By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — “Freedom is the right of all persons to be honored, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.” – A beautiful concept from Marti, but dangerous in the Cuban context today.
From a very young age, I felt like we were missing a bit of freedom in my country, even though I was a Fidelista like everyone around me. How could you not love the spirit of the Revolution which always pointed out, using every media channel available, how privileged we Cubans were to “be free”? Free healthcare and education, as well as having freed ourselves from US tutelage were and continue to be the arguments used.
This, as well as a video of Africa that was always shown on TV, where starving children were feeding off their almost dead mothers, surrounded by flies, all of whom had ribs showing, convinced us of the capitalist world outside’s hostile and unjust character and of our privilege to be Cuban and live under the Revolution and Fidel’s protection. We believed this because this way of seeing things was instilled in us from the time we were in school and from everything that surrounded us.
My father, an anti-US revolutionary who bordered on being a fanatic, inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I inherited my passion for politics and for being informed from him. But, I didn’t understand lots of things.
For example: why it was a stigma to have family living in the US, something that they would always ask on forms and was a limiting condition, meanwhile I heard people say, amidst my ignorance about these matters, that Fidel and Raul had a sister living in Miami and Fidel’s son had nearly all of his family there. And this didn’t jeopardize them like it jeopardized other people!
I had a hard time seeing them as gods, in spite of the fact they would present themselves as such, because I always knew that they were from Biran, a place very near to where I live, in the same mountains that decorate my horizon.
I used to ask myself: If the Revolution dignified the Cuban people, why was it that a simple laborer from a capitalist country could come to our country as a tourist, stay at a beautiful hotel and have priority in a line at the CADECA (money exchange) or a shopping center, while we couldn’t stay at this hotel even if the foreigner wanted to pay for the bill, which wasn’t within our reach anyway because of our measly wages? And at this shopping center (remember in the beginning), we needed to show our dollars in order to go in, just like freed Black people needed to show their freedom papers centuries ago to prove that they weren’t slaves.
I have seen so many young Cubans who find their girlfriends losing interest in them to pursue any old retired grandfather in Florida or Europe, without love being a part of this, or accepting to be their pimps. Poor girls, what they have to go through, what they have to do and what they need. Moral values vanish in the face of the huge difference between prices and wages. Even a Cuban-American receiving US social security receives 20 times more than what a young Cuban worker does on the island. Is that what we fought so much for? I would ask myself.
Then, I tried to understand the political system we have. Fidel used to always repeat that “it is the most democratic in the world” where “it’s the people who nominate and elect” and there isn’t a battle between parties, something which “would divide our society”. I never completely swallowed that pill, but I wavered because I didn’t know any better. I was educated to believe in them, not to doubt nor think differently. I didn’t know what being a citizen was either, I didn’t have an ounce of civic culture, like most people around me still don’t. Oh, how many problems discovering what democracy really is and feeling like a citizen have brought me!
Reading Marti was what opened my eyes. His ethics, his public spirit, his patriotism, his non-conformity with injustice. It’s hard to read and understand him without becoming absorbed in his rebelliousness and his desire to participate in public affairs. Marti imbues you with the wish to be useful to your country.
I would listen to stories about the civil war at the beginning of the Revolution, between Communism’s followers and those who wanted to reinstate the Republic that existed before Batista’s coup, but we were told this story as if it were a “fight against outlaws ”. Stories were told about Cuban emigres because they couldn’t sympathize with our “marvelous project” or because they didn’t find their space in this new society, and they were labeled “worms” and we were banned from having any contact with them. Understanding my country and overcoming national prejudices was a long and difficult task.
Thanks to the technological revolution that VCD, DVD, hard drives, USB drives, the internet and the “Weekly Package” brought us, we learned more about our community abroad and about the opposition, who were completely invisible beforehand. Just like the majority of people I know, I never identified myself with the opposition because from the little I had seen of them, they speak a language that is very different to the Cuban we speak here in Cuba. Then, I understood why: the social exclusion that follows them when they “cross the line” separates them from the people around them and links them to abroad even more, where they find support.
Today, I know that I could never have understood what happens to them for dissenting, until I myself was taken prisoner and I have lived the experience of being an independent journalist in my own country. You discover an invisible Cuba, which people aren’t aware of and you feel repressed in your own living spaces.
I understand that this is worse for them, in spite of the fact that we are even living in a privileged time, where repressive measures are more refined than they were in past decades and the country cares a little more about keeping up a certain level of “appearances” in its diplomatic and trade games. But, oh how much our dissident compatriots have suffered for challenging official discourse in culture, sports, sex or politics! And how much we are still suffering!
Freedom is the most important thing a human being has after life itself. The Revolution only recognizes your freedom if you remain loyal to it, even in a hypocritical sense, but you have to follow it! If you don’t like this, you have to emigrate, suffer harassment and injustices, or be an outcast in your own country.
Ever since my friend Jose Antonio Herrera and I were abused, when our belongings were confiscated in a search on November 10th last year, neither of us have been able to really feel “free”.
However, it’s when we come up against our national laws, the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Interior’s actions that we feel less “free”. Seeing ourselves so vulnerable, without legal or real tools to fight this injustice and abuse of power, without the chance to defend my right to be honored, which, according to Marti, is my right to think differently which is my freedom. Or Jose Antonio’s right to be my friend and not be punished by the MININT, because of their petty behavior.
I see a young man, who doesn’t sympathize with politics like the rest of his generation, to better understand why many of us put ourselves on the line to defend the respect that most of our people have lost. I see my Fidelista father doubting whether he really knows the system he has defended for 59 years. I see my mother scared and anxious every day, like mothers used to be in the time of Batista’s dictatorship. I see my 8-year-old daughter asking me: why are the police so bad?
I see that the “Revolution” is very inept at fighting against honor and freedom, because in combating these concepts they only become more tainted in the Cuban people’s eyes, as they recognize the merits of those of us who want a better Cuba. Marti is our best district attorney and his civic legacy, the law that protects us. One day we will win all of our freedoms and justice.