Cuban Exiles Liberate Their Minds
After four days with Cuban exiles in Miami this month, I can confidently say that Cuba is a totalitarian police state. From almost nonexistent internet access and surveillance committees on every block to a seven-year jail term for reporting an accurate news story, the more I read and heard, the worse it got. With first-hand accounts, these exiles, both recent and from before the Cuban revolution, laid to waste the benign view that many people still have of the island nation of 11 million people.
Consider this heartfelt perspective from Mario Martínez—a defector from Fidel Castro’s army, veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and director of the Cuba Corps. Although a resident of the United States for decades now, his passion for a free Cuba remains strong, and he has a hard time holding back tears when speaking in public. I get the impression he’d be willing to participate in another attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro and what he describes as a “total distatorship.” (Please pardon the video quality, as I only had a cell-phone camera but didn’t want to miss the opportunity.)
“They control everything,” he says. “They control where you go, what you eat, who you talk to.”
The event I’m referring to, a Liberty Camp at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, brought together approximately 50 people, including 20 to 30 recent exiles. With translations in English and Spanish, the Language of Liberty Institute and the Cuba Corps provided speakers for a swift and deep examination of what freedom means for those who have been subject to intense government propaganda and indoctrination their whole lives. Local Cubans also came along in the evenings to offer mentoring for the new arrivals.
In order to determine what is the truth… we should have the ability to verify what other people tell us is the truth. If we do not have the freedom to verify, then we are subject to accepting the lies that may be told to us. And when we look at history in almost every dictatorial society, truth is the first victim, and people are subjected to the lies, to the propaganda of the government…
The Cubans who are here in Miami and in the U.S. in general, I think they realize that when they escape, when they leave Cuba, they realize that they are leaving a land of lies behind them. In fact, some of them, they sense it inherently, that what they are being told is not exactly true. They are supposed to be living in paradise, but their day-to-day standard of living [an average salary of about $US 20 per month] doesn’t live up to that ideal of paradise… They’ve been promised this 50 years ago, in 1959, and they say, “When are the good times coming?”
Robin Koerner, of the Language of Liberty Institute and the original Blue Republican, appealed to students to do just that, to verify the content they were hearing. As an attendee, I can also attest to plenty of healthy debate, including between the speakers.
One such speaker who caught my attention was Jose Azel, a senior research associate with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies and an insightful contributor with the Miami Herald (pictured right). As part of the first briefing, he chronicled the rapid demise of what was once a jewel of Latin America. He also joined The Stateless Man this week and, among other things, explained the perverse impacts on the values and thinking of the residents of Cuba, after so many years of totalitarian rule. (Hear him from 10:25.)
One of the most terrible legacies of these now 53 years of totalitarian rule is that Cuban civil society… has basically disappeared. Under Cuban law, for example, for more than three people to gather is against the law…
There are very few people, only elderly people, that remember republican Cuba and have even any notion of what a free market is and how a free market economy works…
So the disappearance of the values is perhaps the most terrible legacy. People have learned to lie, cheat, and steal as a matter of survival, because everything belongs to the state.
This raises challenges for any potential return of Cuba to relatively greater freedom. Azel foresees, like in Eastern Europe after the break up of the Soviet Union, a vacuum for endemic corruption.
At least for the stateside attendees, though, the event appeared to be an awakening experience and a great success. One man, for example, stood up abruptly and wanted to share that in twenty years as a lawyer in Cuba, not once had he even heard of classical liberalism or the notion of liberty as presented at this camp.