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In the years 1986 and 1987 an unusual enthusiasm proliferated, in our country, for what was happening in the Soviet Union. The weekly News from Moscow, which for years had piled up in the kiosks, came to be sold in the black market for 20 times the cover price. In October of 1988, at a meeting of the students from the School of Journalism, the then youngest prince Carlos Aldana predicted that the restless perestroika boys were not looked upon kindly by the leaders of the Revolution, but Pepito, the sage protagonists of our best political jokes, had already alerted us to this: “What is expected of us is stoicism.”
Having have had more than 20 years to meditate on that time, our leaders announced some changes whose main purpose is to keep the socialist system afloat. On the night of October 12, 1960, Fidel Castro announced that 382 large corporations, many of them American, “and also the banks,” would be nationalized. At dawn on the 13th, the controllers were to make themselves available at each one of the confiscated entities. In another speech, on March 13, 1968, he proclaimed the nationalization of all private businesses. That same night, from their encampments, the new administrators of “Ecochinche” (which is what people then baptized what could be called the Empresa Consolidada de Chinchales*) emerged to take, by assault, the last remnants of capitalism. The speech on the university steps had not yet ended before the lights went on in bars and nightclubs to let the customers know that the party was over, because all these establishments would be closed as part of the Revolutionary Offensive.
The velocity was dizzying because it was the pace of demolition. Everyone knows that a building that took years to erect can be demolished in day, or even hours or minutes if explosives are used. Now it’s about searching through the rubble to look for usable bricks and that takes time. Raul Castro’s speech before the National Assembly of People’s Power to detail the nature of the changes proposed was in December, the Communist Party “Congress” will be in April, and then we will have to wait for the measures to be implemented, with a long view and short steps, as those who have reached old age are wont to say.
Pepito hasn’t shown up and in the absence of his ingenuity for naming things we seem to be, once again, waiting stoically. What I don’t know is if the patience will last.
*Translator’s note: “Chinchales” is a slightly derogatory Cuban term for small businesses. “Empresa Consolidada de Chinchales” translates as “Consolidated Small Businesses Company.”
Havana, January 8, 1959. The dove had already defecated on his shoulder; the other bearded one had already answered the question, “How am I doing, Camilo?”; Habaneros had already started to worry about such a long speech warning them that things would be more difficult from now on. So comandante Dermidio Escalona ordered the unruly capital crowd to shut up.
No one could calculate, then, the significance of that gesture, no one could suspect that half a century later the performance artist Tania Bruguera would recreate the scene in her production “Tatlin’s Whisper,” in which we had one free minute before the microphone, dove included.
I leave you the image here, and this link conjured by technology and nostalgia, so that we can assess what could have been and was not, and calculate what could be if we were less obedient to the order to shut up.
Cuban leaders should have learned the lesson that you can’t commit to dates you don’t have the ability to meet. I will not illustrate this post by referring to the Santiago de Cuba aqueduct, nor to the Ayestarán cottages (see this blog for November 30, 2008), but rather to the expiration of two promises with fixed dates, both having to do with prisoner releases.
Former president Fidel Castro, guided by his eternal triumphalism, announced that the five Ministry of Interior combatants imprisoned in the United States would be back with their families by December 2010. President Raul Castro, for his part, proclaimed in early July 2010 that within three or four months the Black Spring prisoners still incarcerated would be released.
Anyone can understand why the first promise wasn’t kept, among other reasons because in the United States there is that damned thing democracies have called separation of powers, and because a “presidential pardon” is too valuable to waste on something unpopular with American voters. But the second, made by the second, cannot be justified in any way.
I confess to having committed the sin of naiveté because I was among those who believed that it was almost impossible not to keep a promise whose deadline was so close, though I always considered it might be extended.
We all (including Cardinal Jaime Ortega) had the illusion that this Christmas would be the dividing line between two eras. We believed in the sign, but what seemed like a star announcing the birth of new political conduct, generous and tolerant of dissenting voices, was nothing more than a flickering flame of artifice. Leave the country or you will remain in prison! And if this wasn’t finally the glad tidings from the government, may someone clarify it for me and prove me wrong.