Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, July 2021
Sleepless Nights after the Protests
We lost our innocent sleep. The romance between the population and its protective State has ended. The father had his belt under the mattress…
By Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – We’ve slept very little since July 11th. We’re no longer sleepy, trapped in the light of mobile phones, persecuted by the heart-rending images of that day. Cubans haven’t been sleeping like usual in Spain, or in Mexico, or in Miami, or anywhere where somebody still has some concern for Cuba and the people that live here.
A trembling in the bones and heart that doesn’t let us sleep. If you care about Cuba, you can’t not be unaffected by recent events. We were angry and our exhaustion worsened, we could see how it advanced and sneaked into people’s gazes and their fists. We knew that this might turn into a protest, just like we knew that they would react violently against protesters, the day that this happened.
Since July 11th, people in Cuba are no longer sleeping like they used to. People look at each other with quiet faces and hold onto their cry in their gut, but everybody knows that something has tipped over. It is the end of the overwhelming calm on the streets, the not-so-calm calm in dilapidated tenements, or on unpaved streets in some poor neighborhoods. This discipline of waiting in line, the discipline of being angry and resigning oneself wasn’t going to last forever.
Every country protests. Every country has protested since the beginning of time. The holy people in stories, ancient civilizations, medieval people, villas of unions and apprentices, people in industrial cities, people under the yoke of their rulers and ghost towns. We had forgotten what protest was and thought that our calm was a curse that had befallen us.
The Cubans who took to the streets on July 11th shouted “freedom”. They also shouted “homeland and life”, and I saw an elderly woman call some police officers “Batista supporters”, because they were abusing their uniform. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful in the Revolution than calling a law enforcement officer who represses, a “Batista supporter.”
I also saw people shout out a pain-filled complaint in chorus: “they beat us”, in front of a commander of the Revolution [Ramiro Valdes]. As if they were a child asking help from a teacher.
We have lost our innocent sleep. The romance between the population and its protective State has ended. The father had his belt hidden under the mattress (crutch, shield, helmet, stick, gun); but he hadn’t taken it out because our relationship was founded on a mutual respect, in the children’s sovereignty, in the protective parents’ responsibility. Every parent abuses their child sometime, but they must always ask for forgiveness and there should be laws that indicate the limits of their authority.
Every child protests, escapes, makes a mess, tells unfair stories about their parents’ overprotectiveness, but we learn, from our parents too, that there are limits and we can be punished if we cross the line. That there must be a reason for punishment, that it should never be a matter of being hit for thinking differently, for wanting different things, for singing other songs and reading different books to the ones we are given and spent our childhoods reading.
We are no longer sleepy. Nobody is closing their eyes at night. Not the people who were beaten on July 11th, or those who want violence to dance its brutal dance every once in while in Cuba, or those who don’t want a single leaf on this boiling island to move, which can’t be sovereign only for dancing son.
The only possible dream in Cuba right now, is of reconciliation based on justice, responsibility, a love for the diversity of our culture, political pluralism, acceptance of differences and criticism. The most effective balsam against violence is Rule of Law, and even this won’t make the protests disappear, because this is a right and is fundamental in politics.
Law enforcement officers need to represent the Law, not those in power. The first clause of the Revolution’s social pact states that it is a national project for the humble and so, in this way, humility wouldn’t be indignity, but popular sovereignty, inclusion and social justice.
We can be humble, but once we’re empowered, we won’t aspire for hardship. Humility can be dignifying; poverty can never be an aspiration. When poor people protest, the tonfas need to lower their heads. In socialism, it’s the people that rule or the epic poem of the Revolution was a just a laughable parody.
There will always be hoodlums. In lines, at banks, at protests, on buses, in ministries, in peaceful protests, union meetings, entrance exams for university, hierarchy meetings, in families. There is a hoodlum in every family; this has always been the case. However, the sovereign people are not made up of hoodlums; they are a minority, and they must work with love so they trade the violence, ruses and abuse for hard work and kindness.
We are no longer sleepy. Our eyes don’t want to close and our tears no longer make sense. We have to find another dream, one that heals us and one that throws us into another peace-building project, with a different kind of trust and justice.
There is only one Cuba and it belongs to every Cuban. It isn’t a matter of dividing it up because its crumbs won’t be enough to fill us. We need all of it and with every Cuban by our side. Not everyone who marched on July 11th is a criminal, nor is everyone who took to the streets in a military uniform that day a repressor.
We have to dream up a new dream; and it has to be safeguarded by the light of the republic, consistent Justice, the responsibility of freedom and Law’s healing blade.
Cuban Protests: Now They Are Afraid of Us
HAVANA TIMES –
In the line, nobody speaks. A woman stares at the tip of her shoe and a young man taps his fingers on the wall. A few days have passed since Cubans took to the streets in a protest without precedent in the last 62 years. Outrage pervades every space. Popular irritation grows as images of police brutality emerge, with more testimonies of mothers with their children who have disappeared since that Sunday, and videos of militarized cities.
Anyone who did not know this island before that now historic date might say the authorities have managed to control the situation and that calm reigns again in the Cuban streets. But, in reality this apparent tranquility is just fear, anger and pain. In Havana, the tension in the air can be cut with a knife and everywhere there are police, military and civilian government supporters with improvised clubs in their hands. Inside the houses the discomfort increases and the tears flow. Few have slept through the entire night.
Thousands of families are looking for someone in the police stations, while many others wait for the uniformed men to knock on their door to take away a relative suspected of participating in the protests. Some new sources of disagreement explode in different parts of the national geography and are drowned with blows and shots by special troops, the dreaded “black wasps”. Many independent journalists are detained, others are under house arrest, and internet access has been censored on several occasions since the first popular demonstration broke out.
The people whom the authorities showed as completely faithful to the system, docile and peaceful, no longer exists. In its place, there is a country full of screams, some loud and some silent, so it is not possible to calculate exactly when it will explode. The real Cuba has distanced itself even more from the nation that inhabits the official press and TV.
The former feel that they have recovered their civic voice, who massively tested their strength in the streets, and tasted shouting the word “freedom” aloud; while the headlines controlled by the official media speak of conspiracies coming from abroad, of small groups that demonstrated, and of criminals who vandalized markets.
Both stories are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist for long.
Miguel Díaz-Canel tried to qualify the first words he spoke before the microphones that Sunday when, practically every hour, a new outbreak of protest came to light. “The combat order is given” and “we are ready for anything.” As he threatened, the ghost of civil war flew over the country.
Now, without retracting those words, he intersperses concepts such as “harmony,” “peace” and “joy” but fails to convince, because along with those syrupy phrases hundreds of buses throughout the country continue to discharge their shock troops in squares and neighborhoods.
So far, the only announced easing, in an attempt to quell the protests, has been to cancel the limits on travelers bringing medicine, food, and toiletries to the Island. But the measure is too little and too late, after years of demands it is seen as a crumb before the strong social demand that the system be dismantled, its main figures resign, and a transition to democracy begin as soon as possible.
“Freedom does not fit in a suitcase,” many warn on social networks, just as rebellion is not stopped by a police shield. “We were so hungry that we ate our fear”, can also be read everywhere. Now we have so much anger that they are the ones who fear us, and it shows.
There's More To The 'Unprecedented' Cuba Protests Than Just Food Shortages
July 18, 20215:11 PM ET Heard on All Things Considered 6-Minute Listen
NPR's Michel Martin speaks with Lillian Guerra, a University of Florida professor of Cuban history, about this week's protests in Cuba and the role of U.S. foreign policy in the nation's struggles.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to spend the next few minutes focusing on two countries that have experienced significant protests and serious unrest over the past week. We're talking about South Africa and Cuba. We're hoping to understand the factors that brought each country to this moment. And we're going to begin with Cuba.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Patria y vida. Patria y vida. Patria y vida.
MARTIN: A week ago, protesters took to the streets of Havana and elsewhere in Cuba, chanting patria y vida, meaning motherland and life. These were the largest protests in Cuba in decades, and many demonstrators were arrested. Lillian Guerra is a professor of Cuban history at the University of Florida and has written four books on the country's history. So we asked her for her take on what's happening and why, and she's with us now.
Professor Guerra, thanks so much for being with us.
LILLIAN GUERRA: Thank you so much for inviting me.
MARTIN: So I understand that the immediate spark for these demonstrations in Havana and elsewhere in Cuba were food shortages and high prices. And I understand that you feel that there's much more to this moment than that. But first, I did want to ask, why are there food shortages and high prices right now?
GUERRA: Well, unlike what the Cuban government would say, it's not the embargo. It has a lot to do with the fact that the state says it has no resources. And yet it's investing and has been investing those resources in building and continuing to build hotels and tourist facilities with its own money. Cubans are fed up with that. They are sick and tired of seeing small street vendors pay more in taxes and put up with more harassment than your average foreigner, who is an investor on the island, might own a hotel. So, you know, I think that there is much to the story that is not just about the gross national product dropping 11% in the past year.
MARTIN: So the protests have been described as rare, even unprecedented. Do you agree with that? And what is so unusual about this moment right now, in your opinion?
GUERRA: Yes. Well, they are completely unprecedented. Not only have they taken place in more than 50 towns and cities, but all the kinds of rallies and demonstrations that we've seen for the last 62 years, with just a few exceptions, those rallies have been orchestrated by the state. I mean, really since 1960, the state has provided the bussing, the script, the enforcement and the repercussions and consequences to those who didn't participate in rallies. But these were government rallies. So what we have been seeing for this week is something just unheard of. It's not only illegal, but it is a demonstration of the degree to which Cubans have reached a kind of consensus about the nature of their regime, the nature of the government and the lack of democracy and the lack of accountability.
MARTIN: What is it you think emboldened people now, given that, as you just told us, protests that aren't organized by the government are actually illegal? Hundreds of dissidents have been detained or arrested in recent years. So what is it that you think emboldened people in such numbers to take to the streets now?
GUERRA: Well, first, a set of examples. In November of 2020, you had more than 300 artists who staged hours-long sit-ins in front of the Ministry of Culture, demanding the right to negotiate their own terms for the sale and distribution of their work. And that included intellectuals, artists, filmmakers, musicians. That was followed by another extraordinary example of, you know, major musicians in the rap and hip-hop scene making a joint, free video called "Patria Y Vida"...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PATRIA Y VIDA")
ALEXANDER DELGADO: (Singing in Spanish).
GUERRA: ...Which has been the slogan of these protests. That video came out on YouTube in February of 2021. And within four weeks, 5 million people on the island - that's half the population - had seen it.
So these also, I think, have to be taken into the context of Cubans having had a taste of much greater freedom in the last two years of the Obama administration. Those policies made it possible for Cubans on the island to pursue a number of businesses with Americans, with Cuban exiles, to share in profits. So these kinds of openings were terrifying to the Cuban state. And as early as January of 2017, Raul Castro, who was the former head of the army, president of the country, he effectively began to roll them back.
MARTIN: I did want to ask you about that back and forth over the U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. President Obama's push for an opening to Cuba called for an easing of some sanctions. And then the Trump administration tightened them again. And now President Biden is under pressure from some to reverse course again. What would you like to see the Biden administration do?
GUERRA: Well, I would like to see the Biden administration effectively reinstitute the openings to the embargo that Cuban citizens had been able to exploit to their own maximum reward. And by that, I mean, I'm 100% in favor of a greater free flow of ideas and travelers to Cuba. I think that we can reestablish the ability of Americans to send money to Cubans so that they can use that money for their own businesses in the private sector. We need to do something that is unexpected and it shows our friendship with the Cuban people and that will ultimately help them undermine the nature of this state.
MARTIN: I understand that there have been calls from some in the Cuban exile community to send in the U.S. military to Cuba. I don't see that there's any inclination on the part of the administration to do that. But how widespread a sentiment is that among the exile community? And as somebody who's written extensively about the history of U.S. intervention and occupation in Cuba, what are your thoughts about that?
GUERRA: Well, yes. I mean, it is a growing rallying cry. It has, you know, unfortunately been echoed through the halls of certain government entities in South Florida, including the mayor's office. Mayor Suarez of Miami was one of the first to endorse this. I mean, this kind of stuff is insane. First, it's insane because the United States has a very long history of relying on military occupations and political interventions in Cuba as well as Latin America that span, you know, most of the 20th century. And returning to what is, you know, an imperial policy of imposing authority through military means is going to also be catastrophic for the protesters. That will allow for the Cuban state to repress them in unheard of ways.
You know, we have also proven ourselves wrong again and again in Latin America, in particular, when we have tried to impose U.S. interests or just - even United States presence in a situation at - that is on the verge of its own democratization process. We need to let that democratization process ride itself out. And the consequences, I think, will be very positive.
MARTIN: That was Lillian Guerra. She's a professor of Cuban history at the University of Florida. Professor Guerra, thank you so much for being with us.
GUERRA: Thank you so much. And thank you for covering this.
***Share the link of this article with your facebook friends
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org.
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org