many others live in constant tension. On the one side, you have a group of people asking for more to be done (at the end of they day, they want a better country), and on the other side of the noose, you have people who want a DEUX EX MACHINA that comes and solves everything without them having to do anything themselves (because you know, you only live once).

Personally-speaking, without turning this into an act of hate, after having suffered censorship and harassment from State Security; after having a series of agents outside my house… I just can’t close my eyes again, it’s impossible. I’ve said this to my old lady’s friend. Sometimes, you’re half-naive and don’t believe this can happen until it happens to you, but for me, it’s not the same, like so many other things.

The thing that disappoints me the most is seeing people close to me, people who knew me when I was a child, who saw my mother raising me on her own, pretending to be “out of the loop”. People who you thought were your friends who, when the hour of truth comes, when things get really bad, disappear as if by magic and stay well away from you.

Men and women who suffer the same problems I do. Who are just as screwed as I am. Who choose to say the oppressor was right and mumble between clenched teeth: “Carlitos has become really extreme, he’s on social media a lot, he’s not seeing things clearly.”

All you need to open your eyes is to have had a run-in with the State or just spend quite a bit of time here. Time is this pressure cooker, the disappointment, arbitrary actions, and everything else they dictate to us as if we were dumb sheep, is slowly waking us up more and more every day.

Over the years, people have become more critical, they have become braver. However, at the same time, and not only because problems have piled one on top of the other, things have got worse (as if that were possible). Things can no longer seem “normal”, like nothing is going on. Everybody knows what’s happening, we all know what’s going on. You either put up walls, grease your iron curtains and refuse to look in the mirror. Or, on the contrary, you don’t turn your head, you don’t play dumb.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

2 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Open or Playing Dumb in Today’s Cuba

  • A Nation High Jacked & Controlled By armed Violent Militant that Live & Feed off the Cuban People. I have walked so far through your Cuba & still have never had to walk one step in my entire life as been born free to understand the difficulty of living under forced Control from others as I had experienced when in Cuba. There are No words for why a Cuban must Lower his head to why Political interest is not permitted to be talked about equally & Freely. No Tourist can walk in the shoes of a Cuban & Except to Lower their heads as Cubans are forced everyday to follow & never to lead. Cuba is Not a place for a person to visit that has feeling for Humanity in this World & Political Climate Rearrangement has to be Created before all is Lost

  • For outsiders who have studied Cuba’s long struggle for independence, many ask the question “Would the Cuban government and society behave differently without the blockade and without covert influence from the US?” The US, founded with slavery and the expulsion of indigenous people, took 100 years to abolish slavery but racism and abuse of native people continues to this day. So why the intolerance of Cuba in its attempts to develop another form of democracy? A respectful, tolerant and supportive attitude could go a long way to creating harmony, and hopefully better democracy through the Americas – including the USA.

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