Rebuilding Cubans as Individuals
Rebuilding Cubans as Individuals
September 12, 2014
By Alejandro Armengol*
HAVANA TIMES — Even though studies and conferences about the rebuilding
of a post-Castro Cuba abound, this transformation has never been
analyzed in any depth from the point of view of the individual.
Urgently taking on the study about the means that will allow Cubans to
change and become individuals capable of facing the challenges and
benefits of a democratic State and civil society is as pressing a task
as debating over the economic and political bases that are to sustain
the Cuban nation of the future.
Impelling such a process from within Cuba’s current regime is
impossible. Though efforts to establish the foundations of a civil
society in Cuba under the current situation are commendable, these
efforts are for the most part limited if not utopian. No civil society
could be built in Nazi Germany, fascist Italy or the communist Soviet
Union. That came later.
The comparison may seem disproportionate for some – in part, if one
considers the war these European nations experienced, or the subsequent
Cold War faced by the USSR, it is – but, when one focuses on the
characteristics of a totalitarian system, most differences tend to
vanish. To speak of establishing civil structures, groups and
institutions that are truly separate from the State – and not of
necessity pitted against the government – in today’s Cuba is as
nonsensical as suggesting this be tried in North Korea.
This, however, does not stand in the way of studying the slow and
inevitable evolution towards this end, a process which, in Cuba’s case,
is characterized by the development of an increasingly porous border
between the island and its counterpart, Miami.
Here, in contrast to North and South Korea, we cannot speak of a nation
divided into two States. We are faced, rather, with an ever-more
deteriorated country and a refuge established in a republic that is at
once similar and different (ultimately, Cuban émigrés living in Miami
abide by US laws).
Beyond the superficial similarity caught sight in the fact that South
Korea directly and indirectly offers North Koreans economic aid so that
they will be less hungry and miserable, Cubans living on the island and
in the United States have become closer to one another in the course of
years and these ties are transcending ideological and political
differences (whose extremes are becoming more and more obsolete at both
ends) every day.
In this sense, attempts in Miami at establishing the bases for a “future
Cuba”, let alone a government for tomorrow’s Cuba, are as absurd as the
pretext of the “besieged fortress” one still hears at Havana’s
Revolution Square, and, with time, have become mere comical references
to an abandoned project.
The New Émigrés
In the course of 55 years, Cubans have evolved into two groups with
significant differences and similarities. One group, the majority, has
remained in the country. The other has made a new life for itself abroad.
For years, the Cuban government has been repeating that émigrés leave
Cuba for economic reasons. This argument has been echoed in Miami. Here,
we are also told on a daily basis that those who have arrived in the
country in recent years have come in search of a better life and not for
ideological reasons. In that always ironic convergence of extremes, a
discourse that points to the immigrant who is solely interested in their
wellbeing and not in any ideal of freedom begins to take shape on both
There is some truth to these claims, insofar as there is a growing
tendency among the new émigrés to distance themselves from all forms of
“politicization” (having grown tired of hearing these kinds of
discourses) and to prioritize family values or maintain previous
personal ties, and even customs, with which those who arrived before the
1990s were, for the most part, obliged to break off.
There are however differences that remain, even though these are
overlooked or deliberately ignored in our daily lives. This could be
described simply by saying that Cubans go back to Cuba but never
actually return. Those who do – as in the case of the occasional
musician – are the exception that turns the event into news.
The most significant difference between Cubans within and without Cuba
is that those who have emigrated to the United States or other countries
live in countries with capitalist, market economies and democratic
governments, while those who have remained in Cuba of their own will or
reasons beyond their control are obliged to adapt to the circumstances
that prevail in a totalitarian society based on communist tenets
(though, in practice, the ideological terminology has evolved and the
prevailing system is the facade of a regime whose sole interest is
surviving at all costs).
Beyond the possibility of expressing oneself freely – and without facing
any repercussions, for the most part – under capitalism and the
generalized censorship of a system that continues to call itself
socialist, what has the greatest impact upon individuals is the sense
that they are not in control of their own lives.
For the time being, leaving the country continues to be the escape valve
chosen by those living on the island. Neither the increase in travel and
sending of remittances between the two countries nor Cuba’s new
migratory laws have put an end to the exodus of Cubans, who leave the
country on vessels and other means considered illegal by Havana and
other governments (save in such exceptional cases envisaged by the still
effective “wet foot / dry foot” policy).
In addition, leaving Cuba is, in most cases, no longer considered an
attack on the regime, but rather a family or personal affair.
This tendency to regard the migratory process through the lens of family
or personal concerns (and, as such, depoliticitzed), however, serves a
What the Cuban government is actually after is a twofold benefit: to
receive revenue through those who settle abroad and continue to help the
relatives they left behind and to widen the social and political blowoff
valve. Like Havana, Washington also acts in accordance with its national
interests: to maintain social and political stability 90 miles from
Cuban coasts, without looking for any additional trouble. Ultimately,
that has more weight than any declaration in favor of democracy in Cuba.
For many years, migratory policies have been used as political
instruments by both the United States and Cuba, and this has not
changed. This has benefitted many Cubans, but not without a number of costs.
Over time, Havana and Washington have offered different answers to the
phenomenon of Cuban immigrants. They are two very different countries
that share a common problem, while thousands of desperate people
continue to look for a better life. Of course we should not condemn
anyone for wanting to have a better life, particularly if one has done
exactly the same.
It is the country of origin that is suffering ever greater damage from
the point of view of its future independence, not only political but
also social, the danger of disintegration, chaos and violence that looms
ever more threateningly over Cuban society.
A Volatile Stage
An extremely volatile situation – which the government has managed to
control through repression and promises – has been taking shape in Cuba
over recent years. Though repression is generalized, it manifests itself
more visibly when applied on dissidents.
The regime is not only capable of keeping dissidents divided – that
hasn’t been news for years – but also of ensuring that the small
protests and acts of civil disobedience that take place on a daily basis
do not acquire larger dimensions. The dissidents still prove incapable
of guiding or organizing the nationwide feeling of discontent and the
government has not made any significant progress in terms of alleviating
the prevailing poverty in the country. In this sense, we can speak of
stagnation both within the opposition and government, whose reforms make
such slow progress that it could well be said they aren’t moving at all.
All of this increases the chances of a social upheaval. Should such a
violent fragmentation of society take place and regardless of its
outcome, taking advantage of the chaos and the use of force as a
solution to daily problems will likely become a behavioral pattern that
will be adopted by part of the island’s population. This behavior will
limit or thwart social progress, as is the case in Haiti today.
Manipulation would cease to be institutionalized, as is the case now,
and would become the work of small groups of thugs, demagogues and
Should a social upheaval take place – and we must stress that the
situation of Cuban society is ever more like a boiler gaining more and
more pressure – people will not take to the streets to demand political
liberties (the moment for that has passed), but to vent their social and
From the economic point of view, and contrary to what people may
suppose, a general worsening of the country’s economic situation need
not be the catalyst for these more or less generalized protests. The
country’s growing social differences, which become starker every day,
are what could light the fuse.
Despite the extreme limitations they face in their efforts (chiefly owed
to the vigorous forms of repression applied on them), Cuban dissidents
have not only warned of this danger but have done everything possible to
avoid reaching such a chaotic situation, after which it would be very
difficult to carry out the task of rebuilding Cubans as individuals. The
government of the Castro brothers, on the other hand, is intent on
leaving only chaos behind following its disappearance.
Every day there are more and more signs that reveal that part of Cuba’s
population is willing to carry out violent acts – or is unable to
control its passions and base instincts – and that it reacts to the
simplest of stimuli. It is that sector of the population that willingly
participates in public reprisals against dissidents, in which they are
guided and controlled by a group of repressive agents. That is to say,
they are not even at the level of professionals of violence: they are
mere, circumstantial thugs.
In the more or less immediate future, following the disappearance of the
Castros, gang members, extortionists, people who abuse power and even
murderers will come out of the ranks of that sector, to meet the demand
for delinquents and violent people that the different groups involved in
illegal activities (now flourishing on the island) will have.
The rise in criminal activity is not the only danger that lurks ahead of
us in connection with these unscrupulous individuals who currently find
satisfaction in and take advantage of their participation in repressive
The main problem is the existence of a population accustomed to living
under a totalitarian regime that will soon find itself incapable of
living in freedom and assuming the responsibilities this entails. Those
who deal the blows today will be the maladjusted individuals of tomorrow.
Getting to know how people who have survived in a country in ruins for
too long think and act involves exploring a world that is broader than
our current political discussions. Studying the conduct of part of the
island’s population that will limit or prevent social progress in the
future goes beyond the anecdote, the timely chronicle or the report on
the island’s most recent shortage. It is of course not an easy task and
there are practically no means of carrying out such studies. That,
however, should not prevent us from sounding the alarm and continuing to
worry about this situation.
Source: Rebuilding Cubans as Individuals – Havana Times.org –