I saw Cuba crumble from the inside

Since July 11, anti-government protests on an unprecedented scale have erupted across the country. For this Cuban history professor, residing in the United States since 2013, this movement is symptomatic of the slow erosion of the Castro political system.

Every Thursday at 5 p.m., my grandmother would come into her room, lock the door, and adjust her USSR-made transistor on Radio Martí, a Miami-based station run by Cuban exiles who had fled Fidel’s revolution. Castro. She was still adjusting the volume barely above the whisper. « Walls have ears », she said.

She lived in Havana, she was an ordinary and obedient citizen, but like all the other members of my family, she avoided talking about sensitive political matters on the phone lest the lines be tapped. We acted as if the state was still watching us. His presence was everywhere.

Many things were forbidden to my mother’s generation, including, among others, listening to the Beatles, being openly gay, manifesting religious beliefs and reading certain books. In the late 1980s, I wore the same clothes as everyone else, received the same education, and used the same brand of toothpaste, Perla, which was the only one available. Individual autonomy and freedom of choice did not exist.

Fall of the USSR and liberalization

I lived my childhood in Castro’s shadow and watched the scaffolding of the state begin to crumble. I remember when I was 9 years old, in 1992, the shelves of stores where Soviet apples were stored ended up completely empty. There was also that tragic day when my little red fire truck, made in East Germany, broke. It was the last toy I had left.

The Soviet Union had collapsed and Cuba, a parasitic economy which had little to offer the world market and whose suffering was exacerbated by the American blockade, lost 85% of its foreign trade. This triggered a serious humanitarian crisis. Very quickly, there was no more electricity. To endure the intense heat of the Caribbean, we had to put our mattresses on the roof. Mosquitoes made nights under the stars of the Tropics nothing of the romantic fantasy experience.

“The good old days are coming back”, said my grandfather one fine day in 1994, putting his newspaper on the table. Castro


Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez

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The author

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez is a 38-year-old Cuban history teacher. Trained at the University of Havana, he moved to the United States in 2013 thanks to a research grant, funded by Harvard. Specialist in the slave trade in XIXe century, he is now a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


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