Friends of Salamanders / Yoani Sánchez

It was shortly after I learned that candy is sweet and fire burns, when I came to realize that Cubans are allowed to join organizations created by the government but we are punished, to teach us a lesson, if we decide to create our own groups. And so, as children we were automatically enrolled in the Young Pioneers; at age fourteen women were enrolled in the Women’s Federation; neighbors joined the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; while workers formed a part of the country’s only authorized union. For their part, students became members of their federation, and peasants were registered in a single group at the national level. We all appeared on the membership rolls of something.

Every time someone would apply for a job, admission to the university, or seek to obtain the right to buy a home appliance, they had to fill out a form quizzing them on their membership in the organizations consecrated by Power. The list began, of course, with the most important: The Communist Party or the Union of Young Communists. It seems ridiculous to me now, as I can remember my hand holding a pencil and marking little X’s next to organizations with acronyms such as OPJM, CDR or FMC. I was on automatic, without conviction, wanting to make them think I was a citizen who fit in, revolutionary, “normal.”

For many years I have not repeated a slogan nor belonged to any of the country’s authorized organizations. When people ask, I say am an independent citizen, a free electron, and that my political platform is limited to demanding the decriminalization of differences of opinion; but I am aware that we are far from achieving these goals. Despite the changes and the promised apertures it is still frowned upon to criticize – be it a minister’s management or a school’s class schedule – and certainly one couldn’t think of founding an independent party, nor even so much as a club for “Friends of Salamanders.”

17 March 2011