A cubana on freedom and equality

For 53 years, Cubans have been prisoners in their own land

The author is a health educator who says she “enjoys fried plantains, Afro-Cuban music and Bidwell Park.” She lives in Chico.

As a Cuban born to a family with deep roots in the island’s history and culture, I was thrilled to read about Sara Cooper’s publication of books by celebrated Cuban women writers ["In the words of cubanas,” by Christine G.K. LaPado, Feb. 16]. My father, a young, liberal lawyer in the late-1950s, was a leader in the urban resistance movement to free Cuba from [Fulgencio] Batista’s dictatorship. He later served in [Fidel] Castro’s first cabinet. But his allegiance was shaken when Castro traded the promise of a democratic, constitutional new Cuba for a Marxist-Leninist model.

When Castro began his campaign against the “enemies of the revolution,” the die was cast. Batista’s cronies met a brutal end by firing squads in infamous public executions. But to affirm his autocracy Castro also needed to sweep away many of his former allies—democratic revolutionaries who were at odds with the new communist ideology. Many of these “traitors” ended up in prison, some with 20-year sentences. Others boldly opposed Castro and met the same fate as the Batistianos. Others, among them my parents, opted for the inevitable: exile.

My parents, like countless others, rebuilt their lives from scratch. They raised their children with values I can only describe as deeply humanist. So, when I read in the CN&R about a Cuba where “all humans are equal, and should be treated equally regardless of gender or race—no class divisions,” this “outspoken Cuban woman” (to quote a phrase used by Ms. Cooper) had to speak up. Equal? Yes—everyone equally impoverished and undernourished, equally deprived of such basic rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and access to information; not to speak of the freedom to elect a government, or that precious right we all take for granted: freedom of movement. Cubans, we all know, are prisoners in their own land.

Perhaps professor Cooper would consider seeking out the voices of dissent in Cuba, so eloquently represented by Yoani Sánchez (see her Generation Y blog). A few years ago she was abducted and beaten by state security agents for her writing, yet she continues to reflect daily on life in an oppressive police state. As for issues of gender equality in Cuba, the discussion begs to be framed in the context of an entire people whose basic human rights have been denied for 53 years.