Mike Collazo: Don't count on seeing the 'real' Cuba
Aug. 23, 2013
Re: "Trips offer a special way to connect with Cuba" (My View, Aug. 19).
While in part I share Elizabeth Ricci's enthusiasm for visiting Cuba (my
parents were born in Cuba, I still have family there, and I recently
visited them), and I appreciate her efforts to bridge the cultural gap
between the U.S. and Cuba, I'm concerned that her piece may have given
readers an incomplete picture of life for the average Cuban citizen.
Cuba is one of few remaining totalitarian states. Both Amnesty
International, which has been monitoring the human rights situation in
Cuba for decades, and Human Rights Watch confirm that the Cuban
government continues to enforce a wide array of repressive laws aimed at
preventing political dissidents and human rights defenders from
exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly.
According to Human Rights Watch, "The government of Raúl Castro
continues to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions,
beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced
These conditions remain as problematic today as they were before 2008,
when Fidel Castro resigned the dictatorship due to ill health in favor
of his little brother, Raúl.
The Washington Post recently detailed the case of Cuban political
dissident Oswaldo Payá and youth activist Harold Cepero, who were killed
in a car crash in July 2012. Eyewitnesses say the crash was caused by a
car with government plates that had been following them all morning.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and more than 100 public figures
from around the world, have called on the United Nations to investigate.
The "Ladies in White" (Las "Damas de Blanco"), a group of women who
campaign for the release of political prisoners every Sunday after Mass,
regularly face arbitrary arrest and physical attacks by government
operatives and paramilitary thugs. Why? Because they protest the
imprisonment of their loved ones and others, by marching silently
through the streets of Havana, dressed in white, as they hold weapons
not of aggression but of peace: tender gladioli.
In her My View, Ricci recounted how a woman in Havana, upon realizing
that Ricci's group was from the U.S., told her dog to bite Ricci's
mother. Ricci also noted how the editor of the Cuban newspaper La Mujer
described Cuban-Americans in Miami as "a cancer." One might ask: Why the
I suppose it's because Cuban-Americans like me have much more at stake
in Cuba's future than the average American citizen, and therefore we
zealously and unapologetically advocate for Cubans on the island to
enjoy the same fundamental rights and freedoms we enjoy stateside. For
the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more subversive group
than the average American tourist because of their familiarity with
Cuban culture, ability to speak to friends and relatives on the island,
and ability to influence their views on the Castro regime and on the
U.S. Accordingly, the government has engaged in more than 50 years of
institutionalized propaganda to undermine the opinions of
Cuban-Americans like me and other gusanos ("worms") who advocate for a
In contrast, the assumption that the Castro government would allow U.S.
tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution via approved "cultural"
exchanges and personal interactions with "average" Cubans is at best
naïve. The truth is that American visitors on these exchanges have
limited contact with average Cubans, because hotels and resorts are
generally off limits to the average Cuban and controlled by Cuba's
security apparatus. If you do meet a Cuban scholar, environmentalist,
artist, musician, community organizer or author on one of these trips,
you will almost certainly do so only because the Cuban government has
determined that the person's political views are sufficiently orthodox
to permit interaction with foreigners.
Over the past decades hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and
Latin American tourists have visited the island, but Cuba isn't more
democratic. If anything, the state and its control apparatus have been
strengthened by tourist dollars. And according to the Institute for
Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, even though
more than 60 percent of Cubans on the island are black or mulatos, the
Cuban government actively discriminates against them for jobs in the
tourist industry, believing that tourists prefer to deal with whites and
light-skinned people. As a result, a cultural exchange trip to Cuba will
include more than just mojitos and walks on the beach — one will also
experience racial discrimination at its worst.
If you wish to connect with the real Cuba, follow and support prominent
Cuban political dissidents like Yoani Sánchez (@yoanifromcuba) (English)
and Rosa María Payá (@RosaMariaPaya) (Spanish) and human rights
organizations like Human Rights in Cuba (@FHRCuba) (English) on Twitter.
You also could read "Take Me With You," a novel by Palm Beach Post
columnist Carlos Frías, which recounts his personal experiences in Cuba.
But above all else, consider taking a trip to Jamaica — not Cuba.
Mike Collazo is a Cuban-American and a shareholder at Hopping, Green &
Sams, P.A., in Tallahassee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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