HAVANA TIMES, March 20 — Just a little while ago I finished writing the last line of my blog entry “In Cuba, the Party Doesn’t Need Elections” and I’m already starting this second entry, almost without taking a breath. But far from feeling particularly productive, I feel ashamed.
I didn’t spare words or irony to question the existence of a single political party here in my country. The same goes for a constitution that only allows us freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the aims of “socialist” society, and an electoral system designed so that we can’t choose.
Whenever I dare to criticize the Cuban political system, I think back to ten years ago, when I was among the millions of people who signed the constitutional amendment providing for the irrevocability of socialism in Cuba.
The question was not whether I considered socialism as the best option for the country. I’m sure that I thought so at that time, sometimes I still think it is, mainly because I’m increasingly convinced that the system that prevails in this country has little to do with socialism.
But the issue ran much deeper. It was over the right to decide to whether to leave this path of socialism when we wished. Likewise, it was over the right of future generations to leave the path to socialism (or to take the true path to socialism) if they wish.
It’s easy to write, especially if you do it on a website that few citizens have access to in the country. What’s difficult is to act responsibly at the appropriate time. I didn’t. I signed that document without a second thought, without reading it once.
I don’t remember if I considered socialism as being the best option at the time, because I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t my faith in socialism that led me to sign.
Yet I could also say that I signed it out of fear, because that mockery of a referendum was not held by secret vote; the president of each neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) went from house to house collecting the signatures.
But more than anything else, I signed for convenience, out of simple expediency.
I had just gotten a job as an English teacher at the Jose Antonio Echevarria Superior Politecnical Institute, better known as CUJAE.
I had just obtained the status of a university professor, which is less poorly paid than my mid-level colleagues, a little better recognized and a little closer to the possibility of a trip abroad.
I wanted to keep that job. I wanted to preserve the possibility of hoping for a trip. I wanted above all for everything to stay calm, for me to stay out of trouble.
It wasn’t until five years later that I learned that this “support” for the amendment hadn’t had anything to do with “demands and threats by the imperialist government of the United States.”
It was the Cuban government’s response to the Varela Project, which had gathered 11,200 signatures, which was more than the 10,000 signatures required by the constitution from registered voters to propose laws.
The people of Cuba weren’t permitted to become familiar with the Varela Project or what it proposed. But I know that even if had I known what it was about back then in 2002, I still wouldn’t have dared refusing to sign the document that the president of my CDR brought over to my house.
Now I get embarrassed whenever I run into someone who had the courage not to support that constitutional amendment. But at least I can say that I was afraid not to sign it.
Every time a Cuban has the courage to at least say that they were afraid, that they’re still afraid, they’re demonstrating that there is no freedom of expression in Cuba.