a poem by Aurora Levins Morales
Imagine you live in a country that has broken free from five centuries of being ruled by others, where the mansions and country clubs have been turned into schools, hospitals, research centers, a country run, at last, for the people who live there. A place where, in the rich soil of solidarity, of all being in it together, creativity flourishes and solutions are found, because in your country you have the will, and you have each other. Imagine loving this country with all your heart, no matter how much you complain about having to stand in lines.
Imagine this beloved country is under endless attack by ex-masters from the colonial days. Imagine they try to cut you off from food, medicine,fuel, tools--that anything they can do to make you suffer for the insolence of declaring your independence, they do. Imagine your country is barricaded, blocked, besieged to keep you from exporting your most dangerous product to the poor people of the continent: hope. Imagine your poets sing that what burns with its own light cannot be extinguished, that it shines into the darkness of other shores.
Imagine every embezzling politician, every death squad commander, every coup-plotting colonel, every kingpin, every latifundista and monopolista on the continent knows this, every agent of foreign interests with contracts for mineral rights, every CIA trained diplomat with shares in the privatization of absolutely everything knows this, and desperately wants to extinguish that light.
Imagine that any day of the week your country is assaulted by gangs of dispossessed thugs from your nation's prehistory, yesterday's crime lords and opportunists, furious at no longer being able to rake it in, who set up camp in the ex-masters' patio where they are always amply supplied with cash, weapons and advice. Imagine they bomb your hotels, drop epidemics from the sky, blow up your airplanes. Imagine they murder young teachers who go out into the countryside to give the alphabet to those who grew up too poor to read. Imagine them dreaming of the day they can take back the family estates, and make your children shine their shoes for the price of a piece of bread. Imagine that independence, in this time and place, means daily danger.
Imagine your brother, your lover, your cousin, your neighbor, your best friend, who love you, and love the possibilities of this country, risk their lives and their happiness, leave their land and go infiltrate this criminal gang, to find out what's being planned and prevent harm, to stop them. Because the government of the ex-masters won't do it, although these thugs break every law in the book and boast of it strolling down Main Street. Imagine these five men scrupulously pass on what they learn to the ex-master government as well as their own, even though they know the thugs will continue to be armed, funded and exonerated by their hosts.
Imagine that these brave, well-loved men are seized, put in prison, deprived of daylight, confined to solitary for months on end in violation of regulations and decency, and accused of treachery, of spying on the nation, of endangering the security of an empire. Imagine them tried by the closest associates of the very people they tried to stop from killing you. Imagine day after day the court denies them any semblance of a just trial, inflicting punishments, refusing hearings, dismissing evidence, doing what they set out to do from the start without regard to what's true. Imagine them denied the right to be visited by their wives, by their children growing up without them.
Imagine your brother, your lover, your cousin, your neighbor, your best friend, whose only crime was trying to protect you from ruthless people, who did nothing but gather information about real terrorists who randomly murder civilians because they want to be kings again. Imagine them sitting in the dark for a year at a time. Imagine them singing to themselves in the dark remembering the sunlight on your face and all the people who can read now and go to doctors and study as much as they want.
Imagine there is no visa that will take you to the room where you can place your hand on one side of the glass matching finger to finger the hands of these men on the other, so you paint their faces on every wall and demand of the world that they be freed, work day and night to get them back. Years pass and the parents grow old and die, the children grow up and go to college, the landscape changes without them, but you don't stop. You name them every day, on every corner, and you call out to people everywhere in the world to name them and argue for them and work to get them back.
Now imagine what it means when in the very heart of that country that has stolen these men you love, the people who live there stand in front of those prisons in your place. Imagine people in this foreign land, where your heroes sleep behind bars, stand up and speak their names, collect money for their lawyers, write letters, make statements, write articles, shout at their own government, go on television and radio, hand out leaflets, do internet campaigns, tell this story, insist they must be released.
There is no visa that will take you to them, but there is a love that flows from these people standing at the gates, that seeps under the locked doors and down harshly lit corridors and reaches them, breathing of freedom. You have not yet won them the freedom of an open door and a street of smiling neighbors and their own land under their feet, but you know that there is another freedom no jailer can keep from them. You know that the courage of their hearts, the clarity of their minds, their uncrushed spirits in the face of a seemingly endless injustice are nourished by these voices outside the walls, magnified and passed from hand to hand. The rallies, the benefits, the posters, the songs, each act matters.
Everything you imagined is real. The five beloved men are named Gerardo, René, Ramon, Antonio and Fernando. You are the person living in the heart of that nation. You are the one that can stand before the gates. There is a reason the rulers of your state want these five men broken. They want the light extinguished. They want hope hidden from view. They do not want people dreaming about taking their countries into their own hands. When you stand at the gates of the prison where these men are locked away, you stand at the door of your own cell. Come, put your hand up to the bullet proof glass. Match your fingers to their fingers. Match dreams. Watch what grows between your hands. It burns with its own light.
This work is copyrighted, and licensed under the Creative Commons. It may be quoted, published in newsletters and on websites, performed live and recorded anywhere on earth in support of the Cuban Five as long as the author’s name and url are included. For all other rights, contact the author.