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Someday it might be worthwhile to analyze in great detail the enormous responsibility Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez had in the emotional sustenance of this historical phenomenon called “the Cuban Revolution,” particularly if we take into account the lack of theoretical fundamentals and the poverty of material results that would justify the affiliation based on conviction or convenience. The undeniable emotional connection, inside and outside Cuba, with the socialist utopia can only be justified through poetry. And that is what they provided.
How many people climbed onto a truck to perform volunteer work humming the song, Suppose? How many blasted away with their guns in Angola or Ethiopia recalling The Song of the Chosen One, who was killing the bastards with his canon of the future? How many others, trembling with nostalgia, decided not to desert while listening to Yolanda or The Brief Space Where You Are Not?
Not that Pablo and Silvia have announced they will found an opposition party. It’s not about that. A politician can even move to the opposite side; but a poet cannot change a comma to a metaphor. Neither a flight like that of General Rafael del Pino*, nor a desertion like that of Alcibíades Hidalgo*, former deputy foreign minister, can provoke, in the now shattered hearts of an entire generation, the devastating effects of even the slightest hint of passion in a poet’s voice.
Gone are the days of The New School*, a victim of our stubborn reality. Once the nation was left dependent on the dollars brought in by tourists, songs with complex lyrics were displaced by the fast-paced music that filled the discotheques where people paid in foreign currency. The syncopated pelvis of a hooker, crammed into florescent Lycra, rudely eclipsed the intelligent smile of that ballad-loving girl who went to bed for free.
At almost the same time that they stopped composing glorious songs, that theater-of-the-grotesque Roundtable* appeared, with Randy Alonso* filling the shoes of Silvio Rodríguez. On occasion they even have a certain physical resemblance. We must be patient. I am sure that in the Cuba of the future Silvio and Pablo could keep filling theaters and selling records. What my fantasy can’t quite visualize is what kind of circus Randy could work in even if, this very afternoon, he too began to change his stripes.
General Rafael del Pino: Joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement in 1955 and eventually became deputy chief of the Cuban Air Force. Flew a plane with his entire family to Florida in 1987 and became a prominent defector promoting democracy in Cuba. Source: Wikipedia
Alcibiades Hidalgo: Raúl Castro’s Chief of Staff for twelve years and also Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Defected to the United States in 2002. Claimed that, “Cuba is, pure and simple, a dictatorship each day more devoid of the attributes that once made it attractive.” Source: Wikipedia
The New School: Silvio Rodriguez wrote a song by this name, in honor of the revolution’s program to educate children in “New Schools” in the countryside, away from their parents.
Roundtable and Randy Alonso: A weekly talk show on Cuban television hosted by Randy Alonso. Fidel Castro used to appear regularly when his health still permitted him to do so.
I want to borrow a phrase from Pedro Luis Ferrer, “Nobody knows the past that awaits them.” It came back to me a great deal in the days when, simultaneously, I was reading El Expediente*, by Timothy Garton Ash (1997), and watching on the television news the images of the “repudiation rallies” against the Ladies in White.
The book tells the story of a writer who had access to his records from the Stasi (State Security in the now defunct GDR), and through it learned the names of the informants who recorded, in minute detail, 325 pages in his file. What was seen on the news in those days it is not necessary to clarify.
None of those informers, from the intellectual circles of the walled and socialist Berlin, could anticipate that some day their names would be revealed, as probably none of the people, who on the streets of Havana insulted and spat at those women, take into account the fact that all those images have been recorded and will one day become the testimony of the documentaries which, in the future, will describe what inevitably will form a part of the past. “Mama, yesterday I saw you on television,” their children will say, staring at them as if they expect an explanation.
*Published in English as: The File: A Personal History
In the last days of February 2010, there have been very clear signs that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the government to release its stranglehold on political control of the nation. They seem like isolated events but it would be hard not to see the thread that connects them.
The most notorious was the death of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which occurred on the eve of the second anniversary of General Raúl Castro’s assumption of the presidency. To leave someone to die, to allow them to die, not to do something to prevent the death of a person who is the exclusive responsibility of a penal establishment is, anywhere in the world, a very serious thing. As serious, I would say, as letting patients in a psychiatric hospital die of cold and hunger.
Then when, in a peaceful and civilized way, some people tried to sign the book of condolences, they were brutally repressed and detained in police stations. At about the same time the Cuban delegation to the Spanish Language Academy’s Fifth Congress announced they would not attend because unsuitable people had been invited (by whom they meant the writers Jorge Edwards and Mario Vargas Llosa and the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez). In the same the newspaper Granma where the note from the academics appeared, it was announced that Cuba would not participate in the Central American Games to be held in Puerto Rico, because they had not complied with all of the demands made by the Cubans.
In the meantime State Security—how do they get anyone to actually work for this institution?!—visited dozens of citizens to intimidate those of us who had signed an initiative called “Candidates for Change” whose purpose is to nominate people who would be inclined to introduce economic, political and social changes demanded by the opposition and even by some government sectors.
Finally, February was not yet over and at a motion picture event known as the Exhibition of Young Filmmakers, they prevented a group of young people who are filmmakers, but not government addicts, from attending.
Right now other opponents, some in prison and some free, have started new hunger strikes. In the provinces in the interior of the country they have not ceased the arbitrary detentions: the Council of State ombudsman’s office cannot cope with all the citizen complaints. The discontent, the repression, those inseparable brothers at each others’ throats threaten to raise their visibility.
Are all the events mentioned here isolated incidents? Are they unequivocal signs that the revolution is stronger than ever and that the construction of socialism is advancing smoothly? Or perhaps they are indications that the days when no one listened, no one saw, no one understood what was happening, are coming to an end?