Talking about Cuba with a Chinese-US Couple

By Yusimi Rodriguez

Photo in Old Havana by Ernesto Gonzalez

HAVANA TIMES — When my friend put me in touch with these two visitors, knowing that I was interested in what people outside think about our country, he warned me that the questioning would go both ways. They also had a lot of questions and were interesed in speaking to an independent journalist.

The woman is Chinese, she emigrated to Australia when she was 22 years old. She’s a teacher, but in June she decided to take a break so she could go traveling. He’s from the US, of Indian descent and has lived a few years in China. He traveled to Cuba to do some business research.

Both of them love our weather, the food (most of the time, although she has missed eating vegetables in some places) and especially our people. “They are very friendly,” he says. She agrees, but she has experienced some harassment from men on the street.

They want to know who will be the next Cuban President, when Raul Castro dies, who will be appointed; what will happen to Cuban emigration now that the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program have been repealed recently; how and when the Embargo began; how many Cubans are there in Miami, what percentage of the population belongs to the Cuban Communist Party; what will happen to US-Cuban relations now that Donald Trump has become president there.

I don’t have an answer for some of these questions. I’d rather not speculate, but wait and see. Trump’s administration is made up of people who oppose lifting the Embargo and Barack Obama’s government’s efforts to thaw relations with Raul Castro’s government. However, Trump is a businessman. With regard to Cuban immigration to the US, it existed before 1959; it just drastically increased after that date. Cubans began to emigrate en masse a long time before the Cuban Adjustment Act came into effect (1966), and also way before the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy was introduced (1995).

Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes

With regard to the next President of Cuba (which doesn’t depend on Raul Castro’s death, as he has promised us that his time as president will end in 2018), instead of asking us who will be appointed, shouldn’t we be asking Cubans who we want to elect? Do we want somebody to be appointed as the new president for us? However, even though we’ll have a new President, Raul Castro will continue to be the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (the only party to exist), which according to the Constitution is the one that guides the State. What would change? Do we want to continue having just one political party, or do we want to hear other proposals from people who belong to different political tendencies?

I don’t know what percentage of Cubans belong to the PCC; I dare to say that it’s probably less than 50% of the adult population. He believes that even if it were 40% or 30%, it would be a lot, when compared to China, where the CPC has much fewer members. A fan of the “how many”, I couldn’t tell him how many Cubans there were in Miami neither.

When they asked me if the late former President of Cuba had graduated from University, I replied that he had studied Law and that this let him take on the defense at his trial for attacking the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks. By the way, one of his promises, which was featured in the Moncada Program, was to reinstate the 1940 Constitution, which was violated by Fulgencio Batista when he led the Military Coup in 1952. The 1940 Constitution was never reinstated.

However, when they asked me what Raul Castro had studied, I admitted that I couldn’t remember. “If we were in any other country, all we’d have to do is connect up to the Internet right now and look for this information,” he said. We couldn’t do that in the cafe where we were. “But, I understand that the Cuban people already have Internet,” she says. She’s right. We have a very expensive (even now, when prices have been reduced to 1.50 CUC per hour; let me tell you that it used to be 4.50 CUC at the beginning), extremely slow (which they could verify for themselves), and, on top of that, we can’t access the information we want. There are blocked websites such as Diario de Cuba, Cubanet, Cubaencuentro, 14 y medio…

She tells me that the same thing happens in China, “The government has made quite an effort to censor what is published on the Internet.”

When I tell them about the 10 million Sugar Harvest, the failure of which Fidel Castro had already been warned about, he didn’t listen, he put his foot down, this sounds familiar to them: “It’s the equivalent of the Chinese Great Leap Forward, under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung.”

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

They can see many similarities between China and Cuba: the existence of one sole political party (although in China, there are seven which accompany the Communist party, and the latter can’t make decisons without consulting the others; nevertheless, she clarifies that this is just to keep up appearances and that these parties only respond to the Communisty Party’s interests); the lack of freedom of expression and the media; the lack of access to information, repression; it was necessary to allow private businesses to function in both countries after having banned them, so as to start up a damaged economy.

He tells me that in China, a lot of people make money by taking advantage of their access to power. “For example, children or relatives of people who have some connection to the government open up businesses in other countries and buy merchandise from the Chinese government cheap and then resell them in another country for a higher price. The government doesn’t make money, it loses it actually; but these businessmen get rich. “Does this happen in Cuba?” I can’t say it does with all certainty. I can’t deny it either.

She’s interested in art and intellectuals. “They are normally the most progressive voices within a society, the most rebellious.” She wants to know whether there are any such artists here in Cuba, someone like Ai Wei Wei, for example. She catches me on the spur of the moment. I unforgivingly forget Escuadron Patriota, for example, Los Aldeanos, the members of Omni Zona Franca (although people no longer talk about them because they spend more time abroad) and Danilo Maldonaldo, El Sexto.

I can’t talk a lot about the latter’s talent, because I don’t really know his work; I also don’t know whether I can compare him to an artist and activist like Ai Wei Wei. However, he has been arrested and detained for using his art to protest against the government. While I was talking to these tourists, El Sexto still remained behind bars for having written “Se fue” (He’s gone) on a wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, after Fidel Castro’s death was announced.

There are also similarities in emigration. Like Cubans, many Chinese people emigrate to the United States (although there doesn’t exist a Chinese Adjustment Act) and to other countries. The main reasons for leaving aren’t political, but economic, and environmental. “There is now such a thing as environmental refugees, who are fleeing the pollution in China,” she tells me.

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

She emigrated for political reasons. She learned more about China while studying abroad than she did when she lived in her own country. Living there, after knowing what it was like to live in a democracy, became impossible for her.

They say goodbye happy: in the nearly 6 hours we’ve been speaking, I’ve been able to tell them about Cuba’s history from the arrival of Cristobal Colon until the present. Or at least, about specific moments in our History.

However, I suggested that they speak to other Cubans, even government supporters, so that they have a broader picture. Up until now, they’d only been able to speak to two Cubans who spoke English: myself and my friend. Neither of us are government supporters. That’s why I believe it’s fair that they hear other Cubans’ opinions.

  • N.J. Marti

    The biography of Raúl Castro Ruiz has him attending college in Santiago and Havana with area of study being Social Sciences. Unlike Fidel, he did not distinguish himself. His real course of study was in being Fidel’s under study for decades before taking power in his own right. While he is often said to be a hardline communist, his actions betray a much more pragmatic manager. He has put in a reform foundation that will as a practical matter move Cuba away from pure communist ideology favored by Fidel. With Fidel in a rock, the hand of Raul will be felt even more strongly. Even after Raul steps down in 2018 from Presidential position, it will be his people and he behind the scenes steering the course of reforms. To survive, they have little choice but to move towards more of a market economy.

  • Olgasintamales

    A note that Yusimi Rodriguez should know. Before 1959 were more Americans living in Cuba that Cubans living in USA.

    • Javier Vargas

      Of course… They owned Cuba!

  • A. E. S.

    Maybe YUSIMI RODRIGUEZ should have recommended the couple to spend a few days in Miami, FL next summer and speak to some of the ‘old timers’ Cubans exiled in the U.S. to hear a different side of the story, and most likely closer to the reality of what they were trying to learn…