Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Battered Wife Syndrome

Not too long ago, Humberto Fontova jokingly used this term to describe the press’ relationship to the regime. I was reminded of it when I read this article at the Chicago Tribune website today about the “wait and see” attitude many, inside Cuba and out, are taking to the new face of the same old regime. Despite being pretty wide ranging, there were some golden nuggets, one in particular, hit me: (my boldface)

While some citizens have expressed their displeasure at the slow pace of change, including an exchange between university students and Cuban officials that showed up on YouTube, conversations on the street and U.S. analysts indicate that many suffer from a sort of Castro fatigue, the result of five decades of authoritarian rule that stifles aspirations for change.

So to Battered Wife Syndrome we can now add Castro Fatigue, a real phenomenon. What are the contributing factors? There is the very real physical fear. Even as the ink on those two human rights accords the misgovernment recently signed dried, dissidents were being beaten. Political prisoners convicted of “pre-criminal dangerousness” languished in conditions that make a resort spa of the American prison in Guantanamo. There is also the range of more subtle repercussions, like job loss, loss of rations, the inability of your children to get in certain programs, etc….

Then there is the subsistence anxiety. Like the political progeny of Josef Stalin that they are, the regime has figured out that people who spend their lives trying to acquire enough to eat have little time or energy to worry about abstractions like their rights. Remember Maslow’s triangle? To its credit, this preoccupation with the necessities of daily life is one that the report raises, quoting Martha Beatriz Roque:

"The Cuban people are very tired," Roque said. "The Cuban is worried about the problems that fall on him every day: a missing cord for electricity, a missing pipe for the sink. There isn't enough for anything else."

Of course, this could also be a happy accident of the regime’s mismanagement of the economy.

There’s another factor, though, not mentioned in the article. One can only imagine the effect of being bombarded by propaganda that denies your reality. Up is down; down is up. Bad is good; good is bad. Language loses meaning, and the reference posts human beings normally use to measure what is real are upended.

So is Castro fatigue a mass version of battered wife syndrome? It starts slowly; take away rich people’s belongings, the first slap. Close down a few newspapers, the slap that wasn’t going to happen again. Before you know it, you live in a prison. Little by little, you’ve closed door upon door in your mind. You’ve adjusted, learned to resolver. So intent are you just on surviving, you no longer know how the rest of the world lives. Their experience has no bearing on your reality. In the end, you look like Hedda Nussbaum and don’t even know it.

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