What Will We Do With the Hope?
What Will We Do With the Hope? / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on February 3, 2015
“Any frustration is the daughter of excessive expectations,” I shared my
concern with the U.S. members of Congress who visited Cuba in January.
The phrase was designed to stress the flow of illusions that has been
let loose in the population since December 17. The announcement of the
restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has provoked
a resurgence in this country of a feeling lost for decades: hope.
However, the expectations that have been created are so high and so
difficult to meet in the short term that many may feel disappointed.
There is no way that reality can satisfy such extravagant fantasies of
change. The level of deterioration in Cuba needs enormous resources and
urgent transformations to be overcome. Time is of the essence, but the
Cuban government still has shown no real political will for the new
scenario to benefit a wide spectrum of Cuban society.
Before December 17, each person had been focused on aspirations in his
or her area of interests and needs. An old locomotive engineer, who saw
the dismantling of the railroad of which he spoke with great pride, now
says, “You’ll see… we’ll even have a bullet train.” If you ask him the
source of such a conviction, he assures you that, “When los yumas – the
Americans – start to arrive they will improve transportation and surely
bring us investments to improve the lines and buy the latest generation
cars.” His dreams take the form of an iron serpent, brilliant and fast,
crossing the island.
The expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to
meet in the short term that many might feel disappointed
There are others whose illusions take on the lightness of a kilobyte. A
young man, 20, who only know the Internet through a few hours of slow
and expensive connections in a Nauta Internet room, says that before the
end of the year, “We will have data service on our cellphones.” His
certainty is not born from any classified information to which he has
access, but because, as he explains, “Obama already said so, the
telecommunications companies can negotiate with Cuba, so what’s lacking
for me to connect to Facebook and Skype all day long, it’s nothing…
The great national obsession, which is food, also has had a space within
the imaginative dreams of recent weeks. A housewife, who defines herself
as “sick of having to cook the same thing, because there is nothing
else,” has projected her illusions on the arrival of goods from the
north. “Some lost products will return and the stores won’t have empty
freezers like now.” Her perspectives are direct and clear, experiencing
the lost taste of beef, the texture of oil and the smell of an onion
browning in the pan.
Small private entrepreneurs are not far behind. For the owner of a
luxurious private restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood, hope takes the
contours of a ferry connecting Havana and Florida. “It will come soon
and then we can bring cars, large imports and fresh food for our menu,”
he explains with a conviction that provokes a certain anguished denial.
He gives the impression that a full lounge, with drinks, bottles of wine
and dimmed lights, will cross the water and arrive at the new place he’s
building right next to his restaurant.
While expectations grow like a balloon about to burst, others contribute
to them with projections from the artistic and creative field. A friend,
a private film producer, believes that shortly, “Hollywood could be
filming here and Cuban film talent could finally have the resources to
do big productions.” For this celluloid artist, “What’s missing is a
starting bell to authorize independent productions and allow us to have
investors from the United States.”
Among the dissidence and civil society more than a few are preparing to
legalize their groups or parties at the least opportunity. Among the
hopeful, they are the most cautious because they know that the spigot of
political liberties will be the last to open… if it opens at all. They
project their own transition from the “illegal, clandestine and heroic
phase” to the stage of a “legal, public and intelligent opposition.” Nor
should we discount the illusions that have reached Cuban academia, the
schools and other official institutions, where people are dusting off
their old ideas of jumping into the arena of politics when the
single-party system is a bad memory of the past.
When the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring
collective frustration, what will happen?
All these hopes, born on St. Lazarus Day and fed with the visits to Cuba
of members of Congress and American negotiators, are now a double-edged
sword for the Island’s government. On the one hand, the existence of so
many illusions buys time and sets the horizon at the end of a long
process of conversations between both administrations, which could go on
for years. But, also, the disappointment derived from not meeting or
from postponing such dreams will be focused directly on the Plaza of the
The anger towards failure will not fall on Obama, but on Raul Castro. He
knows this and in recent weeks his spokespeople have emphasized cutting
back on the perspectives filling the streets of the entire country. They
are trying to anticipate that everything will be more or less the same
and that too many expectations can’t be met. But there is nothing harder
than countering dreams. The symbolic weight of the beginning of the
“thaw” between David and Goliath, cannot be alleviated with calls for
calm, nor energetic speeches that point toward a halt in the negotiations.
When the months pass and the “bullet train” doesn’t arrive, the Internet
continues to be impossible, the store freezers are as empty as they are
today, the customs rules continue to block commercial imports to private
hands, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC)
maintains its monopoly on film production, and being a member of an
opposition party still results in official repression and ideological
stigmatization… when the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive
expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen? Maybe from
there the energy necessary to push for change will be born.
Source: What Will We Do With the Hope? / Yoani Sanchez | Translating