Take It Easy You Cubans

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.

7 thoughts on “Take It Easy You Cubans

  • May 26, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Lawrence, in post #3 I said “some of the people who write the type of comments you mention are involved in so-called Cuban solidarity groups.” While you may not belong to one of these groups, your thinking is still along the same lines.

    “Counselling” Cubans to be “patient with their government.” Placed within the context of the patronizing tone of the entire post, I interpret counselling to be someone who places themselves in a position of authority over others. It’s condescending to Cubans who are struggling for the legal right to replace “their government” through free and fair elections and to exercise the fundamental freedoms and civil liberties that you as a Canadian enjoy.

  • May 25, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Wow, Mark G, you certainly missed the mark thinking I come from “so-called Cuban solidarity groups”. Sorry, not. I went to Cuba as a tourist, uncommitted to any Cuban cause, and if anything, I was prepared to be disturbed by what I saw due to being subjected to the massive propaganda emanating from the US. Yes, I’m a lifelong lefty, active mostly in support of the antiwar and pro-Palestine movements as an independent, with no card-carrying affiliations. I have been naturally sympathetic to Cuba’s struggle against colonialism and imperialism, but was wary of the Cuban government’s embrace of the Communist model. I’m dedicated to participatory democracy, anathema to both Capitalism and Communism as currently practiced.

    Now that you have been made aware that you were completely wrong in thinking I was part of a solidarity group, you may want to rethink why you feel I’m condescending to everyone. Those with fixed thinking tend to perceive others they don’t agree with as talking down to them.

    To repeat the core of what I wrote, Havana Times is an invaluable voice for reminding us of the shortcomings currently in place in Cuba but it is also useful to be aware of the price citizens in capitalist countries pay for their high level of consumerism and personal freedoms. It’s true, the grass looks greener on both sides from outside the fence. One can understand the grousing of Cubans for what they don’t have, sometimes at the expense of what they do have, and the grousing of non-Cubans who increasingly are becoming aware of the basic structural cracks in the capitalist model resulting in ever increasing disparities and hardships.

    Whilst in Cuba, I was surprised to find myself asking if I could live under a system of government like in Cuba, the first time I have ever experienced a socialist-type regime. The lacks certainly hit you between the eyes when you first arrive and few Canadians are lining up to apply for citizenship (although they frequently return for visits and I met several who have stayed). But the longer I was there the more I was overwhelmed by the essential idealism of the Revolution that is still represented in the current government, although HT tells us it’s slipping. In comparison, Canada never had this level of idealism and currently all three levels of government I live under are headed by unpopular leaders, all of which the majority of voters voted against and a large minority didn’t vote at all, essentially saying, ‘none of the above’. And they have the audacity to call this a democracy.

    So after being back for a couple months, I ask myself, would I prefer a Cuban-type government in Canada rather than the ones that are here if I had a choice? I wouldn’t work actively to install one. As I wrote, I’m a steadfast believer in participatory democracy – but if Canadians chose to have one, I wouldn’t do what some Cubans did – leave the country. I would stay and work for change and I think I would have more chance of success than hoping to effect change under the current regime in Canada. Many agree that only a total collapse of the economy and the ability to govern will bring about change here although many are not giving up like the Occupy Movement. Hopefully change will come more easily in Cuba. At least there’s reason for hope.

  • May 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Lawrence W’s post in #4 is an almost a perfect illustration of the point I am making in post #3 and the point Yusimi is making in the “Take it Easy You Cubans” diary entry.

    Lawrence’s post should be headlined “Talking Down to Cubans.” The post talks down to Americans and Canadians at the same time. We don’t know what is good for us because we are “heavily brainwashed.” Patronizing piffle and condescending codswallop.

  • May 22, 2012 at 5:42 am

    I have just returned to Canada after spending two months in Cuba. Many times, talking to Cubans, I found myself counselling patience with the government. Even without easy access to outside media, most – all? – Cubans are aware the outside world has many things they do not have access to. But I fear they don’t know the price that is paid to gain it. State media in Cuba tries to point this out – and sure, they use it to make people more tolerant of shortages and inadequacies – all governments play the same game, supported by their mainstream media – as controlled as in Cuba, but worse, by elite financial interests with no commitment to the common good. Canada and the US constantly remind their citizens of the lack of personal freedoms elsewhere, hoping they will tolerate the worsening access to jobs, healthcare and education. Just this week we had an article in the Toronto Star about Yoani Sanchez’s confinement during the papal visit. They never miss an opportunity to demonise, no matter how trivial.

    Cuba is under a stage of siege, maintained for 60 years, by a country that is clearly dedicated to destroying its government because it is a threat to US elite interests – not physically but ideologically. Cuba has the potential to open the eyes and minds of the heavily brainwashed populace in the US, especially now, as the capitalist house of cards is crumbling, yet again. Until the state of siege comes to an end, Cubans cannot hope to have total freedom for criticism. Our freedoms have been tolerated, knowing they offer no threat to the elites up to know. To be expected, that is now changing as mass unrest increases. Whilst freedoms in Cuba require curtailment at this time, Havana Times is an invaluable voice for constantly pushing the envelope, reminding us of what is needed, offering constructive criticism intended to enhance, not destroy the revolution. Long may it, and the revolution, survive!

  • May 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Yusimi, some of the people who write the type of comments you mention are involved in so-called Cuban solidarity groups. I even recognize some of the names. These folks fundraise for Cuba, they make solidarity visits to Cuba, and they work at getting out messages of support for the Cuban revolution in their home countries. These folks are in a real sense invested in the Cuban revolution and its supposed successes. Some even manage to make a living from this support (e.g. organizing solidarity tours, hosting websites, writing supportively about the Cuba revolution in mainstream media, etc.).

    Writing such as yours which shows that many Cubans are not happy with their leadership or lot in life threatens what these folks have invested both personally and sometimes financially as well. So they parrot back to you the message tracks of Cuban state media.

  • May 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Good story. Here’s the deal, those holding power in Cuba should be ready for some nasty occurrences
    if they don’t change and change immediately! I’m not talking fast, I’m saying NOW! The world
    is growing and even countries like Columbia and Nicaragua are thriving compared with Cuba.
    Get it together Politburo or face the consequences! Again, great, great insight and conjecture.

  • May 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I think this article is fantastic and incredibly important for any of us who have ever been guilty of telling Cubans to be more grateful. I live in the United States, and yeah, it’s not perfect over here. I could go on and on about the reasons that I’m frustrated with my country. I can also talk about why my country is great. I think we always need to be fair, balanced and most importantly honest. If we don’t criticize and discuss the problems that we and our communities face, we won’t take action to fix them. But if we also don’t celebrate our good fortune and privileges we will become hard, cynical and and entitled.

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