Psychologists agree on the definition of fear as an unpleasant feeling of perceiving imminent danger or anticipating it in advance. They have names for it: agoraphobia, claustrophobia, acrophobia, fear of loneliness, of strangers, darkness, death or castration. Faced with the fear, they explain, people fight, flee or become paralyzed.
I know many people traumatized by some fear. There is the one who was trapped in an elevator and will never ride in one again, the one who got an electrical shock and will not go near a power cord, the one who was bitten by a dog and fears the sound of barking. As Bernard Shaw said, “How little the surprise of the first shock mattered compared to the dread and horror of waiting for the second.” But there are worse cowards, those who hear the stories of being trapped, electrocuted or bitten and always take the stairs, who watch out for outlets and snouts. This is the fear of those who learn their lessons through the trauma of others.
You can be certain that in Cuba the vast majority of the people living on the island have never suffered on their own flesh direct repression by the government. A few have been taken to Villa Marista*, and many have even been visited and warned not to misbehave. Most people have not been dismissed from their jobs, or expelled from school because of their political views. In a tiny proportion of cases people have been refused permission to leave, and only 0.002% of the population is in prison on the grounds of conscience. The number of people who have been beaten or insulted at a rally is so small, compared to the atrocities in Rwanda, the abuses in the Gaza strip, or the outrages in Iraq, that it’s almost painful to denounce it.
Why then does an index finger cross the lips, eyes widen, or a look of horror reflect on the faces of my friends, when at their houses I commit the indiscretion of making a political comment within earshot of the neighbors? We already know where those who fight in the face of fear are; from those who fled we receive postcards and remittances; and the paralyzed are all around us, waiting to see what the brave ones do.
Villa Marista is a prison in Havana.