Is Cuba Changing? Doubtful per Local Writers.
As an American, I keep looking for signs of Cuba changing, opening up, allowing more personal freedom. It definitely is opening up for tourists (Cuba needs dollars) but not necessarily for Cubans. Every opening for Cubans seems designed to look good to the outside world, but is followed by back-pedaling for Cubans. A couple of examples:
- More paladars (private restaurants) have been opening; but then the state quits issuing licenses for them.
- More Wi-Fi hotspots are being set up in Havana; but “controversial” sites are still blocked, and local blogs are still being shut down.
- The confusion between legal, illegal, illegal but tolerated. It just seems like insanity
I’m just an American, trying to plan my next trip to Cuba, and hoping to encourage travel there. I tend to be optimistic, so I counter this by listening to Cuban writers. They currently don’t leave me optimistic about whether Cuba is changing.
I read Yania Suarez’s book, Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today (translated from Spanish in 2011).
“She’s been kidnapped and beaten, lives under surveillance, and can only get online—in disguise—at tourist hotspots. She’s a blogger, she’s a Cuban, and she’s a worldwide sensation.”
Havana Real is a fascinating book about life in Cuba as a citizen, as a blogger, just trying to report on life in Cuba. Struggles in life are common, but there shouldn’t be struggles with personal freedoms. I read her book, then I look at all the Google Alerts on changes in Cuba and I hope that these changes are reaching Cubans. Evidently though, it is not. Here is a statement from Yania.
I cannot paraphrase her writing, to do so would be to lessen its impact. I will just excerpt a couple of paragraphs. Read the entire article here.
“Can we actually speak of change? My experience as an independent writer within Cuba suggests we cannot. Today the government is projecting an image of transformation so as to radiate peace and friendship to Europe and the United States and thereby obtain foreign investment, following the lifting of EU sanctions and ultimately the lifting of the US embargo. But it is at most a change in strategy so things can continue as they are.
They no longer, for example, condemn journalists and opposition figures to 20 years in prison (as they did in 2003), but they do apply other tactics based on isolation and surveillance. These include jamming the Internet – which we Cubans can only access in public places at a price of approximately two dollars an hour, or constant harassment of dissidents by the secret police, provisional detention – which, according to the testimony of the victims, is sometimes accompanied by beatings – along with other intelligence techniques.
That is our life. At the moment their prime concern is to stop the opposition from going out in the streets and interacting with the people. I have myself been arrested three times for taking photos of peaceful actions by the opposition, and on another occasion for walking with a demonstration. But I am no great example. The real activists fare less well, like the members of Damas en Blanco (Ladies in White) and UNPACU (the Patriotic Union of Cuba), for whom violent detention is a weekly routine…..”
Yania Suárez Calleyro is a Cuban journalist and Solitude fellow in the field of cultural journalism. Here, she writes about her everyday encounters with Cuban policies towards free speech and Cuba’s alleged opening to democracy.
See more on Cuba Life and Perplexities.