Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

Waiting for help
Waiting for help

The Real Situation in Cuba (Part I)

June 11, 2012

Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — Beware of titles like this. Be suspicious of anything

that attempts to tell the absolute truth about something – especially if

that something is Cuba.

Take a gaming dice in your hands and try to see all six sides at the

same time. The truth is like a dice, but with more sides. But this isn't

an absolute truth either. It's not something proven. It's just my

opinion. So be wary of this too.

Almost two months ago, the country commemorated the 51st anniversary of

the "Bay of Pigs Victory," achieved against mercenary troops that

invaded the island. In April, the TV program "Mesa Redonda" (The Round

Table) dedicated one of its programs to this historic event.

I confess that I only watch the program on special occasions. This

wasn't one of those, but the TV was on and I could hear it from my

bedroom. The main guest of the evening was Nemecia, the little girl from

the poem "Los zapaticos blancos" (The little white shoes) by Indio

Nabori. That "little girl" is now a woman who's over 60 years old.

For a long time I didn't know that Nemecia was a real person. I studied

the poem in elementary , but only during a TV report on the 2011

Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba had I ever seen the

principal figure of the poem in the flesh. Then, a year later, I was

listening to her tell her story on the "Mesa Redonda."

Nemecia was very poor before the 1959 revolution. Her mother could

barely support her and her brothers. She could never buy white shoes, or

shoes of any color for that matter. Listening to her, I could imagine

what the success of the Cuban Revolution meant to the lives of the

residents of her community.

Just when the sun was beginning to rise for Nemecia, came the mercenary

invasion. Nemecia found out that the country was being invaded in the

most direct way. The she was riding in with her mother and brothers

was hit by shells. Her mother died right there in front of her eyes, and

her brothers were wounded.

Throughout my life, "Giron" or the Bay of Pigs was always a remote and

distant episode, the stuff of the triumphalist spiel of officialist


I had to learn the details of it for a history test in fourth grade. I

remember parroting, "Giron, the first defeat of Yankee imperialism in

America, April 19, 1961." But for me, Giron meant nothing more since I

was born in 1976. I wasn't there to experience it, fortunately.

To Nemecia, however, Giron is an everyday reminder of her mother. Each

and every day. How does one recuperate from having seen — at the age of

twelve — one's mother dying in a mercenary attack? I don't know. I don't

know if one can recover.

Nothing I could imagine could allow me to feel what Nemecia must have

felt and feels.

Listening to her I remembered a scene from the movie "Che" by Steven

Soderbergh. The guerrilla expressed his appreciation or the Bay of Pigs

invasion in the sense that it united more people around Fidel.

Did Nemecia ever question the errors committed by those same leaders who

brought the revolution to life? Did she ever consider the abuses against

homosexuals back then or those now being committed against people who

are currently demanding changes?

What does she think about the 1940 constitution never being reinstated

(as had promised)? I guess none of this bothers her, but —

after hearing here story — now I understand.

In Cuba, the term "" and "opposition" have been transformed by

those in power to be synonymous with "mercenary." The government labels

those who demand , free association and of the

press as mercenaries who have no right to reply. Now we know what the

word "mercenaries" must bring to Nemecia's mind.

I visited the community of Pon in Pinar del Rio Province in 2002. The

campesinos there had no running water or electricity. They had to draw

water from a well and there was only one community TV, which operated

off of a solar panel and batteries.

I don't know if things have changed since in Pon, but I would listen to

them talking about Fidel Castro at the time and in those circumstances:

"Thanks to Fidel the land evictions ended," and "Thanks to Fidel my kids

don't go hungry" and "Thanks to Fidel we have our own land."

That was their truth, and I couldn't help but be moved by their

gratitude to the Cuban Revolution, despite them having to draw water

from a well in the 21st century, and despite them feeling that life

ended when it got dark at 7:00 in the evening and community TV was their

only alternative.

Here in Havana, I know a 67-year-old man who describes Fidel Castro as

"the only president that gave dignity to this country." As a teenager,

before 1959, he was kicked off a beach for being black.

Later, for years, we couldn't go to the facilities, but this

wasn't because we were black, brown or white. It was for being Cuban. My

friend didn't find that undignified, but necessary.

For a long time it also seemed necessary to keep Cubans (those who had

enough money) from buying cars (unless they were artists, top athletes

or members of the Council of State). Similarly, citizens could only buy

houses unlawfully.

The government still hasn't apologized for having deprived us of those

rights, "since it was necessary," says my friend. Nor have they

apologized to people who are gay for kicking them out of universities

and jobs only to send them to work farms of the UMAP (Military Units to

Aid Production). This too was "necessary."

Nor is it undignified — simply necessary — that we Cubans require

special permission to leave the country. When that change comes, if it

does come (as announced at the Sixth Party Congress), we won't receive

an apology for its previous denial either.

My 67-year-old friend participated in the literacy campaign, planted

coffee and applauded the government when it eliminated small businesses

as "the last vestige of the bourgeoisie." That was the justification of

the time.

My friend was part of that process. Therefore none of that could have

been an error because it would also be his error. His volunteer hours

donated to the revolution couldn't have been for nothing. Those who died

in Angola couldn't have given their lives in vain.

Though his house is falling is down around him and though his token

retirement check only stretches ten days, he needs to continue believing

in that better future that the leaders promised back in 1959.

The closest we got to those promises was in the 1980s. It's sad to hear

him speak about those days, more and more distant, but convinced that

they'll return. In the meantime he survives thanks to "inventing," our

euphemism for small pseudo- activities for ensuring survival.

My friend is one of the many retirees who (unlicensed) sell plastic

grocery bags, newspapers, or rationed coffee quotas, or who live off

selling whatever falls in their hands.

Nonetheless, he doesn't let anyone speak poorly of the revolution and

its leaders, because he still has the energy to "fight for all this" and

the lungs to shout the slogans.

To be continued…

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