CubaBrief: Reflection on International Women’s Day 2024

Joy Zavalick in her column published in the Washington Examiner on March 8, 2022 “Rescue International Women’s Day from its Communist roots” exposes the Marxist influences on the holiday. She is right, the holiday has a problematic history linked to the Soviet Union. Existing communist regimes, and post-communist regimes also have a poor track record on women’s rights. According to Zavalick, “the modern domestic abuse epidemic in Communist-influenced countries is evidence communism is as bad for women today as it was during the Soviet era. In Russia, where domestic abuse was decriminalized in 2017, police estimate 600 women are killed in their own homes each month. Women also receive no legal protection against domestic violence in Cuba.”

Women leaders in communist regimes are few and far between, such as Jiang Qing in China, Elena Ceaușescu in Romania, and Vilma Espín in Cuba who became high profile figures because of their respective husbands and owed whatever power they had to these male leaders.

What is the record of women communist leaders? They appear to achieve power through their husbands, and their fortunes rise and fall with their spouse. They also have a poor track record on women’s liberation. Elena Ceausescu is considered one such “leader” as the First Vice Chairwoman of the Council of Ministers. She and her husband, Nicolae Ceausescu, presided over policies that were not pro-women.

Communists Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu inspired the Handmaid’s Tale

Shannon Quinn authored the essay “17 Moments In History that Inspired the Handmaid’s Tale” in History Collection and provides a summary of Ceauşescu’s Decree 770 policy for women. One of the specific events that Margaret Atwood found during her research process was “Decree 770” in Romania. This was a law that passed in 1967 that made abortions and all forms of contraception illegal. This had nothing to do with religious beliefs. It was an action that the government believed was necessary for the future of their country. The government already taxed married couples a 6% income tax if they did not have children between the ages of 25 and 50, but they realized that this was not enough to stop people from using contraception. Quinn reports that the Ceausescus took their policy to extremes not seen elsewhere.

“Decree 770 forced women to visit the gynecologist once a month to check for pregnancy, and police officers stood in the halls to make sure women complied. If a woman was pregnant, the doctors followed her progress very closely. Wealthy women were able to buy birth control pills and condoms on the black market, but poor women did not have that option. There were some cases where women caught the pregnancy before the doctors did, and some women died while attempting to give themselves an at-home abortion. The policy continued until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.”

Independent women with popular support and their own power base did not (and do not) fare well in communist regimes.

In the Cuban case strong women, not related or backing the Castro brothers, were (and are) subjected to forced exile, violent repression, or death.

This has gone on for decades.

Forced exile

Anamely told by American Airlines she couldn’t return home on 2/16/22 ( Yenier Martínez CUBANET)

On February 16, 2022, Anamely Ramos González, with her documents in order and plane ticket in hand, was told by a representative of American Airlines she could not board the flight home on instructions from the Cuban government. Anamely Ramos is an artist and nonviolent Cuban dissident who resides in Cuba.

“‘Right now I have no country, nowhere to return to, no residence in any other country in the world, no visa to anywhere and here I am,’ said [ Anamely Ramos González ] in an interview with the Miami Herald outside Versailles restaurant in Little Havana,” reported Nora Gámez Torres.

She tried again on February 27, 2022, after Cuban spokespeople claimed it was American Airlines that had barred her return, creating hope that she’d be able to return  but was told again she could not return home

However, this time she received a  Cuban government document from American Airlines proving that it was a Cuban colonel blocking her from returning to Cuba.

There have been many more such cases over the years.

Violent repression

Maria Elena Cruz Varela, 1991

Thirty one years ago on November 19, 1991 Cuban poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela, who peacefully dissented asking for nonviolent change, was assaulted by a mob organized by the dictatorship who tried to force feed the poet her own words. She wrote about the assault in her book, Dios en las cárceles cubanas (God in the Cuban jails):

“They broke my mouth trying to make me swallow the leaflets that members of my group had distributed throughout Havana. Afterwards I spent three days brutally besieged, imprisoned in my own home with my two children, with no water, no electricity, no food, no cigarettes. We heard what the huge speakers never stopped amplifying, allegorical songs to the country, the necessary punishment of traitors, and anyone who wanted to could shout at me, organized, of course, the slogans they pleased: Comrade worm, we are going to execute you by firing squad!”

Machete attack

Cuban dissident Sirley Ávila León, age 56, was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 by Osmany Carrión who had been “sent by state security thugs” in an aggression that “was politically motivated.”

The attack was severe enough that she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and nearly lost her right arm. Sirley had been a local official who had sought the reopening of a school for Cuban children and drew the ire of the dictatorship with her persistent demands.

Death

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman, spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of the island for leading the Ladies in White movement after the Black Cuban Spring of 2003. She, and the group of women she led, nonviolently challenged the Castro regime in the streets of Havana initially, and eventually across the island.

Laura carried out a sustained nonviolent campaign that after nine years obtained the freedom of their 75 loved ones. She did not disband the Ladies in White when her husband returned home. Laura recognized that the laws had not changed, that prisoners of conscience remained behind bars and that she would continue her human rights activism. This is why the Castro regime did away with her on October 14, 2011.

What about independent strong women in democratic capitalist societies?

Capitalist Democracies have seen the rise of women leaders around the world: Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel in Germany, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in Iceland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, Kim Campbell in Canada, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Erna Solberg in Norway, Simonetta Sommaruga in Switzerland, and the list is a long one. Unlike their communist counterparts, these leaders did not depend on their husbands to take power, and advanced their own policies, and had successful governments.

Cuban women, forced out of their homeland by the communist dictatorship, in free societies have carried on the struggle for freedom. Rosa María Payá and her mother Ofelia Acevedo have continued the struggle for a free Cuba in exile after the patriarch of their family Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, together with Harold Cepero, was extrajudicially executed by Cuban government agents on July 22, 2012.

Food for thought on International Women’s Day.

Washington Examiner, March 8, 2022

OPINION

Rescue International Women’s Day from its Communist roots

by Joy Zavalick

| March 08, 2022

There is nothing new under the sun — especially when it comes to communism. As Russia, a country historically steeped in Communist influence, has set the world on edge by violently invading Ukraine, it is high time for the United States to purge the evil influence of communism wherever it may be found.

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, is a modern celebration that unfortunately has Marxist influences. The immense irony of a Marxist country founding this holiday is that the only aspect of womanhood that communists celebrate is its ability to be exploited. Those seeking to celebrate International Women’s Day should defy the holiday’s Communist past and highlight the sanctity of women’s lives rather than their mere productivity.

2016 article from a leading socialist publication remarks, “This Valentine’s Day, the life of Jenny Marx reminds us of the love it takes to be a revolutionary socialist.” Jenny Marx was abused, cheated on, and left destitute by her husband Karl Marx, the “father of communism.” So yes, you could indeed say she is representative of the Communist ideal of perfect womanhood: subservient to the state, even to the point of immense suffering for herself and her children.

Women have never fared well under Marxist ideology. The so-called “liberation” of women under communism came at the expense of the abolition of the nuclear family and total government control over reproduction. In Soviet Russia, women were unable to consider financially supporting more than one child. The children they did have inevitably ended up in state-run daycare so their mothers could serve the economy in the workforce.

The modern domestic abuse epidemic in Communist-influenced countries is evidence communism is as bad for women today as it was during the Soviet era. In Russia, where domestic abuse was decriminalized in 2017, police estimate 600 women are killed in their own homes each month. Women also receive no legal protection against domestic violence in Cuba.

Despite the immense evidence communism harms women, some modern progressives persist in promoting Marxist ideals as the pathway to women’s empowerment. When the contemporary abortion lobby chants, “My body, my choice,” they echo the Marxist mantra, “Your body belongs to you.” However, when a Communist regime has the power to restrict reproduction, women’s bodies do not actually belong to them at all.

In China, a nation run by the Chinese Communist Party, forced abortions and sterilization are not only commonplace in the concentration camps where they actively commit genocide against the Uyghur population but also among the general population, where family size is controlled by the state. Due to China’s declining birth rate, the state is now incentivizing having more children, thus demonstrating another side of the same coin of state reproductive control. The value of women in Communist countries is dependent on what they can do for the government.

It is the women who have stood up against this idea who should be celebrated on this International Women’s Day.

Whittaker Chambers is now known as the heroic Soviet informer whose testimony was vital to the Alger Hiss trial. However, it was his wife Esther who inspired their family to escape communism.

When Esther discovered she was pregnant, the couple was ordered to abort the baby to focus on serving the Communist Party. In Whittaker’s 1952 memoir Witness, he details the moment when his wife bravely suggested she defy the order to undergo an abortion: “‘Dear heart,’ she said in a pleading voice, ‘we couldn’t do that awful thing to a little baby, not to a little baby, dear heart.’”

Despite the imminent danger, the couple turned their backs on communism. The valor of Esther Chambers provides a poignant vignette of the dilemmas women under communism face when they must choose between obedience to the state and obedience to their consciences.

Communists have repeatedly used female empowerment as a disguise for human rights violations against women. To reclaim International Women’s Day from its Marxist roots, we must celebrate women like Esther Chambers, who valiantly fought to protect the life of her child from the evils of communism. Likewise, we should carry on her legacy by advocating for those women suffering under communism today with no option of escape. Finally, let us never fall prey to the idea Marxism empowers women. On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate women for who they are, not for what they can do for the state.

Joy Zavalick is a research assistant for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/rescue-international-womens-day-from-its-communist-roots

Fine Art Global, February 19, 2022

Cuban Curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez Stranded in Miami

American Airlines Caves to Authoritarian Communist Regime

By Ken Kurson

MIAMI—Unconscionable actions taken by American Airlines on Wednesday, Feb. 16, have sent shockwaves first through the Cuban art world, and then through the entire Cuban ex-pat community in this Cuban-led city. And now, as one brave woman who was denied re-entrance to her own home country leads the charge, those reverberations are starting to be felt by all freedom loving people.

Respected art curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez, 37, is a prominent member of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists, journalists and other intelligentsia that gathered in 2018 to oppose Cuba’s crackdown on freedom of expression. On Wednesday, Ramos was denied access to an American Airlines flight in Miami, apparently at the request of the Cuban government. The Miami Herald reported that the island nation’s bureaucrats had blocked her entry into the country. According to the Herald, “The Cuban government has frequently denied entry to opponents and activists, but usually after they’ve already arrived on the island.”

But as Ramos herself said at a press conference hastily arranged at Miami International Airport after she was denied access, “Cuba’s border cannot be at the Miami airport. It cannot be at American Airlines’ gate. If the Cuban government doesn’t want to let me in for some reason, they have to solve it with me in Cuba.”

Now, Ramos is leading protests in Miami’s Little Havana community. On Friday, she sat on a corner of Calle Ocho, directly across from Versailles restaurant in the beating heart of Miami’s Cuban community. As cars drove by, many honked their horns in solidarity, including a few with ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ bumper stickers.

In a face-to-face interview with the Fine Art Globe, Ramos explained why she is willing to challenge an autocratic government so publicly.

“Normal people have been more in touch with us, in solidarity. They are indignant about American Airlines’ decision not to take me to Cuba. This has happened many times in the past to a lot of people who live here, but this is a special case because I have a valid residence in Cuba.”

Ramos has been a professor at Universidad de las Artes de Cuba for 12 years, where she’s established a reputation as an edgy and innovative curator. She also spent two years teaching art in Angola.

According to Ramos, the plan on Friday was to spend the day protesting outside Versailles, which attracts Miami Cubanos as well as tons of tourists all day long and was packed at lunch hour on Friday. For the afternoon rush hour, the protestors planned to march to Ponce De Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables to protest directly in front of the American Airlines Building.

Asked whether she was concerned that attracting attention to Cuba’s reprehensible policy would jeopardize her, Ramos told the Globe the reverse is true.

“No, on the contrary. It’s the opposite. What I want is that this situation gets coverage because this publicity is the only protection I have. The Cuban authorities will be less likely to target me if people are watching. I will take the opportunity of this visibility to speak for the political prisoners and all the people who are suffering in Cuba right now.”

Ramos sat in front of a mural emblazoned with “Derecho a Regresar” or “Right to Return.” The original was painted by the Cuban artist and activist Camila Lobón and the version seen here is a tribute created by a friend of Anamely’s named Eduardo.

According to the Herald story, Ramos has an American “visitor’s visa” that permits only one entry. So if she did make it to Cuba—her legal residence—and was turned away, she would not be legally allowed to return to the United States.

This moment that we’re witnessing right now, with large-scale demonstrations on the streets of Havana for the first time since the communists took control in 1959 and systematically squashed dissenting voices, feels different.

“It’s already happening,” Ramos told the Fine Art Globe. “On July 11, 2021, tens of thousands of people were demonstrating in the streets in Cuba and asking for the end of the dictatorship. This has been the biggest and most relevant event in Cuba in 40 or 60 years. Actually, in all of Cuban history.”

https://fineartglobe.com/curators/cuban-curator-anamely-ramos-gonzalez-stranded-in-miami/

From the Archives

The World Post , May 11, 2016

A Revolution With Promises to Keep

By Barbara E. Joe author, human rights advocate, Spanish interpreter

“Fidel promised that the Revolution was for us, for campesinos, rural farmers like me,” sighed Sirley Avila, a slender 56-year-old former Cuban community activist, who has lived under Castro leadership her whole life. “Then, look,” she said, “this is what happened.” From her wheelchair, she extended the stump of her left arm, where her wrist and hand had been amputated. Lifting her trouser-legs, she revealed scars on her knees. Then, defiantly, she raised her remaining hand in the Cuban dissident “L” sign for Libertad, Liberty.

I met Avila on April 2 at Miami’s convention center, where I was participating in Amnesty International (AI) USA’s annual conference. She was accompanied by John Suarez of the Cuban Democratic Directorate. Avila had come to Miami for rehabilitation arranged by the Directorate. My own past professional experience with rehab services has made me hopeful that she can regain the ability to walk and also learn to use a left-hand prosthesis.

Back in June 2015, at a book talk at a New York City public library, an audience member had asked me about Sirley Avila, the first time I’d ever heard her name. She had been attacked on May 24. I’d tried to find out more, but reliable information from Cuba is not easy to obtain. Now, less than one year later, here she was, sitting with me and Gabriele Stein, a fellow human rights volunteer from Germany, telling us her story in Spanish, which I translated for Gabriele.

Avila told us she lives alone on a little farm with fruit trees located outside Las Tunas, a small city in central-eastern Cuba. From 2005 to 2013, she was elected three times by her community as an unpaid delegate to Poder Popular, an official legislative body, half of whose members are elected locally. In 2010, the region’s rural school was closed because it had only a few pupils. Avila protested that meant children had to walk too far, up to 12 km., but the school remained closed, although she was still reelected to her position. After continually being thwarted on the school issue, two years after its closing, on Sept. 8, 2012, Avila took a fateful step, speaking openly about her frustrations on Radio Martí. She was immediately labeled a mercenary, but no charges were brought against her and the community continued its support. She then joined UNPACU, Unión Patriótica de Cuba, an opposition group, and participated in hunger strikes in solidarity with two political prisoners, Luis Enrique Lozada and Angel Yunier, hunger strikes each lasting more than three weeks.

In December 2013, after a few days’ absence to tend to her elderly mother with Parkinson’s, Avila returned home to find her dogs and other animals all dead, apparently poisoned. The interior of her home had also been vandalized, with her bed set on fire and the cords cut to her refrigerator and television set with their motors short-circuited and burned out. (In Cuba, appliances are very expensive and hard to replace.) Then, she found her well had been poisoned after hundreds of pounds of yucca had been dumped inside and had decomposed. It took her a full two months with the help of sympathetic neighbors to remove it and restore the water quality. All that proved an ominous warning; the worst was yet to come.

Avila had dared to report the damage to her home and property to the police, accusing state security of being behind the attacks against her. Meanwhile, her neighbors remained steadfastly loyal, asking her to continue to represent them, but, instead, her district was eliminated and apportioned among other districts. In February 2014, when the long-closed school was finally reopened, community members clamored to have her reinstated and the law allowed for a protest by 25% of voters. She went to Havana and met with activist Elizardo Sánchez’s brother, Gerardo, to discuss this possibility.

One evening, after Avila had returned home, a young woman friend, Yunisledy López, called to warn her about plans to kill her, but, soon after, López herself was found murdered.

On May 24, 2015, a couple Avila had hired to help her out on the farm, Osmany Carrión and Mariela Hidalgo, suddenly turned on her and viciously assaulted her. Wielding a machete, Carrión slashed her shoulder, collarbone, and knees and, as she raised her arm to shield her head from his blows, he sliced off her left wrist and hand. His wife then threw the severed hand into the pigsty, contaminating it so it could not be reattached. After that, a judicial hearing was held on the attack, but Avila was not allowed to attend or to submit testimony. She doesn’t know what, if anything, happened to Carrión, but she was told that in court, he had accused her of trying to recruit him for dissidence. In September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights supported Avila’s complaint that she was in a “serious and urgent situation.”

Surely if the Cuban government did not condone or facilitate the attacks on Avila, it had a duty to protect her — the universal duty of any government toward citizens acting non-violently and within the law. Yet, it is no secret that brutal actos de repudio, acts of repudiation, are officially encouraged. Some Cubans seem to genuinely relish such invitations to beat up fellow citizens, while others claim only to be reluctantly following orders. At the 2011 party congress (another has just concluded), President Raúl Castro issued a call for the expression of righteous wrath against traitors and mercenaries: “It is necessary to make clear that we will never deny our people the right to defend their Revolution. The defense of the independence, of the conquests of socialism, and of our streets and plazas will still be the first duty of every Cuban patriot.”

Avila arranged her own trip to Miami, tricking authorities who had blocked her efforts by getting two round-trip flights for herself and her son from Las Tunas to Havana, but having her son return home alone while she boarded a flight to Miami instead. She had already obtained a U.S. visa. She plans to stay in Miami for three months undergoing treatment, fully intending to return home again to her farm, her aging mother, and her two sons, also to rejoin Cuba’s peaceful struggle for free expression and association. “We Cubans deserve personal liberty, just like all other human beings,” she says. “Yes, I’m still afraid, but unless we are willing to put heart and body on the line, nothing will change for us or for our children. My problem has been that I still enjoyed community support despite all the government’s efforts against me and they just couldn’t tolerate that.”

Sirley Avila showing the “L” sign for “Liberty,” with Gabriele Stein and Barbara Joe in Miami on April 2, 2016

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-revolution-with-promise_b_9801712

The Guardian, October 19, 2011

Laura Pollán obituary

Leader of the Ladies in White, the Cuban women who fought for their menfolk’s liberty

By Carrie Gibson

The Cuban activist Laura Pollán Toledo, who has died aged 63 of a heart attack, was a quiet schoolteacher who became the leader of an internationally recognised protest movement – the Ladies in White – after her husband was imprisoned in 2003. Although a latecomer to politics, Pollán became a symbol of the growing discontent with Fidel Castro’s regime.

She was once a believer in the aims of the Cuban revolution. Born in the eastern city of Manzanillo just over a decade before the 1959 guerilla war that brought Castro to power, Pollán, like many others of her generation, grew up as a supporter of the regime. She said in an interview with the Sunday Times in 2005 that when she was 12, she volunteered to join a government programme that sent nearly a million Cuban schoolchildren to live with illiterate peasant families in order to teach them to read and write. The experience made a deep impression on her, and she trained to become a teacher, specialising in Spanish and literature.

Pollán lived in Havana with her husband, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, a journalist who was involved with the Liberal Democrat party, a banned opposition group. Their home in Calle Neptuno was often full of dissidents who met with Maseda to discuss the island’s politics. However, Pollán said at this time she was not interested in what her husband and his friends were doing. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2008, she claimed that she preferred to stay in the kitchen making coffee when the conversation became “too political”.

But the political turned deeply personal during the primavera negra, or black spring, of March 2003. This was a government crackdown on journalists and others involved in the dissident movement, which led to the imprisonment of 75 men, including Maseda, who was sentenced to 20 years on charges of acting against the territorial integrity of the state. Pollán quit her job and devoted her energies to organising a group calling for the prisoners’ release, which became known as the Damas de Blanco, or the Ladies in White. Her home was once again filled with political discussion.

Each Sunday this group of women, composed of wives, mothers and other family members of the prisoners, attend mass at the Catholic church of Santa Rita – a patron saint of hopeless causes – in the Miramar neighbourhood of Havana. After the service, each woman, dressed in white, carrying a gladiolus, and often wearing a T-shirt with a photograph of her imprisoned spouse or relative printed on it, walks in silence for 10 blocks to a nearby park.

While this weekly vigil quickly won international admiration, Pollán and her group faced hostility from the Cuban government and official media. They were sometimes called the Women in Green – alluding to claims that the group’s funding came from Cuban exiles in the US – and they were often obliged to march past jeering crowds in government-organised counter-demonstrations. But their silent protest persisted.

The Ladies in White were championed by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2005 the women won the European parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought, though Pollán was not permitted to leave Cuba to accept the award. In 2008 she sent Castro a copy of her husband’s memoir, Buried Alive, which he had smuggled out to her a page at a time.

By the start of 2010, only about 25 of the prisoners had been released, despite increasing international pressure and the continued Sunday vigil. However, in July that year, representatives of the Catholic church successfully negotiated with Raúl Castro – who had taken over as president from his brother in 2008 – for the release of the remaining prisoners. Many then went into exile, though some, including Maseda, refused. He was finally able to return to his home with Pollán last February.

In April the US government presented the Ladies in White with the Human Rights Defenders award. Although the group has achieved its goal, it continues to stage its weekly march to raise awareness of other political prisoners. Pollán told the Associated Press in September that the Ladies in White would persevere: “We are fighting for freedom and human rights.”

She is survived by her husband and a daughter, Laura Maria, from a previous marriage.

 Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, teacher and activist, born 13 February 1948; died 14 October 2011

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/19/laura-pollan-obituary

The Washington Post, May 17, 1994

A BREATH OF FREEDOM

By Gigi Anders

May 17, 1994

But part of the reason she has become a causa celebre in the Cuban exile community is that she is also a woman in a country where high-profile women are not all that common — and a mother. The main reason she wanted to come to America was to see her 22-year-old daughter, Mariela, who’s been living in Miami for a year and a half.

Cruz, despite her national fame as the 1989 winner of Cuba’s Julian del Casal poetry prize — roughly equivalent to a National Book Award in the United States — was imprisoned in Havana on Nov. 27, 1991, for holding “illegal” meetings and “defaming” state institutions with her “controversial” poems.

The lyrical fragmentation of her verse reflects images of toppled idols and broken angels.

Before she was thrown in jail, thugs dragged Cruz by the hair down four stories of stairs in her apartment building, beat her until she bled, and forced torn pieces of her writings down her throat.

But part of the reason she has become a causa celebre in the Cuban exile community is that she is also a woman in a country where high-profile women are not all that common — and a mother. The main reason she wanted to come to America was to see her 22-year-old daughter, Mariela, who’s been living in Miami for a year and a half.

Cruz, despite her national fame as the 1989 winner of Cuba’s Julian del Casal poetry prize — roughly equivalent to a National Book Award in the United States — was imprisoned in Havana on Nov. 27, 1991, for holding “illegal” meetings and “defaming” state institutions with her “controversial” poems.

The lyrical fragmentation of her verse reflects images of toppled idols and broken angels.

Before she was thrown in jail, thugs dragged Cruz by the hair down four stories of stairs in her apartment building, beat her until she bled, and forced torn pieces of her writings down her throat.

Now she inhales her pungent Cuban cigarette, and as she lets out the smoke through a strikingly tiny pink mouth, the frightful past seems almost forgotten.

“This is such a lovely city,” she observes in Spanish, sunlight dappling her strong cheekbones. “So green and fresh. I’ve missed seeing trees and flowers. But I prepared myself for this before I left Havana. While we sit together here, it’s like we’re in a movie. I’m pretending we are really here. When I go home, I’ll be able to give a ‘screening’ that will echo the temperature of freedom to my friends.”

One doesn’t often hear stories of Cuban political dissidents who’ve been systematically brutalized inside the island and then released into the safer arms of the outer world who then choose to return to their homeland.

“Cuba has always been known as an island of poets and revolution,” she says. “So my response must be an ethical one. It sounds like a cliche, but I cannot leave behind my sense of longing for home.”

Does she fear returning there?

“The consequences cannot be foreseen,” she says, “especially on a personal level. But my moral responsibility is to the Cubans, not to the Cuban government.”

Cruz’s other child, a teenage son named Arnold, could also have something to do with her decision not to defect while she’s in town. The government would not let Arnold come to America with his mother.

Dressed in their new and casually hip American clothes and pretty shoes, mother and daughter could easily blend in with any Dupont Circle bohemians. They are anonymous here, a blessing.

“It’s an interesting experiment I’m making,” Cruz confirms. “When I arrived in Miami last week, Mariela and I were swarmed by the press. Locusts.”

She shifts her weight from one hip to another. Cruz is plagued with chronic pelvic inflammations that she blames on having had to rely on a rusted Soviet bike for all of her transportation. To add injury to injury, since she was beaten up and imprisoned, Cruz suffers sight impairment, persistent aches in the joints of her arms and legs, and acute anxiety and depression. There is a ubiquitous shortage of most material goods across Cuba, and medicine is no exception. So there’s nothing there to relieve her physical pain. She may seek medical treatment while she’s here.

“The situation in Cuba is indescribable,” she says. “No aspirin or toothbrushes or toothpaste. A gradual primitivism has taken over. We have been reduced to living like hungry little animals, without self-esteem or self-respect. I saw some homeless people here the other day, and they looked no different than the typical Cuban professional, their shoes strung together with wire.”

The wind has intensified. Cruz’s last cigarette is finished. She drops it to the ground and watches as it rolls away into the clean morning, far past the perfect tips of her new black suede shoes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1994/05/17/a-breath-of-freedom/0b94cc7b-5867-410a-b9eb-3d8065e4c03c/