Somos+, Germán M. González, 2 May 2019 — In its broadcast on May 1, 2019, NTV reported that six million Cubans attended the parade celebrating International Workers’ Day. This is impossible given it would amount to more than fifty percent of the island’s population, or a much higher proportion if you discount the sick, disabled, elderly, working people, security personnel, small children, those living abroad, etc. In that case the figure would approach close to 80% or more of possible attendees.
In Cuba we are used to seeing these types of large-scale events and, compared to what has been observed on many previous occasions in Havana, no more than 200,000 to 250,000 thousand people could have attended the parade.
To reach NTV’s reported figure, 1.2 million people, or 50% of the city’s total population, would have been needed, which obviously was not the case. The same scenario would have had to play out in the provinces.
Personal observation, however, contradicts this. In the town where this writer lives, a town with 49,000 residents, no more than a thousand people showed up. One can then deduce that, in all of Cuba, probably less than a million people, or about 10% of the population, participated. And that is being generous.
Other contradictions are no less obvious. NTV broadcasts images of the celebration from countries where the rights of workers, including salary levels, are seriously compromised. Millions of people emigrate from Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea annually, as confirmed by the United Nation’s Human Development Program in its Index of Human Development. These are countries with repressive regimes, where workers, along with the rest of their populations, do not enjoy most universally recognized rights.
Knowing the reality of Cuba, we could ask ourselves: What are they celebrating? In countries which accept migrants such as France, Spain, Germany and the United States, people march in the streets for various reasons. It is worth asking ourselves, Do those who are better off protest because they can do so, because it is a right they enjoy and exercise?
Conversely, do we celebrate publicly because the right to protest is restricted or denied? The countries who protests NTV reports also happen to be in the top ranks of the aforementioned index and are countries where the rule of law is fully respected.
Most likely, participation rates at public events in countries where attendance is mandatory for state-employed workers and students — population segments which are subject to obvious pressures — are exaggerated. In Cuba a black mark from the union or the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution for not attending a rally may jeopardize a spot at a university or workplace, threaten a job promotion or, even worse, a trip abroad due to an unexcused absence.
It is also obvious that there is exaggeration about the magnitude of protests in places where this right is exercised. In these places the only motivation people have to attend is to protest since the rest of their rights — a living wage and other labor benefits — are taken for granted, seen as something normal and come with no strings attached.
There is no need to participate in a parade except for pleasure. A seeming contradicion is the presence of many immigrants at these protests, something they would not dare to do in their countries of origin — generally dictatorships — because of the associated dangers. But they can do so in their host countries, which are generally democracies.
Unfortunately, very few Cubans, conditioned from early childhood by decades of indoctrination and propaganda from official news outlets, which are the only kind we have, have not asked these questions. Until now.