Thursday, April 17, 2008


Esto lo escribí hace un par de años para la esposa gringa de un amigo mío. Estaba haciendo un projecto sobre Cuba en una clase en la universidad y me pidió que escribiera sobre mi experiencia personal con la Revolución cubana.

By the time I was born in 1967, Fidel Castro’s revolution had already disillusioned, exiled, and murdered many of my fellow countrymen. I grew up in Communist Cuba, a so-called paradise of equality and camaraderie. As a kid, I was made to believe that I was fortunate enough to have been born in a system that was nearly perfect. There was nothing to change or improve. Cuba was a socialist country, and socialism had no flaws. Criticizing the government was out of the question. If you had nothing to eat or wear, the government was not to blame. It was the evil empire’s fault. They had imposed a trade embargo (Communists referred to it as “the blockade”) in order to make the small island surrender and give up its dream of building a new type of political system.

As a child, I never questioned any of this nonsense. I knew that my father had been a political prisoner, but we never talked about that. I guess my parents wanted to protect me by not putting the “wrong” ideas in my head. We lived in extreme poverty, but I never questioned it because I thought this was all normal. I didn’t know any better. There was no other media but the government-controlled media. Everything I learned about the outside world was given to me through the lenses of the Communist party. I was on my way to become what Ernesto Che Guevara called “the New Man.”

Things started to change when my father left the country in 1980. In the government’s eyes, anyone leaving the country was a traitor, a “gusano” (a worm). But, as I saw it, my dad was my dad, period. He was the man I admired the most, my hero. I could care less what the government said about people like him who had decided to leave Cuba. In high school, because of my outstanding academic performance, they asked me if I wanted to become a member of the Communist Youth. I said that as long as I could continue corresponding with my dad who lived in Miami, I had no problem. I knew once I said that, I would become a “gusano”, too, and they would leave me alone. And they did.

While I was in college, Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet Union’s leader. He started talking about improving socialism by making it more democratic. Young Cubans like me saw this as a sign of hope. We started reading all the magazines and newspapers coming from the Soviet Union because “glasnost” (which means “openness” in Russian), a program of reform introduced by Mr. Gorbachev, allowed Soviet journalists to criticize the government and talk about the problems in the socialist system. We were all inspired by this. However, Fidel Castro, who didn’t like these new ideas a bit, gave a speech criticizing “glasnost” and “perestroika” (which means “economic reform” in Russian), and pretty soon Soviet magazines and newspapers were nowhere to be found. University professors who had openly defended these reform policies were fired. I remember signing a letter together with some of my classmates in college to try to get a professor reinstated in her position. It didn’t work. The only thing that we got out of writing the letter was that we became targets of the secret police. One of my classmates was expelled from the university.

All of this made me realize that there was no hope of changing the system from within. It was during this time that I started to listen to Radio Marti (established in 1983) and the Voice of America broadcasts. These sources of information opened my mind to democracy and freedom. If these two things existed in the country where these radio broadcasts came from, then this was the country that I wanted to live in. This dream became an obsession that grew stronger by the minute. Learning English also helped me understand democracy better since I was able to read books like “1984’ and “Animal Farm” directly in English. America, its language, its culture, and its history changed my view of the world. Che Guevara was right. I was a new man, but not the new man that he had envisioned, but a freedom-loving man who believed in the power of democracy and free speech.

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