Silence as a Virtue in Cuba

By Maykel Paneque

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — There’s a knock at the door and I open it. My neighbor shows me a copy of Granma newspaper and there’s a flask of rum in his other hand. He walks in happily as if he were plotting something and asks me if I can switch on the fan. We’re in the middle of August even though it’s only April, he says, and he pours the rum into two glasses.

Let’s celebrate living in a theater and he laughs, I only understand what he’s saying when he opens up the newspaper and points towards the article I need to read. It was about journalist Yasel Toledo Garnache’s comment “Theater and life”. It talked about “people who walk through life as if it were a theater performance.” Some of these people,” Garnache said, “are almost never sincere and they cause great harm, often “whispering” certain “jokes” to the person next to them in meetings but they never raise their hand.”

Hidden behind the glass of his cup, my neighbor stifled his laughter and said “read and drink, you have to swallow this down with alcohol from the bodega store, there’s no other way.” Garnache went on, those extremely theatrical Cubans pass off for being anonymous, they pretend to be brave and seem to carry a blade on their tongue, but it’s better to give them a sword because they are weak to point things out, see the negative and exaggerate “when the most important thing is to take action and to contribute to workplaces in a positive manner.”

He then closes his article: “criticizing is a favorable attitude for everyone when it is to help and push something for personal and collective wellbeing, not to crush or injure people’s feelings, or something else.” After reading this, I really need to take another shot of rum, this time a double.

Doesn’t it seem like he’s talking about me and so many people we know my neighbor asked? He asked me to put the fan fixed on both of us, which seemed to be switched off. Doesn’t it seem strange that Garnache, being a journalist, doesn’t ask why these people, myself included, never dare to raise their hands at meetings? Doesn’t he know that if we raise our hands, we will most definitely be left without a hand to put food in our mouths? And the same thing would happen if we opened our mouths. If we are anonymous, won’t we be protecting some crucial institution, the neighbor asks, pouring more rum into the glasses and he proposes a toast: for silence, because silence talks and we don’t lose our hands.

“Our shortcomings and other things which could be improved need to be taken on with courage and consciousness, without excuses or masks.” We have to “walk towards never-ending improvement. It’s essential that nobody “goes against” the spokesperson, but against the problem,” that way we will walk straight along the path to never-ending improvement, announces Garnache.

Did he mean to say never-ending depression? the neighbor asked and downed another shot. Garnache, we don’t enjoy “transmitting bad feelings to the collective with pessimistic expressions and attitudes,” we want to speak and be able to say what we want without losing an eye, a leg or an arm in the process. The Theater of the Absurd is also everyone raising their hand at an assembly to approve something that none of us believe in.

The butcher’s shop. Photo: Juan Suarez

It’s easy to write about the theatrical life that many of us Cubans lead. It’s easy to even say that private collective taxi drivers are hustlers, that we have to force them to lower their fares. It’s easy to say that agro-market sellers change the price of products etc, etc. The hard thing to do, and Garnache should know this, is to write sincere reports to the director of the staging and his assistants (we know who they are) and getting it published in Granma, if it doesn’t leave the journalist mute or unemployed first, which has happened to so many others. Uncomfortable truths get under the skin even when they are announced with words of love.

Let’s suppose that with honesty and courage you, Garnache, want to raise your hand, not using an incognito and sitting to write about the government minister or the manager who “was caught” and wants to “objectively” showcase what he had done. Would Granma  publish this article? No. Would he be able to publish a report which reveals statistics why so many Cuban art teachers, doctors and athletes abandon Venezuela? In summary: could he publish something which “harms” the image that has been so carefully molded by the media about the Cuban Revolution? No. And he knows why. Because of the saying: play with the chain, not the monkey, right?

Let’s say you know perfectly why they dismissed the former Culture minister, Julian Gonzalez Toledo, could you publish it even if you wanted to? As a journalist, don’t you believe that we Cubans would be better off informed so that we can speak based on fact instead of spreading rumors? Do you really think that you can buy off silence over a long period of time, Garnache?

At least, theater is subtle and brave when it wants to be and throws uncomfortable truths about the stage which those above don’t want to hear. Garnache, there’s a reason why your friend asks you to put names and surnames in the articles. And there’s a reason why you refuse to do that. You need courage, and a lot of it, to be coherent and fulfill your duty to inform or simply misinform the people.

It’s easier to shield yourself by “not giving the enemy firepower,” an enemy we’ve seen so much on the outside we refuse to believe we carry it inside.

One thought on “Silence as a Virtue in Cuba

  • April 29, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    the requirements for Cubans seeking to have a quiet life:

    “Don’t challenge the system, accept it, stay mute and exist.”

    Cuba Lifting the Veil

Comments are closed.