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Twenty years ago Cuba’s Communist Party renounced atheism. I remember those discussions in which some militants couldn’t manage to understand how it was possible that having a “scientific world view” could cease to be a prerequisite for membership in the organization. “If we ignore dialectic materialism,” they said, “we are opening the way to dispense with historic materialism and, with that, forget the struggle of the classes and the rest of the communist principles.” Taking a coffee break during a pause in that fourth Congress, a seasoned Party militant with captain’s stripes on his military uniform explained to a young colleague, “We’ve lost, don’t you see?”
The expectation was that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women who had been refused entry into the only permitted party in the country would have the opportunity, the honor, of acquiring the red card that signified membership, but in fact the opposite occurred. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of militant communists, and particularly those who aspired to be, threw off the mask of atheism and began to visit the temples, to baptize their children, or to place their Elegua — the Santeria deity — by the door of their house. All religions gained a new space and the churches ceased to be half-empty vaults where little groups of old women prayed the rosary.
Twenty years later the Cuban leaders have not lost one iota of power, they themselves attend the openings of new seminaries, and they accept the blessings of all pastors. The hierarchy of some Christian denominations and a good number of consecrated babalaos ask their faithful to be obedient and to perform their prayers and incantations for the health of the leaders and the success of their plans.
I always had a scientific world view, although I was never a member of the Communist Party, but I can’t stop wondering if there isn’t someone up there watching what’s happening.
26 September 2011
I heard the news of the death of Eliseo Alberto, Lichi to his friends, at the very moment when the coffin of Bishop Pedro Meurice was being swallowed by the grave in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba on July 31 of this year, 2011. A radio station called me a few hours later to comment on the matter, but I literally had to hang up the phone because I wasn’t able to utter a single word. I made an attempt to write my impressions about the loss of my friend and, unable to do that either, I waited for his remains to rest in Cuba.
The family, completely within its rights, decided to give him a final send off on August 29, in private for family only. It occurred to me to write something under the title of “Lichi between ourselves,” but nothing went as I expected. This September 10 he would have turned 60 and I let the date pass.
This morning Fefe, his twin sister, called me, to tell me the details of how they carried out Lychee’s will.
At the old entrance to the Arroyo Naranjo neighborhood there is an iron bridge over the railway line. It was built over 100 years ago by Eliseo Giberga, who was president of the Autonomous Party, and uncle to the poet Eliseo Diego. The family had a small farm nearby, later seized by “the avenging thirst of the Revolution.” That turn in the road occupied a privileged site in Lichi’s nostalgic memory. There he played with his friend, there he cultivated his fabulous imagination, that treasure that no one could confiscate, and it was there that he wanted his daughter, Maria Jose, to scatter the contents of his urn when he took his last flight from Mexico.
The bridge, located in a neighborhood now known as the Wheatfield, is called “Cambo” because that was the name of the French village where the great uncle who had it built had lived in exile. That is still exists is a pure miracle, all around it is filth and neglect, but this is in a really rough area. In that other dimension that is fantasy, there are unscalable cliffs amid lush vegetation, the wrecks of pirate ships, caves inhabited by dragons, castles in whose towers some princess is waiting to be rescued and where a boy, a prince, a hero, is training to save the world. Just as childish naivete began to fade, perhaps on a rainy afternoon, Lichi closed his eyes and promised the goblins of the place that he would never forget them and that, when he had finished the work of whatever profession the future put before him, he would return here to continue the game, the better to say: This is the life.
The independent blogger Elaine Diaz, who agrees with so many official opinions, had a point when she defined the events surrounding the Church of Santa Marta as a kind of Rashoman. There have been so many versions that the authorities were left with no choice but to broadcast an official note on Cuban television’s prime time National News.
The truth is that Braulio Herrera Tito, the pastor of this Assembly of God congregation, is not an ordinary person. He is one of those preachers who, in any other place in the world, finds a place to found a church, a sect, a group of followers, but he lives in a country where not even a pigeon fancier’s club can be founded without State authorization. I will neither support nor renounce his doctrines, which are said to privilege personal revelations over the word of the Bible, but it seems to me he had the right to break away from his congregation and open his own place without asking for approval from the Communist Party’s Religious Affairs Department, and with the possibility of renting or building his own temple.
I wonder what would have happened if it had occurred to the party secretary of a municipality to disobey the guidelines of the Sixth Communist Party Congress and riot with a group of militants at the headquarters of that organization. Or do black sheep only appear in God’s flock?
12 September 2011
As is traditional, on the first Monday in September class have started at all the educational institutions in Cuba. Among the peculiarities of this school year, a significant decline in pre-university enrollment stands out, along with an increase in the centers that train technicians and skilled workers, those who, as Raul has said, “have their feet in the earth.” It is a farewell to Fidel’s pretensions to convert the Island into a land of scientists, an Island where work in a factory or cultivating the land came to be seen as a punishment, as evidence of being a moron or someone who didn’t know how to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Revolution.
This year the celebration has been toned down by the declaration of official mourning for the death of General Julio Casas Regueiro, Minister of the Armed Forces, Vice President of the Council of State, and a member of the Communist Party Politburo. So the flags remained at half mast at all public institutions and in the schools they had to make an effort to try to limit the natural enthusiasm with which teenagers met again after two months of vacation.
But there is no bureaucratic disposition capable of limiting the exuberant explosion of juvenile hormones. Three years after having been named the most important minister of the country, another member of the gerontocracy has left the game. I don’t know if Raul Castro will continue to think that there is no relief bench to replace the historic generation.These kids who laugh and enjoy themselves don’t know, nor do they care. Early in the morning, while noticing that their uniforms had suddenly become tighter, shorter and more faded, they could see that the sun was rising, as it does every day. They may not be aware of the amount of power they are denied, but in the times ahead, they will be.
5 September 2011