Change: The Power of a Word / Reinaldo Escobar


Perhaps the most interesting and at times heated discussion of today with regards to Cuba is that around whether or not it is lawful to recognize that changes are occurring in the country. In this area the most frequent responses are usually: “Nothing has changed here,” or “Things are changing, but not enough.” What I haven’t heard anyone say is: “We’ve already changed everything that needs to be changed.”

Someone told me that in North Korea the most recent of the Kims authorized six new styles of haircuts as part of what he considers a process of reforms. I don’t dare assert that this is true, but I like the example. One can’t deny that a measure of this type, apart from highlighting the existing level of prohibitions, would have to have brought ounces of joy to Koreans, especially the youngest.

I remember how some foreign correspondents accredited in Havana celebrated, almost with jubilation, the news that we Cubans could now legally contract for cellphone service. Suddenly the cancellation of a xenophobic ban, which for years had placed nationals in a humiliating and discriminatory situation, was exposed, along with the permission to stay in hotels, as an unequivocal sign that Raul’s reforms were serious.

Later, in drips and drabs, we were authorized to sell houses and cars, the list of approved self-employment occupations was expanded, the hiring of labor was permitted, and some extensions were made in the matter of land leased in usufruct.

More recently, the long awaited and controversial migration and travel reform was approved, and some places were opened where one can connect to the Internet. Right now the so-called “non-agricultural cooperatives” have the illusion that they will be the prelude to small and medium-sized private businesses.

Surely I’ve forgotten some aspect that could be incorporated in the rosary on which the prayers for change are said, especially in some academic circles, however it is not in the tiresome enumeration of the previously mentioned measures where it can be demonstrated that something is moving in Cuba. The change is seen in the results.

Starting with cellphones, I must say that the vast majority of opponents, independent journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and other spheres of civil society, use this tool systematically, especially to communicate any complaints or news via text messages or tweets.

The decrease in the dependence on the State sector, personified by nearly half a million self-employed in the country, has produced a change of expectations in the work environment, with deep social and political connotations.

The now numerous trips abroad by the majority of the opposition leaders and civil society activists, has contributed to breaking what was, until now, a monopoly on the export of a vision of the country in international events, and has encouraged a stream of contacts at the highest level between Cubans on the Island and those in the diaspora.

Moreover, and no less important, the middle class is no longer demonized, and taking advantage of the decrease in prejudice against them they have started to find their own spaces, initially to exercise their inherent consumer exhibitionism; sooner or later to develop new external paradigms and to negate all the “New Man” rhetoric, proclaimed by the now-exhausted social engineering of Communist affiliation.

All this has happened in just seven years. The most important argument to deny that these things can be seen as “the change,” and even simply as “changes,” is that the only intention of their promoters is to stay in power.

I share this view in reference to the intention of those who govern, but the paradox is that they have understood that the only way to stay in power is to cede it; and the governed — that is us — we have realized that it is no longer enough to repress us, monitor us, arbitrarily imprison us, to organize hordes to stage repudiation rallies against us. We know they are ceding and we have the civic obligation to take advantage of every inch, as adolescents with authoritarian parents have always done.

If we aren’t capable of seeing and appreciating the cracks that we ourselves have helped to open and widen; if we keep our eyes fixed on what has not changed without noticing what is changing, we run the risk of acting like the elephant that keeps walking in circles around the axis where it once was bound, not realizing that the old rotten stake can no longer hold.

13 August 2013