Wanna understand CUBA? Read this letter!
(You can find the original in spanish here )
Dear Rafael Hernandez
I read with great interest your "Letter to a young man who lives." I have been referred to, because two years ago I left Cuba, I am 28 years and live in Pomorie, a spa town located in eastern Bulgaria. The reason I write is to try to explain my position as a young Cuban emigre. No formalities or absolute truths, because if to leave my country has taught me anything, it is to discover that these truths do not exist.
Maybe some of us who have left our country in recent years (we are thousands) are clear about the very moment they decided to do so. I do not. My awareness was gradual, almost without noticing. I'd start with that resource so Cuban that is the complaint. About trifles, perhaps. About what doesn't haves, what doesn't reaches, about what happens, and doesn't happen, about not knowing. Or not haves the power. The complaint is not serious, what is serious is it becoming chronic (as a disease) when nothing seems to work. And one can accept that this is so, and that it's your country, for better and for worse, or... move to the next category, which is frustration. That means, you discover that the solution to most of your problems isn't in your hands or they don't even allow you to take care of them. Or even sadder: not even seem to matter.
Leaving or staying in your country is a very personal decision that should never be judged in moral terms. I chose this path because I wanted a different future of the one I saw in Cuba, and went out looking aware of that could go wrong, but I wanted to take that risk. I will not lie saying it was painful. I did not cry at the airport. On the contrary, I was glad. Furthermore, I freed myself.
You are right in saying that my generation does not has the emotional ties that generates from experiences as Pigs Bay, the Missil crisis or the war in Angola. But make no mistake, I've had my epics. Maybe not so epic, but equally devastating. In these twentytwo years mentioned, I have seen the country my parents fought so hard for become totally degraded. I've seen my school teachers live. I have seen families argue for the right to eat one bread. I've seen a crowded Malecón shouting nervous against the government, and an even more nervous crowd screaming in their favor. I have seen young people building rafts to escape who knows where, and a mob throwing cat shit against the house of a "traitor". Rafael, I have even seen a dog eating another dog at the corner of 27th and F (Downtown Havana). And I've seen my father, who himself was in Angola, his face pale, without answers, the day a hotel custodian told him that he couldn't walk down a Jibacoa beach (site of a turist camping) just for being Cuban. I was with him. I saw it. I was ten years old, and a ten year old boys doesn't forget how the dignity of his father goes to hell. Even though he came from the war with three medals.
You speak of the social gains of the Revolution. Of education and medicine. I'll talk about my education. I had good teachers, and when they left they were replaced by less prepared ones which, in turn, were replaced by teenagers "social workers", that wrote "experience" with an S and were unable to pinpoint five capitals of Latin America on a map (nobody told me, I lived it). My parents had to hire private tutors for me to really learn. They didn't pay, my aunt based in Toronto did. So if we are honest, most of the training I have I owe tothe people at the Greek restaurant where my aunt worked. But there is more: In times of my older sister was extremely rare for a student to get an A+. In my day the A+ became commonplace, not because we were the brightest students but because teachers lowered their demands to make up school failure. And you know what? I was lucky, because those who came after me, instead of teachers they got a TV.
About medicine I have little to say, because you live in Cuba. Except for the fact that it stay free which, I admit, is still worthwhile state hospitals, poor underpaid doctors and the growing corruption increasingly pushes the health system towards the same Third World's standard from who it did so much to pull away. And the truth is that, today, a Cuban who have another currency (dollars, euros, etc.) is more likely to receive better treatment that one who does not have it. And although the constitution says otherwise. Sad to be admit, Rafael, the education and the medicine available to Cubans today is worse than the ones my parents enjoyed.
You say that the country is making a great effort, that there is an embargo. And I answer that there is also a government that through fifty years have make decisions on behalf of all Cubans. And at this point, the healthy option for this government would be to admit that it has failed, or were unable, or unwilling, to do things differently. No matter the reasons. Failure is always loaded with reasons. And instead of entrenched in behind their historical faces in the Council of State, it should give way to those who come after. Rafael, is very frustrating for a young man of my age to see that 50 years has passed in Cuba without producing a generational takeover just because the government has not allowed it. And I do not mean to give the power to me, I'm only 28 years. I speak of Cubans who are 40, 50 or even 60 years and have never had the opportunity to decide for themselves. Because people who today have these ages and positions of responsibility in Cuba, have never been trained to make decisions, but to approve them. They are not leaders, they are officials. And that goes from the ministers to the delegates to the National Assembly. They are part of a vertical system that gives no room for exercising their own autonomy. Everything is been consulted. And contrary to what the saying goes, instead of apologizing, everyone prefers asking.
You say that in my country one can vote and be elected to office from the age of 16. And the presence of young delegates has dropped from the 80s to now. You even warn us that if we live, would be fewer young people voting and therefore less young people to elect. And I wonder: What good is my vote? What can I change? What did the delegates of the National Assembly to make me interested in them? Let's be honest, Rafael, and I think you are honest in your letter, so I also want to be honest in mine, we both know that the National Assembly, as is intended, only serves to pass legislation unanimously. It's ironical to call "assembly" an institution that only meets one week a year. Three or four days in summer and three or four days in December. And in those days is limited to approving the mandates of the
Council of State and its President, which decides what is done or not done in the country. Unfortunately, I can not vote for this president. And you don't know how much I would like to vote.
A few days ago I heard Ricardo Alarcón (president of the Council of State) confess to a Spanish reporter that he does not believe in Western democracy "because people are only free the voting day, the rest of the time the parties do what they want ..." Even so, that is not (at least not always, not all democracies), would be acknowledging that since I was born, in 1984, voters in the United States, for example, has had seven days of freedom (one every four years) to change their president. Sometimes they have been for good, others for not so good. But that's another story. A New Jersey girl my age have already had two days of freedom, for example, to trow the Republicans out of the White House and pick Obama. Cubans have not been able to make such a decision since 1948 (not included Batista elections, of course). And if you tell me that the ability to appoint a president is not relevant to a country I say that it is. Even more for a young person who needs to feel he is being taken into account. If only for one day.
You probably think that we, who left, chose the easy way, that the hard way is to stay and solve the problems. But I have to say that my grandparents and my parents stayed in Cuba to fight these problems. They gave up many things for the Revolution and even risked their lives for it. To give me an advanced country, equitable, progressive. And they gave me is one in which people celebrate to buy a car and sell your home as if it were a conquest. But that is not an achievement, is to recover a right that we had before the Revolution. Is that what we have? To celebrate a success so basic? How many other basic things we have lost over the years? To my parents assume that failure is painful, and they don't want that for me. They don't want me at 55 with a salary I can't live on, or the ration card. Because it's not enough. And they do not want me now to have to go to the black market to survive, to accept corruption, or the double standard, to have to pretend. They prefer me to be away. At 28 I have become my parents Social Security, or how do you think two people survive with 650 pesos? Yes, Rafael, we had to leave in hundreds of thousands of Cubans to keep our country from break down. What Cuba gets from our remittances is higher in net worth, than almost all its exports. Yes, the country has lost youth and talent, and instead of opening a realistic debate on how to stop that bleeding, it remains stuck to an ideological immobility that is nothing but fear of the future. What am I doing in a country whose leaders are afraid of the future ...? Wait to die ...? Wait for them to change the laws by generosity rather than conviction? What do I do in a country still rewarding unconditional policy over talent? What can I aspire to do if is not enough with who I am and what I do ...? To become a cynic? Or are you encouraging me to face and say what I think? Some young people of my generation have done so, and where are they now? Remember Eliecer Ávila, a student at the University of Oriente who had the courage to ask Ricardo Alarcón why young Cubans could not travel as any other citizen of the world, and was victimized by the system? It was not his fault that there was a BBC cameraman, or the ridiculous answer that Alarcon gave him (this barbarity that heaven would be filled with planes collide among them) Today Eliécer lives marginalized for political reasons. He's not a terrorist or a mercenary or a stateless person, he's a humble young, mulatto, university student, that made the mistake of being honest. How sad to end a revolution condemning someone for being honest. Is that what do you want me to stay, Rafael?
To leave your country and your family is not an easy road. Neither is it a solution to anything, just a beginning. You go to another culture, you have to learn another language, to suffer very bad moments. You feel alone. But at least you have the comfort of knowing that with effort can get things. My first winter in Bulgaria was very hard, got a job as a driver and spent four months loading up and down washingmachines to save money to travel to Turkey. A dream I had since childhood. And I did travel. I didn't had to ask anyone for permission to leave and my plane didn't hit any other. I was able to fulfill Eliezer's dream. And I'm glad I did. I have known other realities, I could compare. I discovered that the world is infinitely imperfect, and that Cubans are not the center of anything. We are admired for some things like we are hated for others. I also discovered that, although I left, I has not changed my leftist convictions. Because what's happening in Cuba is not leftists ideals, Rafael. Call it what you want, but not left. I am for those who seek social progress with equal opportunities and inclusivity, thinking as you will, without sectarianism or trenches. Because the contrary only serves to confront society and replace truths with dogmas.
Finally, Rafael, chance made me end in a country that ones was also ruled by a single party and ideology. Here there wasn't any velvet revolution like in Czechoslovakia, nor anybody knocked down a wall as in Berlin, or shot a president as in Romania. Here, as in Cuba, people did not know his dissidents. Here there were no cracks, and yet in a week went from being a socialist state to a parliamentary republic. And nobody protested. No one complained. I can not help but wonder, They spent 40 years pretending? Since then there haven't been a bed of roses, they have faced several crises, including the population has come to live with lower quality than it had in the 80s but, interestingly, the vast majority of Bulgarians would not back down. Although the socialism they left was far more prosperous than the one Cubans have today. But in this country people don't think about the past, think about the present. They think about improving the economy, about solving the inequalities (that exist here, as in Cuba), about combating the double standard, personalism and corruption generated by the state for decades.
The day that this present will be important in Cuba, no doubt, I will be in Havana.
Ivan Lopez Monreal
August 10, 2012
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