Dictators often live in a bubble. They believe that they are beloved by their people, feared by their enemies and, above all, indispensable to society. That bubble has just been burst in Cuba for the Castro brothers.
The Miami-based polling firm Bendixen & Aman di International recently conducted the first independent, nationwide survey in Cuba in more than half a century: In all, 1,200 people, from every province in the nation, responded to more than 70 questions. The poll – commissioned by the networks where I work, Univision and Fusion, and The Washington Post – presents a portrait of life under the Castro dictatorship that’s unfiltered by government propaganda or the experiences of Cubans who fled the island.
Respondents to the poll remained anonymous – no records of names, phone numbers or addresses were kept. Teams conducted on-the-ground interviews during 10 days in March with no government involvement. “We didn’t ask for permission,” Fernand Amandi, a pollster and managing partner at Bendixen & Amandi, told me recently. “We just finished three surveys in Mexico, and we didn’t ask [President Enrique] Peña Nieto for permission there, either. But in Cuba we were afraid of being discovered and stopped and about the people we were interviewing being detained.”
One of the poll’s more revealing findings was that most Cubans live in fear. Three out of four Cubans said that they were afraid to freely express their ideas in public. Of course, this is not too astonishing given that democracy and multiparty elections are nonexistent in Cuba, and crackdowns against political dissidents are very much a reality.
With regard to the country’s leadership, nearly half of those polled said that they had a negative opinion about President Raul Castro, and half had a negative opinion of Fidel Castro. “The survey shows that people are hungry for total and radical change,” Amandi told me.
That’s certainly not something a dictator wants to hear.
In addition to political change, 79% of Cubans rejected their economic system. Cubans want what everyone else wants: better jobs and opportunities (a third of Cubans depend on remittances from abroad); better access to the Internet (only 16% of Cubans currently have reliable access); and – surprise! – the ability to leave the island. Fifty-five percent said they would rather live elsewhere. (To be fair, if you asked the same question in Venezuela, Mexico or Honduras, you would get similarly high figures.)
With regard to the United States, 80% of respondents said that they had a positive view of President Obama, and 96% said that the American trade embargo of the island should not continue.
Cuban officials will probably lambaste this poll as propaganda perpetrated by the United States or, worse, label it as a slander campaign orchestrated by the CIA. However, whether the Castros like it or not, it spotlights what people actually think about the Cuban dictatorship from within, and indicates that the seams are bursting. Perhaps this is why the Castros haven’t allowed a public poll to be conducted for 55 years. But these leaders should keep in mind that when it comes to political change, there’s little that can stop an idea from progressing when the time is right.
THE BRAVERY OF “THE EXES”
When you are an “ex,” you sometimes dare to do things you were unable to do before. Take the 25 ex-presidents of Latin American nations who signed a letter denouncing the “crisis of democracy” in Venezuela, in advance of the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights are being violated under the regime of Nicolas Maduro, and the world should be alarmed, they declared. Unfortunately, many of these exes, while they were in office, never dared raise their voices against Maduro, or the late Hugo Chavez. Their intentions now are good, but it’s a shame that most of these ex-presidents shied away from criticizing Venezuela during earlier summits. This is a familiar strategy, however.
The same thing happened with regard to decriminalizing marijuana. Uruguay’s Jose Mujica was the only president who has dared expressed support for this idea while still in office. Everybody else came too late to the party: Colombia’s Cesar Gaviria, Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mexico’s Vicente Fox all waited until they left the office to voice their support for easing drug laws. It’s sad that these presidents have to leave their posts in order to say what they really think.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”