An Enslaved People / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco
14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 24 August 2016 – The level of
enslavement of a people is determined by the sum of freedoms that are
restricted. Slavery and freedom are two ends of a scale that, as one
side slants downward from the weight of the load on its side, its
I explained this to a high school student some days ago when he asked me
if I agreed with the opinion of his grandfather, who told him that the
Cuban people are suffering a modern form of slavery.
It took me a few minutes to answer his question. With teenagers and
children one has to be extremely cautious when offering insights, and
even more so when they ask questions based on the admiration and respect
they have for us. What we express to them can become a dogmatic axiom
for their lives. Children are intelligent and think for themselves and
then seek out an adult who, for them, has their own opinion.
To dodge his query I answered with another questions;
“What is the basis for your opinion of the condition of a modern slave.”
“Many characteristics, prof (high school students call everyone who
teaches them ‘prof’).
“The slaves of previous centuries suffered punishments that today
wouldn’t work: shackles, whips, mutilation… But my grandfather says that
we Cubans have lost rights that we enjoyed before the triumph of the
Revolution and this is called modern slavery.”
The young man’s grandfather had informed him that in January of 1959
more than 90% of Cubans were fidelistas – Fidel loyalists – and that
people put signs on their doors saying, “Fidel, this is your home,” and
that apparently the Maximum Leader took the offer seriously: he banned
the sale of homes and confiscated more from everyone who kept things in
their own names than from the rest. This he called “Urban Reform.”
Then he did the same thing with the haciendas and he called that
Agrarian Reform. He confiscated the businesses, from the huge
corporation to the last little mom-and-pop stands that supported
thousands of proletarian families, stretching out their meager earnings.
His grandfather had told him all this with a wry smile, saying that even
the combs and scissors of the barbers did not escape confiscation. He
didn’t know what to call this.
Possession of firearms was prohibited. Anyone who rebelled was shot or
imprisoned. The labor unions were nationalized and the right to strike
eliminated. The intellectuals were told “within the Revolution everyone
and against the Revolution nothing,” leaving the concept ambiguous, but
in a clear warning to those who tried to present personal arguments in
publications and artistic works of any kind. The Cuban people, as a
whole, were left stripped of their basic rights: without possessions,
without arms and without the ability to show their discontent. The great
ideologues of tyranny, especially Stalin, were always convinced that
miserable people were not capable of rebellion.
This happened in the first decade of the Revolution. The results didn’t
have to be waited for. The population, all of it, became the
proletariat. The ration card arrived, a macabre Leninist idea from when
people in Russia were starving to death in huge numbers. The coffee and
meat quotas were reduced, along with those of other most needed items.
Smallholdings were forbidden from selling their products to anyone but
the State; the rancher who slaughtered a cow for family consumption
could be punished with a long prison sentence; and so it was with most
individual producers, creating the largest monopoly in memory in all of
Cuba’s history, including during the centuries of colonial rule.
An official document was created for those who wanted to leave the
country: the “white card,” controlled by the Ministry of the Interior
and virtually unattainable by the common citizen except in exceptional
cases. Cubans became inmates within the limited territory of the island,
and all those who emigrated illegally, became a foreigner, stripped of
their Cuban citizenship. An even greater limitation, was restricting the
right of residents of other provinces to live in Havana.
In 1973, the right of the people to appear directly in court as an
accuser was eliminated, regardless of their having proof of being the
main injured party, regardless of the damage suffered, thus violating
Article Six in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone has
the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”
In 1975, tens of thousands of Cuban were sent to fight in Angola.
Refusing to serve as soldiers in this war was severely punished,
especially among young people doing their compulsory military service.
Members of the Communist Party and the Young Communist Union were
stripped of their membership, and non-members were fired from their
jobs. Thousands of Cubans lost their lives for a cause interfering in
the affairs of another country that had nothing to do with them. The
Cuban people still do not know the number of their compatriots who died
in this adventure.
In 1980, homophobia reached its peak when a group of desperate people
invaded the Peruvian Embassy; the Port of Mariel was opened for their
deportation, and from there homosexuals, the disaffected and prison
inmates were expelled to the United States. President Jimmy Carter’s
humanist approach cost the Democratic Party the presidency of the United
At the end of the decade European Communism collapsed and Cuba faced a
misery unprecedented in its history. The country coped by enforcing
major restrictions on citizens, and there was even talk of communal
kitchens and creating an indigenous style habitat. Luckily Hugo Chavez
showed up with his oil in exchange for highly qualified Cuban personnel,
rented out by the State, these “internationalist” collaborators – mostly
doctors and other health care workers – received barely a miserable
stipend from what Venezuela paid the Cuban government for their work.
Possession of an American dollar was punished by several years in
prison. The consumption of fish was restricted to a greater extent and
the ordinary citizen never had the right to try seafood, beef or other
products from livestock farming.
Then came the new millennium, the high school student’s grandfather
explained to him. Time did its work and the leadership of the country
passed – apparently, the grandfather stressed slyly – to the hands of
Raul Castro, the general president.
The general president opened some opportunities to the beleaguered
citizens with his reiterative motto, “without haste, but without pause.”
He removed the restrictions on travel, without completely letting go of
the rope through a section of a decree. He allowed individual work,
despite impeding the economic growth of businesses, and much less
authorizing national citizens to make major investments, a privilege
reserved only for foreigners. Holding of dollars was allowed, but every
remittance received by an individual – from family or friends abroad –
had to be immediately exchanged for a currency that has no value outside
The Cuban people continue to drink at dawn a concoction that is not pure
coffee. They put “chopped meat” on their tables with such a high
proportion of soy it’s an effort to believe they are eating meat. They
buy used clothes in the trapishoppings – a name derived from the word
for ‘rag’ – donated by charities in other countries. They continue to be
paid in Cuban pesos worth four cents each, versus the convertible pesos
worth a dollar. They go on vacation to popular campsites along the
riverbanks like aborigines, because places like Varadero are reserved
for foreigners and senior leaders.
Their proletarian earnings don’t allow them to buy plane tickets to
travel abroad and they lack the wherewithal to buy a car. The state
monopoly swallows, as if into a funnel, the country’s scanty
agricultural production at bargain prices. Popular dissent is not
allowed or recognized, and when women go out into the streets carrying
flowers in peaceful protest they are beaten, while the voices of
dissenters, opponents and freethinkers are hermetically silenced in the
mass media, and in the blocking of internet sites and radio broadcasts,
which are considered enemies…
After listening to all the conjectures of the young high school student,
I had no choice but to respond: “You belong to the new generation of
Cubans that represent the future of the nation. You are young, talented
and a friend of truth and wisdom. You have the right to determine
through your own reasoning if the Cuban people are slaves or not; and,
of course, the duty to work so that these injustices are eliminated.”
Source: An Enslaved People / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco – Translating