May’s Harper’s magazine boasts an article on Cuba entitled “Searching for the Cuban Opposition.” Written by the author of The Boys from Dolores, Patrick Symmes, the article in a way represents the author’s journey into the heart of darkness. For those of us who read his book, the article- the tone of which is still one of careful detachment, although he does allow himself one “dictatorship lite”- represents a further way station in Symmes’ immersion in Cuban reality, a peeling back of yet another layer of regime mythology.
If every American journalist, scholar, author who visited Cuba took the time to do the due diligence that Symmes has, the world would have a much different perception of the Cuban system. I confess that I approached the article with some trepidation, as Cuban Americans are wont to do, but figuring that with his earlier book, his opinions had earned some respect. What I found was truth. Symmes undertakes an odyssey throughout Cuba, visiting with Elizardo Sanchez, Hector Palacios, “Coco” Fariñas, and Oswaldo Paya, among many others.
The article is exhaustive. It’s all there in the pages of Harpers: the independent libraries, the Ladies in White, the Varela Project, the Church, and more. More importantly, also front and center are the grinding poverty, repression, acts of repudio, the arrests of Black Spring, and the imprisonment of many he seeks out. And truth be told, because it is impossible to read it without seeing it as a good faith effort to tell the same, Symmes finds only pockets of open opposition. Time and time again he is told that the overwhelming mass of the Cuban people are against the government, but time and time again he is told that x, y, or z group consists of a dozen or so members. The reason for the small numbers, he is informed, is fear; some say terror. Symmes takes no position on the why. His is a search.
His portrait of the opposition leads to a no-holds barred picture of life in Cuba. Isn’t it a statement about those who cover and write about Cuba that to find a single writer who takes the time and effort to find the reality behind the veil evokes gratitude? Symmes has mine.
The article is available online only to subscribers.
Cross-posted at NinetyMiles