For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn’t a Priority / Iván García
Iván García, 19 April 2017 — When evening falls, Yainier and a group of
friends who live in El Canal, a neighborhood in the Cerro municipality,
20 minutes by car from the center of Havana, grab a table by the door of
an old bodega, and between swigs of rum and Reggaeton, they play
dominoes well into the dawn.
They are six unemployed youths who live by whatever “falls off the back
of a truck.” They also sell clothing imported from Russia or Panama,
joints of Creole marijuana and toothpaste robbed the night before from a
They note down the domino scores they accumulate in a school notebook.
The duo that gets to 100 points earns 20 pesos, the equivalent of one
dollar, and if they really kick ass, they can earn double that amount.
The winners buy more rum, and between laughter and chatting, they kill
time in a country where the hours seem to have 120 minutes. No one has a
plan for the future.
In the seven or eight hours they pass playing, they usually talk about
women, football or black-market businesses. Politics is not a subject of
The dissident, Eliécer Ávila, lives a few blocks away from where they’re
playing dominoes. He’s an engineer and the leader of Somos Más (We Are
More), an organization that supports democracy, free elections and free
Probably Ávila is the most well-known dissident among Cubans who drink
their morning coffee without milk. His debate in 2008 with Ricardo
Alarcón, then the president of the one-note national parliament, was a
success on the Island. The concerns of the young computer engineer and
Alarcón’s incoherent answers circulated clandestinely on flash drives.
Eliécer, together with Antonio Rodiles, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Julio
Aleaga Pesant, figure among the most well-prepared dissidents in Cuba.
Born in 1985 in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, Ávila has leadership qualities
and good speaking skills.
His project goes over the heads of people in the neighborhood, like the
six domino players, who are indifferent to the reality of their country.
How to achieve anything is a problem to solve for a repressed local
opposition, which up to now has no power to convoke a meeting. Without
going farther, in the slum area of Canal, where most inhabitants are
black and deathly poor, almost no one is interested in demanding
inalienable rights in any modern society.
One of those neighbors is Raisán, a mulatto with discolored skin, who
religiously pays his dues to the Cuban Workers Center, the only labor
organization that’s authorized on the Island. However, he recognizes
that the Center, which supposedly ensures his salary and labor demands,
doesn’t even attempt to manage them.
“Brother, this has to change. You can’t live on a salary of 400 Cuban
pesos — around 17 dollars — while it costs 10 times that to eat or dress
yourself,” says Raisán, after making a list of the daily hardships that
the government never solves.
There’s a dichotomy in Cuba. Ask any Cuban his assessment of the
performance of the State organizations and you can publish several tomes
of complaints. People are tired of political rhetoric. The citizens want
better services, salaries and living conditions. But they don’t have the
legal tools to carry out their propositions.
Creating a movement or party that looks out for their interests,
changing the political dynamic and demanding the democratization of
society, continue to be taboo subjects. Although the dissidence requests
these rights, it still hasn’t managed to gain the confidence of the
beleagured citizens, for whom the priority is to find food and money
sufficient to allow them to repair their houses, among other needs.
State Security, the political police, short-circuits any initiative that
tries to insert the opposition inside the population. And certainly it’s
the fear, typical of a tyrannical regime that has more severe laws for
dissenting than for certain common crimes. Fear is a powerful wall of
containment that repels nonconformists.
Cuban society continues being excessively simulated. It always was.
During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after the assault on the
Presidential Palace by the Revolutionary Directorate, March 13, 1957,
the authorities called for an act of reconciliation with the dictator,
and in spite of the rain, 250,000 residents of Havana responded in a
The same thing happened in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In
silence, without protesting, Cubans saw how Castro knocked out
democracy, dismantled the legal judicial machinery, buried the free
press, eliminated private businesses and governed the country like a
The answer to discontent always was to emigrate. A considerable segment
of the citizenry didn’t support – nor do they support – those who bet on
peacefully reclaiming their rights, inserting themselves into politics
and denouncing the frequent attacks on human rights.
People prefer to look away or continue coming to the game, seated in the
To get Cubans to understand that the best solution to their complaints
is democracy, free elections and a coherent and independent judicial
framework, which supports small and medium-sized businesses, until now
has been a subject that stopped with the internal opposition. Which has
tried, but without success.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn’t a Priority / Iván García –
Translating Cuba –