2.24.2008

Dispatches from a Gringo in Havana, Part III

(Editor's Note: After Fidel Castro officially stepped down as Cuba's president last week, Lagan Sebert, a contributor to this blog, contacted one of his American friends in Havana for a first person account of the political climate. Despite this historic transition, the mood remains tense enough in Cuba, even for a foreigner, that Lagan's Havana contact wanted to remain anonymous. As part of the transition, Cuba's National Assembly is meeting today to officially pick Castro's successor. This is the third part of a three-part series reacting to Castro's retirement. To read this series from the beginning, please go here.)

Edited by Lagan Sebert
Special to iVoryTowerz

Seeds of Transition...

There are fissures, small ones, appearing in the silence that is Cuba. A few weeks ago an electronics student stood at a podium and asked difficult questions of Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National Assembly. The student asked why there was official apartheid between Cubans and tourists or other foreigners. He asked why Cubans were not allowed to travel abroad and why they were paid such miserable wages under which he or she must work several days to be able to buy a toothbrush. These are devastating questions to be posed to a top official of a regime not accustomed to such forwardness.

Alarcon answered that when he traveled to New York to speak at the United Nations, he had often experienced discrimination because he was Hispanic. He explained, over the course of a thirty-minute response, that he was asked to leave stores because he was not welcome.

Alarcon told the audience he would like nothing more than for every Cuban to be able to travel, but he implied if they did they would only realize how dangerous the world is and how superior life is in Cuba.

But no one believes these fantasies anymore.

Many of the students Alarcon addressed study computers and are very aware of life outside Cuba. Telling these students “the world is an awful place, take my word for it,” is a great insult to their intelligence.

One of Fidel Castro’s success stories is the Cuban education system. By some indicators, Revolutionary Cuba has obtained higher literacy rates than the United States. In medicine, for example Cuban education is excellent. But in the humanities the argument can easily be made that educating a population, teaching them to think critically, and then putting your boot on their face when they dare to critique is crueler than not having an education to begin with. It is forced intellectual sterilization. However, as Fidel famously stated “with the Revolution everything, without it, nothing.”

Technology is one of the major factors in the slow demise of the regime. Compared with even five years ago, a much larger portion of the population has access to unfiltered news from outside Cuba. A few people have found ways around the internet firewall that prevents people who are lucky enough to have computers from accessing information not approved by the government. Those few who can get around the firewalls share information with those with less access.

The police sometimes raid homes to confiscate illegal satellite dishes by following suspicious wires that lead to private computers and televisions. These police raids are often disguised as rescue operations, Cubans tell me with disgust.

(This the final part of this series. To read this series from the beginning, please go here. To read the previous part in the series, please go here.)

(The photo of Fidel Castro convalescing is © copyright Juventud Rebelde, one of the official Cuban government newspapers. As the newspaper is a product of the Cuban state, the photo is actually in the public domain.)







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