Not Afraid of Getting into Politics

Luis Miguel del Bahia

HAVANA TIMES — One of the most important things I learned from living in Europe was not to fear getting into politics.

When I was still living in Cuba, opinions were stated behind closed doors, in low voices, and looking to the sides, not wanting to get oneself into problems.

Today, upon return, most people with whom I talk are still fearful of being reprimanded for speaking openly about ideas that are contrary to the government.

This phobia isn’t groundless or paranoid. One can find themselves unemployed or marginalized, in short: no longer “socially integrated.”

There are other people who don’t have anything to lose, but they haven’t had the opportunity to compare and understand that they have a right to be heard.

They have not come to value freedom as a force that emancipates.

I don’t have anything to lose either, nor do I have the fear of never having left the cave.

So I find myself surrounded by people who look at me with strange expressions — ones of fear, surprise, disgust — when I make sharp anti-government comments.

These are the same people who can’t afford to buy decent food, those whose wages aren’t enough for that. In short, these are people who suffer the same problems as me.

The system has been lucky (or effective) at keeping most Cubans from going abroad. In such a context, it’s quite difficult to achieve change.

Maybe when more people can become familiar with other values — different from the ones on Cuban TV news — a collective yearning for freedom will be created and they will finally lose their fear.

10 thoughts on “Not Afraid of Getting into Politics

  • To the author: I just returned from my third trip to Cuba, and I encountered a number of Cubans, as I have in the past, who voiced criticisms of the Cuban government: openly, loudly, and in public places. I also encountered many Cubans who generally supported the government’s policies. While I do not deny that political repression occurs in Cuba, I find the characterizations of Cuba as a place where everyone lives in fear all the time as not in line with my own observations. Although I am an outsider–an American who visits as a tourist and so cannot truly understand the Cuban reality–I’ve always encountered a very wide range of voiced opinions from Cubans on every topic, and I have trouble believing that Cuban society is as straightjacketed as some claim when it comes to criticism of the government.

  • Not that it is any of your business, but my wife is Cuban so we are legally able to travel to Cuba to visit her family still there. Even if I were ¨breaking the law¨as you say, does that make any of my comments regarding Cuba any less true?

  • I haven’t been there, but I’ve been told by several Canadian sailors that most boats in Muriel Hemingway Marina in Havana are American. Most are older men who come alone, looking for young Cuban women who they readily find due to their money.

    Personally, I met an American in the Florida Keys who told me he had just returned from Cuba. He goes every year and never checks in or out of the US. He had a small power boat, was in his late 50’s, early 60’s and told me he has several ‘wives’ in Havana.

    Seems sex isn’t on the US list of blockaded items. But I guess American always did like to pay for the favours of Cuban women. Old habits die hard. Makes you sometimes think if Cuba’s excellent health care system hadn’t eradicated venereal disease to the extent it has, these men would go home with a very special ‘souvenir’. There’s upsides and downsides to everything, it seems.

  • In other words he is breaking the law

  • Thousands of US citizens break the travel ban by illegally (on the US end) traveling to Cuba each year where they are welcomed like visitors from anywhere else. A small percentage have been hounded and prosecuted for doing so… the vast majority have had no problems.

  • I would like to know how Mr.Moses gets into Cuba,the last time i checked it would be illegal for him to vacation in Cuba unless he had special permmision.Maybe he has very special Gov. connections

  • You claim, ostensibly as an experienced ‘Cuba hand’, that ” fear is so prevalent in Cuba, it is stifling. You can almost smell it in all public places.” I’ve spent some time in Cuba and cannot corroborate in any manner, your experiences. But who knows, Americans tend to be paranoid whenever they leave the American bubble of ‘reality’. Canadians commonly comment on it.

    The first thing that struck me was that you added two ‘fears’ to Luis’s list – more accurately, worries – translation issues may have clouded meaning – of “freedom or worse, their very lives.”

    Let’s be clear, there are no freedoms for people who have no power. A powerful Cuban government may be curtailing personal freedoms but the 99% that I represent, living in a capitalist country are equally powerless. AND, the powerful are empowered to service their own interests.

    At least in theory, it’s different in Cuba. The challenge for Cubans is to make theory agree with reality. Here, we are fucked.

    In terms of fears, or worries, for personal safety, I’ve walked down the streets of old Havana at midnight with no fear, something outside the experience or expectations of Americans. Maybe this is ‘Moses’ paranoia, despite being an ‘old Cuban hand’.

    He tells us, “I always breathe a sigh of relief every time I leave just knowing I am free to speak my mind.” That’s an option only bosses and elites have in his country, not shared by the 99%. See my comment below. ‘Moses’ has never been shy telling us what class he belongs to – not one of us.

  • Luis,

    I certainly experienced the famous Cuban ‘sideways glance’ when I was there. It happened in a tourist office when a friendly employee was happy to look after my bike but it was against the rules. She had to say no but she glanced sideways at her boss to let me know why she couldn’t do it.

    What struck me was, I’ve never had an experience in any other country where an employee had to dictate rules they didn’t agree with and they wanted to let me know how they felt about it. I’ve had employees tell me many times, “rules are rules”, but none have expressed their personal feelings that they disagreed with the rules, even silently.

    I can’t be sure why, but my feeling is, under capitalism, employees have imbibed and internalized the values of their bosses and the rules that need to be followed, where questions of justice and ethics and logic are not part of the bottom line. The bosses set the rules based on self-interest and it follows, in a system where bosses have the power, the rules must be followed without question.

    It’s true, employees here could easily “find themselves unemployed” – one of the fears you listed Cubans have – if they didn’t obey the bosses but from what I see, this is so outside what they would consider doing, it’s not a possibility. So you could say they experience no fear in these circumstances whereas Cubans have qualms they need to come to terms with that manifests itself as fear.

    The other consequence of speaking out that you give, being “marginalized, in short, no longer ‘socially integrated’,” is a universal experience I have in Canada and the US when trying to have a conversation about politics. You didn’t write about what European countries you are familiar with – there is a distinctive north-south divide. Northern Europeans, I’ve found, are similar to here – reluctant to ‘talk politics’. The south is different, not only in Europe but in the Middle East and Asia.

    As one who loves to talk politics, I never miss an opportunity to have an animated conversation with taxi drivers, pizza delivery drivers and small business owners in Toronto, many of whom come from that region. Toronto has a 30% foreign-born population.

    Here is an illustration. Yesterday I went for a haircut and when my barber asked me, as barbers often do, what I was planning for the weekend, I said I was going to the Tribunal that is taking place in Toronto in support of the Cuban 5. It includes a rally and protest outside the American Embassy. I should note, my barber is WASP Canadian.

    I had previously told her about spending the winter in Cuba, why I didn’t come in for a haircut, so she was not unfamiliar with my interests. But this was political. It turned out to be a one-sided conversation. I’ve been here before, many times. For encounters like this, where I am a customer – that is, paying for a service – the only consequence was silence. If I was in a work situation, there would definitely be consequences in not being a person who was ‘socially integrated’ in the workplace environment. I would quickly come to understand that talking politics was not on.

    I think we also need to look at what being ‘afraid’ and ‘fearful’ actually means. I see from the first comment, ‘Moses’ has added fear of “freedom or worse, [your] very lives” to the list. I think it’s more appropriate to delve into this subject in a reply to that entity.

    You also wrote, “The system has been lucky (or effective) at keeping most Cubans from going abroad. In such a context, it’s quite difficult to achieve change.” Keeping in mind that only 30% of Americans have passports that allows them to travel abroad – even to Canada as of last year – “systems” – i.e. establishment interests, are equally “lucky “in countries where their citizens can more afford it. Under the circumstances, it’s equally “quite difficult to achieve change”.

  • All of this is the fault of the saboteur ideology and state monopoly program of Marxism. What is needed in Cuba is what is needed in the US: jettisoning of Marxism as the dominant ideology of the Left.

  • Fear is so prevalent in Cuba, it is stifling. You can almost smell it in all public places. Most Cubans are afraid to simply disagree with any government policy for fear of loss of job, priviledge, freedom or worse, their very lives. I enjoy my times spent in Cuba but I always breathe a sigh of relief every time I leave just knowing I am free to speak my mind.

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