“Lies are a little fortress; inside them you can feel safe and powerful. Through your little fortress of lies you try to run your life and manipulate others. But the fortress needs walls, so you build some. These are the justifications for your lies. You know, like you are doing this to protect someone you love, to keep them from feeling pain. Whatever works, just so you feel good about the lies.”
-William Paul Young, The Shack
Having just returned from a week long expedition to Cuba with my colleagues from Savannah, these observations are first-hand. Sorting them out has been a lot more difficult than I imagined, because Cuba is an enigma, wrapped in an illusion, and yet too beautiful to ignore.
Almost everything we are told about Cuba is a lie. Because she has been isolated from the rest of the world for over 50 years, these lies are easy to accept. The people of Cuba have been hidden in a cocoon of propaganda for three generations, so that they have little or no critical thinking skills left. The mythology of La Revolucion has been substituted for religion, idolizing their Fidel Castro as a savior to replace Jesus Christ.
Likewise, in our own way, Americans have been fed their recycled propaganda through our media, in an effort to sell us an island paradise. Cuba is trending now, gobbling up headlines and magazine covers full of observations based upon three-day visits by American media. What is being sold to us in this way is somewhat closer to reality, and so the lies seem more plausible.
Cuba’s three greatest lies:
“Because there are no guns in Cuba, there is no violent crime.” Well, maybe they have a low murder rate (maybe not) but crime is everywhere in a police state where people can just disappear. My son David was threatened with mace by a uniformed police officer who demanded cash because he claimed he was starving. Nearly everyone in Cuba is selling something illegally, and every black market is self-policed by threats of violence, not justice.
“Cuba has a 99.7% literacy rate.” There are no greater lies than statistics. It is impossible to verify or disprove this assertion, but I can honestly say that literacy in a place where there is almost nothing worth reading is of questionable value. There is a state propaganda newspaper, Granma, and in the squares are stands with old propaganda books and magazines from the 1950’s, but I saw no one actually reading anything in public—certainly not a book. The teenaged police Lieutenant that finally came to take my son David’s statement—after he had been detained for over 5 hours and interrogated seven different times by policemen who couldn’t take notes—well, he struggled to make legible letters in his report.
“The Castro government has been liberalizing, and opening itself back up to the Catholic Church.” I saw some churches with open doors, but inside people were selling icons and trinkets that were secular, and there was no evidence that masses were being celebrated. The famous historic convents were boarded shut, and nowhere in all my walking around Cuba’s most populated city did I ever see a priest or nun in religious garb. If the Pope can get Raul Castro back to mass, it will be a real miracle.
Cuba is a fortress of lies, completely unprepared for the flood of information (not truth) that lies ahead, because her people have no critical thinking skills…
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
-John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
Despite all the illusions and lies, some things about Cuba are observably true:
The waters around Cuba are unfathomably beautiful, and her reefs are some of the most unscathed left in our world today. Havana is full of spectacularly beautiful historic architecture from the Spanish colonial era, and the finest mid-century modern architecture I have ever seen. The Cuban people are struggling, but not starving. They have enormous pride in their country, and their culture. Artists are among the most privileged in Cuban society, allowed to travel and to retain the earnings from their work. These artists are allowed some freedom of expression, and seem to understand that they are surrounded by lies. The legendary beauty of Cuban women is true, and the men are equally handsome. The cigars are perfection.
But if you want to understand the greatest truth about Cuba, go hear some serious jazz. Born out of African music, no truer strand of jazz than the Cuban varieties survives today. Infused with the rumba, salsa, danzo’n, and unsullied by the pop music of the past 55 years, this is where the ghosts of Miles Davis and John Coltrane live on. Spontaneous, wild, furious, experimental jazz.
In the end, just one week in Cuba is not enough to make a judgement on what her potential may be. Although her lies were shocking, her beauty still calls…
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” -Rene Descartes