Measuring Hopelessness / Yoani Sanchez
Yoani Sanchez, El Pais, 12 February 2017 — Statistics are
deceiving. They only reflect measurable values, tangible
realities. International agencies cram us with numbers that measure
development, life expectancy or educational attainment, but seldom
succeed in grading dissatisfaction, fear, and discouragement. Frequently
in their reports they describe a Latin America and its inhabitants
encased in a fog of digits.
This year the region will have weak growth of 1.3%, according to
forecasts by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
(ECLAC). A data point that barely manages to transmit the scope of lives
that will be ruined by the region’s sluggish progress. Unfinished
projects and a long string of social dramas will be accentuated in many
of these countries in the coming months. The breeding ground from which
However, the major drama remains the lack of horizons formillions of
people on this side of the planet
A Haitian who risks crossing the jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap to reach
the United States is driven not only by the miserable conditions of life
in her country, the destruction left by natural phenomena or the
repeated epidemics that cost thousands of lives. The most powerful
engine that moves her is hopelessness, the conviction that in her own
country she will never have new opportunities.
Seeing no end to violence pushes other Central Americans to escape their
countries. In several of these nations gangs have become an enthroned
evil, corruption has corroded the internal scaffolding of institutions
and politicians go from one scandal to the next. Discouragement then
prompts a response quite different from that generated by indignation.
While the latter may push people to rebel, the former pushes them to escape.
Meanwhile, on this Caribbean island, millions of human beings ruminate
over their own disappointment. For decades Cubans fled because of
political persecution, economic problems and weariness. Until 12 January
2017, that generalized choking sensation had a relief valve called the
wet-foot/dry-foot policy, but President Barack Obama closed it a few
days before finishing his second term.
The most staunch critics of that migratory privilege say that it
encouraged desertions and illegal exits. Some people also criticized its
unjust character in that it benefitted and offered entitlements to
people who were not escaping war, genocide or a natural disaster. They
forget, among these arguments, that discouragement also deserves to be
taken into account and computed in any formula that tries to decipher
the massive flight that affects a nation.
A similar error has been committed by agencies such as the FAO, UNHCR or
ECLAC, all of which specialize in measuring parameters such as the
number of daily calories ingested, the effect of climate change on human
displacements, or the percentage decrease in a nation’s GDP. Their
reports and statements never evaluate the energy that accumulates under
frustration, the weight of disappointment or the impotence reflected in
When more than three generations of individuals have lived under a
political and economic system that does not evolve or progress, there is
a conviction among them that this situation is eternal and
immutable. They no longer see any horizon and the idea that nothing can
be done to change the status quo becomes rooted in their minds. By
now, many of those born in Cuba after January 1959 have grown up with
the conviction that everything had already been done by others who
That explains why a young man who had recently slept under a roof in
Havana, who had access to a limited but adequate amount of food through
the rationed market and who spent his long free hours on a park bench,
launched himself into the sea on a raft, at the mercy of the winds and
sharks. The lack of prospects is also behind the large number of
migrants from the island, in recent years, who have ended up in the
hands of human traffickers in Colombia, Panama or Mexico.
Washington not only cut an escape path, but the White House’s decision
ended up deepening the depression that comes from the chronic absence of
dreams that characterizes our country. The Cuban Adjustment Act, enacted
in 1966, is still in effect for those who can prove they are politically
persecuted, but the most widespread feeling among potential migrants is
that they have lost a last chance to reach a future.
However, this undermining of illusion has little chance of being
transformed into rebellion. The theory of the social pressure cooker and
the idea that Obama closed the escape valve so that the fire of internal
austerity and repression will make it explode is a nice metaphor; but it
misses several key ingredients, among them the resignation that
overcomes individuals subjected to realities that appear unchangeable.
The belief that nothing can be done and nothing will change continues to
be the principle stimulus, in these areas, to lift one’s anchor and
depart for any other corner of the planet. The pot will not explode with
a sea of people in the streets bringing down Raul Castro’s government
while singing hymns on that dreamed of “D-Day” that so many are tired of
Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act
like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience
is hypnotized are mistaken. The cancellation of this policy of benefits
in the United States is not enough to create citizens here at home.
A new bureaucratic barrier is a small thing to those who believe that
they have reached their own glass ceiling and that in their homeland
they have nothing left to do. This quiet conviction will never appear in
tables, bar charts or schemes with which specialists will explain the
causes of exodus and displacement. But ignorance of it means the
specialists will never understand such a prolonged escape.
Far from the reports and statistics that everyone wants to explain,
hopelessness will take Cuban migrants to other places, re-orient their
route to new destinations. In distant latitudes, communities will
flourish that will dine on their usual dish of rice and beans and
continue to say the word “chico” before many of their phrases. They will
be the ones who will let drop small tear when they see on a map that
long and narrow land where they had their roots, but in which they could
never bear fruit.
Source: Measuring Hopelessness / Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba –