The Young Cuban Who's Bringing Activism In Line With The Revolution

Morning Edition host David Greene talks to Melissa Block about his recent reporting trip to Cuba. Specifically, he speaks about a young man named Isbel Diaz Torres, a new kind of Cuban activist. Greene argues that Torres' interests serve to extend Cuba's socialist revolution, rather than oppose it.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Our Morning Edition colleague, David Greene, just spent a week in Cuba. There's been talk of change on the island for years now, but the Castros still stifle political dissent. Wages are stunningly low. David went there to get a sense of whether Cubans are growing impatient and to understand how they've adjusted to this uncertainty. He joins me now from Miami. David, welcome.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And today, you're going to bring us the story of one Cuban man you met. His name is Isbel Diaz Torres. What got you interested in him, and why do you think his story is important?

GREENE: Well, he's 38 years old, Melissa. And he is part of a group called the Critical Observatory. They're kind of a network of organizations of people who want to talk about politics and have a political dialogue. And what really interested me - I mean, when you think about, and when we talk about countries like Cuba, like Russia, where I was based for NPR for a few years, often I think there can be this tempting narrative that these countries are just on this inevitable path to, you know, one day have an American style of democracy. And it's just not necessarily where countries like this are going. And Isbel, you know, he's a socialist, which means he's really, ideologically, an ally of the Castros. But he is critical of the current government in Cuba. He doesn't think they allow free expression or freedom of the press. And so he's sort of followed by the government. They don't let him speak openly. And we met in this park in Havana. And he said it's the kind of place that he often goes with his friends to talk about politics.

DIAZ TORRES: We face the risk of receiving these kind of visitors, you know, that we don't like. People of the security trying to record or just to listen what we are talking about.

BLOCK: So David, he's saying that people from the security system within Cuba are trying to record their conversations.

GREENE: He's followed all the time. So much so that he recognizes some of the security officials that often come and record him and watch his every move. So it was really a story that struck me, especially when it comes to him trying so hard to get his message out in this environment. He writes. He'll send his writing out to be published on the Internet. His audience, Melissa, he admitted, not very big - in part because a lot of people in Cuba don't have access to the Internet, including, often, him. I mean, he said he's not able to always get online and see what he's written.

TORRES: I do see it, sometimes. We find ways to have some money to pay. And we go to these offices, and we can access to Internet now. But that's very recent.

GREENE: And you can a hotel - right? - and pay to use the Internet if you...

TORRES: Yes. Yes, we can go to a hotel and do that. It's very expensive for us - very. It varies, but a WiFi connection is about $8 per hour. Which is...

GREENE: Eight dollars for an hour of Internet...

TORRES: Yes.

GREENE: We should say, in a country where a lot of people make wages of about $30 in a month, which gives you an idea, I guess, of...

TORRES: Yes, yes. You know, I receive $15 a month for my work.

GREENE: We were sitting there with his boyfriend. We should say, Melissa, he is gay, which is another challenge for him. You know, Cuba has become much more open to same-sex couples. But, you know, he said that he and his boyfriend are often stopped on the streets by police - not for their political conversation, but because they're gay

BLOCK: David, when you and I were chatting earlier, you mentioned to me that Isbel had just spent a month in the United States. How did that happen? Is he free to travel?

GREENE: You know, it's becoming much easier for Cubans to go to the United States, in his case, for, you know, a conference, this time. So that wasn't the hard part. The hard part, Melissa, was when he arrived back home in Havana. He ran into trouble at the airport. I mean, he was stopped. He had his cell phone taken away from him. He had a book he was reading taken away from him. And with all of that, I asked Isbel, is there time when you're just going to want to get out of Cuba and defect? And here's what he said.

TORRES: I think my duty is here. But not only my duty, you know, my people, my boyfriend, and my mother, and my family and the people I love is here. So I think I should stay here. I like to stay here. I want to stay here.

GREENE: And so he's really adjusted to this life right now. And, you know, there could be big changes coming in Cuba at some point. The embargo could, one day, end. You know, the Castros might be gone. But as the future kind of gets figured out in this country, he's the kind of person I'm going to keep my eye on.

BLOCK: That's our Morning Edition colleague David Greene with one of the voices he heard during a week of reporting in Cuba. David, thanks so much.

GREENE: Great to be with you, Melissa.

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