By Yusimi Rodriguez (photos: Caridad)
HAVANA TIMES — I noticed that on many occasions when writers for Havana Times criticize the situation in our country, readers will appear ready to demonstrate that conditions are even worse in other countries.
For example, we might criticize our electoral system for allowing only one political party to take part… excuse me, where the sole party “doesn’t need to participate in the elections” (since it’s enough for it to approve or disapprove of the candidates early on).
Likewise we might point to our electoral system as guaranteeing our right to vote (almost requiring it) – but not our right to choose.
In any instance such as these, someone will write explaining that the multi-party system has failed to guarantee the existence of true democracy or that the exercise of choice is only in appearance because citizens fail to affect any profound changes through voting.
The same happens when we find fault in the lack of press freedom and freedom of expression here. It doesn’t matter what examples of this we provide, some commentator will start mentioning articles or documentaries that are censored in other countries or the numbers of journalists imprisoned or killed or how ordinary citizens are fired for speaking their minds.
How can we criticize Cuban education — even if we’re witnessing the poor preparation of teachers, often as young as their students; corruption, with teachers accepting bribes and selling tests; or the need to participate in mass rallies — when the vast majority of people in some other countries don’t even have access to education?
And what about free health care, that other icon that legitimizes the Cuban Revolution? How can we criticize this medical system that’s available to every Cuban — though often there’s neither the appropriate medical instruments in the hospital, nor drugs, nor materials to get a X-ray or other tests (unless you have a friend who works there) — when there are countries where people die of curable diseases because they can’t afford medical care?
I also get those responses from foreign friends when making any criticism of this country. All I can do is respect their opinions and respect those who send in comments to Havana Times. In many cases they achieve their goal: making me feel guilty, as well as ignorant, or at least lucky to live in this country.
But therein lays the danger. These foreigners or Cubans living abroad, who have the ability to compare, don’t argue based on our situation; instead, they use other countries as negative examples. This isn’t to show us that we’re doing well here, but that the situation is much worse elsewhere.
“You Cubans need to look on the bright side,” they seem to be saying. “You folks need to be content, appreciate what you have – because if you try to change things all you’re going to do is make them worse.”
That’s the message that has kept us paralyzed for years: The fear of jumping out of the boiling water into the flames.
This also seems to be the tactic now being used by our media. The objective remains the same: To make us feel that only under the guidance of our unwavering political elite will we be safe.
But now they’re taking a different tack: Instead of talking about our accomplishments — which is becoming difficult to do in the current circumstances — the emphasis is being placed on showing the horrors that occur outside of our borders.
The Granma newspaper, official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, published two articles from foreign publications in its issue of Friday, May 4: “How the National Security Agency has gone rogue,” by Amy Goodman, and “Filantrocapitalismo” (Philanthro-capitalism), by Renan Vega Cantor.
In “Philanthro-capitalism,” the author lays bare the false goodwill of the imperial powers in a masterful manner. Of course it might have been good to leave out the parts where it talked about the high cost to the Colombian treasury of the artificial beautification of Cartagena, or how much is spent on Barack Obama’s motorcade, because I couldn’t help thinking about all of the expenditures made recently by the Cuban state in welcoming Pope Benedict II to the island.
Although the US Security Agency appeared first in this newspaper, I read about it later. I confess that the title scared me a little. I find that the word “Security” (written with the first letter capitalized – like in “Cuban State Security”), has the ability to stir a sense of insecurity in me.
Nonetheless, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when the article explained that what had occurred had been in the United States and involved three US citizens: a government intelligence officer, a filmmaker and a hacker.
None of them were charged with a crime, but they were followed, monitored and stopped (sometimes at gunpoint) and interrogated without access to legal counsel.
I’m not going to go into the details, it’s extensive and worth reading yourself. Still, I admit that — perhaps because I’m impressionable and cowardly — when I imagined myself in the place of those three US citizens, I trembled.
I was glad to be ninety miles away from the country where these stories happened. “My God, these things actually happen in this supposedly democratic country?” I thought.
That’s the effect that articles like these are capable of achieving among us Cubans by recounting true events that occur in the United States, with these being directed at people here on the island who are without access to the Internet and have to rely on the national press as their only source of information.
This was clearly aimed at those who are unaware that citizens in this country who are opposed to the government and decide to express their ideas and make them known have been arrested and subjected to intimidation. This is the only reason I can think of for the appearance of this article in Granma.
Only through this website, through materials that circulate on USB flash memories and from word on the street did I know that similar situations occur here in Cuba. People like Gorki (the singer with the group “Porno para Ricardo”) and bloggers like Orlando Luis Pardo and Yoani Sanchez have also been detained and subjected to intimidation without the presence of legal counsel, though not charged of any crime.
Had I been dependent solely on the government press, like most people here, that article in Granma would have worked perfectly with me. I would have felt lucky to live in a country where I don’t run the risk of seeing my rights violated in that way.
Finally, I’d like to quote the words of Benjamin Franklin that Amy Goodman cited in ending her article: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
It’s time to ask what we’re giving up and in exchange for what.