Cubans, period

Freedom Tower, Miami

Freedom Tower, Miami

Years ago, when I left Cuba for the first time, I was in a train leaving from the city of Berlin heading north. A Berlin already reunified but preserving fragments of the ugly scar, that wall that had divided a nation. In the compartment of that train, while thinking about my father and grandfather – both engineers – who would have given anything to ride on this marvel of cars and a locomotive, I struck up a conversation with the young man sitting directly across from me.

After the first exchange of greetings, of mistreating the German language with “Guten Tag” and clarifying that “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch,” the man immediately asked me where I came from. So I replied with “Ich komme aus Kuba.”

As always happens after the phrase saying you come from the largest of the Antilles, the interlocutor tries to show how much he knows about our country. “Ah…. Cuba, yes, Varadero, rum, salsa music.” I even ran into a couple of cases where the only reference they seemed to have for our nation was the album “BuenaVista Social Club,” which in those years was rising in popularity on the charts.

But that young man on the Berlin train surprised me. Unlike others, he didn’t answer me with a tourist or music stereotype, he went much further. His question was, “You’re from Cuba? From the Cuba of Fidel or from the Cuba of Miami?”

My face turned red, I forgot all of the little German I knew, and I answered him in my best Central Havana Spanish. “Chico, I’m from the Cuba of José Martí.” That ended our brief conversation. But for the rest of the trip, and the rest of my life, that conversation stayed in my mind. I’ve asked myself many times what led that Berliner and so many other people in the world to see Cubans inside and outside the Island as two separate worlds, two irreconcilable worlds.

The answer to that question also runs through part of the work of my blog, Generation Y. How was it that they divided our nation? How was it that a government, a party, a man in power, claimed the right to decide who should claim our nationality and who should not?

The answers to these questions you know much better than I. You who have lived the pain of exile. You who, more often than not, left with only what you were wearing. You who said goodbye to families, many of whom you never saw again. You who have tried to preserve Cuba, one Cuba, indivisible, complete, in your minds and in your hearts.

But I’m still wondering, what happened? How did it happen that being defined as Cuban came to be something only granted based on ideology? Believe me, when you are born and raised with only one version of history, a mutilated and convenient version of history, you cannot answer that question.

Luckily, it’s possible to wake up from the indoctrination. It’s enough that one question every day, like corrosive acid, gets inside our heads. It’s enough to not settle for what they told us. Indoctrination is incompatible with doubt, brainwashing ends at the exact point when our brain starts to question the phrases it has heard. The process of awakening is slow, like an estrangement, as if suddenly the seams of reality begin to show.

That’s how everything started in my case. I was a run-of-the-mill Little Pioneer, you all know about that. Every day at my elementary school morning assembly I repeated that slogan, “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Innumerable times I ran to a shelter with a gas mask under my arm, while my teachers assured me we were about to be attacked. I believed it. A child always believes what adults say.

But there were some things that didn’t fit. Every process of looking for the truth has its trigger, a single moment when a piece doesn’t fit, when something is not logical. And this absence of logic was outside of school, in my neighborhood and in my home. I couldn’t understand why, if those who left in the Mariel Boatlift were “enemies of the State,” my friends were so happy when one of those exiled relatives sent them food or clothing.

Why were those neighbors, who had been seen off by an act of repudiation in the Cayo Hueso tenement where I was born, the ones who supported the elderly mother who had been left behind? The elderly mother who gave a part of those packages to the same people who had thrown eggs and insults at her children. I didn’t understand it. And from this incomprehension, as painful as every birth, was born the person I am today.

So when that Berliner who had never been to Cuba tried to divide my nation, I jumped like a cat and stood up to him. And because of that, here I am today standing before you trying to make sure that no one, ever again, can divide us between one type of Cuban or another. We are going to need each other for a future Cuba and we need each other in the present Cuba. Without you our country would be incomplete, as if someone had amputated its limbs. We cannot allow them to continue to divide us.

Just like we are fighting to live in a country where we have the rights of free expression, free association, and so many others that have taken from us; we have to do everything – the possible and the impossible – so that you can recover the rights they have also taken from you. There is no you and us… there is only “us.” We will not allow them to continue separating us.

I am here because I don’t believe the history they told me. With so many other Cubans who grew up under a single official “truth,” we have woken up. We need to rebuild our nation. We can’t do it alone. Those present here – as you know well – have helped so many families on the Island put food on the table for their children. You have made your way in societies where you had to start from nothing. You have carried Cuba with you and you have cared for her. Help us to unify her, to tear down this wall that, unlike the one in Berlin, is not made of concrete or bricks, but of lies, silence, bad intentions.

In this Cuban so many of us dream of there will be no need to clarify what kind of Cuban we are. We will be just plain Cubans. Cubans, period. Cubans.

[Text read in an event at the Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida, 1 April 2013]

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76 thoughts on “Cubans, period

  1. Es incontitucional lo que reclaman al departamento del tesoro los congresistas sobre el viaje de beyonce a cuba

  2. And yet again, Nick has nothing rational to say in defense of the RIGHT WING, CORPORATIST, THEOCRATIC kingdom of Castro.

    Fox News at least interviews communists, socialists, environmentalists and union leaders some of the time. They even let Castro lovers on the air.

    Never seen a disgruntled worker or activist interviewed on Cuban TV, so I guess it’s far more right-wing than Fox.

  3. Nick, you don’t have much to do, do you? An armchair socialist on the dole I bet.

  4. I’m so happy for you and so moved by your words that tears come to my eyes every single time I read your blog!
    Congratulations!
    Thank you for all your work!
    Me hubiese gustado tanto conocerte en persona! Eres el orgullo de mi generacion.
    Firma:
    Una cubana viviendo hace 14 en Miami.

  5. HEADLINES:

    Whilst Yoani takes advantage of the Cuban Government’s easing of travel regulations to make a grasp for global superstardom, two genuine global superstars defy the US Government’s continuing travel restrictions and visit Havana.

    The U S Latino branch of Rupert Murdoch’s global RIGHT WING propaganda empire even manages to suggest they evoke Bonnie and Clyde although it does not expand on this odd comparison:

    http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2013/04/04/beyonce-jay-z-celebrate-wedding-anniversary-with-cozy-trip-to-havana/

    Inspired by another contributor’s previous post I have questions as to how they will be treated on their return home…….THE THREE QUESTIONS ARE!

    1. WILL THE USA LET THEM BACK IN?
    2. WILL THEY ARREST THEM, MAYBE AT THEIR HOME AS THEY DID BURMA’S Aung San Suu Kyi?
    3. WILL THEY LET THEM OUT AGAIN?

    THE WORLD IS WATCHING THE USA. HOME OF THE BRAVE, LAND OF THE (NOT QUITE SO) FREE.

    THE CAPITALIST REGIME THAT PASSES LAWS TO RESTRICT TRAVEL FREEDOMS!

  6. Nick,

    Again you wave “right wing” around like a weapon.

    Nothing is more right-wing, corporatist and theocratic than the religion of Castro.

    One family-owned corporation runs the entire island, no competition, unions or protest allowed.

    Unless you think that I am a “right-wing” American because I was a union activist who believes in freedom of religion and conscience, and Castro is “left-wing” because he pays his workers 15 or 20 dollars a month and abolished all their rights.

  7. Re #60, #61, #62

    If the U S right wing or Cuban-American right wing think their semi-theocracy and their neo liberalist corporatism will enter Cuba via the Evangelical / Pentecostal church route then they need to think again.

    That particular Trojan Horse is lame.

  8. Soon after Castro’s takeover in 1959, the number of Cuban immigrants rose sharply. From 1959 to 1962, more than 200,000 people left Cuba for the United States.
    Approximately 125,000 more left Cuba on so-called freedom flights, daily flights from Havana to Miami between 1965 and 1973. A similar number were transported to the United States in the summer of 1980 by the Mariel boat lift, an informal fleet of fishing boats and pleasure craft sent by Cuban exiles to pick up relatives from the Cuban port of Mariel. From 1959 onwards, thousands of other Cubans reached the United States in small boats and homemade rafts. Many others, above 100,000 thousands, lost their lives trying to escape from the island of Dr. Castro, in the shark infested waters, really and figuratively speaking, of the Straits of Florida.

  9. That’s because Castro is a whore to all the money that the Cuban Americans bring to the island.

  10. @Help
    “I’d welcome any honest refugee from any dictatorship anywhere in the world.”

    So would I.

    Honest refugee, however, must show in detail what happend to him. How was he persecuted? Coming from a dictatorship region alone ist not enough to claim protection.

    Cubans are masters in taking advantage of the protection granted to the persecuted persons. They yell loud DOWN WITH CASTRO (perhaps some in this forum) and at the same time keep travelling to this island “of the dictator”. Miraculously, nothing happens to them.

    I never heard of any cuban immigrant who returned to Cuba and was imprisoned for anti-Castro propaganda. And a few of B-737 jets full of Cubans (US born citizens are second class and cannot go) go to Cuba every day. No news of arrests though. The “refugees” ;-) land safely, do their business, fly back… and yell again: DOWN WITH CASTRO!

  11. WOW! I CANT BELIEVE IT! THE HUFFINGTON POST ACTUALLY LET ME ASK Arturo Lopez Levy IN THE COMMENT SECTION OF HIS ARTICLE A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION, ALBEIT ON MY 3rd OR 4th PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS ON OTHER OF HIS ARTICLES! SOME VERY INTERESTING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN HIM AND THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY, A DIRECT LINK! MY FAVORITE PARAGRAPH BELOW! DO YOU THINK HE WILL RESPOND? JE JE JE!

    HUFFINGTON POST: Cuba: The Beginning of the Post-Castro Era – Arturo Lopez Levy

    If you look at the Communist Party as a corporation (an analogy that should not be abused) Diaz-Canel is a manager who, over time, has served at various levels of its production chain. He worked at its foundation, as a university teacher and youth leader. Later, in the strategic provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin, he administered the implementation of economic reforms and directed the opening of the economy to foreign investment and tourism — all the while, maintaining party control over both processes.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arturo-lopez-levy/post-castro-cuba_b_2996206.html

  12. Nick !! CHECK THE VIDEOS ON MY POSTS #61 & #62 ! LOVE TO READ YOUR ANALYSIS!

  13. YOUTUBE: CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE CUBA-Footage and testimony of destruction of church in Santiago de Cuba . On November 20th, 2007 the Church of the Apostles in the Abel Santamaria neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba was razed to the ground by Cuban authorities. Officials used heavy equipment including bulldozers and heavy duty metalcutters, as helicopters circled overhead. Music and audio equipment and other church property were confiscated by the government. Pastor Alain Toledano, who leads the 700 member church and other church leaders were not given advance notice of the demolition. Their telephone lines were cut during the operation preventing them from communicating with one another.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnW_R91s7VQ

  14. YOUTUBE: CUBA: Caridad Diego on Government Persecution of Apostolic Movement – For years, churches affiliated with the Apostlic Movement, a charismatic, evangelical network of churches in Cuba have complained of persecution and have given evidence of repeated violations of their religious liberty. The churches and the network have been denied the right to register and receive official recognition. One of the main leaders, Pastor Omar Gude Perez is serving a 6 1/2 year prison sentence on trumped up charges. Authorities have repeatedly threatened to confiscate the family’s home and goods. Other leaders have reported cases of harassment, arbitrary detention, confiscation of their homes and personal or church property. Churches have been completely demolished without warning while others have been forcibly shut down.The Cuban government has not responded to requests for an explanation and continues to maintain that there is religious freedom in Cuba. However, in early 2010, Caridad Diego, the long-time head of the Office of Religous Affairs for the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party addressed a group of leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches and openly admitted to the government’s targeted persecution of churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement. Some of those in attendance were so shocked by her admission that they clandestinely filmed her speech. The video was smuggled out of the country and leaders of the Apostolic Movement asked Christian Solidarity Worldwide to make it public

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8QmvquACBM&feature=related

  15. YOUTUBE: CUBA: Caridad Diego on Government Persecution of Apostolic Movement – For years, churches affiliated with the Apostlic Movement, a charismatic, evangelical network of churches in Cuba have complained of persecution and have given evidence of repeated violations of their religious liberty. The churches and the network have been denied the right to register and receive official recognition. One of the main leaders, Pastor Omar Gude Perez is serving a 6 1/2 year prison sentence on trumped up charges. Authorities have repeatedly threatened to confiscate the family’s home and goods. Other leaders have reported cases of harassment, arbitrary detention, confiscation of their homes and personal or church property. Churches have been completely demolished without warning while others have been forcibly shut down.The Cuban government has not responded to requests for an explanation and continues to maintain that there is religious freedom in Cuba. However, in early 2010, Caridad Diego, the long-time head of the Office of Religous Affairs for the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party addressed a group of leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches and openly admitted to the government’s targeted persecution of churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement. Some of those in attendance were so shocked by her admission that they clandestinely filmed her speech. The video was smuggled out of the country and leaders of the Apostolic Movement asked Christian Solidarity Worldwide to make it public

  16. TIME MAGAZINE: Cuba’s Yoani Sánchez: What to Make of the Dissident’s World Tour – by Tim Padgett

    By all accounts, the world tour of Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez, which shifts today from the U.S. to Europe, has so far proven a Buena Vista Social Club-caliber success. For those weary of the feckless, half-century-long screaming match between left-wingers and right-wingers over Cuba policy, Sánchez’s spring excursion has brought a welcome breath of reason.

    And yet, Yoani’s excellent adventure could still backfire on Havana. Speaking at Miami’s Freedom Tower this week, Sánchez implored her mostly Cuban-American audience to cease thinking of Cubans in terms of “you [here] and us [there]. There is only us.” It’s a message they embraced—and, says Tomás Bilbao, director of the Cuba Study Group and one of the coordinators of Sánchez’s U.S. visit, it can still be a scary message for Cuba’s leadership. “The Cuban government calculates there will be little domestic political cost to pay for letting Yoani travel and speak abroad,” says Bilbao, who also believes it’s time to drop the embargo. “But they may underestimate the effects of increased contact between the U.S. and Cuba that her visit has promoted, how she’s breaking down barriers” between the two countries that the Cuban regime has so often relied on to keep its hold on power (and which, at least in my view, the hardline Cuban exile leadership has too often promoted to maintain its own political influence here).

    She has parried every thrust from the Che Guevara T-shirt crowd who show up to denounce her for daring suggest that her communist island isn’t the people’s paradise. (She acknowledged, for example, that Cubans get free education and health care, but she pointed out that while caged birds get free water, they’re still caged.) Just as impressively, she seems to have charmed the Cuban-American hardliners on Capitol Hill and in Miami, who didn’t have missile crisis-grade meltdowns when she reiterated her opinion that the U.S. should drop its failed 51-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, and let Americans travel there again, so as not to let the Castro regime use such measures as excuses for its political repression and economic ineptitude. This week, an ebullient Sánchez tweeted that the opportunity to finally engage the world face-to-face instead of just in cyberspace was letting her “live the days of my dreams…Days that change your life!

    But will these days do anything to change Cuba? Much was made earlier this year of Cuban President Raúl Castro’s decision to drop the regime’s harsh travel restrictions and let even dissidents like Sánchez, 37, internationally famous for her Generación Y blog, go freely abroad—and, just as important, freely come back. Yet like every change made under Castro, 81, and like every change made under his older brother and former President Fidel Castro, 86, the travel reform was as calculated as it was momentous. Some find it remarkable watching Cuba’s leading dissenter criticize the Castro dictatorship from Miami to Madrid, but Havana wouldn’t have given her an exit visa if it didn’t think it might get something out of this too—namely, an argument with which to blunt the very criticism she’s leveling. If things are still so oppressive back here on this side of the Florida Straits, Rául now asks, why did we let this woman fly out to receive your bourgeois human rights prizes and cast aspersions on our revolution?
    That’s certainly not to suggest that Sánchez is letting herself be used by the Castros any more than she’s being used by their enemies. Sánchez’s credibility and effectiveness reside largely in her refusal to be co-opted by either side—as was the case with the late Oswaldo Payá, the dissident leader whose torch passed to Sánchez and her social media savvy last year when he was killed in a car accident in Cuba. Make no mistake, I’ve often seen firsthand how the mere mention of Sánchez’s name makes Cuban officials break into cold, angry sweats—as TIME’s Latin American bureau chief in the 2000s, I became persona non grata in Havana when we included her on the magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people—because they fear that her blogosphere activism could become less controllable than Payá’s more conventional movement was.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    world.time.com/2013/04/04/cubas-yoani-sanchez-what-to-make-of-the-dissidents-world-tour/

  17. As a result of this agreement, migration talks between the United States and Cuba are supposed to
    occur twice yearly. No migration talks have been held since January 2004, however, because
    DOS cancelled them due to Cuba’s refusal to discuss the following key issues: Cuba’s issuance of
    exit permits for all qualified migrants; Cuba’s cooperation in holding a new registration for an
    immigrant lottery; the need for a deeper Cuban port utilized by the U.S. Coast Guard for the
    repatriation of Cubans interdicted at sea; Cuba’s responsibility to permit U.S. diplomats to travel
    to monitor returned migrants; and Cuba’s obligation to accept the return of Cuban nationals
    determined to be excludable from the United States.15
    As a consequence of the migration agreements and interdiction policy, a “wet foot/dry foot”
    practice toward Cuban migrants has evolved. Put simply, Cubans who do not reach the shore (i.e.,
    dry land), are returned to Cuba unless they cite fears of persecution. Those Cubans who
    successfully reach the shore are inspected by DHS and generally permitted to stay in the United
    States and adjust under CAA the following year.

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40566.pdf

  18. In 1994, the U.S. set a quota of 20,000 immigrant visas annually for Cubans. Of this number, 5,000 come from a lottery system. This special lottery administered by American officials in Havana gives Cubans permanent U.S. residency. However, it has not been done on annual basis since its implementation in 1995. To gain a visa from this special lottery is highly desired by Cubans since those selected are entitled to a Green Card and work assistance in the United States. In addition, children of the winners of the lottery are allowed to enroll in the public school system. One of the biggest incentives is that lottery winners may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship within five years of winning the lottery. However, there are some requirements as to who can apply for the lottery. Eligible applicants must be between 18 and 55 years old and have a minimum of a high school education. Eligible individuals must also have been employed for the past two years. After winning the lottery, applicants are required to pass an immigration visa interview as part of the screening process. The interview is conducted by the U.S. Cuban Interests Section in Havana and the applicant must also submit medical records and any criminal records. The purpose of the screening process is to ensure that the applicant will not become a burden to the United States government. Lottery winners are entitled to bring their spouse and children under 21 years of age to the United States.
    http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/cubaimmigration.html

  19. CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Threats to religious freedom in Cuba

    Events in the first quarter of 2013 point to an ongoing trend of a broader political crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba, while reported violations tripled in 2012.

    That’s according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) latest report on religious freedom in Cuba.

    Religious freedom violations reported to CSW in 2012, many involving dozens of people at a time, rose to 120 compared to 40 in 2011.

    CSW said in a news release that those numbers do not include the hundreds of devout Catholics who were arrested, sometimes with force, and arbitrarily imprisoned during the week of the Pope’s visit, in order to prevent them from attending any of the scheduled masses or other events.

    After a period in which it appeared that the government was moving towards more subtle and refined pressure on church leaders, CSW said 2012 saw a return of the use of more brutal and public tactics.

    For the first time in years, CSW received multiple reports of violent beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country.

    In one particularly troubling case, CSW reported, Pastor Reutilio Columbie of the Shalom Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Moa, Holguín Province, was left with permanent brain damage.

    That was following a violent attack as he traveled from his home to the provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials, who had illegally confiscated a vehicle owned by and licensed to the church.

    The government has in general moved away from issuing lengthy prison sentences to political dissidents. CSW said it now uses a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention without charge; a tactic increasingly used against religious leaders and Christians who are prevented from attending Sunday morning services.

    CSW said there were also increased reports of threats of forced closure and demolition of church buildings, as well as confiscation of property. They were often ordered by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, and which has authority over all religious groups and associations.

    Discrimination against Christians continues to be a problem, and children are particularly vulnerable.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/threats.to.religious.freedom.in.cuba/32038.htm

  20. CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Threats to religious freedom in Cuba

    Events in the first quarter of 2013 point to an ongoing trend of a broader political crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba, while reported violations tripled in 2012.

    That’s according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) latest report on religious freedom in Cuba.

    Religious freedom violations reported to CSW in 2012, many involving dozens of people at a time, rose to 120 compared to 40 in 2011.

    CSW said in a news release that those numbers do not include the hundreds of devout Catholics who were arrested, sometimes with force, and arbitrarily imprisoned during the week of the Pope’s visit, in order to prevent them from attending any of the scheduled masses or other events.

    After a period in which it appeared that the government was moving towards more subtle and refined pressure on church leaders, CSW said 2012 saw a return of the use of more brutal and public tactics.

    For the first time in years, CSW received multiple reports of violent beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country.

    In one particularly troubling case, CSW reported, Pastor Reutilio Columbie of the Shalom Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Moa, Holguín Province, was left with permanent brain damage.

    That was following a violent attack as he traveled from his home to the provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials, who had illegally confiscated a vehicle owned by and licensed to the church.

    The government has in general moved away from issuing lengthy prison sentences to political dissidents. CSW said it now uses a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention without charge; a tactic increasingly used against religious leaders and Christians who are prevented from attending Sunday morning services.

    CSW said there were also increased reports of threats of forced closure and demolition of church buildings, as well as confiscation of property. They were often ordered by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, and which has authority over all religious groups and associations.

    Discrimination against Christians continues to be a problem, and children are particularly vulnerable.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/threats.to.religious.freedom.in.cuba/32038.htm

  21. “I can categorically say that nothing has advanced in terms of citizen rights or civil rights. In fact, I do notice a change in the repression, but it’s been a change in style rather than a change for the better. The Raúl style is one of repressing without leaving any legal fingerprints. Fidel Castro repressed his opponents in grand theatrical style, and would condemn them to long prison sentences, while Raúl has used more occult methods that leave the victims without even the possibility of proving they’ve been repressed.” — Yoani Sanchez.

  22. Well, my ancestors all came on the bottom of a boat defecting from hunger and oppression. They were never asked for visas, they were welcomed by the statue of liberty.

    The whole thing was started by the Pilgrims, and the tradition should continue.

    I agree about wasting $$$ on monitoring the seas. Any hard-working honest Cuban should never be sent back to Castro, they should be rescued by fellow Cuban Americans.

    I’d welcome any honest refugee from any dictatorship anywhere in the world.

  23. @Help

    There is a difference between immigration and defection.
    The USA needs fresh labor and this is what the US consulates are for: to issue visas.

    Anyone coming on a valid visa is welcomed.

    Anyone else abuses the system. Millions of $$$ are wasted on monitoring the seas, on catching and sending them back. Add to this the millions spent on social assistance to economic immigrants who come though the legal loophole made for Cubans only.

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