The color does not matter ... does it?
Castro and Obama held a meeting and offered a press conference that was aired on Cuban television on March 21, just the date chosen by the United Nations to commemorate the International Day against Racial Discrimination. The latter was completely ignored by the official national press. Both the Granma newspaper (Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba) and the TV media (except the Multi Channel Telesur) abstained from giving the slightest reference. However, it is significant that just that day the first black president of such a racist country like the United States was in Cuba. Indeed, one of the facts that the Cuban official media tried to minimize from the very beginning was the arrival of an African American to power in the United States, by stating it means nothing because black Americans continue to die at the hands of white policemen. Even so, Obama’s ascent to the U.S. presidency (twice) shows that even in a racist country, if there is a democratic system (although imperfect), a black man can become president and even be re-elected. Not only African Americans and Latinos voted for him, but also many whites who saw him as an alternative. In a radio interview recently discovered by BBC and given by Martin Luther King Jr. shortly before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, he referred to white Americans who advised him to wait for changes in the people's mind. They tried to convince him that it was better than implementing laws, since these would not change the people overnight. MLK said that perhaps he could not achieve what he wanted, but at least he could avoid being lynched with impunity. That’s the law for: not for changing the minds, but for making things to work better. In the United States, an extremely racist country, the laws have made it possible for a black man to become president.
Who will they appoint or who I'm voting for
Such a reality did not pass unnoticed and we cannot avoid to compare it with ours. President Fidel Castro announced his retirement in 2018; people on the streets wonder who would be next or who will be appointed instead of who will be elected or what the candidates will give me to improve my life. Obama's reference that the people should elect their president has raised comments and reflections among Cubans; it has awakened the anaesthetized minds and Cubans begin to question at least why we can only vote for our delegate in the neighborhood and for the candidates (nominated from above) to the National Assembly. In either case we don’t vote based on the candidate's plan or how he or she will vote in Parliament on certain issues that affect us. We vote based only on her or his biography. Should a U.S. President come to Cuba to call attention to an electoral system designed forindefinitely keeping a political elite in power? No. In recent years, many Cubans have been gradually expressing their discontent and criticism to the system beyond their private circles. They are doing so on buses, bus stops, and in the endless lines to buy potatoes or eggs. The defeat of both Cristina Kirchner’s party in Argentina, Chavez’s party in the parliamentary elections in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in the referendum on his re-election in Bolivia have shown that if a democracy was established in Cuba, with several parties and without the absolute control of the media by the government, the political elite could not have simply seized the power for so many decades.
Remember ... What part of the history?
For the Cuban government it would have been easier to deal with the visit of a high-class Anglo-Saxon American president, interested in restoring relations and lifting the embargo. The latter ultimately constitutes an obstacle to the American entrepreneurs seeking to do business in Cuba. That kind of president would represent the power in the hands of the white elite, the inability of African Americans to come to power. Because it is clear that the Cuban political elite wants normal relations that allows doing business with the U.S., but need to keep a belligerence face so that Cubans do not stop seeing the US government as the enemy. That’s why the Cuban government does everything possible to reject the American president. The opinions published in the press are skeptical. Those who see these new relationships as positive, call to remain vigilant, to remember the past, against Obama’s sound advice of stop being "hostages of the history". Being hostages of history prevents us for moving forward, but forgetting it condemns us to repeat it. We must forget neither the politics of ripe fruit nor the embargo, which were not implemented to encourage the Cuban people. The question is what part of the history should be remembered according to the guidance of the Cuban government. The government and the media insist on Obama’s responsibility for something implemented when he was just a child. He allegedly owes an apology to the Cuban people for the hardships that the embargo has caused for decades. However, neither the former president and eternal Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, nor the current President Raúl Castro, who during the presidency of his older brother was Minister of the Armed Forces, have apologized to the Cuban people, for instance, for the Military Units to Aid Production (Spanish acronym UMAP) in which homosexuals, religious, rockers, freaks and everyone considered deviant by the government were held; for the homosexuals, religious and all who were not in favor of the Revolution expelled from universities and workplaces; for having arrogated to themselves the right to decide what type of music Cubans could hear and what type of literature they could read (as if it were the price to pay for the Literacy Campaign and the universal access to education); for the acts of repudiation against those who dissented and left the country, and against the dissidents and opponents nowadays, although they are also part of the Cuban people; for all the human rights violations already committed and still being committed, according to our own President Castro.
Now we can say: Human rights are violated in Cuba
Before Obama arrived, we knew he would meet with dissidents and speak of human rights. His Cuban counterpart would not be able to evade the issue. And he did not. During the press conference on March 21, journalist Andrea Meachung (NBC) asked about the guarantee of these rights in Cuba. Castro responded with another question: "How many countries in the world meet the 61 human rights?" He answered himself: "None. Some meet less; others more. We are within the last ones. Cuba complies with 47 human rights." Of those 47 guaranteed rights (according to him) he mentioned free public health, free and universal access to education, that every Cuban child is born in a hospital regardless of their economic status or how remote his or her family lives; health and education (again); ah, equal pay for women and men for equal work, although practically women have less access to the best paid job. It cannot be denied that Castro showed signs of goodwill. Not only by admitting that Cuba complied with 47 human rights (therefore at least 14 are violated, if we take his calculation as correct), but also expressing willingness to release, before the night was over, all Cuban political prisoners if the Cuban-American journalist who asked about them could give him a list of names. Provide such a list would have been very difficult for the journalist. In Cuba, the status of political prisoner or prisoner of conscience is not recognized. Writers and journalists Jorge Olivera and Raúl Rivero, incarcerated during the Black Spring (2003), told me they were imprisoned with common criminals despite the fact that they had been tried for violating Law 88 (a.k.a. Gag Law), which punishes anyone who, in the interests of a foreign state, commits an act with the intent to diminish the independence of the Cuban state or the integrity of its territory, incurring in ten to twenty years of prison or death. That law constitutes a threat to those who exercise freedom of speech and press, and it has not been repealed. In most cases, as exemplified by writer Angel Santiesteban, the official cause of trial and imprisonment is a criminal offense, but actually it is a punishment for political activism. Santiesteban was jailed for allegedly injuring the mother of his child; however, all warnings he received before being paroled were related to their links with dissidents. Officially, he was a common prisoner, but he was treated as a political prisoner without having such status granted.
Changing everything that must be changed ... so that everything remains the same
Cuban authorities are resorting now to the tactic of making short and arbitrary detentions. It would have been more productive and interesting that the journalist asked for the abuses against the Ladies in White, who tried —the very Sunday President Obama arrived in Havana— to maintain their routine of peacefully marching. Many of them were arrested together with other dissidents, as if the Cuban authorities also refused to vary their routine. Opponents and human rights activists say they are suffering temporary detentions and the reports have increased in recent months. The statement of President Castro that Cuba does not guarantee (at least) 14 human rights seems a blatant announcement that they will continue to be violated. While Obama was delivering his speech at the Grand Theater “Alicia Alonso” in Havana, my colleague of Havana Times, Erasmo Calzadilla, was violently arrested along with a group of dissidents, including two women ( "What I experienced after Obama's speech,” Havana Times, March 24, 2016). On Friday 25th , Good Friday, at the concert of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger said he knew that playing or singing his music was not allowed in Cuba for many years, but that things were changing. Just three hours earlier, several Ladies in White and dissidents were arrested as they tried to attend a performance. What is changing in Cuba? That which guarantees that everything remains the same. Now Cubans can listen to the Rolling Stones and even read 1984 by George Orwell, which came to light in the recently concluded Book Fair, fifteen years after an acquaintance of mine lost his teaching post because he had lent this very book to a student. But still Cubans can neither disagree with nor oppose the regime, nor associate peacefully to seek to change the constitution.
"It turns out that fourteen are violated"
In the face of the people that until now were convinced that no human rights are violated and the so-called human rights activist are mercenaries working for the American government, the statement of President Castro demonstrates the legitimacy of the work done by the human rights defenders. The day after Obama's speech, I went to the movie theater Infanta to watch "Selma" (what a coincidence, a film about Martin Luther King Jr.) and heard a woman saying that she was born before the triumph of the revolution and always believed that no human right was violated in Cuba. "It turns out that fourteen are violated," she whispered puzzled. The man next to her added: "Of course, even the Ladies in White, who are dummy, realized that." Understandably, Cubans start to wonder which rights are not respected in Cuba. However, the official media resorted to re-direct our attention to the human rights that are not enjoyed by many citizens in the rest of the world and themselves and are guaranteed by our government, mainly the universal access to health and education. But it is the first time that Cubans heard the president saying it publicly, that not all rights are protected in our country. Despite all the efforts of our government to counter Obama’s influence through the media (at least five opinion pieces and one more of Fidel Castro himself), the positive effect is evident among the people in Cuba, who are still talking about him and will continue to speak positively as a topic of conversation while standing in line.
"We don’t need any gift"
In a line to buy eggs, a woman behind me said she needed three cartons: "Two for me, and one to send to my family in the East. I should wrap it in newspaper pages, put it carefully into a plastic bucket, and send it by train. In the East there are no eggs at all, and when a few go on sale, the police must intervene, because people get injured and even killed. There are no potatoes either, but sending them has been prohibited." Someone jumped into the conversation: "But the Commander in Chief said we don’t need anything as gift." The woman replied: "Yes, he says that because he does not need anything; he screwed us." I keep hearing comments like that. It has been the main effect of the article "Brother Obama", written by Fidel Castro, who asserted that we don’t need anything from the US since we have all the resources for developing the country through our own efforts. People wonder: if we have the resources and do not need anything, why have we spent year after year in this precarious situation, why don’t we move forward, how long must we continue to strive.