Cubans and brainwashing: Here, there and everywhere

By José Manuel Pallí, Esq.

I once asked my dad why he had left Cuba in 1960, when I was eight years old. His answer, as that of many Cuban dads of his generation, was: “Because of you and your (two years younger) brother”, followed by a very rare expletive (he never minced words but he always avoided expletives).

As luck would have it, I escaped indoctrination by Cuba’s revolutionary crew, only to fall into the hands of the true masters of indoctrination, the Brits, at a private school in Buenos Aires. Six years later, when I first visited London and felt as if I had finally found my spot under the sun, I realized how thorough a job they had done on my young mind and soul.

I have always wondered what those Cuban kids who grew up chanting “we will be like Ché” made up of that goal; would they see themselves as the ice cold killing machine Ché bragged a revolutionary like him should be, or as the hyper-empathetic dreamer of a better world some people make of him.

I need not wonder what the priorities of many of my friends and neighbors who grew up in the midst of our consumer society are; I only need to look around.

It was in London that I first heard a joke about an American couple back home after a trip to Europe, who were not quite sure if they had visited Brussels; the wife says: “we did, honey; that’s where I bought the little scissors shaped like a stork”…

These last few days the theme of indoctrination or “brain-washing” has been recurrently on my mind. How can we otherwise explain the by now usual lines formed through the night at the doors of stores selling the “new” IPhone, or the cowardly massacre at a luxury shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where, had this been “safari high season”, there would have been a significant number of tourists making an almost obligatory stop at the upscale mall on their way to the wildlife parks. A story, this last one, that brings together tourists who, back home, spend a lot of time in similar malls, packed with the very same stores and the same superfluous stuff, but who are conditioned not to miss the chance of leaving a mark of their presence in Nairobi by purchasing their own little scissors, and a group of callous terrorists whose brains have been thoroughly washed and their hearts methodically ironed to perfection.

Or how can one explain the sudden proliferation among us of people like Ted Cruz and the gang of neophytes (in Congress and in life at large, it seems) that, safe from any re-election concerns because their districts are inhabited by a sufficient majority of brainwashed zealots, can display their own zealotry at the expense of us all?

And now comes the Pope with his barrage on the evils of a globalized financial system, one he sees as built around a throw-away mentality that has gone from throwing away “things” — shades of Wall-E, an animated movie hit not too long ago, long forgotten by now — to discarding people, a la Tea Party, a tribe of true believers in the “looking out for Number One” motto that some want to replace our God-centered national motto with.

I think what the Pope is trying to tell us is that you do not need to live under an authoritarian political regime, chanting slogans, to be indoctrinated or brainwashed. The best among brain washing products are subliminal in nature.

A friend of mine is a true believer in the superior nature of a species of human being he calls the ‘rational, self-interested, homo economicus’.  He even defines human rights simply by their ability to fulfill the expectations of that kind of man’s rational interests, what some call “the pursuit of happiness”.

I bet the Pope would disagree with my friend in some important ways; their views on mankind seem to be far apart. Of course, the Pope (and his Boss) look more into the hearts and souls of men — hardly ever on display in the windows of any shopping mall — than into their rationality, as manifested in their selfish interests and buying habits.

By the way, if there is one thing ALL of us Cubans need is to have friends who think differently than we do, whose worldview is different from ours, and who we can still call friends and interact with, debating those different ideas of ours. Sadly enough, politicians like Ted Cruz — who wants to be Tom Cruise, the “hero” from Mission Impossible, it seems — personify what my friend, the expert in the different varieties of men, will probably call “the rational, self-interested homo politicus cubanus-americanus.” This species is able to self-delude himself through the kind of wishful thinking (specially visible in his/her attitude towards our policies regarding Cuba) that makes you believe everything is possible, and that you do not need any friends to accomplish it. So he just sticks to his routine of deceiving himself into believing the “arguments” he then tries to deceive us with, imposing those arguments on us if necessary. No need for any debate. He already knows what’s good for the rest of us, so why ask us?

But I am not ready to give up on the many specimens of homo politicus cubanus-americanus around us, irrational and selfish as they occasionally may be. I would be surprised to find out that they are any less brainwashed than their sloganeering peers in Cuba, though. Their tea-induced blabbering includes plenty of foolish slogans of their own. Still, I want to be able to talk to them and treat them as valued friends, not as the morons they so often seem to be. Which means I need to remind myself not to call them other than my fellow Cubans, or Cuban-Americans.

Because, you see, I also need to find an answer to what seremos como el Ché means …  And if I were to start my conversation with the pioneritos from my own age group by calling them comunistas de m…. , that would be a serious non-starter, don’t you think?

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached a

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