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.