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OBSERVATIONS Two moons over Havana


It was a hot summer night in Old Hava na. I and 11 others from our Wit- ness for Peace delegation to Cuba were treated to a dancing lesson with live music, offered by an enterprising Cuban woman who had the idea and the space—on a rooftop patio—to earn some extra money in the hard-bitten economy. We climbed rickety wooden steps in a bare, dimly lit, and crumbling stairwell, up past vacant, dark apartments. Safely on the top floor, we were each given a Cuba Libre and ush- ered out onto the patio, where we had a beautiful view of the cathedral and, beyond, the Cabana fortress where both Batista and Castro tortured and executed their political prisoners. As we leaned over the low parapet we could see right into the apartments across the narrow street. I wondered if their residents would be annoyed by our dance lesson, but I had to believe that 51 years of rev- olutionary economics, American embar - go, and no Sunday sabbath had made the relaxed rhythms of Cuban salsa an essen- tial outlet for joy anywhere, anytime. Above us a full moon rose, a nostal- gic icon for lovers and for the tourists who remember Cuba as an idyllic play- ground. Although millions of people from Europe, Canada, and South Ameri- ca still visit Cuba, I wonder why lovers or fun-seekers would want to visit this desperate island today. A young woman about to enroll in the University of Ha- vana told me she has no inclinations to- ward marriage because she doesn’t want to bring children into her homeland in this condition, and her friends feel the same way.


Looking up into the bright, moonlit sky that night, I saw Havana under the power of two other moons, because its heroic population is subject to twin lu- natic forces: the amateur socialism of a narcissistic leader and the embargo of


a hysterically anticommunist United States.


WITHOUT VIABLE PUBLIC ARENAS WHERE IDEAS,


POLICIES, ALTERNATIVES, AND VISIONS CAN BE DEBATED, INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM CANNOT EXIST.


As one Cuban told me, what Fidel Cas - tro brought was neither a true socialism nor Marxism/Leninism—it was Fidel ism, a blend of social ideals (universal literacy and health care) and some socialist princi- ples (class equality) haphazardly conceived and enforced. Allowing Cubans to own a house but not sell it,


addressing underemployment by assign- ing multiple people to a single job, hav- ing collectivized industries that are rou- tinely outproduced by small land owners —this is socialism only partially under- stood and badly applied. And America’s embargo is really a blockade, an in- ternational tactic in a very real (if only economic) war. Its purpose is “to destabilize the economy and the govern- ment,” according to the chillingly candid reply we got from an American diplo- matic officer when we asked, “What do you understand the goal of our em- bargo to be?” Equally chilling


was the answer to our next question as to whether the policy was working: a matter-of-fact “No.” Yet this inhuman policy continues with no end in sight. Under these two synergistic lunacies, the US and Cuba are suffocating in an unconsummated marriage of mutual envy and emotional interdependence. Because we need each other so much, in both positive ways (resources, markets,


culture) and negative (ideological com- petition), we can’t stop hating each other. In fact, Americans admire Cuban energy and work ethics, and Cubans ad- mire American energy and innovations. But the lunacies prevail over sanity. Both the “embargo” and the “social- ism” cause the suffering and degradation we saw everywhere, but most reprehensi- ble is the totalitarianism that succeeds by eliminating the public realm of citizen- ship. Hannah Arendt argued in On Revo- lution that individuals complete their whole selves by acting as citizens, pro- tecting themselves from the government and each other. Without viable public arenas where ideas, policies, alternatives, and visions can be debated, individual freedom cannot exist. We saw billboards around the city calling the revolution a triumph of ideas—but where is the forum for the exchange, de- velopment, and improve- ment of any ideas? Certain- ly not in the Committees for the De- fense of the Revolution that occupy offices in every neighborhood and monitor every aspect of people’s lives.


Lifting the blockade would not be suffi- cient; restraints on freedom of speech and assembly must also be removed. For now, it seems the Cuban people must continue to live under a sparkling sky with two very lunatic moons.


Rick Chrisman is Skidmore’s director of reli- gious and spiritual life, in the College’s campus-life office.


BY RICK CHRISMAN


2 SCOPE WINTER 2011


PEETER VIISIMAA/ISTOCK; MICHAEL MALONE


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