You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2008.
One month after the inauguration of Raúl Castro as president of the Councils of State and Government, we all remember that day, in his inaugural address, still as the second secretary of the party, when he announced that “in the coming weeks” they would start phasing out some prohibitions, and in particular those that had been put into practice with the objective of minimizing the social differences that had surfaced in the 1990s…
Though not wanting to assume the role of a prosecutor, I see myself obliged to acknowledge that he has not exactly delivered on his promise. In its place a new prohibition has emerged, one that touches me personally: Readers who connect to the internet from Cuba are forbidden to access independent blogs created in Cuba.
Guided by my better instincts, I would like to believe that what they tell me isn’t true; that what really happened was that there was a technical glitch in the government server, ETESCA, which is the information service provider for the international press accredited in the country, and for the many users who are foreign residents. If I thought that this glitch was a deliberate decision to deny readers who live on island access to independent people’s opinions, unrelated to the government, then I would have the right to feel seriously offended in my dual position as reader and writer of blogs.
What strikes me is that whoever imposes a measure of this nature lacks the personal courage to take public responsibility for it. To think that someone feels so powerful, so drunk on authority, that they could do something like this without explanation. From the shadows, like someone who commits a crime. The treachery is greater when the prohibition is imposed exactly at those moments when people, believing the official pronouncements, are expecting changes in the direction of permitting, not prohibiting. Could it be that someone on an intermediate step wants to sabotage the people’s trust in their leaders?
I would be more likely to believe this latter possibility if, in the course of the previous weeks (which were once the weeks to come), they had sold some banned article, or had given permission to buy cars, to leave the country freely, to buy a mobile phone contract, to have a license to be a clown, or any of these trivialities that we are waiting for with so much optimism.
One of the warnings that party ideologues resort to over and over again, is that the most desired goal, both for internal opponents as well as those in exile, is a return to the past and, they emphasize, to a shameful past.
Clearly the license provided political discourse allows the use of certain metaphors, for example the use of the adjective ‘eternal’ (which had no beginning and will have no end) to specific historical situations, such as the Communist party, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolutions, or to describe the legacy that somebody imposes on us. But the metaphor has its limits within the language. For that reason it is not acceptable to put a warrior in a cage with raw meat and metaphorically tell us that he is a lion, just as it is inadmissible to jail, suppress or defame a political opponent because he is accused of plotting to return to the past.
There are things from the past that return, such as songs, haircuts, the length and width of clothes, but an entire nation, an island inhabited by 11 million human beings, cannot go back in time. We can’t say let’s go back fifty or a hundred years, not even a fraction of a second.
In Cuba, when one speaks of “the past” one is referring in particular to the few years of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. If the tyrant hadn’t died long ago, if in reality he had stayed hidden somewhere, if he had the resources to return and reassume his dictatorship, it would be very difficult to overthrow him again. For starters, because no one would be able to rent the Siboney farm as a gathering place for the assailants of the Moncada barracks, nor could they buy rifles from the gunsmiths of Havana, nor would it be possible to stay in hotels in Santiago, or to book passage for so many men on the same date. And even if all that could be accomplished, I very much doubt that the participants in the attack would be sentenced to 15, 13 and 10 years, reduced to the 22 months that those young men actually served in prison. Not to mention organizing an uprising in those mountains, today crossed with roads and with the accumulated experience in fighting counterinsurgencies. It’s absurd to think about it.
What is behind the metaphor of “return to the past” is simply to introduce in Cuba the system that functions on the rest of the planet, even in nations such as China or Vietnam that have reformed their modes of production, or in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador where they wave the banners of socialism. (Will it not be those who want to return to the past?)
In the 1980s, a slogan filled the streets of the cities: “The future belongs entirely to socialism.” Today we know that the future belongs to no one, other than our children and grandchildren. Between fear of the future and panic about the past, the Cuban leadership class clings to a present that it tries to prolong, but the sun, indifferent to the political will of men, rises every day from the horizontal to dry, on our balconies, the diapers worn by those who will be the men and women of modern times. They will live in a completely different country. Nobody has the power to prevent it.
Among the most remarkable peculiarities of the revolutionary liturgy are the anniversary celebrations of dates considered to be glorious. Over time, and thanks to the existence of a bureaucratic structure within the Party in charge of keeping the sacraments of events and their apostles, the custom has formed to give more relevance to what are called, in the slang of journalists and employees of the propaganda apparatus, “closed anniversaries.” These are the dates that end in a five or a zero. Pure Kabbalah, or perhaps numerology. Who knows.
In January 2008, the newspaper Granma published, for several days, a two page calendar showing the most important celebrations with “closed anniversaries” for the whole year. Out of pure boredom, I studied this guide to historic commemorations at length and several absences caught my attention. Here, I will only comment on one, which takes into account the day I am writing this entry: The fortieth anniversary of the March 13, 1968 launching of the “Revolutionary Offensive.” That night, at the podium that was placed on the steps of the University of Havana to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the assault on the Presidential Palace, Fidel Castro announced that from that moment on all establishments remaining in private hands would be nationalized. Stated in this way it seems like an element of any revolution. But everything depends on what is meant by “establishment.”
At dawn the next day the State closed and confiscated all the corner stores, hardware stores, kiosks, fast food stands, ice cream carts, car repairs, tire repairs and, although now no one wants to believe it, everything else right up to the shoeshine stands which then were proper chairs or benches with two places. For many of the analysts and scholars of the Cuban approach, this “Revolutionary Offensive” means nothing more nor less than the very end of the Cuban Revolution, not because it was later overturned but because after that there was nothing more to do, from the point of view of changing the things of the capitalist past.
In parallel with the massive confiscation of the timbiriches,* and on behalf of the revolutionary purity and slow-witted stoicism of those who were determined to build the New Man, the closure of all bars and nightclubs in the country was also decreed. As the timely Carlos Puebla had always predicted: “The fun is over: The Commander arrived and ordered it to stop.”*
I don’t want to use this space to chronicle these facts that were so painful and devastating, as much for the economy as for individuals and for the national culture. I prefer to limit myself to the question of why the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of this date has received not a single notice from official sources, not even a mention as an error that has been overcome.
I would like to believe that this veiled and silent condemnation to oblivion is the beginning of a self-criticism or at least a kind of permission to talk about the subject without extolling it. I would like to believe it because, as long as events such as these are not publicly noted in the annals of history, we will be in danger of repeating them. What I mean to say is, they are in danger of repeating them and we are at risk of once again becoming the victims.
Carlos Puebla (1917-1989) was a Cuban songwriter. The phrase is from a song praising Fidel for putting an end to Cuba’s problems, Y en eso llego Fidel, (And Then Came Fidel). It is available on YouTube.
Timbiriche is such a great word that it deserves to stand untranslated. It means “a very modest joint” of any kind. About 55,000 timbiriches were confiscated as part of the “Revolutionary Offensive” announced on 13 March 1968.