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back to: Cuba Trip, 2001

Viewpoint (5/9/2001):

From: Gary Bacon <garacon@prodigy.net>
Subject: Cuba e-news #283 - Karen Responds to Different POV


Last week's e-newsletter created quite a stir among our readers. I received
impassioned responses from Canada, the US, and from Cuba. I will share some
of these responses over the next three days.

First, I would like to thank the reverend for taking a considerable risk in
sharing what might be seen as an unpopular opinion in our on-line
community. When she sent her message to me, I asked if she would grant me
permission to distribute her remarks. She gave me permission to publish her
remarks and her name. While I have a much different perception of Cuba (as
do the many respondents to the message), I respect the reverend's right to
her opinion. She should not be personally attacked for her perceptions and
interpretations. I have spoken to her and I know that she has compassion in
her heart. Her willingness to share her ideas, on the other hand, have
given many of our readers a golden opportunity to share their opinions and
direct experiences on the issue of human rights in Cuba. I am a firm
believer that dialogue and discussion do lead to shifts in perception and
to greater understanding, and that makes all of us more human.

Best regards,

A Response to a Different Point of View
By Karen Lee Wald   {with two corrections by Danny Merida, from Miami}

I will try to respond to several points, since I don't have time to do a
complete analysis.

The reverend says: "The only thing that grates me is the absence of the
reality - in your portrayals - of the Cuban people's repression by the
government."  As most of us know, and as the reverend SHOULD know, reality
is often in the eye of the beholder, filtered through many prisms of differing
experiences, attitudes, expectations, beliefs.

Just as we take as a given that "one man's freedom fighter is another man's
terrorist", so too what may be seen as "repression" by one is considered
basic self-defense by another. It all depends on whose shoes you're
standing in, doesn't it? Both Julian and Cass have written about this, so I
won't dwell on it. But I do think it is a point of concern that the
reverend's sources, she tells us, seem to be universally of this opinion --
making me wonder why she has such an apparently narrow range of friends and
contacts on the island.

She tells us: "I know and am close to about 50-60 Cubans. I live with them,
eat with them, party with them, and pray with them. Most of them are afraid
to speak their mind." (She adds later: "Everyone is afraid to say anything
controversial or critical of the government (when they tell me the truth of
their perceptions and experiences, they WHISPER to me, so the neighbors
won't hear, because they run the risk of being turned in!, the repression,
the hardships, the lack of personal freedoms because they know what will
happen to them or their family or their job.")

Over the 30-odd years I've been traveling to Cuba and 18+ I lived there,
only a very tiny percentage of the thousands of Cubans I've met -- many
hundreds of whom I've known very well -- were "afraid to speak their mind".
And frankly, I didn't remain friends very long with people like that. Not
because I disagreed with their viewpoints -- I still retain a very cordial
friendship with leading opposition figure Elizardo Sanchez, although our
viewpoints on a number of issues are diametrically opposed -- but because I
have no respect for a person who will not stand up for what she or he
believes in.

I've taken many risks in my life and suffered many consequences because of
my penchant for always speaking my mind. And I've known many courageous
people who have done the same in situations far more difficult, far more
life-threatening, than anything I ever faced or anything anyone in Cuba
would ever face for speaking their mind. People who spoke up in countries
when death squads were raging. People who spoke up in countries when
threatened with assassination. People who spoke up in countries after
family members had been disappeared, tortured, shot. Things that never,
ever happen in Cuba. So it is hard for me to sympathize with those Cubans
who feign speaking in whispers because of the "danger" of what could happen
to them if they spoke their true minds. (What might happen, at worst? Their
neighbors would ostracize them? Their upward mobility at work might be
limited? Isn't that worth the price of saying what you truly believe? And
don't tell me they might go to prison JUST FOR SAYING WHAT THEY THINK
because it simply isn't true. Thousands, perhaps millions, of Cubans speak
their minds every day. Can you imagine what would happen on the island if
they tried to fill the courts and prisons with every single person who
simply expressed a dissenting opinion, a complain, a criticism? It just
doesn't happen.) 

The reverend goes on: "They are afraid to have a radio that picks up
foreign broadcasts. If they are found to have an amplified antenna for
their radio or TV, they'll be fined 1000 pesos(!), and if they can't pay it
(who's kidding who?), they go to jail."  Well, now, what kind of  "amplified
antenna" are we talking about? You don't need any special antenna to pick
up Radio Marti, the "enemy's" worst propaganda station, or the dozens of
radio stations in the Miami area that blast their vituperation at the
island 24 hours a day. Any old radio will do. And the best antenna in the
world can't pick up the CANF's sister TV propaganda station, because it is
effectively blocked (because it violates Cuban air space and therefore it's

The "special antennas" that you can be fined for having are not to block
out "enemy propaganda" -- they are to illegally pick up the cable movies. A
Cuban company SELLS cable antennas, but they are very, very expensive.
Cubans -- thanks in part to the blockade -- are ingenious at making
anything from spare parts and chewing gum, so it wasn't long before
ingenious Cubans began making satellite antennas from old tin cans and a
few Radio Shack-type components for the box, stealing the codes of the
scramblers, and selling the package to anyone who wanted to watch the worst
of Terminator 2, Rambo, sexy porn or almost porn, etc. And it is true, they
will be fined if they are caught doing so. As I believe an American who
steals a cable box or line and is filching the cable companies'
transmissions without paying for them would be. And don't you believe that
someone who can pay for one of these antennas doesn't have the money for a
1000 PESO fine. That's only $50 USD -- possibly less than what they paid
for the antenna. On the other hand, if as Julian and Cass pointed out,
these are people playing with CIA or Freedom House or CANF-supplied
antennas, the Cuban government has every right to suspect they may be
terrorists in the employ of the enemy -- and confiscate them. In this case,
they would be quite lucky to get off with just a fine.

The reverend further states: "If they are active Christians, their children
don't get the luxury of good higher education choices, and their own job
career paths are compromised (this is SINCE they've become "secular"
instead of "atheist" - 1989)."  At this point it becomes hard to believe the
reverend's self-portrait as a liberal friend of Cuba. To believe this, one
would have to be either incredibly gullible and misled, or consciously
spreading the anti-Cuba propaganda that the revolution's opponents have
been maliciously -- and unsuccessfully -- spreading for years.

{There are 57 approved Protestant denominations in Cuba.  24 of these}
make up the Cuban Council of Churches (Consejo de Iglesias),
plus the Catholic Church, Jewish Synagogues and Afro-Cuban
religions. The overwhelming majority of them will tell you that these
obstacles, if they ever existed at all, went out in the 1980s. (You
couldn't be a member of the Communist Party or Communist Party Youth, at
that time, if you were openly religious because they mistakenly felt that
belief, in any form of spirituality, contradicted the essential thesis of
dialectical materialism. An analysis of this error in the late 80s led to a
change in admission policies. Two (later three) religious pastors -- ONE OF
were elected as members of the National Assembly of People's Power --
Cuba's parliament. But even before that there were many people, including
Catholics, who held high positions in governments, ministries, culture,
education.... And the sons and daughters of most of my religious friends
not only got good educations, they went to college, to medical school,
became engineers, lawyers, architects, computer programmers. The
information people have given to the reverend is simply false.

If you don't believe me, ask Sergio Arce, one of the world's foremost
theologians, and his wife Nacyra Gomez, former president of the Student
Christian Movement and vice president of the Council of Churches -- you can
find them at the Presbyterian Church on 34th Street off 3rd in Varadero. Or
at a nearby beach home the church runs where the elderly and children sick
with leukemia, other chronic diseases, or Downs Syndrome can enjoy a
special Varadero vacation. Or ask Sergio's daughter, Dorita, now the pastor
of the church since her father retired, or his son, who is now the elected
President of the Council of Churches....

The reverend is quick to draw conclusions based on the misinformation she
has been fed or the spins she has been given: "The voting on national
elections is a sham." That's a pretty powerful indictment based on
conversations with 50 or 60 of the 11 million Cubans who live on the island.

How much does the reverend know about the system of national elections, the
universal suffrage for all Cubans 16 and over, with no discrimination
because of race or gender, urban or rural? Of the requirement for unmarked,
secret ballots? Of the regulations that require that all elected officials
report back to their constituents every few months, the provisions for
recalling those who fail to carry out their duties of representing their
constituents or fall down on the job in other ways? Of the care taken to
make sure that ability and only ability (not campaign coffers) determines
who will be elected? The fact that at local and provincial levels, all
candidates are nominated in open, public assemblies by their neighbors,
friends and co-workers (they can even nominate themselves!), and the care
with which they carry out grassroots surveys to make sure that all nominees
at the national level -- the only level in which a single slate is
presented for the populace to vote up or down -- are truly representative
of every sector of the population --the equivalent of our non-partisan
races for judgeships?

How can the reverend dismiss so lightly something she knows so little
about? Even the US State Dept (through its representatives in Havana, who
do everything in their power to convince all who will listen that Fidel is
a monster and the system a repressive totalitarian regime) don't claim
ballot box stuffing, false electoral figures, or other electoral fraud. So
how does one dismiss the fact that 95-98% of eligible voters actually VOTE
year after year, and all but 3 or 4% cast VALID ballots. (That is not
insignificant, because there have been repeated opposition calls
--especially from Miami, but also from the small opposition groups inside
the country -- urging Cubans to cast BLANK BALLOTS as a fail-safe way of
expressing their opposition to the government. And although there is
virtually NO WAY to detect who has cast which ballots, CUBANS DON'T DO
THIS. They vote for candidates because they think their votes mean
something. Do you believe that about your votes here?  Does most of the
US population?

I think the reverend gives us a hint as to [how she came to believe what
she was told], which I excerpt here: "The Miami Cubans (some of whom I know
and love, 'cause they are recent immigrants and I knew them in Cuba, but
most of whom I am baffled by because of their devotion to revenge and hate)
have views and feelings about Cuba antithetical to mine."

When we "know and love" people, it is hard to bring ourselves to believe
that things they are telling us may be untrue. Or that their prism for
seeing things may not reflect other people's reality, or even our own. They
may have "selective memories", they may put a personal "spin" on the way
they interpret reality, and in some cases they may be intentionally lying.
{Some} Miami Cubans' views of their former country must be taken with a
substantial grain of salt. But if you've grown up or spent years believing
their reality, it colors what you see, hear and believe when you go to
Cuba; whom you choose to associate with; and whom you choose to believe
when you are there.

The reverend sounds like one of the proverbial [seven blind men trying to
perceive] an elephant. If you were the one who only touched the tail, you
will have a very different belief about what an elephant is than your
friend who only touched the trunk, or the ears. What's needed is to open
ones eyes to see the whole elephant. Begin to understand why his skin is so
tough; why he sprays you in fright when you get too close or move too
suddenly; why he tends to move off when men approach.... You need to know
the whole history, see the whole picture. And that's not easy if you are
used to being blind, and led around.

Finally, she writes: "I just want you to know and incorporate into your
writings about Cuba that there is repression, people are followed,
questioned about their views and intimidated, and thwarted at many angles.
These are things I know about, not because I've read about them, but
because I've LIVED them with my friends." 

We need to offer our much more extensive and varied experiences to try to
help her fill in the gaps in her thinking, and help her understand that the
reality her select group of friends has presented to her may not be the
most accurate one.


Karen Wald is a writer, consultant, and teacher who has lived in Cuba for
most of the last twenty years.

   *  ===========================================  * 

From: Nara Lilliam Puig Suarez in Cuba

Dear Gary:

HI!!. Please, would you be so kind to send my comments to the reverend.
Thank you!!!.

I don't usually spend my time answering opinions that I consider
manipulated, as the one shared by the reverend about the supposed
repression of the Cuban population by the Cuban government. But in this
case, I assume that the reverend is sincere when expressing her comments.
Also, the word "reverend" reminded me of the Reverend Joan Campbell. She
won my respect, my gratefulness and my affection eternally by her honest
and resolved performance in the case of the boy Elián. For these reasons I
have decided to express my opinions.

I am Cuban, I live in Cuba, and I will die in Cuba. I consider myself a
witness of 42 years of the Revolution!!! During that time, I can affirm
that I have been near thousands and thousands of Cubans throughout my life.
I have traveled Cuba from one end to other!! I can affirm that I have
walked the streets of my city during all hours of the day and have seen the
most intricate places in my country. I have sung, danced and I have laughed
with many Cubans. I have shared with millions of Cubans the sadness when
Che was murdered and the anguish when terrorists sabotaged a Cuban civil
airplane. I have enjoyed, as other millions of Cubans, the victory of the
Cuban athletes in the international competitions. I had the immense
satisfaction of seeing my daughter grow, free of dangers, and with all the
possibilities within her reach!!!

First I should clarify that I am not a believer in religion. I could not
be!!! The reasons are very simple, it is due to the history of the catholic
church in Cuba!!! I will give only a small summary:
Before the Revolution, the Catholic Church only served the interests of the
rich and it supported the dictatorship of Batista throughout his reign!!!.
When the Revolution triumphed, overthrowing a tyranny that murdered
thousands of Cubans, the Catholic Church continued to stand beside the
murderers and the rich ones. These were the very people who abandoned the
country. Instead of dedicating its churches to profess faith, kindness, and
love, the church committed all types of provocations against the
Revolution!!! This included welcoming in their breast, the people
responsible for vile murders. These actions of the Catholic Church resulted
in an unavoidable confrontation. In spite of it, the Revolution was kind
and tolerant, the Government didn't close a church, expel any priests. It
is very well-known that the Government didn't disappear nor murder any
representative of the church!!! Nor any other person!!!! I don't want to
speak in these moments of the harrowing feeling, with this confrontation,
of many revolutionaries that were Catholic or many Catholic that were
revolutionaries. I have very near examples, my mother, my father, uncles, etc.

Over the years, we have passed very difficult stages. We have made errors.
We have committed the sin of being idealistic; at times we have been too
inexperience, too immaturity, etc. But in all the decisions of the
Revolution we have maintained good faith and have held true to the main
objective of the Revolution--the desire of achieving the well-being for the
immense majority of the Cuban population!!! To say the opposite is an
infamous lie!!!. The Cuban society is not perfect, but it is filled with
love, fondness, humanism, solidarity. It considers every person to be
valuable and important!!!

And, although I shouldn't have to say it because it is very well-known to
all, I must mention two important aspects of the Cuban society:
= first, the levels of current health that Cuba exhibits, in many cases is
equal to or superior to those of developed countries, and 
= second, the educational level reached by the Cuban population!!
There is really no way to express the extent of the efforts that were
necessary to achieve these objectives. All of this was achieved in only 40
years. This is even more impressive if one keeps in mind the degree of
misery in the Cuban society before the victory of the Revolution. Consider
how we Cubans did this in a poor country, too!!!!!!. This has only been
possible because of the Revolution, and because the majority of the Cubans
were committed to it!!!. This is true beyond a doubt!!! To check this
statement it is only necessary to look, with the eyes with desires of
seeing, at the current situation of immense misery in the other Latin
American countries, to mention one example. And many of these countries
have immense natural resources that Cuba doesn't even have!!!

What government, in the history of humanity, has dedicated all its efforts
to its population's well-being (for everybody, without distinction of race,
sex, beliefs, and social origin) and at the same time is capable of
repressing its population???. I think that saying that Cuba represses its
people is truly gibberish!!!!, contradictory, and incredible.

Doesn't the reverend see what has really happened in Cuba? Does the
reverend believe that the demonstrations, reiterated by hundred of
thousands of Cubans, in support of the Revolution, could happen if the
Cuban Government was repressive?. Does the reverend not want to see, nor
hear the truth about Cuba?

The reverend said: "They WHISPER to me."

This expression only reminds me the years of the Batista's dictatorship!!!,
where secretly, thousands and thousands of Cubans heard what happened in
the Sierra Maestra. That is to say, in the fight of the Rebellious Army,
headed by Fidel, against Batista's army. Or when it was known of the murder
of a youth by the police of Batista. Or when it was spoken of a youth that
appeared, in a Havanan street, dead, savagely tortured.

Today the most Cubans don't know how to whisper!!!, just the opposite!!!,
today's Cubans speak out loud, criticize, and everyone believes he/she has
the best solution for every problem. The truth is that I could only imagine
a Cuban whispering if he is talking about where to place a bomb, setting a
factory on fire, or planning an attack on Fidel. And if I had a
well-founded fear that someone was plotting against Cuba, I would not only
tell the authorities, but also the millions of Cubans who would defend,
with the fingernails if it is necessary, our right to the life!!!

The reverend said that: "That there is repression in Cuba, people are
followed, questioned about their views and intimidated, and thwarted at
many angles. These are things I know about, not because I've read about
them, but because I've LIVED them with my friends."

I consider that there are two possible essential reasons that the reverend
would make such a statement. The first possibility is that, in all the
reverend's trips to Cuba, she has only met with a group of the so called
Cuban "dissidents," and her opinion referred to this group of dissident.

Dissident????. It would be more correct and more appropriate to call them
mercenaries, because they are created, financed and supported by a foreign
nation, as another mechanism of the United States, in their aberrant
desires to overthrow the Cuban Revolution--just as they attempted when the
Brigade 2506 attacked to the Cuban nation!!!.

Does the reverend only meet with this group?. If it is this the case, and
although I don't agree totally how she describes it, YES, the Cuban
authorities watch over the actions of these "gentlemen", for the simple
reason, that a negligence could mean innocent human victims, like it has
happened in multiple occasions in Cuba. The reverend should not forget that
United States, the most powerful country in the history of humanity and
geographically located to only 90 miles off the coast of my country,
sustains an open and public war against Cuba that has lasted more than 42
years. The only objective of this war is to destabilize and to overthrow
the Cuban Revolution, by any means or any method, including terrorism!!!
This is done in spite of the will of the immense majority Cuban population!!!.

So, the defense of our Revolution is allowed, because we are defending OUR
RIGHT TO THE LIFE, that is the most sacred and essential in all the human
rights!!!!!!!. Does the reverend believe it possible that the Revolution
has been able to maintain its power, in spite of the hostile and terrorist
political of UNITED STATES, without having the support of the majority of
the Cuban town?. In no way!!!. Does she believe that if the Cuban
Government exercised a repression on the Cuban population, as she claims,
that we Cubans would be so stupid and cowardly not to resist? The reverend
should read about the beautiful history of rebelliousness and gallantry of
the Cuban citizenry, in its fight for the freedom and the independence,
achieved finally in January 1,1959.

And lastly, and with all respect, I have to say honestly that the second
reason for which people could express these awful assertions about Cuba is
because they lies shamelessly!!!!

Finally, I want to say to the reverend that I have LIVED, I have SEEN with
my own eyes, I didn't read it in any place, nor did anybody tell it to
me!!!! and that I know my country very well. My small, but proud Cuba and
my people, before and after the Victory of the Revolution, and I can say
with absolute conviction and honesty that Cuba is an unique, singular and
incredible country!!!! Thanks to the Revolution!!! Thanks to the Cuban
citizens that hugged the Revolution and has taken care of it during all
these years!!

I have believed for many years, that the beautiful Cuban experience is so
surprising and so strange to people living in a world that is full of
selfishness and of enormous inequalities, that they are unable to
understand the magnitude of the human character of the Cuban Revolution!!!.
I have a thousand million reasons more in favor of the Revolution. I will
not allow an absolute minority of people (in this case, rented and
manufactured people) that use the one cackled and distorted concept of
freedom of speech, to drive my country to misery and slavery, so that a few
people could profit!!!!!!!. I think this way!!!.


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For a comprehensive treatment of the US Foreign Policy in the Americas with a Focus on Cuba, see The Learning Community Web site at:

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Gary Bacon   <mailto:garacon@prodigy.net>