Reports from Cuba: Human Rights: Virtual reality in Cuba

Irina Echarry in Havana Times:

Human Rights: Virtual Reality in Cuba

Luis Manuel Otero and his son.

My neighbor follows the Cuban TV news closely, the US is celebrating Human Rights Day, violating those rights, she says without any explanation. I ask her if she knows how we are celebrating the day here in Cuba. But my neighbor thinks I’m just playing.

To tell you the truth, sometimes I don’t know whether this is all a game, whether I’ll wake up one day and bump my head, seeing things how they should be. Social media is only full of sad news, the word “absurd” isn’t even enough to describe what is happening nowadays.

My neighbor doesn’t believe that there were people here who couldn’t leave their homes on December 10th. I explain it to her, I show her pictures, I tell her what often happens, and she ends up believing me, but makes a comment: yes, but who are these people? They must have done something…

Even though her reaction bothers me, I understand where she’s coming from; she only watches the news, she doesn’t even read the newspaper, not that reading the paper changes anything because all of the media gives us the same (mis)information the Party orders.

If she’s told that cooking oil will be in shortage for six months, she’ll complain, like she does when there isn’t any soap or coffee rations don’t make it to the bodega store. When that happens, she doesn’t remember the blockade or her dignity. But then the TV justifies this issue and she is convinced and ends up buying some brown powder, which simulates coffee, somewhere, and fools herself into thinking she is having breakfast.

What she can’t understand is that there are people who want to change the state of things, people who want to think, who want to express themselves. She finds it harder to understand that these people, who aren’t allowed to move about or are being arrested arbitrarily (which is becoming a more and more frequent practice), don’t leave bombs on buses, take to the street with arms or poison the water tank at a day-care center. No, she says, there’s no way they are being treated like criminals if they aren’t. 

And that’s because my neighbor doesn’t know Luis Manuel Otero, she doesn’t know that it was his son’s birthday on December 10th and he wasn’t allowed to go and wish him a happy birthday, that it is the 18th time he has been arrested this year and that he is just a critical artist, I tell her; and she seems confused.

She doesn’t know anything about civic activism or civic protest, nor does she imagine that Ariel Urquiola’s mother only just made it to the airport to welcome her son, and his friends, who were also being closely monitored and weren’t allowed to go with her. Another artist? she asks, and I say no, he’s a biologist, while her expression reads bewilderment.

She only talks about a jumble of unfounded unease when talking about the Ladies in White, and independent journalists (who were also kept locked up in their homes) and calls them mercenaries; not her, these aren’t her words, she is just echoing what it is she hears and what she’s hearing is that everyone is conspiring against us. It’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t even cross her mind that the media is discrediting, twisting, hiding and manipulating the facts to the Party’s fancy. Thinking about why it is we have to spend such long periods of time to buy food, and the news keeps us up-to-date anyhow.

I sometimes question it all, check social media and I find a country, but I see completely different one when the front door opens, a country full of people, like my neighbor, who are good people who turn a blind eye to a lot of Cuban reality, who only trust what our leaders say, whether that’s economic measures or the news.

I can’t go against this thinking, maybe it’s just me, but how do I explain something to my neighbor if she switches on the news at 8 PM and sits in front of the TV: hey, they didn’t say anything last night, are you sure?, she asks the following morning.

No, I’m no longer sure I’m really alive anymore. There’s no way it’s real this business of not letting people leave their homes or the country, that they threaten you or abuse you and then boast and say that Cuba respects every human right.

It’s beyond belief that they do this on the same day that the entire world remembers that the UN Assembly in 1948, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that its principles were a guide for efforts to creating a better world, declaring the inalienable, inherent rights every human being has, a date that serves for us to raise awareness, etc.

This is why I’m hoping to wake up one day but, in all honesty, I really wouldn’t like to run into someone like my neighbor.