The news turns my thoughts to ice in a shaker,

slamming and cracking against each other.

I’ve seen the cement ruins Cuba’s people build lives inside, the ever-shrinking diet they strain to nourish lives upon, and the wasted minds and spirits stagnating in a country that puts power above life itself.

 

Communism loves its people

the way a parasite loves its host—always for its own survival, never theirs.

 

I’m chilled remembering the Cuban faces I’ve seen; all bore the same subtle mark of overworked hope. Time weighs upon the body differently when separated from opportunity. So many lives, all bursting with thought and inimitable personality, all smothered under the stillborn future of authoritarianism. 

I don’t know who you might’ve been and what you might’ve done—futures that should be denied to no one.

 

Cuba doesn’t suffer from whatever convenient concoction places blame for a dictatorship’s actions outside that dictatorship. The Cuban people are starved, but tourists never miss a meal. The Cuban people sleep on the floor like dogs to escape the heat, but where does their leader sleep?

 

When a government robs its people of basic rights and resources, “Another country made me do it,” is the political equivalent of blaming your imaginary friend.

 

Cubans know what Americans have long forgotten: freedom is bought in blood. Revolution isn’t the romantic scene of passion that meaning-hungry college kids and fame-hungry pundits believe. Show them the blood, the bullet holes, the broken families, the deaths on a dirty street.

 

Let them listen to mothers screaming and fathers sobbing as young people beat each other into the dirt, each hoping to escape a different prison.

 

Let them play dress-up with other people’s nightmares til the blood of a friend splashes across their face, copper stench burrowing into their nose.

 

Stolen freedom isn’t a tragedy of circumstance; an unfree life follows you forever, even as you stand on free land.

 

There is more than one way to starve a person. Food nourishes the body, but freedom nourishes the being.

 

Humans throughout all history have chosen to die seeking freedom rather than die starving for it. 

 

The poison of communism is so potent it lingers for generations. I’ve never lived under Cuban communism, but I was shaped by the scarred hands of those who did. 

 

I was taught to trust no one, though I’d never known the risk of being reported for speaking the “wrong truth.” I was taught to treat books and food like treasures that disappear in a system that says nothing is ever truly yours. I learned to argue and interrogate with the thirst for speech of someone with no tongue.

 

Communism seeps like toxic waste into every layer of a person's mind and has a half-life that spans generations.

No ideology has the authority to make itself a false god, molding people in its likeness.

But the arrogance of authoritarianism is costly—my mother’s rage for freedom is mine. 

 

Cuba’s people suffer under an ideology that no education, no new location, no loss of immaturity or sudden change of mind can disperse. Pay attention to the impotence of your every word and action in the face of authoritarian power. Can you feel the sudden futility of your speech and money, your outrage and tears, your marches and petitions? Those are the tools of people who matter, people whose country recognizes their individual value and grants them at least a sliver of the sovereignty no Cuban knows. 

 

The tools we use to preserve human dignity are not god-given rights,

but human-defended ideals.

 

A system like Cuba’s was carefully designed to spite all those efforts you turn to when power turns to brutality. Remember the powerlessness you feel in the face of cruelty when those ideals are dead. 

 

Tears fill my eyes with suffering in mind but fingers curl into fists with rage in spirit. I’m split between opposing worlds, each with its own reality. I’m surrounded by the unnoticed opulence of ever-present food while across the sea, power supersedes a million lives.

 

I lament the waste of unfree lives in one world and fight against unfree minds in another.

 

Horror seeps into my skin as an island goes silent, and yet to my left, the same censorship that can turn a country dark with a single decision spreads in the name of safety. I watch people with more freedom than the world has ever seen spit on the tools they now reach for to fight the outcome of ideas they advocate.

 

Freedom is the most powerful tool for truth because freedom cannot dictate.

 

A country can become a world unto itself if power shapes every aspect of human life. Power can create a world of walls and paths to nowhere; each turn is a dead end and every exit is a trapdoor. Power can create a world where every outcome is preordained, not by nature nor God, but by power itself.

 

Power can create a world where every step you take is accounted for and every adventure you seek lies just beyond the barbed wire. 

 

How can I live in two worlds—the self-inflicted chaos of an empire in decline and the system-imposed chaos of a dystopian disaster? I’m sick with schizophrenic emotion; empathy for people I’ve seen smile while standing in rubble and contempt for people who use freedom to beg for the system that has reduced people’s world to rubble.

 

The desperation of unfree people weighs like a curse upon the world, threatening a dark prophecy.

 

The helplessness you feel in watching parts of the world sink into blood and blackness is not to be ignored—it’s the cold panic of staring into the depths of a system that feeds itself on the annihilation of individuals.

 

Do what you must to assuage the anxiety of futility in the face of tyranny. Do what you can for those who have nothing left but the will for freedom. But don’t twist yourself any longer to defend the seeds of what always ends in blood. 

 

The individual matters more than those who fear him will tell you. One person can be a world that others reach for.

 

Be sure that world contains the tools you now grasp for in the face of sick power.

My mother retained what are more like nightmares than memories from her life in Cuba. She carries a pain that she will never be free of, but she is free nonetheless. I am the child of that freedom.

 

What can I do but continue? To write freely, to speak freely, to live so freely it fills the world with a scream for more.

If you watch freedom die, remember to live for it.

Share These Words

Written by Salomé Sibonex, 

July, 2021.

If You Watch Freedom Die

Read