Age: 36 years-old
Naturality: Cuba (Havana)
Current address: Western Europe
He asked us to remain anonymous, mostly for the well-being of his family. We respected. What does name, face or profession matter… when we receive from him the simplicity of a mature speech about Cuba, about the person he was and the person he is! The eyes, that conserve the essence of a child’s gaze, showed emotion in the absence of fitting words. In a way, the prolonged silences were also a way of saying… something more than can be carried in words.
At what age did you get out of Cuba?
I left Cuba for the first time at 28 years-old, for a three-month long internship in Sevilla. At that time, in 2006, I had 20€ per week for food. I was fascinated with Carrefour. I had never been in a supermarket with that size, with so many possibilities and choices! In Cuba, supermarkets are small and there is no such thing as variety of products.
What did you do during weekends? How did you enjoy your free time?
I didn’t have free time, since due to the lack of money I used to work all the time. I was drawing an extreme pleasure from my job, everything was easier than in Cuba, and because of that, I was working 7 days per week. In that way, I would forget that I was hungry and would manage to save my money.
How did that opportunity to leave Cuba arise?
To leave Cuba it is necessary to have an authorization from the government. My boss had a collaboration with Spain, and the opportunity arised – to me, it was fundamentally the opportunity to get to know the world outside of Cuba – but at the time I thought it would be only for three months.
And how was it to return to Cuba?
It was a blend of feelings. I was happy because I missed my family. Sad because in Sevilla, everything was easier. Doing my work was easier, things worked, I felt that I was in a big country, open to the world, I didn’t have any constraints – deep inside I think I was fascinated with the novelty of a world that I had recently started to discover.
How many times did you talk to your family, during the time you spent in Sevilla?
I believe three or four times.
Later, you left Cuba again. This time it was almost permanent. How was that decision?
The decision to leave Cuba permanently came up one year and a half later. My life in Cuba changed – my marriage ended and I was having some trouble at work. Havana became too small a city for me. The experience I had in Sevilla was ultimate for my decision to leave. I had the lifetime experience where everything was easier – in Cuba the amount of energy you put into making something happen is much greater. My main objective was to leave Cuba, I didn’t care where to. If today I reflect about my route, it’s interesting to understand that in the beggining my greatest desire was to leave – and now, after having lived in different European countries, I am more selective. Now I want to choose the place where I want to live in.
And how is that choice made? What are your priorities?
Basically, I want to feel happy. This means to be able to do my job and have the necessary safety in order to build a family. I can say that right now I’m much less afraid than when I left Cuba.
Do you imagine your life again in Cuba?
I changed… (silence). Maybe because my perception of Cuba is nowadays a nostalgic perception. To me, Cuba is the place where I was born, where I studied, where I have my family. It is possible that I don’t even know how Cuba is today. When I tell you that I could imagine my life back in Cuba, the man who speaks is not the same man who didn’t know the world, who felt limited… I speak as someone who misses the good things, but also appreciates the freedom of Europe, being able to come and go whenever you want, who has money to travel, who has big supermarkets, advertisement – in Cuba there is no such thing as advertisement – who has internet… Cubans are very polite people, with a great sense of moral and social values, and in a certain way, they are very western. In spite of this, there is a particular circumstance – time stopped in Cuba -, for you to understand, it’s as if Europe had stopped in time, after the cold war. Cuba is a place outside of the world. A proof of that is the lack of internet connection, as known to the rest of the world.
Do you feel that the political situation in Cuba limited the person you are?
In Cuba, everything is politics. Although I studied medicine for some years, I quit the course, because I didn’t want to depend on the government. Maybe it’s hard for you to understand what I mean, but in Cuba, if you study Medicine, it means that you’ll have to work all your life under the decisions of the political power. If they decide that you’re going two years to Venezuela, or any other country of Cuban relationship, you are forced to go – disregarding family and personal will. If you decide that you want to have a personal experience abroad, you will have to request a liberation letter, that shows they’ve allowed you to leave. Between the request for that document, and its actual issuance, the average waiting time is ten years. If you decide to go on vacation and don’t come back, it means that you will actually never be allowed to come back – and it may also mean that your family will never be able to leave as well. This is the Cuba that I left behind – many things are changing as we speak – and from January on, according to what’s planned, entering/leaving the country will be done in a much more freer way.
How will Cuba be different? In your opinion?
It will be different… It is different… I don’t know if it’s for better, but different… (silence). In Cuba there are good things. For instance Guatemala or Honduras are countries which have political situations similar to Cuba, but where almost nothing works. In Cuba, the public health and education systems work very well – in fact, there are no private systems. And it is a society that is not based in capitalist principles, like consumism or huge social differences. When there is hunger, everyone is hungry. When things get better, they get better for most of the people. It doesn’t make sense to steal, for instance. Because everyone has the same – which is almost nothing, but still enough to live. When I say that I don’t know if Cuba is changing for the best, I’m refering to political changes. In Cuba there are elections, but there is only one party. And one single candidate. People vote for that candidate. At the moment, a law was approved that determines that elegible roles have a 5 year duration and that the same person can only keep the role for 2 terms. This will be a severe change in relation to the past.
Cuba in three positive aspects:
1. Public education.
2. Public health.
3. Social equality.
And three negative aspects:
1. Too much relevance of the political power – in Cuba, everything is related with the government. In Cuba, either you’re with the government or against them. Being that, if you happen to be against the government, you life – and your family’s life – becomes very complicated. And when I say very complicated, I mean, really difficult.
3. Cubans are sometimes, untrustworthy people.
What do you carry in yourself, of Fidel Castro?
What do you mean with that?
Every Cuban is immensely proud of Cuba, and that pride comes from Castro. We are a small country who faced a giant country like the United States. Cuba works in many ways, we kept our identity and we didn’t bow. That is the Cuban pride, and I believe that’s what my biggest inheritance from Castro.
What’s your biggest fear for Cuba?
Cuban system will probably change to a democracy as known in western countries. Since we have been under a dictatorship for more than five decades, I am not sure that Cubans know how to deal with that. And there might be people willing to take advantages from these circumstances. Finally, the good things remaining from the Revolution may be lost.
I will ask you to fill out some sentences that I will tell you:
If I was a color I would be: White. Because it’s simple and bright.
I don’t like … lying … people.
Europe is … interesting.
From Cuba, I miss… my family.
I will return to Cuba to live, if… I don’t know. I think it will be unlikely.
My dream for Cuba is… that it holds the maturity to take the right decisions.
The place I want to be is… my wife.
Interview and Text: Paula Pousinha
Translation and Revision: Christian Marques (electricganesha.wordpress.com)
Illustration: Sara Franco (www.sarafranco.net)