Some Topics up for Debate / Miriam Celaya

Image taken from the Internet

After a long time without participating in readers’ debates, I am encouraged by comments arising from the post “Cuba: potential exit scenarios”, which, as I stated at the end of the text, was written precisely with the intention of the discussion of the proposals I listed in it.

Doing a general review, some readers coincide on points that one can almost say are in agreement, for instance, preferring changes in Cuba to be peaceful, seeking consensus, eliminating exclusions, overcoming social apathy, giving up positions of hatred, and encouraging participation by the young. Other readers exposed somewhat more complex views; there are also extreme positions and plenty of pessimism (justified, by the way), from those who believe that nothing is worthwhile. I first want to insist that, as far as I am concerned, all criteria is valuable, but I can’t help but disagree with some cases and qualify others. If we want consensus, it must be assembled. I will try to be as concise as possible, although such a long, turbulent and complicated scenario as the current Cuban reality and the circumstances that led up to it cannot be summed up in this small space, nor will it be completed in a forum of such modest proportions as ours. I ask of you, therefore, to be patient with me. I will dedicate two posts (not necessarily continuous) to the issues, to avoid a long write-up.

I will base some of my principles on interesting points that have been made among the commentators. One reader believes that the intervention of international agencies, proposed as a possible solution to a humanitarian crisis should not be considered, since such a case should have occurred before 1994, when hunger and poverty reached high levels in the midst of the worst economic crisis when the socialist bloc collapsed, a phenomenon that was officially and euphemistically called “The Special Peacetime Period”. However, despite the hardships of those years, and particularly between 1993 and 1994, what might be described as a “humanitarian crisis” did not quite take place. It is true that there was a large segment of the population that was more vulnerable, including the elderly without filial support, children from dysfunctional homes, families with lower incomes and, of course, the most vulnerable groups in crisis situations: the physically and mentally handicapped, people with chronic illnesses, the homeless, etc. But at the same time, there were factors that helped alleviate the ravages of the shortages relatively quickly, among them, the legalization of the dollar, foreign capital investment, the proliferation of self-employment and -of course, a very important role- the family remittances. We should also not forget that, back then, the ration card was “more generous”, and we must take into account that a series of products was distributed that –though they were of low quality- they served the poorest tables. I keep those years’ cards, significantly more voluminous than today’s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny the terrible wrongs suffered by most Cubans at that time, but, according to the parameters that international organizations establish, so far, Cuba has not actually produced a humanitarian crisis as it has happened in Rwanda, for example, or the former Yugoslavia, even in Haiti and in many other parts of the world, with the ingredients of massacres, famines that have claimed thousands of lives, permanent epidemics, wars, conflicts (ethnic or otherwise), the absence of social control, anarchy, etc.

On the other hand, the 1994 emigration was massive, but that is not the only or sufficient requisite for the intervention of such organizations.  Previous migrations had also been massive, as in 1980 (Mariel) or 1967 (Camarioca); and in the first few years of the revolution, let’s say between 1959 and 1963, when extreme positions were being defined, both in the Island as well as in its foreign policy, and the process was polarized, which led to the flight of thousands of Cubans who were affected in some measure by laws dictated by the new regime, those who thought that the revolution would be a brief and transitory period, or that they simply did not share in Castro’s politics, among other reasons. There are mass migrations from the world’s poorest countries to more developed and rich ones. Revolutions have also driven migration. It is the story of Humanity, and there is little that international organizations can do about it.

Another position I do not share, but one that encourages a debate of vital importance, is the eternal accusation against the young. The view that young Cubans are apathetic, irresponsible or comfortable with the status quo does not seem very reasonable or realistic. It is true that there is a general crisis of values, that the lack of expectations creates a sense of frustration among the young and that fleeing the Island has become the hope of thousands of… young people? Isn’t that what they have seen and are still seeing their elders do for decades? Hasn’t it been and still continues to be the desire of tens of thousands of Cubans well into adulthood?  Young people have also been leaving for 50 years, ones who did not decide to change the reality they rejected, ones who elected to (sacred word, by the way) create a destiny for themselves away from their country of origin. The “youth of today” are not, then, the ones who circumvent confrontation or the promotion of civil liberties. “Today’s youth” are not exactly the ones who are apathetic. It is not fair, nor can we forget that these young people of today saw us (their parents and grandparents) avoiding responsibility, failing in our professional projects, surviving within the double standard of public compliance and private protest, accepting, lying, often nodding in silent complicity, and always afraid.

It is even less accurate to say that today’s youth lack a rebellious spirit. They may become disoriented or confused at times, but they are in many ways nonconformists and rebellious. Why should we demand from them that which the ones with the most experience, the most reflexive and the best prepared have not been able to accomplish? I’m not saying we should leave things as they are, I say we should infect them with willpower and awaken in them the courage that every young person carries inside; I say we should chart a path of freedom where a lot of them will run us over. The phenomenon of the alternative blogosphere is there, begun by a handful of Cubans, mostly mature adults, which today includes a number of invaluable young people. Involving our youth requires the direct involvement -with positive actions- of the less young, members of all the forces of the emerging civil society, including the opposition, under all insignias, who must work on it.

Young people have been held back for half a century, submerged in the midst of a system that told them the future was a done deal, that destiny had already been charted by a process born of violence. At home, we did not tell them: “come on, let’s change things, let’s demand our rights and let’s make the Cuba we want”.  The fact is that we told them: “stay put, don’t believe them, but shut up so you don’t get hurt; pretend to obey, study, get an education, one day things will change… and if they don’t change, leave. Look for a better world than this death place.  Fighting the windmills is not worth the trouble, the others definitely do not appreciate it nor deserve it”. That has become the national truth.  We haven’t exactly been a paradigm of civility and responsibility to our young people. Even worse, we have failed them. How can we claim from them what we are responsible for? Who made them the way they are? Are we better than they are by any chance? I don’t think so. I am especially grateful that some readers have debated such a crucial theme as the role of the young people in the process of change, because, to win their trust and to engage them at the end of a dictatorship and the nation’s reconstruction, is the greatest possible utopia in today’s Cuba.  In spite of everything, I, for one, will continue to bet on the young.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

November 30, 2010