Changes in Cuba

photo by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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I’m not quite sure what to make of recent events/changes in Cuba. While I want to remain optimistic, my skeptical side always takes precedence on these issues. Earlier this summer the Archbishop of Havana announced the release of 52 political prisoners. While the popular media saw this as “good news” the Cuban blogosphere (the only place to find an uncensored local perspective) was highly critical. Labeling it “forced exile” (the prisoners where exiled to Spain) – a deceptive gesture made to garner some good publicity. Laritza Diversent a Cuban blogger (and lawyer) wrote, “We should not be misled. Do not confuse a humanitarian gesture with a willingness to change. If those who are released need permission to return to the island, then the government does not have the slightest intention of removing restrictions on the freedom of movement of its citizens.”

All this while Juan Juan Almeida (another Cuban blogger and son of a Cuban Revolutionary) was on his hunger strike – one of the only ways a Cuban can protest without getting thrown in jail. JJ Almeida simply wanted permission to leave the country to receive the medical attention he needed and to see his wife and daughter. He was denied permission several times and saw no other option. For a long time his situation looked grim, but recently a blog post by Yoani Sanchez came up on my reader titled, “He Did It”–it reads:

“The day that Juan Juan Almeida announced the start of his hunger strike was like reliving the nightmare we’d experienced with the long fast of Guillermo Fariñas. “This is the worst of all decisions,” we, his friends who love him, told him, sure that he would not withstand the rigors of starvation, nor that the authorities would yield before his empty gut rebellion. Fortunately we were wrong. It turned out that the talkative JJ — as his close friends call him — was not only willing to take his chances arm wrestling with the government, but seemed willing to sacrifice himself for all of us, who have repeatedly been denied permission to travel outside this archipelago.

The jovial forty-three-year-old leaves us a painful but effective lesson, because although we have no elections to vote directly for those who govern us, nor courts to accept claims of police abuse,  much less means by which a citizen can denounce the immigration restrictions holding the national territory in their grip, we still have our bones, our skin, our stomach walls, to reclaim, by way of the fragile terrain of our bodies, the rights they have taken from us.”

Could this victory be a sign of change? Earlier today, to my extreme surprise, I read that the Cuban rap duo “Los Aldeanos” are going to be allowed to travel to Miami to perform a concert. This is even more unexpected because the music/message of this group is explicit, honest, uncompromising, and critical of the Cuban government. They’re voice has been censored, their shows shut down, and permission to leave has always been denied–until now.

And if that’s not enough, the free-market reforms just announced have really got my hopes up (at the same time confusing me even more). The changes allow, “foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years – potentially touching off a golf-course building boom – and loosening state controls on commerce to let islanders grow and sell their own fruit and vegetables.”(HP)–giving the government a share (via taxes) of course. That second bit is extra surprising, (remember that in Cuba the government owns everything, 95% of the population is employed by the government) it’s not uncommon to find young Cubans selling what they themselves have planted and grown on the highways – cautiously cross-examining their customers in fear that they might be the National Revolutionary Police posing as a civilian. It appears that these vendors will no longer have to run into the forest in order to avoid being arrested when they see a police officer. How this will affect the black market (integral to survival for both the vendors and the customers)? It’s hard to say. I’m trying to remain optimistic.

4 Responses to “Changes in Cuba”

  1. http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/04/01/cuba.rap/index.html

    I understand the skepticism, especially when the Cuban Rap Agency has the same agenda as the government.

  2. yea, the government controls it all, even the rap — just to clarify though, Los Aldeanos don’t belong to the CRA (Cuban Rap Agency).

  3. You have to wonder what’s truly behind these changes and who is get what for what. There’s always a more basic pure selfish reason of why the Cuban government does anything!

  4. Of course, I’m just hoping that some positive changes happens, regardless of their impetus.

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