Migratory things, the previous series, began and ended evoking a text of my authorship that turns ten years old next Monday. Published in La Joven Cuba (LJC), the most unexpected thing about the text for me then was its rebound on all sides, like the waves made by a stone thrown into the water. For months.
That Letter that the twentysomething editors of LJC published and defended on their blog had almost 400 comments. I did not answer then, nor do I propose to do so now. What I propose is to consider those rebounds, and other collateral effects, with the lens of time, from where everything is seen more clearly.
Between “Carta de una joven que no se va” (Letter from a young woman who is not leaving) (LJC, 06.28.2012), the first answer elaborated and appeared two weeks after the publication of the initial text, almost two months elapsed up to the “Letter from a young woman who has left” (Penúltimos días, 08.22.2012). I stop at the latter, finely concocted by its author on a Bulgarian tourist beach, because it kept the reference to my text rebounding on the networks for an unusual amount of time.
The spectral condition of that Cuban, whose address nobody had, nor those of his relatives in Cuba, was pointed out by the journalist Tracy Eaton in his blog Along the Malecon. Tracy noted contradictions between the alleged lived experiences reported in his text and his stated age. Like Forrest Gump, Iván López Monreal had witnessed everything at the age of 10, including “el Maleconazo,” hotel apartheid, the emerging teachers; and his parents, who had him in 1984, had enjoyed “better medical services” in yesterday’s Cuba.
After all, he would be 38 today, or 80 in April of next year; he was a trucker, a hotel clerk or a journalist; whether his name was Iván or Charlie, for me the most important thing about his contribution was that the rebound of his text made mine read in some Cuban political offices. Which had interesting results, which I will comment on later.
His viral success on networks, especially its English version on a well-known blog, would have the collateral effect of overlapping mine. Read by him, my Letter was dedicated to defending “the social achievements of the Revolution,” to affirming “that the country is making a great effort, that there is an embargo,” suggesting that “those of us who left took the easiest path,” and to “convince those who leave to stay.”
The excerpts from my Letter that I reproduce here are not aimed so much at reestablishing my ideas as I said them, which anyone can check in the original, but at showing something much more interesting for the reader: how much has changed and how much has not in these ten years.
Thus, I spoke then to my addressee:
“Most of your childhood and adolescence have coincided with that Special Period, which unlike the old ones, you have not had to live as bad times or even the end of illusions, but as life’s only horizon…. When you arrived, everything had been done, set up, by those who had demolished the old (what for them was the past), the new order had been built and regulated. You, who did not arrive on time for those buildings, think that that country invented by others (for you, the past) no longer exists, and only an old order survives, rather irremediable. The worst, however, is not having been born in a pre-established order, because that happens to everyone, but your uncertain possibilities of changing it. In any case, you don’t want to invest your life trying to do it, because you have no other than this one; and you aspire to get your own home, a job that you like and that allows you what you can with your ability and effort, without transportation and electricity shortages, and plan to go on vacation somewhere once a year, even if you have to do without other things. You think that the only way to ensure that life is to jump over this horizon and look for others….
“My intention is not to dissuade you, or to warn you, much less foist on you a patriotic speech. I do not intend to speak to you as your father, counselor or spiritual guide, nor as a religious messenger, a revealed truth, voice of experience, or teacher authority. I invite you to think between the two of your reasons, but above all the context and meaning of your decision to leave the country. To put your arguments in a context, to get something clear that, perhaps, can help you. Don’t think I’m doing it just for you. I have my own reasons, because your decision to leave involves us all, and especially those of us who have never thought of leaving.
“You hear that young people have no values, they renege socialism, they want to leave the country and they are not interested in politics. Perhaps those who think this way identify values with their values, politics with mobilizations and speeches, the defense of socialism with certain commandments, among others, that this system is only for committed revolutionaries, that a Cuban citizen is only so while he resides in the land where he was born, or that having another travel document is equivalent to submitting to the orders of a foreign power.
“I warn you that those who reason in this way are not just some officials, but many other good people, upright citizens, for whom defending the country is not a declaration. In fact, when they speak of defending the social achievements of the Revolution, most think of free education and health, and if that is the measure of the Revolution and socialism on the social plane, it is logical that many say that you should pay for them, if you want to move to another place where you are not going to defend them.
“On the other hand, you believe that those rights were won by the Revolution for everyone, and for that very reason they are yours, with no other conditions than having been born on this island. You have heard that, according to the Constitution, the basic rights of a Cuban are beyond his way of thinking; and that social justice and equality are precisely that: principles and values that must be truly exercised, without subjecting them to class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ideology, because they represent the most important conquest of all, that of a person’s full dignity. Well, if you agree with that, you might be surprised to hear that you are a creature of socialism. If you care about the welfare of the whole of society, the democracy of citizens, freedom (including that of everyone around you) and national independence, I warn you that you are a more politicized being than many inhabitants of the planet, probably including the majority of the people of that country where you are going….
“This system of ours consults you and asks you to mobilize, because your mobilization and your opinions are necessary for most policies to work, although neither you nor many bureaucrats understand it that way. Indeed, although they continue to think that the decisive thing is to oil the chain of command and comply with the plan, and you believe that you are a nullity in the system, when you take the floor to criticize the Guidelines, you claim your rights anywhere, you protest in the face of inequalities and privileges, you applaud a criticism that minces no words, you ask that policies not only be stated but have results, and even when you go to the Plaza grumbling, to make a quorum at Joseph Ratzinger’s mass, you are actively contributing to politics, and to keep alive a fabric without which this system would languish, and which sociologists call consensus.
“Perhaps you have sometimes wondered why this system of ours, which has its own elections, cannot give people who think like you the possibility of expressing their political opinions on television, proposing as many candidates as they want (not just below, but at all levels), listen to them, ask them questions and find out what is on their minds, before voting for them and their proposals. You have always heard that the political confrontation on television, an open list of candidates and the debate between them is nothing but the politicking of capitalism. That if we open that space, the Americans, the Miami mafia and the dissidents are going to take advantage of it to use their money and confuse the people. And the enemy cannot be given even a bit. Etc.
“You must have also heard, however, that we ourselves, more likely than that enemy, can finish off what we have. And that this and its plans cannot be the cause for us to stop talking about our problems, because in the end, the truth prevails. You have heard it, in the voice of the main leaders, over and over again, but it is as if nothing happened, the usual arguments are still there. You are tired of hearing announcements of changes that have not arrived, and that do not depend on objective factors, but on an old mentality that continues to hold the reins.
“You also think that participation cannot be just a matter of marches, ceremonies and meetings, where your presence does not change anything or affect the management mechanisms, but on the contrary, it is diluted in meeting goals and other formalities. You feel that this participation lacks commitment, sincerity, spontaneity. If asked to give an example of formalism, perhaps you mention youth organizations and the media, whose style and rhetoric turn you and your friends off; or the CDR and the FMC, where you don’t feel involved in anything substantial either.
“I don’t know if you know that, in a country where you can vote and be elected to positions in People’s Power from the age of 16, the presence of young delegates in municipalities and provinces has been going down, from 22% (1987) to 16% (2008). In the National Assembly, that average presence fell to 4% in the 1990s; and although it grew in the last elections, it is still less than 9% of the deputies.… Obviously, the presence of young people in positions elected by vote is well below their weight in the adult population. Whatever the cause of this very low profile, it is clear that the more young people like you leave the country, the less will be their presence in political positions; and if you live abroad you will not be able to vote, much less hold any responsibility. As you can see, your decision to leave has profound implications for those of us who remain….
“Surely you have heard what is said about Cuba and Cubans in the world. Even if you don’t have Internet at home, you got an email box, or you listen to the BBC or Radio Caracol or Radio Exterior de España or another of the many stations in Spanish that can be picked up from any radio. You are likely to speak to one of the millions of tourists who walk our streets; that you have a cousin in Hialeah or Alicante; a friend who travels because he is a doctor, academician, musician or civil servant….
“Soon, you too will be a Cuban in the diaspora, which will always be better, by the way, than if they called you an exile. When you get there, you will see with your own eyes that some went to the diaspora and ended up in exile. The causes of that enmity lie there and here. In certain countries, the industry of anti-Castroism, with ramifications in many sectors, has created a labor market, where it is possible to get a certain job or way of life if one radicalizes against. As you can see, unlike here, what is politically correct there is to speak ill of everything that happens here, and that rule, in certain places, can be very strict, you’ll see.
“Others, on the other hand, have become like this because from here they have been made to pay a high price, not only in money. They have felt punished, subject to prohibitions and separations, forced to pay a personal fine that is unfair and onerous, just for having decided to try their luck elsewhere. It does not matter that the economic and family origin of emigration has been officially recognized, it continues to be cultivated insensitively among many of those who with a grudge, whose cost exceeds all collections and short-term accounting, because it leaves an indelible mark on people, and by the same, in the real body of the nation. The price of that enmity, naturally, is inestimable….
“If you were an artist or a writer, you wouldn’t have the dilemma of staying here forever or leaving forever. You could decide to work outside for years, and finally return to your place, to leave whenever you want, as many have done. Or continue there, keeping in touch and collaborating with projects here, returning again and again, as others do. The truth is that most of our artists and writers have not left the country permanently. If it were only about strictly economic terms, it is clear that, for the interests of the country, their value as human capital is many times higher than the migratory taxes. That alternative policy has borne fruit not only for them, but for all of us….
“If you were asked about your feelings as a Cuban, you might say that you are proud that we are the way we are, of our cultural heritage, traditions, struggles for independence, beliefs, values, patriotism. You see that your apoliticism is very doubtful, whatever they say or what you think of yourself.
“Now then, it is probably very convenient for you to connect directly with the realities of the world, and learn about them on your own, something that is difficult to achieve only with the Internet, the satellite TV or the mp3. Leaving Cuba, in addition to trying your luck, gives you the chance to grow on that side. Nothing contributes more to political education than traveling, getting to know other people and cultures, foreign values and beliefs, living directly and even experiencing the problems of others, to realize where one is. If you had had the opportunity to travel and come back, again and again, the context in which you would make your decision now would be different.”
These words, written in Havana, had, despite everything, other ears, not at all complacent. The reply that touched me the most was that of a young man of the same age, also from Europe: “I left and I don’t intend to return. It is in the empire that I was banned from so much that I feel most Cuban. If I’m not here, it’s not my fault, it’s theirs. I will defend the system where I currently live, because it represents me. Not because I’m happier, but more citizen. How glad I am that you are writing this to me, it is a sign that in the end we realize that something is not working, even if they do not admit it.”
After ten years, I’m glad I met him yesterday. He has returned. In the next column I will share, with his permission, our conversation.