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Cuba

Christmas Card From Cuba: Thaw Delivers Santa Claus, But Not Human Rights

Essay: A dissident blogger recalls the secret Christmas of her youth. The holidays are now acknowledged out in the open, but the other troublesome topic -- human rights -- is still off limits.

The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
Yoani Sánchez

HAVANAOf all the naughty words and phrases I remember from childhood, two stood out as being particularly taboo: "Christmas' and "Human Rights."

I remember hearing the first occasionally, but only in a hushed voice. It was something a grandmother might mention from time to time, someone who'd once had the experience of decorated trees, Christmas sweets and turkey. But the second of those off-limits words, when acknowledged at all, was muttered with contempt – to allude to our so-called enemies: people who were said to be involved in counterrevolutionary acts.

That's how I grew up, far from the end-of-year festivities enjoyed in so many other countries and believing that evil lurked behind the U.N."s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My limited vocabulary was evidence of how I'd been conditioned to be full of fears and to accept restriction after restriction.

This December, the shops are adorned with flashing lights and trees brimming with decorations. A rather slim Santa Claus smiles through a store window in a major Havana shopping mall. When people meet up with each other they casually say things like "Merry Christmas," or "I'm out doing my Christmas shopping," or "Come on over to the house to celebrate Christmas."

The "human rights crowd"

Yes, Christmas – considered for decades to be a bad word – has made its way back into the island's general vocabulary. But that same neighbor who might invite you over for a Christmas meal may also tell you: "Watch out. Don't get too close to those people. They're part of the human rights crowd."

At some protest rally somewhere on the island, the mention of "human rights' will still prompt the political policeman stationed on the corner to mummer into his radio: "Yes, here come some of those people from the Human Rights faction." We all have a friend still who tells us to keep our voices down, saying "if you're going to talk about that kind of ‘stuff," it's better to turn the music up."

A hypothetical snow has begun falling on our red Christmas caps. But before it even has time to collect, it's being washed away by the same tropical downpour of intolerance and arrests that has swamped Cuba for decades and that blows the breath right back into the mouths of anyone who dares utter the words "human rights."

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Photo - Leshaines123

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Visiting Paris on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksïï Reznikov recalled that a year ago, the United States had refused him ground-air Stinger missiles deliveries. Eleven months later, Washington is delivering heavy tanks, in addition to everything else. The 'no' of yesterday is the green light of tomorrow: this is the lesson that the very pragmatic minister seemed to learn.

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