When traveling in Cuba you see few of Fidel’s pictures, except some dusted posters that somehow defy time or billboards that encourage the technical development passed in front by horse drawn carriages. The pictures and slogans look to be the realm of the dead heroes, mostly dedicated to Che Guevara who is the symbol of “The Revolution”, their revolution of stale ideas and principles taken from history books covered in Caribbean mildew of the last 50 years ago. Che is the spirit and the romance, the courage and the boldness, the spirit of justice, all encompassed in the slogan “Let’s be all like Che”. In comparison with the romantic, (and the extremely dogmatic and murderous) Che, Fidel was the incarnation of the bureaucracy of the revolution, the one who had to deliver the undeliverable, the one who had to make it happen but whose resilience and longevity in face of the isolation and numerous assassination attempts got accolades even from his enemies. However while you walk the streets of Havana or other cities of Cuba the failure of the revolutionary project is obvious in the mind of the people you encounter who are not shy to tell you want they think. I lived under a similar regime, during Ceausescu’s Romania, and I felt so close to these people and their life experience and I thought of gathering all their stories in a book. Here are several passages.
““What do you think? That we will do the same in Cuba like you did to Ceausescu in Romania?” My friend was startled. The official’s berating came out of the blue, nothing that she said calling for it; just because he heard that she was caring a Romanian passport. She was in a tour organized by Harvard in Cuba during an MBA program, just several years after the special period ended; time of starvation and suffering; time of forced changes and uncertainty. Many times I thought that the brief execution of the Romanian dictator gave chills on the spine to many like him. They shared a dream that they could not deliver and became a nightmare for all who lived it. But they were stubborn and did not want to change it. In their villas, closed circuit stores, vacation chalets, surrounded by their sycophants everything was fine; the social experiment was successful even if it may encounter some hurdles on the way. Yes, of course, people may suffer and die in the process but nothing ever could be done without sacrifices; always the others’ sacrifices.”
“The priest was sitting on the bench waiting to give benediction to children and adults before the mass. I went and sat near him on the bench and asked him a question about the relationship between the Catholic Church and Santeria…The discussion changed course and it took me completely by surprise.
“…Everybody is welcomed to the church and we expect the entire village to come. No matter what cult they practice, no matter that they are Marxists, atheistic, white, black, mulato, they all should congregate in the church because this is heart of their pueblo. This is of utmost importance to have people return to the church”.
But how the Communist state sees the church influence? Do they help in any way?
“Actually not only that they do not help but they boycott it as much as they can. They never ever helped. What happened in the last 50 years was barbaric. For 50 continuous years they erased from people’s mind any concept of moral values. For 50 years they brainwashed our children in believing their ideology, their discourses devoid of any worthy ideas. For 50 years they taught the children that 4 X 4 is 16 but they never talked about the value of a human being and what it represents for the society. This degraded the society and rips into its moral structure.”
“But father, the changes are inerrant. The society would change. A younger generation would take over and change things in a foreseeable future”
“We need a major change in the society but don’t be so optimistic about a new generation. The gerontocracy that rules Cuba is terrified of change. They know that a new generation would adapt to the new realities of the world and this is the reason that the ones promoted at higher levels are all old people, rooting from the same stale ideas of the failed revolution. To rule a society you always have to adapt your ideas and the Marxists never had new ideas. You watch TV and there are no ideas just empty slogans that don’t go anywhere.”
“How can you trust a society where the garbage man has the same salary as the doctor? How can make the doctor to study hard and become a very good doctor and help people if he is paid the same. Are the needs of the doctor and the garbage man the same? This is fantasy.”
“And Obama’s visit?”
“Why is your president coming here?; To play ball with the dictator? Hardly any changes would happen; the state will peddle the same platitudes afraid that any change would dis-empower the ruling class. When Gorbachev came here in the middle of Perestroika absolutely nothing happened. He came and went and Cuba did not change a bit. What Obama can do? “….
“But the people can help. They can come with ideas that put pressure and bring some change. Isn’t it?”
“Actually this may not happen, at least for the regular guys. The major problem in Cuba is that people are extremely poor. Their entire life is spent looking for food. For 50 years the Communists transformed a population in food foragers during crisis after crisis. You cannot have any ideas when you run around all day to get food to put on the table for your children. People are like under anesthesia thinking only from one day to another if they can get some money to eat. There are 50 years…”
This “50 years” mantra is like a national obsession. The same “50 years” trumpeted by the Communist as a major achievement I heard it repeated like a curse by so many regular people: ”There are 50 years and I lived all of them under this regime.” told me with chagrin one my hosts in Havana.”
(Excerpts from the book “Between Ceausescu and Fidel” by FlyingMonk)