Hablamos Press, Dr. Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 9 June 2015 — It is said that in times of slavery slaves were mistreated and were not free. But the gentlemen slave owners were responsible for feeding and clothing them, providing them healthcare—even for teaching them to read and write, and caring for their small children and pregnant women. The gentlemen slave owners who did this were better regarded by society.
It is also said that the abolition of slavery was a business decision because the time came when the masters could no longer finance all the costs associated with holding slaves. They decided to free them, then employ and pay them, turning the slaves into salaried workers. This way, although the pay was meager, these exploiters were technically complying with abolition, even though they continued being exploiters.
On a daily basis, I converse with many Cubans who, when we speak of the country’s situation, agree with me that it is very dire. The majority complain that salaries are inadequate, even for providing decent nutrition. Working conditions and the state of their dwellings are deplorable. The lack of products and other items essential to life in this modern era is ever more notable, in addition to the lack of freedom.
But most of them say, “Why should I do anything if nothing gets resolved? I can’t change things by myself. The best option is to try to leave the country.” Others, more committed to the government, argue that “there are many problems, but we will get better, always, with the historic momentum of the Revolution leading the way” — without acknowledging that the revolutionary government has been in power for more than 55 years, and we have almost frozen in time.
All of these pessimistic and submissive behaviors make me think of the history of slavery, when the majority of those in bondage shrank from confronting the slave owners out of fear of punishment and death. They would try to escape, they flattered their masters so as to obtain benefits, and even when they were freed, many preferred to remain in servitude.
Although some came out and fought against slavery, the majority adapted to the slaveholding method of exploitation. Today in Cuba, many have adapted to the regime by trying to subsist however they can, but without claiming the rights that appertain to them. It makes me think that when one lives so long in the condition of slavery, it is difficult to recognize, and demand, the freedom that belongs to us from birth.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison