“Us”, “Them” and Barriers in Official Cuban Discourse

Design: Janet Aguilar

By Laura Roque Valero  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – The first frontier established in the discourse between one group and another is “us” and “them”. Behind the seemingly innocent use of these pronouns, ideologies and beliefs are built that go beyond any other geographical or sociological barrier and is a construct as old as humanity itself.

There are plenty of examples of this segmentation in official Cuban discourse, which has placed a barrier not only between Cuba and a certain part of the world, but also between Cubans themselves.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel is a great example of this division into groups, when during the July 11th protests he said: “the combat order has been given, revolutionaries take to the streets,” clearly excluding to a part of the Cuban population based on ideology and differentiating between “us the revolutionaries” and “them” the protestors.

He also holds onto the legacy of Fidel Castro’s speeches, using them in his Tweets to talk about a model of disciplined, hard-working and especially loyal citizen. In addition to regularly quoting phrases from Castro’s speeches and describing himself on his Twitter account as “committed to Marti’s ideas held by Fidel and Raul”, the president spreads messages like the one he posted on April 14th: “What a neighborhood Miraflores-Jesus Menendez is. Everybody works hard. This is the only way we can solve problems. Add to that the affection, spirit and optimism they welcomed us with, and you’ll understand why I was so impressed,” highlighting the sacrifice and loyalty to the political affiliation that he represents.

When talking about the voluntary potato harvest by young people from the Ministry of Interior, on April 11th, he described them as the people that “are always on the frontline of every battle.” This phrase has been extended to other groups of Cuban society which shows the way things have been set up, where you can find headlines in the national press such as “Keys in Cuba to winning the battle.” What should be the normal functioning of a country is presented as a feat to the reader, dressed up in a glory that doesn’t exist in reality, but is used to define the group it shares its ideology with.

On April 9th, the president shared a fragment from a document published on the Cuban Presidency and Government’s Twitter page: “Amidst adversity, we have to mobilize all of our intelligence on the island, all of our willingness to change reality, without losing our revolutionary optimism and enthusiasm.” This configuration of “us” indicates Cuba’s ruling elite’s demands, based on a system of well-defined values that contribute to this “illusion” of national accoplishment, a picture of success that doesn’t extend further beyond discourse.

Another characteristic linked to “us” is the call for resistance. In Granma newspaper, the article “Close down the Morro Lighthouse?” puts another key piece of official Cuban discourse on the table. “Revolutionaries, those of us who are committed to this process beyond shortages and hardship, those of us who continue to believe in Socialism’s ideas, have to resist, improve, change everything that needs changing.”

However, what is understood as “resistance” on the island is a digression of the concept that the Royal Spanish Academy’s Dictionary offers, which defines it as opposition, the reluctance to do something. While Cubans have seen this word used most of the time when referring to the action of putting up with and tolerating any kind of difficulty, even though their very own survival is at stake.

Diaz-Canel called for resistance when calling upon Cubans to march for International Workers’ Day, pointing out “us” reasons in a Tweet on April 27th: “I’m inviting you to the Square on #PrimerodeMayo (May 1st). For the heroism of reistance and the inspiring victory of collective creativity, for vaccines and those of us vaccinated.”

Alina Lopez warned that this discursive strategy forms part of the ruling elite’s mechanism that seeks to enthrone them at the expense of their citizens’ unconditional discipline and sacrifice: “A political ideology that tries to present a prosperous future that is always out of reach, and that asks for loyalty and constant work from its supporters, which is no longer liberating in nature but instead a dominating mechanism. It stops being Marxist at the same time it is no longer able to self-correct, when it believes itself to be eternal.”

On the other hand, discursive strategies change when it comes to references to the “them” group. The importance of the message focuses on contemplating the negative characteristics of these “others” and ignoring or belittling their positive aspects.

This isn’t new, Cuban newspapers haven’t skimped on dishing out shame when it comes to “them”. In addition to the well-known terms “worms”, “stateless”, “mercenaries”, you can find articles in the history of Granma newspaper such as the article published in 1993 with the headline “Second-class feces”. This was what they called a group of Cubans that went to the Mexican Embassy in an attempt to emigrate to the US, during one of the toughest years of the Special Period.

The article highlighted the difficulties migrants faced to get into the United States, and ended with the following “In the divided democracy that establishes different categories of citizens, not even feces are all the same. But they’ve discovered this a little too late.”

Cubadebate recently published the article “What counterrevolutionaries keep hushed up”, in which they stereotype the person that doesn’t share the Revolution’s ideals yet again: “Anyone who lends themselves to serving the Imperial enemy’s table, is a counter-revolutionary, no matter how hard they try to hide ingredients with elaborate recipes.” This simplified form of the “other” far-removed from “our” ideological group doesn’t see nuances or reveal a willigness to establish a dialogue between Cubans beyond their ideological stance.

After the song Patria y Vida’s release, Guerrero Cubano – an influencer whose identity remains unknown, but is quoted and supported by journalists from party-line media – went so far as calling singer Yotuel Romero a “jineterito” (little prostitue), a label his wife, Spanish actress and singer Beatriz Luengo, has denounced.

Spanish professor Jorge Lozano describes this polarization between some Cubans and others as part of a system: “The function of this “other” is vast and consists precisely of placing them outside of every role and them invading the “normal world” in a disturbing manner. Every culture creates its own system of “outcasts”, castaways, the people that don’t sign up from the heart and that a systematic and rigorous discourse excludes.”

In official Cuban discourse, “us” is pitted against “them” mainly because of their ideological position. The first enemies to be identified are always the ones that don’t share the beliefs or opinions the Revolution demands of its citizens. This system of vaues and attitudes surrounding the revolutionary Cuban directly pays into a power mechanism that demands loyalty and sacrifice above all else, and conveniently confuses terms such as Revolution and Homeland. “Us” becomes “them” when we don’t follow the national project the Government has undertaken without an opinion and unanimous support. “Us” only has value when all of its members play the game of supporting the strategies of a select few, the ones that rule this country.

The problem lies in the fact that nothing good has ever come from this delimitation that begins in discourse and ends up segregating a part of the population. When they talk about “us” they tend to generally be referring to themselves in a positive light, and when they talk about “them”, they often emphasize their “alleged” flaws and mistakes.

Analyzing this binomial from different perspectives, Law and Political Philosophy professor Jose Luis Marti said that “as soon as we begin to form groups, distinguishing between “us” and “them”, and we equip these groups with identifying traits, we are planting the seed of hate. That’s how the worst injustices have been committed throughout our History.”

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2 thoughts on ““Us”, “Them” and Barriers in Official Cuban Discourse

  • Stephen has written an excellent analysis. Perhaps the key feature – and in the long term, the greatest threat to the regime, lies in his penultimate paragraph where he comments upon the level of emigration. Within the Cuban community where I live much of the time, the numbers of those leaving has been increasing and they are perhaps inevitably, the better educated and more energetic. Even Cuba cannot afford to lose those of ability, initiative and drive. “They” the talented and life blood, will have departed, and “us” who remain will be the compliant “mass” bereft of “Los Ideas” sought by the regime.

  • Ahh, yes the old “Us” versus “Them” paradigm. It is the motor by which any totalitarian vehicle operates. It is the modus operandi of how totalitarian states remain totalitarian. It has to be that way otherwise the totalitarian regime would collapse instantaneously. Through out human history in any geographical location wherever a totalitarian ruling class existed invariably there are the “others” within that state, usually the majority, who are vilified, ostracized, and maligned so as to prop up the often ruthless minority rulers.

    How else can the rulers remain in power but to castigate the oppressed majority as villains, agitators, outsiders, malevolent, scapegoats to be imprisoned at the slightest infraction of totalitarian imposed laws, rules, and policies. Us versus them ideology works very well in Cuba because the right conditions are there and have been there for 60 plus years for such malevolent form of government rule.

    In fact, the Cuban government has just recently introduced and imposed new, more stringent laws to imprison the “them” (the majority of Cubans) for the slights infraction of non compliance to “justify” totalitarian state rules. During the July 11 peaceful protest young Cubans pleading with their communist rulers for a bit of freedom were summarily arrested, some beaten and most imprisoned for long prison terms.

    The “them” young Cuban protesters, via the state owned and operated propaganda machine, were cast as counter revolutionaries seeking to topple the totalitarian government and were to be severely punished. Perhaps some of the young freedom seekers were under the illusion that simply going out onto the street and waving Cuban flags and yelling Patria y Vida would perhaps get them ostracized but not egregious severe prison sentences.

    The totalitarian Cuban communist rulers after witnessing what took place on their streets probably became frightened as most totalitarian leaders do after experiencing even the slightest invocation of a threat by citizens on the streets. Consequently, more stringent rules needed to be instituted to keep the masses the – “them” – frightened in their places. So much so, as announced in Pedro’s article: “Cuba’s New Penal Code” HT, May 21, 2022 where he writes: “According to Article 120, if you go out to protest and allege that the Constitution grants you this right, you can be sentenced to 4-10 years in prison, regardless of the other crimes they might want to charge you with, which would then be added to this sentence.” Brutal.

    The Cuban communist Party rulers the – “Us” – are so frightened about the possibility of their strangle hold on absolute, total, power may be jeopardized even slightly that any perceived and/or outright threat will be severely punished. And so it is now officially and legally inscribed into the totalitarian Cuban Constitution. More reason for the general society to become even more alienated from those in total power.

    So, what is the solution to this situation? If a Cuban has neither the resources nor the internal fortitude to make drastic changes one has to capitulate and continue to endure. If one has some resources and is willing to forgo family, friends and country one emigrates as many, many have done and will continue to do so much to the detriment of Cuba’s fragile future.

    One thing history does teach us is that the dichotomy of a repressive totalitarian state pitting its few, oppressive, gluttonous government rulers against the majority of its citizens eventually ends badly for those rulers. The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler, to name but two did not end well for the leaders, their followers, and unfortunately the millions who had to endure the suffering simply because of few ideologues wanted to differentiate their country’s men and women under the paradigm of “Us versus Them”. Sad, as this scandalous situation still reverberates in our world even in 2022.

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