The Real Blockade in Cuba

Raúl Rivero Castañeda, a leading Cuban poet and dissident, was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week for organizing a petition that called for free elections. Written some months before his arrests, this article details Rivero Castañeda's objections to the Castro regime.

HAVANA: A man riding the Chinese-made Forever brand bicycle under the Caribbean sun after eating a single slice of bread, washed down with very bad coffee, finds it difficult to ponder America's trade embargo against Cuba.

Such a man has lunch on his mind-his and his family's. For him, abstract thought is a luxury that requires time, information, and a reason to reflect on a subject that, at first sight, appears to be from another galaxy.

The truth is that ordinary Cubans are more oppressed by a personal embargo, one that has transformed them into blindfolded and muzzled pawns. The debate over the American embargo pales in comparison - removed to a far corner of the mind - to the obstructive domestic situation that envelops them. In this country, the real blockade, the one that affects the daily life of the people, is the internal governing system. It is the noose that ensures that Cuba remains immobilized and poor.

The old standoff between the two nations is beside the point to ordinary people; they desire a closer relationship with the US, where many of their families and friends live. However, no political process has created a smooth path toward such an ending. Thus, the stalemate between the two nations really concerns only Cubans who have time to contemplate lofty political questions.

These individuals read newspapers fabricated in the offices of the Communist Party; view only two television channels, both cut from the same cloth; and listen to radios that play the same worn-out speeches. Cuba provides no free flow of information and its citizens receive and read only pure propaganda. While the public is suspicious of government proclamations, it has no means to be heard. Hence, its silence appears to sanction the situation.

In reality, Cubans want to remove the inequalities that exist between the people and their leaders before they deal with the problems between their country and the US. Ordinary citizens want to own a modest business, have access to a free press, organize political parties, re-make society, and liberate prisoners.

The authorities like to paint themselves as the victims of a powerful giant set on smothering a nation and its united people, but such a victim's face cannot be found when you look closely. The nation is not a united citizenry, but rather a mediocre country created through the universal gagging of its people. One can systematically catalog the ways that the authorities mistreat many of its people as terribly as they claim that Cuba's enemies treat her.

These officials should take the money spent trying to convince other nations about the generous nature of Cuba's public health and education systems and apply it to the needs of Cuba's people. In fact, medical services are becoming more and more precarious and the educational system has not advanced beyond a common system of political indoctrination. Indeed, parents cannot really influence how schools shape their children. Whenever the government does address basic public welfare issues, its efforts merely produce dependent individuals who submit to the will of a self-selected group of leaders who are "elected" from time-to-time by fake elections.

The leaders' commitment to the sovereignty of the masses thus rings false. Talk about the Cubans' free will is in reality a capricious and criminal act against the people. In recent weeks, thirty-six human rights activists, members of the alternative press, and representatives of the emerging civil rights movement have been imprisoned and may be tried.

We can all agree that human beings are not duty-bound to live according to one master or philosophy; that individuals must live freely, enjoying the right to a bountiful and joyful existence among family and friends. But in Cuba one lives in the midst of a propaganda machine that infiltrates life on a daily basis; that emphasizes a climate of popular cheerfulness; that portrays the joy of a neutered horse, with its ability to befuddle the innocent, inspire the ignorant, and comfort the frustrated.

Cubans are in the end consigned to hold fast to rigid and impossible schemes. As a result, hundreds of thousands of young adults are embarked on a future whose path is strewn with risky symbols and immense challenges. Sensing that the door has been slammed shut against their country's future, they work diligently merely for their individual good.