Monday, May 21, 2012

Take It Easy You Cubans

Take It Easy You Cubans
May 18, 2012
By Yusimi Rodriguez

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

"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

It's time to ask what we're giving up and in exchange for what.

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