My truth: The pain of being silenced in Cuba
‘ … every day I live with the fear of repression’
Translated by Teodora C. Hasegan
Throughout the history of humanity, intellectuals committed to truth and freedom have always represented a threat to different power structures. The 1984 book by George Orwell provides an understanding of the existing analogies with the oppressive Cuban society.
One of the most nefarious effects of totalitarianism does not lie strictly in physical and brutal repression. The main consequence of the psychological pressure exerted by totalitarian states on the individual is the pretense that it causes in the human being; this is a mechanism that usually hides true ideas and convictions, and thus preserves the individual’s social and economic status, and way of life. It is a society where all spheres of life are controlled by the state machinery, especially the academic and intellectual professions. In this way, opinion leaders who carry out creative work in the artistic and literary spheres, and also scientists, are silenced.
In this sense, totalitarianism in the Cuban context constitutes a sui generis referent, not only because of its continuation in time, but because it is evident that the system is based on that apparent and false adherence to a worn-out ideology that only offers messianic and utopian horizons for the human being.
Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, intellectuals in Cuba have had few options to live in the truth, as the Czech writer and playwright Václav Havel argues in his fundamental work El poder de los sin poder (The Power of the Powerless) for the Czech context. He refers to an existence based on lies and pretense, aspects that are accentuated in the Cuban regime.
In Cuba, we, the intellectuals, have generally had three paths: to simulate our loyalty to the regime as a survival mechanism, and in certain cases to enjoy few and modest privileges — such as publishing or teaching, professions where the intellectual usually takes refuge; to confront power regardless of the consequences, even losing freedom (let’s not forget the fate of writers like Raúl Rivero and Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, imprisoned for their ideology); and the third path, the exile, which is as sad as imprisonment.
Great Cuban intellectuals have found in their exile the only possible place for their artistic creation. Mentioning all of them is impossible and beyond the objectives of this text. For example, Reinaldo Arenas, Heberto Padilla, Rafael Rojas, Gastón Baquero, Wendy Guerra, among others, are on that long list.
In Cuban society, people have always lived with masks. From a young age, they instill in you empty slogans that have no meaning, but with the passage of time and access to information, they lose their credibility. For example, when I was just a child they imposed on me the slogan: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che” [Ernesto “Che” Guevara]. Without having the slightest idea what both symbols meant, those words always sounded empty in my fragile spirituality.
The previous generations that in their time supported the system, now feel deceived and experience the greatest frustration, because their dreams were hijacked. This is why a book like La gran estafa (The Big Scam), by the Peruvian Eudocio Ravines, fascinates me and has a lot to teach us.
My experience is painful, not only because every day I live with the fear of repression and ending up in jail for challenging the system and its totalitarian power, but because, by not playing the simulation game, I have to resign myself to marginalization, since I cannot publish in my own country in magazines or newspapers, and I am no longer able to teach at university (which is one of the most beautiful and exciting professions). My Catholic activism is a social sentence because the system does not tolerate a philosophical vision other than Marxism-Leninism.
In earlier times, Catholic intellectuals like José Lezama Lima found a refuge in the National University in order to survive economically and dedicate themselves fully to literary creation. At that time, Eliseo Diego had the support of activist Nicolás Guillén in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. My situation is dire because I have been denied belonging to that institution of Cuban artists and intellectuals. The reason for this exclusion is obvious: because I disagree with the official ideology.
To suffer social exclusion for thinking differently and for reasons of conscience constitutes a violation of human rights. There is a high price to pay for dissenting from the regime in Cuba, and few dare to confront the system. But in recent years the situation has changed, demonstrating the power of the intellectual and his ability to subvert totalitarian power.
As society overcomes fear, totalitarianism begins to weaken, to the point of dying like a terminally ill patient, as in the case of Cuba. The Cuban regime does not tolerate losing control of the cultural and intellectual sector, considered strategic and crucial, which is why the regime clings to having a monopoly on it.
The regime tries to neutralize the dissenting intellectual in different ways: including him in the institutional power, or corrupting him, even getting him to collaborate with the State Security and inform on his colleagues (as it happened in many Eastern European countries). Let us not forget the case of the Cuban writer Eliseo Alberto Diego, whose work Informe contra mí mismo (Report Against Myself) is a testimony to the pressure that State Security exerted on him to spy on his own father, the famous Catholic writer Eliseo Diego. Nowadays, writers like Rafael Alcides have challenged the totalitarian power. Alcides has inspired the documentary Nadie (Nobody) by Miguel Coyula, a Cuban filmmaker who has suffered repression in his own country.
Someone who has never lived in such a society cannot understand the damaging impact of the fear of expressing their thoughts and having to resort to private and domestic spaces to vent their daily worries and challenges.
Moreover, the human being in Cuba lives so burdened by the scarcity of even the basic necessities that it is pointless and practically a luxury to seek ways to fight for their freedom, much less to carry out intellectual reflections and abstractions of any kind. One of the most visible signs of the failure of the Cuban model lies in the high levels of social inequality that it has created in society. For example, the introduction of stores that operate in US dollars was rejected by the majority of the population, because it marginalized a large part of society that does not have relatives in the US or other countries who could send remittances in the US currency to them.
The attachment to a totalitarian ideology in Cuba has had an enormous social cost. The regrettable and dramatic result is that the Cubans live in a permanent ethical and moral duality. Since no one can survive on Cuban wages, Cubans have had to legitimize the philosophy of stealing from the state as a survival mechanism. The worst thing is that even if a large part of society has lost its faith and belief in the system in Cuba, the person is still dependent on the state and has to live under constant pretense.
Cuba will not be a state governed by the rule of law until it accepts democratic opposition and freedom of thought. Someone who has not lived in a communist regime can not understand this in its true dimension.
I am one of those who believe that we, the Cuban intellectuals, defenders of freedom, will be a key piece in the transition that is looming with an unstoppable force on this island which is currently suffering so much.
This text was published anonymously to protect the author’s safety.