In the long list of the words forbidden in my childhood, there were two in particular that were censored: ‚ÄúChristmas‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHuman Rights.‚ÄĚ The first I heard from time to time, in a whisper, from the lips of a grandmother who had known the trees with garlands, the traditional nougat candy and turkey. But the other, the second, was muttered disparagingly to allude to someone who — it was said — was involved in counterrevolutionary acts, enemies. And so I grew up, oblivious to the festivities of the last week of the year, and believing that evil lurked in that statement adopted by the United Nations. My compartmentalized vocabulary ended up conditioning me to a civic attitude full of fears and led me to fall into line with so many prohibitions.
This December the stores display twinkling lights and trees loaded with ornaments. A Santa Claus with hardly any belly smiles in the window of an important commercial center in the city. People run into each other and delight in every syllable of expressions such as ‚ÄúMerry Christmas‚ÄĚ; ‚ÄúI‚Äôm shopping for Christmas‚ÄĚ; ‚Äúdrop by to celebrate Christmas.‚ÄĚ The reduced vocabulary of my childhood has given back a word, a term cursed for decades. But my next door neighbor still says, ‚ÄúCareful, don‚Äôt get too close, they‚Äôre ‚Äėhuman rights people‚Äô.‚ÄĚ At some repudiation rally — across the country — someone might now scream, ‚ÄúDown with human rights!‚ÄĚ and the political police stationed on the corner confirm on their radios, ‚ÄúYes, here comes a little group of ‚ÄėHuman Righters’.‚ÄĚ And there‚Äôs always a friend who asks us to whisper, ‚Äúbecause if you‚Äôre going to mention such ‚Äėthings‚Äô it‚Äôs better to turn the music up.‚ÄĚ
A fake snow falls on the red Christmas hats, but a huge downpour dissolves it; the rain of intolerance, the big fat drops of the arrests, the gales created on this Island when someone dares to barely pronounce the phrase ‚Äúhuman rights.‚ÄĚ
Translator‚Äôs note: These photos from Havana are of the greeting in fireworks for Human Rights Day from a flotilla of Cuba exiles, who remained in international waters as they showed their support for Cubans on the island working for freedom and democracy.