Tag Archives: cuba

A FLY IN THE OINTMENT

I’m a Democrat – a true progressive although I don’t put party above country.  My approach is logic.  If the policy is logical-I don’t care who authored it, I will support it.  But fundamentally my politics are and will always be progressive.  This makes being  Cuban very difficult.  Not because of the small extreme right wing faction of the Cuban-American community.  I understand their pain which is constantly manipulated by cynical Republican politicians who sprinkle salt in the wounds every time they need a win.  It’s actually America’s Left that makes being a progressive and a Cuban-American mind bogglingly difficult.

Yesterday my sister, a self proclaimed ‘slow boil Cuban’, was incensed.  She looked over and said, “I’ve just read this article on HUFFPO that I almost don’t want to tell you about, because it will set you OFF.”  Thinking I was too tired to be lit up by anything, I asked her to forward it.  In it, the writer Tyler Wetherall describes trying to get into a paladar and being outraged when a ‘hustler’ tries to get her to go to another restaurant.  Cause she’s hungry!  And she needs food from that restaurant now!  And how dare a hustler (who she eventually snitches on) try to get her dollars by lying!  The most offensive part of the entire piece was how she refers to Cubans: “…here in Cuba jineteros are an omnipresent part of every interaction, which might possibly involve foreigners, or more precisely, foreign money. They are Havana’s mosquitoes; the daily irritant that buzzes about you incessantly. “

Mosquitoes.  In our own country.  That’s what it’s come down to.

This commentary is more a reflection of her morality than those of the desperate kids that who sell anything they can along with their bodies in order to survive.  She’s so offended that they would dare try and work tourists any way they can, that she reduces them to bugs, a annoyance to be overcome on the way to the next hyped restaurant that most Cubans can’t afford to eat at.  Although I would counter, if she feels surrounded by mosquitoes, she needs to question her own values.  We all know what mosquitoes tend to swarm.

But–that’s freedom of speech.  One of a myriad of reasons my grandparents escaped Cuba. All freedoms have their price.  What really got to me was what happened next. I posted a snarky comment-which wasn’t vulgar-but didn’t make it past the editor.  Whatever.  Although,  if it had been about Dick Cheney-it would have gotten through-but ok, it is what it is.  Then my sister posted this:

“I have a hard time going along with someone’s travel experience who would refer to locals – hustlers or not – as “mosquitoes; the daily irritant that buzzes about you incessantly”. Whatever your feelings about jineteros and Cuba’s sexual tourism, it’s symptomatic of a much larger and very sad situation. By so completely dehumanizing people who are reduced to those circumstances, the writer shows herself to be the ugliest kind of American tourist. “

She posted it three times and it was rejected, three times.  And this is when I realized that an awful shift had occurred.

I knew the revolution had beaten their propaganda so deeply into the American Left’s consciousness that there’s very little we can do. “It’s the embargo!  It was Batista!  Those white Cubans all left in yachts with gold falling out of their pockets!”   The truth being on our side made it easy for us to shrug it all off and continue to  support our families, still in Cuba, as well organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a variety of Cuban dissident groups.  So what if they hate us-we knew we’d be the ones absolved by history-not the beard. In the meantime, our brothers and sisters needed us and that was more important.

But this article shook me profoundly.  Riddled with only sexual tourism with flecks of the culturally curious for years–suddenly Cuba is becoming chic again-and this time there is a new uglier strain in the racism and insensitivity of the people that travel there.  The revolution has become so good at demonizing and diminishing Cuban exiles that it has expanded into the way Cubans on the island are viewed as well.

Not only does Cuban citizenry have to suffer the consistent blows of Revolutionary brutality, they’re now at the mercy of people like this travel writer who makes money off writing about them without showing them an ounce of compassion.  Every dictatorship has its useful idiots.  But as a progressive and a Cuban, it is my duty to call out an organization like HUFFPO on not letting us voice our opinions.  It’s their responsibility to either stand behind Wetherall’s insidious take on an entire people or apologize for publishing such an insipid perspective on a beleaguered nation.

The revolution may have made Cubans the world’s mosquitoes, but it’s up to us to speak out for those that can’t and call those that would sooner squash them than lift a finger to help them out on their bullshit.

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PARA LA DAMA

In 2003 Hector Maseda, leader of the Cuban Liberal party, along with 74 other journalists, librarians and human rights activists, were arrested in what is now known Cuba’s Black Spring. The accused were sentenced to everywhere between 6-28 years of prison. Their crimes? Committing their words about social reforms and human rights in Cuba to paper. The regime swept in and crushed their activities never imagining that the the wives, mothers and daughters of the convicted would band together to form Las Damas de Blanco and make their message soar.

Dressed in white and carrying gladiolas, they walked along Cuba’s historic fifth avenue every Sunday after attending mass at Santa Rita. With a silent march that screamed all the words that were illegal to utter, without saying a word, Las Damas caught the ear of international human rights groups and in 2005 won the Sakharov prize. Eventually, Castro’s cowardly and dishonorable thugs did the only thing they could in the face of such courage. They assaulted them. Routinely. Laura Pollan in particular, Maseda’s wife, caught my attention because she always fearlessly looked straight into the eyes of her oppressors. Without pause, the strength of her gaze was mesmerizing. After each attack, Laura spoke with fierce ease about what the Ladies had endured and with relentless passion doubled down on their unwavering commitment to Cuba’s prisoners of conscience.

A few years ago, after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and a particularly brutal beating endured by Las Damas, Spain and the Cuban Catholic church negotiated to release the Black Spring prisoner’s of conscience and forced them into exile. And handful of them, including Laura’s husband refused the expatriation and were released just eight months ago. Laura announced that the Ladies who chose to stay would march until all Cuba’s prisoner’s of conscience were released. And once again, she blew me away. Her courage was astounding.

Although I’ve born witness to great acts of courage, the nature of courage defies description. Like energy, it can’t be created or destroyed and often surprises those it decides to work through. It’s variations are endless but the results of a courageous action, no matter how small, settles a being. Courage doesn’t parade itself but it makes its mark. It’s not easy, but its clarity is as illuminating as it is transcendent.

Laura Pollan died of cardiac arrest in a Havana hospital Friday night after supposedly fighting Dengue fever and respiratory complications for a week. I don’t think Laura ever expected to be a one of Cuba’s greatest patriots but the fates new better and chose this small woman with the roar of a caged lion to take up all of our country’s cause.

Today, I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am for her sacrifice. But I know that one day, Cuba will once again bloom because of it. Paz, luz y progresso Laura. Descansa, que ahora caminaremos nosotros.

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