April 28, 2000
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
When you see a demonstration in front of the Miami Arena against a concert by Los Van Van, when you read that the U.S. Congress passed a legislation to strengthen the embargo against Fidel Castro even though the measure hurts U.S. allies, when you hear that some politicians are asking Congress to grant US citizenship to a boy named Elian Gonzalez even though his father in Cuba is asking for his return... I know what you think: these Cuban exiles are crazy.
Although most people understand why those hard-working, outspoken Cubans got here, many disagree with them at least on the issues that Elian belongs with his father, and that artists shouldn't be harassed.
After all, most American children belong with their parents, and it is not common for American musicians to suffer boycotts from other Americans.
But there are things we see, do, and read that can explain the madness of this tiny group of about 1.5 million human beings living mostly in Miami-Dade, Florida.
When we travel to Argentina, for example, there we can get a taxicab as we do in America. When we travel to Mexico, we can buy a book written by Henry Kissinger, and a different one written by Karl Marx, as we do here. And when you see Bill Clinton, you are seing a man who has been President for eight years, elected and reelected by your fellow Americans. A man who still has a lot of sincere backers in spite of the fact that the U.S. Congress unsuccesfuly impeached him.
These are common events at least in North, Central, and South America, and in Europe, but not in Cuba. There is an element in the Cuban political life which is unknown for most Westeners: totalitarianism.
Somoza, Batista, and Pino-chet are only a few, probably the best known Latin American dictators. Right wing dictators. Violators of most basic human rights. The Somozas, father and son together, stayed in power for less than 16 years in Nicaragua. Batista left Cuba after ruling the island for six years, nine months, and 21 days of his second government. Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years.
Then he called for a referendum, and was defeated.
Neither Somoza, Batista nor Pinochet influenced my life. Another guy did. He won the political power in Cuba when I had exactly the age of Elian Gonzalez, and I am about to be 48 years old. This guy is named Fidel Castro.
Sent to a labor camp when I was 17, a playwright when I was 20, censored for having "ideological problems" when I was 21, and finally fired from the Cuban cultural life when I was 28, I think I can explain the madness of Cuban exiles, and why they can get so many political benefits from the U.S. Congress and Senate.
Totalitarianism is not a slogan. It is the absolute control of your life by the government, in countries where the rulers are the owners of the company you work with, and of the schools your children attend. The owners of the hospital where your doctor checks you out, and of the pharmacy where you buy the medication. The owners of the TV newscast you watch in the evening, and of the newspaper you read in the morning. The owners of the theater you would like to visit to enjoy a play by a Cuban, revolutionary writer, produced by the same theater company that will never stage a play by Jean Paul Sartre because Sartre, like me, had "ideological problems." The owners of your life.
As owners of your life, the rulers can incarcerate you when you say something they do not like. And they can order a firing squad to execute you if you do something they do not like. They can. In the case of Cuba, this kind of life has not taken 16, 17 or 20 years, but 41 years and counting.
That is why for so many Cubans, the island is no longer a country but a nightmare.
That is why so many Cubans are trying to keep Elian out of the nightmare, and in a few cases many of them sometimes get together to peacefully protest against Los Van Van. Why? Because they are mad at the fact that Los Van Van, as employees of the Cuban government, accept the nightmare, while Gloria Estefan, Paquito D'Rivera, Celia Cruz, and so many other Cuban artists and writers are prohibited in Cuba...., by the rulers, by the owners of lives.
If you have survived such a society and left it by plane or in a raft, and you don't need any psychological treatment, of course you can convince the U.S. Congress to pass the Helms-Burton Act, to enact the Cuban Adjustment Act, Radio Marti, and you can also get the U.S. citizenship for Elian even when only Winston Churchill and Mother Theresa have obtained such a privilege before.
But this does not mean they do not understand that children belong with their parents.