The plane had touched down in Panama and through the windows I saw the harsh sun shining on the pavement. I walked the halls of the airport looking for a bathroom and a place to wait until my next flight. Some young people waiting in the main hall beckoned me and begin shouting my name. They were Venezuelans. They were there, like me, in transit to another destination. So we started to talk in the midst of the crowds, the suitcases, the comings and goings, while the loudspeakers announced arrivals and departures. They told me they read my blog and understood very well what we are living through on the Island. At one point I asked to take a photo with them. They responded with long faces and begged me, “Please, don’t put it up on Facebook or Twitter, because it’ll make problems for us in our country.” I was shocked. Suddenly the Venezuelans reminded me tremendously of Cubans: fearful, speaking in whispers, hiding anything that could compromise them in front of Power.
That encounter made me reflect on the issue of ideological control, surveillance and the excessive interference of the state in every detail of daily life. However, despite the similarities I found between those young people and my compatriots, I felt that there were still spaces open to them that have been long closed to us. Among those open spaces, are elections. The fact that today, Sunday, Venezuelans can go to the polls and decide with their votes — along with all the official tricks — the immediate future of their nation, is something that was taken from Cubans a long time ago. The Communist Party in our county cleverly cut all the paths that would allow us to choose among several political options. Knowing that he could not compete in a fair fight, Fidel Castro preferred to run on the track alone and chose as his only relief in the relay someone who, what’s more, carries his own name. Comparing our situations, Venezuelans are left with the hope of maybe… Cubans, the frustrations of never.
So, knowing the cage from the inside, I venture to recommend to Venezuelans that they themselves not end up being the ones who close the only exit door they can count on. I hope that those young people I met in the Panama airport are right now exercising their right to vote. I wish for them, that after this day they will never again fear reprisals for a photo taken with someone, for speaking out about an idea, for signing their names to a criticism. I wish for them, in short, that they will achieve what we failed to do.
14 April 2013