A scream: Leonardo Padura on the recent protests in Cuba

By Leonardo Padura, translated by Richard Fidler

July 21, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal translated from La Joven Cuba — It is quite possible that everything that happened in Cuba, starting last Sunday, July 11, was encouraged by a certain number of people opposed to the system, some of them even paid, with the intention of destabilizing the country and creating a situation of chaos and insecurity. It is also true that later, as often happens in these events, opportunistic and regrettable acts of vandalism occurred. But I think that, true or not, these events do not make the scream that we have heard the least bit unreasonable. A cry that is also a product of the desperation of a society that is going through not only a long economic crisis and a specific health crisis, but also a crisis of confidence and a loss of expectations.

To this desperate claim, the Cuban authorities should not respond with the usual slogans, repeated for years, and with the answers that these authorities want to hear. Nor even with explanations, however convincing and necessary they may be. What is necessary are the solutions that many citizens expect or demand, some demonstrating in the street, others giving their opinion on social networks and expressing their disappointment or disagreement, many counting the few devalued pesos they have in their impoverished pockets and many, many more, queuing in resigned silence for hours in rain or shine, including the pandemic: queues at markets to buy food, queues at pharmacies to buy medicines, queues to obtain our everyday bread and for everything imaginable and necessary.

I think that no one with a minimal feeling of belonging, with a sense of sovereignty, with a civic responsibility can want let alone think that the solution to these problems will come from any type of foreign intervention, much less of a military nature, such as some have come to ask, and that, it is also true, represents a threat that is still a possible scenario.

I also believe that any Cuban inside or outside the island knows that the US trade and financial blockade or embargo, whatever you want to call it, is real and has become internationalized and intensified in recent years and that it is an excessive burden for the Cuban economy (as it would be for any other economy). Those who live outside the island and today want to help their relatives in the midst of a critical situation, have been able to verify that it exists and how much it exists when they are practically unable to send a remittance to their relatives, just to mention a situation that affects many. It is an old policy that, incidentally (sometimes some forget it) practically everyone has condemned for many years in successive United Nations assemblies.

And I don’t think anyone can deny that a media campaign has also been unleashed in which, even in the grossest ways, fake news has been pitched that from the outset and in the end serves only to diminish the credibility of its managers.

But I believe, along with all of the above, that Cubans need to regain hope and have a possible image of their future. If hope is lost, the meaning of any humanist social project is lost. And hope is not recovered by force. It is rescued and nourished with those solutions and the changes and social dialogues, which, by not arriving, have caused, among many other devastating effects, the migratory anxieties of so many Cubans and have now provoked the cry of despair of people among whom there were surely paid people and opportunistic criminals, although I refuse to believe that in my country, at this point, there may be so many people, so many people born and educated among us, who sell themselves or commit crimes. Because if it were, it would be the result of the society that has fostered them.

The spontaneity, without being tied to any leadership, without receiving anything in return or stealing anything along the way, with which a notable number of people have also demonstrated in the streets and on the networks, should be a warning. And I think it is an alarming sign of the distances that have been opened between the leading political spheres and the street (and this has been recognized even by Cuban leaders). And it is only thereby that we can explain why what happened has happened, especially in a country where almost everything is known when it wants to be known, as we all know as well.

The desperate cannot be convinced and appeased through force and obscurity, as in the imposition of a digital blackout that has cut off the communications of many for days, but that nevertheless has not impeded the connections of those who want to say something, favourable or unfavourable. Much less can the violent response, especially against non-violent people, be used as a convincing argument. And we already know that violence may not be only physical.

Many things seem to be at stake today. Even, perhaps, if calm returns after the storm. Perhaps the extremists and fundamentalists will be unable to impose their extremist and fundamentalist solutions, and a dangerous state of hatred that has been growing in recent years will not take root.

But, in any case, it is necessary for solutions to arrive, some responses that should be not only material but political, so that an inclusive and better Cuba can address the reasons for this cry of despair and loss of hope that, silently but forcefully, well before July 11, many of our compatriots had been uttering -- those laments that were not heard and from whose rains this sludge arose. 

As a Cuban who lives in Cuba and works and believes in Cuba, I assume that it is my right to think and express my opinion about the country in which I live and work and in which I believe. I know that in times like this and trying to express an opinion, it often happens that “It is always reactionary for someone and red for someone else,” as Claudio Sánchez Albornoz once said. I also take that risk, as a man who purports to be free, and who hopes to be increasingly freer.

Leonardo Padura is a Cuban novelist and journalist.