Opinion — How Cuba’s investment in writers and artists came back to haunt its regime
By Carlos Manuel Álvarez
November 11, 2022
Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a Cuban author and journalist.
In Cuba, hundreds of innocent people are in prison today because they dared to demand freedom a year ago. The “lucky” ones — including Washington Post Opinions contributor Abraham Jiménez Enoa and art historian Carolina Barrero, the subjects of our short documentary above — were forced out of their own country.
This is how Cuban authorities are reestablishing control after the events of July 11, 2021, when frustration with food and medicine shortages, covid-19 and decades of tyranny sparked the biggest anti-government protests in a generation. Police snuffed out the calls for democracy within a few days. Now, judges are banishing dissidents for up to 25 years behind bars.
[Read Abraham’s reporting / Leer las columnas de Abraham]
When I contacted Barrero late last year to produce a video about the unrest, I never expected to interview her in person. She was in Havana. I was in Copenhagen. We had just spent a week trying to set up a Zoom call — something the Cuban internet infrastructure turns into a technical nightmare. But then I received a message from her friend saying Barrero had been arrested for protesting the crackdown on July 11 activists. A few days later, she was exiled by her own government. Leave — or else, authorities told her.
Barrero left. As did Jiménez Enoa and many others. So I booked a ticket to Spain to film them in the early stages of exile.
[David Hoffman: Oswaldo Payá’s struggle for a free Cuba / La lucha de Oswaldo Payá por una Cuba libre]
I originally set out to explain the tactics the Cuban government has used to keep its population in check for more than half a century. I do that with this short film. But in meeting Barrero and Jiménez Enoa, the conceptual story became a personal one. They were told they are not wanted by their own country because they need to speak and write freely, to not be persecuted, arrested or tortured for demanding basic rights. This video exposes the propaganda machine that sold Cubans and the world a lie about Castro’s revolution, and the costs of correcting the record.