Cubans Are Trapped in a Myth

03/26/2013 08:26 pm 20:26:44 | Updated May 26, 2013

It's cold in the Hague. Through the window I can see a seagull find a piece of a cookie on the sidewalk. In the warmth of a local bar several activists are speaking of their respective realities. From one corner of the table a Mexican journalist explains the risk of exercising the profession of reporter in a reality where words can cost you your life. We all listen in silence, imagining the newsroom shot up, his colleagues kidnapped or killed, the impunity.

Then a colleague from the Sahara speaks up and his words are like sand in your eyes, reddening them until the tears flow. The anecdotes from the North Korean also make me cringe. He was born in a prison camp from which he escaped at age 14. I follow each of these stories, I could live them. From whatever culture and geography, pain is pain anywhere. Within the space of a few minutes we pass from the midst of a shootout between cartels to a tent in the desert and then to the body of a boy behind barbed wire. I manage to put myself in the skin of all of them.

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I hold my breath. It's my turn to speak. I tell about the acts of repudiation, the arbitrary arrests, the assassination of reputations and a nation on rafts crossing the Florida Straits. I tell them of divided families, intolerance, of a country where power is inherited through blood and our children dream of escape. And then come all the phrases I've heard hundreds, thousands of times.

I've barely said the first words and I already know what is coming: "But you can't complain, you have the best educational system on the continent"... "Yes, it might be, but you can't deny that Cuba has confronted the United States for half a century"... "OK, you don't have freedom, but you have a public health system"... and a long repertoire of stereotypes and false conclusions taken from official propaganda. Communication breaks down, the myth prevails.

A myth fed by five decades of distortion of our national history. A myth that no longer appeals to reason, only to blind belief, a myth that accepts no critics, only fans. A myth that makes it impossible for so many to understand us, to be in tune with our problems. A myth that has managed to make many perceive as good things in our nation that they would never accept in their own. A myth that has broken the channel of ordinary sympathy generated for any human being who is a victim. A myth that traps us more strongly than the totalitarianism under which we live.

The seagull takes a piece of candy in his beak. At the table the talk turns back to North Africa and Mexico. The sense of explaining my island to them is lost. Why, if the whole world seems to know everything about us, without ever having lived in Cuba? I cringe again on hearing of the harsh lives of these activists -- I again put myself in their place. And who puts themselves in ours? Who unravels this myth in which we are trapped?