Uncomfortable Realities

By Alina B. López Hernández

I’ve been writing for La Joven Cuba blog for two years. Nearly all of my articles, except for some rare exceptions, are devoted to internal analyses about Cuba. There are too many international analysts among us. That’s on one hand. On the other, internal contradictions are the ones that determine the course of processes.

I flatly reject the idea that, in order to approach certain topics, I must carry out what we historians call comparative studies, and add a restriction which reminds that the same happens in other contexts; or worse, accept that we be asked —required— to show caution and restraint, since denouncing certain facts may give ‘ammunition to the enemy’ and discredit the image of a Cuba that marches down paths of dreamed-of ‘normality’.

The old demand emerges strongly every time something brings about uncomfortable criticism of the Cuban government and is spread with that added force that the Internet gives to information. I’m not naïve; I understand perfectly that everything that happens in Cuba is politicized. Our government also politicizes everything which, in other contexts, has the potential to show some superiority on this side.

The Cuban press —that is, those who run it— is greatly at fault for the advantage the social networks have today. For years we listened to the speeches of the leaders asking for a more critical press and a change of mentality. It was a stage in which Internet access was still scarce, and which could have been used, in the absence of troublesome competitors, for the modification of the outdated media paradigm, closely controlled by the Ideological Department of the Party and therefore slow, ineffective and lacking in transparency.

But they failed to take advantage of the interval, and now they must deal with a mediatization of daily life which happens in real time, on platforms where every citizen —well-intentioned or not, with expertise or without it, with ethics and civility or deprived of both— can compete with the media, and they do so with an advantage.

When some complain that the dramatic case of three Havana girls who died due to a collapsing balcony has been politicized, and they argue that the avalanche of pictures of run-down buildings circulating in the Internet plays along with the enemy, I wonder why they don’t focus on a deeper reading of what’s happening right in front of us, and of which this case is proof: the deep social differences that exist in Cuba regarding families, neighborhoods and skin color.

These inequalities are even more obvious in Havana, since it’s an overcrowded capital, but they are evident throughout the country, and they disagree with one of the accepted victories of the Revolution, for which generations of compatriots have made sacrifices.

The texts by Mónica Baró and Alexei Padilla are, in my opinion, the ones which have approached the topic with more depth and civility. She has long been devoted to the subject of vulnerable neighborhoods and communities in Havana, and she writes very deep and objective investigative journalism —something that’s virtually inexistent in our context—, in which she presents all the possible viewpoints and thus earns great credibility. Alexei, in his article for LJC, focused on the issue of the role of the law in this situation.

In another context, journalists would be offering information about how many parties responsible for the incident have been indicted, or at least about the progress of investigations. That would put the citizens at ease, and would make them less likely to search the Internet for the news they can’t find in Granma or the TV news bulletin, or that they would find online, but while having truthful, official information at their disposal.

Yet, let’s not deceive ourselves. There are too many culprits in this event. From the ones we all know: a Minister of Construction who must demand and control the list of buildings in imminent danger of collapsing so they may be demolished or propped up; the government of the capital, and specifically of Centro Habana, for the vulnerability of its residents; and the municipality’s delegates in the National Assembly, who hopefully live in it and not in others with better constructions. But there are other guilty parties, from the director and all the teachers of the elementary school across the street from the site of the disaster to each parent who didn’t do what needed doing: whether write a letter of protest or stage a walkout to stop sending their children to a place which, eventually, killed three of them.

Poverty in some Havana neighborhoods is already a matter of national security, and it’s ceased to be a social issue to become a political one, although, in truth, the economic and the social are always spheres of the political, whether the leaders like that or not.

Zuleica Romay, one of the voices who better deals with the topic of ethnicity and racism in Cuba —and from whom I learned a lot while editing her book Cepos de la memoria. Impronta de la esclavitud en el imaginario social cubano (Stocks of Memory. The Imprint of Slavery in the Cuban Social Imagination)—, develops, as a doctoral thesis, a sociological study about racial distribution in Havana neighborhoods. Hopefully she will finish it, and we’ll be able to have a precise idea, from science, of the magnitude of the inequality and its relation to the racial issue. However, there already are scientific questions we may ask without so much effort. Here’s one: what’s the relation between poverty in neighborhoods with a large black population and the obvious presence of people of that ethnicity in active opposition groups in Cuba? I know it’s an uncomfortable question. Reality always is.

The 15,000 apples sold at a market in Miramar and the swift discovery and public punishment of the offenders got more coverage in some media than three children who died across the street from their school. Such reactions discredit those platforms, which claim to defend Cuban socialism, when they apparently only defend the government. They protect the power, not the project.

Media actors in Cuba —professional or not, and whether from official or alternative platforms, including simple Facebook or Twitter users— should strive for greater depth when analyzing the serious problems we have. But in order to do that, it should be understood that the current fight —apparently for cultural issues, and having actors, symbols and songs at the center, sometimes tinged with rudeness, disrespect and shows of intolerance, egos and rivalries on both shores, ideological and geographical— is only managing to cover up the dramatic realities of Cuban life.

Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci well said that, in times when the political horizon closes up, contradictions tend to emerge in the various manifestations of national culture. And that’s how we are, blind in the face of an apparent reality, which keeps us from moving past the anecdote, the specific case and the momentary situation in order to ask the questions that need asking. Here and now.

Contact the author at: alinabarbara65@gmail.com

(Translated from the original)