The Power of Fear

Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — After watching a documentary about North Korea, when I went out into the street and looked around, I was relieved to have been born in Cuba. In the film, the descriptions given by torture survivors of the grisly official barbarism was so stifling that I could get a sense of the control that begins to take over the minds of millions of human beings and ends with the complete elimination of all autonomy.

But I had forgotten that comparisons can be misleading. However, very soon I had the opportunity to remember that.

On September 3 my son left for high school in the Alamar neighborhood, where he was starting the eleventh grade. From comments from his peers, he learned that only eleventh grade students would be leaving that same week for the countryside. That was a mere “detail” that hadn’t been shared with us parents at the end of last school year; nor did anyone mention it to me when I went to pick up the form to buy my son’s school uniform.

In the morning, after a speech about the obligation to go to the school in the countryside and the honor this involved, it was explained that the real purpose of this mini-migration was to free up classroom space for technology students in the capital; they would be undergoing training there for the upcoming population census.

Later the 11th graders were taken to classroom where they had to sign a document that pledged their commitment to go out into the country.

However, since my son refused to sign it, he asked the vice principal how his presence was going to be recorded because they hadn’t taken attendance. She responded by saying that because he didn’t sign the pledge of commitment, he could be considered absent.

Of course that answer made me think of the solid machinery of coercion that I’ve seen function in Cuba, all over. Depending in any way on any state institution implies infinite variations of pressure, which generate fear and uncertainty, operate automatically, and of course move from the top down.

Because of this, some of my relief of not living in North Korea left me. Control that establishes fear — while stunning reason and paralyzing the will, and by extension the dynamics of development — is monstrous wherever and however it’s applied.

It didn’t surprise me to find out that almost all of the students signed that commitment without the knowledge or even the consent of their parents.

They have incorporated an automatic apprehensiveness mechanism, since elementary school, in response to “what they’re going to write in your permanent file” or “what the teacher demands of you,” or about how “they can make you repeat a grade,” or “they might not give you a recommendation for a college prep program or a tech school or even for the university itself.”

On the other hand, no one has ever concerned themselves with informing them about their rights.

Nor are these discussed with the parents, for whom this unforeseen “school in the country” session would create unexpected inconveniences. I heard questions and comments like: “how are we going to get ahold of a suitcase?” “My son doesn’t have any shoes or clothes for out there,” “How much will it cost for a ride out into the provinces?” and “where are we going to get food to take to her this weekend?”

The protests were confined to whispers. Nobody complained about how pressuring a minor to sign a pledge that their guardians know nothing about is a violation of parental rights. They too feel like they have to obey unquestioningly.

I was once told by a friend (a foreigner who was visiting and who photographed a copy of the Cuban constitution) that she was frankly amazed that such a document was available to the Cuban people. She was convinced that it was inaccessible or forbidden to us.

Now where did that idea come from? Does it come from our apparent ignorance of our own laws, or even worse, from the vast civic apathy that we cultivate? And even worse, we have to ask whether it comes from the conviction that even knowledge of the laws doesn’t protect us.

I once had the opportunity to write for a blog that (intentionally) publishes false information about Cuba. Although I racked my brain thinking of what journalistic invention might make sense (to me), I couldn’t think of any.

But today I had the thought that you can write about your hopes, the Cuba you’d like to see, describing it as a reality, even it was only to invoke it.

In this way I would speak of the high sense of dignity and self-respect of Cubans. I would talk about how new generations have inherited from their parents the confidence that each one of them counts, and that power is not conceded to anyone, since each individual takes it and defends it.

In the schools here we see our children and teens so “calm and relaxed,” like the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, with the only security being their morals. Free of stupor, the compulsion of the masses, manipulation and opportunism. Free from fear.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Fear

  • You certainly like to wallow in dirt, dirt of US’s making. So we will take a look at ‘Operation Peter Pan’, of which Carlos Eire was a part of. He left Cuba at the ripe old age of 11 under Operation Peter Pan, never to return, so has the benefit of his full 11 years of experience in Cuba- from birth to age 11.

    Operation Peter Pan was the codename for a CIA project responsible for over 14,000 Cuban children being sent from Cuba to Miami by their parents after rumors were spread that the Cuban government, led by Fidel Castro, would soon begin taking children against the wishes of their parents to military schools and to Soviet labour camps. [Wikipedia]

    That never happened, of course. Now who could have been responsible for that rumour, do you think? (Clue: there’s a three-letter acronym referred to in the previous sentence Shhh, it’s a secret).

    The operation took place between 1960-1962, and was originally designed to transport children of parents who opposed the revolutionary government. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami and Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, who was alleged to be a CIA agent, were involved.

    One ‘Peter Pan child’, Maria de los Angeles Torres, now a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, believes that the CIA initiated the visa waiver program and deliberately spread the rumors that Cuban children would be taken from their parents by the Cuban government. She has repeatedly requested that 69 relevant documents be declassified, but even some 50 years later the U.S. government refuses to do so.

    So ‘Griffin’, the “Dr. Frankenstein” of the piece, who fastened the “twin bolts of fear and propaganda” onto the heads of the parents of 14,000 Cuban children, was actually the CIA!

    And on to your head as well, it seems.

  • In his brilliant memoir of childhood in Cuba, “Waiting for Snow in Havana”, Carlos Eire wrote about how Fidel Castro, like some sort of revolutionary Dr. Frankenstein, set about replacing the head of every Cuban with a copy of his own head. This new ideological head was fastened on with the “twin bolts of fear and propaganda”.

    An apt metaphor. So it goes in every dictatorship: fear & propaganda. Twin bolts to fix the monster’s head, or lock the mental shackles.

  • As anyone who has even a journeyman’s knowledge of psychology knows, fear is not a productive motivator for behavior, production, or creativity. Without actually visiting, or better yet, living (at least for a bit) in the PDRK, can we know for sure that “The Fear Factor” is what motivates the Korean people?

    As Baik Bong writes, in his preface to “The Biography of Kim Il Sung, Vol. I” (which I received as a gift at the Embassy of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea in Habana in January of 1970):
    “The Korean people, who had undergone agonizing sufferings both in and out of the country over many years, had long eagerly looked forward to an outstanding leader who would deliver their unfortunate fatherland and people. When the fatherland was reduced to a colony of Japanese imperialism and when the destiny of the people was exposed to the most serious threat; at this time in particular, this was the most urgent national desire of the Korean people.
    “It was no other than General Kim Il Sung, the great leader of the 40 million Korean people, peerless patriot, national hero, ever-victgorious, iron-willed brilliant commander and one of the outstanding leadrs of the international communist movement and working-class movement, that in the dark days of national suffering when even the midday sun and the full moon had lost their luster, arose, with the destiny of the entire nation on his shoulders.
    “The appearance of General Kim Il Sung, the General who raised aloft the beacon fire of fatherland restoration on the sacred ancestral Mt. Baikdoo and brought the dawn of liberation to teh 3,000 ri land of our fathers, was the happiest moment of the Korean people.”
    and furthermore,
    “The people of our country have unrestricted love and respect for the General, praising him as a legendary here, bornof the spirit of the sacred Mt. Baikdoo, who is capable of commanding heavens and earth, an unrivalled brilliant commander who, as it were, can shrink a long range of steep mountains at a stroke and smash the swarming hordes of enemies with one blow, and as the outstanding Leader of the nation who has led the nation to the struggle for national salvation. The great feats of General Kim Il Sung, who crossed and re-crossed the steep mountains and alps of Baikdoo for over 15 years, smashing the Japanese imperialist aggressors and terrifying them, until finally he saved the fatherland, shine brightly in the history of our nation.”

    Hence, we have something more than fear motivating the Korean people–at least those north of the 38th parallel. Hence, “go West, young man (and young woman), go West! (or is the PDRK to the East of Cuba–guess it is about equadistant, on the opposite end of the world),

    or as Mark Twain once said:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” …from “Innocents Abroad/Roughing It.”

    Che certainly expanded his horizons via travel…and I hope most Cuban youth who wish to travel abroad will soon be able to do so…even if “the sky will become filled with too many planes” if they do so!

  • The fact that the Cuban government considers the North Korean people’s monarchy a socialist country severely undermines its claim to be a socialist government. I bet at least 99% of the members of the Cuban Communist Party would prefer to live in South Korea rather than in North Korea if they ever had to make that choice.

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