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I have a colleague at my workplace named Julio who says that if he were the boss of Cuba he would impose a mixture of socialism and capitalism. Says Julio (who is a good person and an excellent worker), if it were left up to him the state would retain the larger things – the generation of electricity, public transport, both local and interprovincial, mining and sugar production – and he would leave in private hands everything to do with services and small businesses. He assures me that it would be of no importance to him if some people were rich, nor would it bother him if everyone followed their own way of life, including prostitution.
I asked Julio if, in his utopia, it would be possible for people to say what they think and he said yes. I also asked if he would allow the existence of other political parties and after a moment of doubt he said yes, but his party would have primacy over the others, and no one could change the system.
— Then would you be claiming a monopoly on the truth?
— Well – he said – what would happen would be what is right the people.
— And if the people don’t realize that this is what’s right for them, would you impose it anyway?
— Of course, because this is what’s right for the people, even if they don’t realize it.
— And what if it is you who are wrong, Julio?
— Well, if that’s the case, fuck the people.
A truth of Perogrullo – that is to say a statement of the obvious – is that before making changes other things must be modified, in this case the mentality of those whose hands are on the tiller of our society. It being very difficult to transform this mentality, the helmsman would have to be replaced. We know that we have had the same helmsman since 1959, although there have been some changes in the boatswains, the officers on board and especially the sailors and cabin boys. I speak metaphorically of this great ship that is our society, not of the rafts that ply the Straits of Florida with the impatient who did not want to wait.
In my most humble opinion – and I don’t want to point the finger at anyone with this comment – the main actors of any change already roam the captain’s cabin, spy through the keyholes and listen at the cracks. No one voted for them in a fair and multiparty election, but they are my candidates to execute the first steps bloodlessly and peacefully or, to quote myself: Slowly but deeply.
The known opposition will have to wait for those who are in the belly of the Trojan Horse today to open the doors of the fort, but perhaps they will meet with surprise the others who lead the way. Who is the Boris Yeltsin in the Cuba of today? In which province is the holder of the post of first secretary of the Party? No one knows, only I hope he drinks less and has better luck.
The word change, in the sense of modification not exchange, appears in our discussions more frequently every day. There are people who are hoping for change, others who are satisfied that some changes occur, and still others who do not want to change anything. For each of them, here is a disquisition on change.
All change goes in one direction and happens with a certain depth and speed.
The direction: In twenty-first century Cuba the only direction in which I think there could be change is, in the economic sphere, toward the market; and in politics, towards democracy. In the opposite direction, in either of the two areas, there is hardly any room to move.
Depth: In both tracks, economic and political, one could take small steps (the Chinese or Vietnamese models of twenty-first century socialism), or go as far as hard neoliberalism or savage capitalism.
Speed: Anything could happen in 48 hours or be delayed 20 years. Too fast would be traumatic, too slow would be disappointing.
Assuming one accepts the theme of the discussion – “changes are necessary” – and agrees there could be a broad consensus with regard to the direction of both, the debate should focus on the depth and speed.
Superficial and slow is not worth the pain; fast and deep seems crazy. Superficial and fast would prove insufficient in the long run. Slow but deep seems attractive, provided it is neither too much of one or the other. It only remains to define the changes, draw up the route, and prepare the time line.
In one of his Epigrams published in 1983 the poet Raúl Rivero said:
He was right Norberto Fuentes:
you were willing to fight for this love
until the last drop of my blood.
Many times I have returned to these verses that appeared in the volume Public Poetry and I always end up suspecting he is making fun of the political language of the last half century.
We were not celebrating a “closed anniversary” for the birth of this poet, who was 62 this year, nor for the appearance of the book, 24 years ago this May. What happened was I was showing another poem to my son, who is lost in love (over the impossible) and the epigram was on the back.
What is known: I am not willing to die for any of the ideas I defend, another thing is that someone is willing to physically mistreat me because I say this. All those adversaries who are declaring right now that they are prepared to die rather than renounce their principles may know, if it depends on me, they will have to wait for a heart attack. Gracias, Raúl (Rivero!).
I think it was in 1961, days before the nationalization of private schools, when my friend Felipe told me that his parents were going to leave Cuba because communism was coming and that this was the worst disgrace that could happen to a country. He explained that in this system children would no longer belong to their parents, that the land would no longer bear fruit, that the cows (this conversation occurred in Camaguey) would no longer give milk, and that even toothbrushes would be collective property. “If you stay here,” he told me in all seriousness, “they will send you to Russia to be brainwashed, but anyway,” he warned, “someday you will see that everything is a disaster.”
Two months later I went with my father to the literacy campaign, where I managed to teach something like six campesinos how to read, I learned to swim in the river, to ride a horse and to milk a cow. When I returned Felipe was gone and for years his premonitions made me laugh.
By July 1962, when I turned 15, I registered my name in the first edition of the ration book. For me, signing the book was a sign of those who were willing to tighten their belts in order to hasten the future.
Fifteen years later, in August 1977, my daughter was born and when she was also enrolled in OFICODA* I realized the future was slowly approaching. Thirty years later (September 2007) my first granddaughter came into the world. When I read her name in the ration book I remembered my friend Felipe, of how little reason his childish arguments had and of the certitude of his warnings.
*OFICODA: Office of Control of Food Distribution. It controls the entire operation of the system of the rationed market.