On March 13, 1968, Fidel Castro, in one of his miles-long speeches, announced to the Cuban people what he called “the Revolutionary Offensive*.” In reality, it had nothing revolutionary about it, on the contrary, it was an essentially counterrevolutionary measure intended to eliminate the urban petty bourgeoisie. And with it to eliminate one of the few areas of social autonomy remaining in the country after the brutal nationalization of everything that moved. After this step, the only thing left outside the State sector was a limited area of small farm cooperatives of differing forms, that owned 30 percent of the land and supplied something like 70 percent of the agricultural food to the Cuban population.
The Revolutionary Offensive was one more step in the sociopolitical control of the population and in the construction of a Thermidorian regime with totalitarian aspirations that finally consolidated itself on the base of Soviet subsidies. It was also another step in the repression of everyone who seemed estranged from a new morality more similar to the plebeian asceticism of the medieval peasant movements than the Marxist proposal.
And it was a particularly damaging outburst of the anti-urban sentiment, in the same way that cities were considered as nurseries of amoral manifestations and the rural world as an idyllic place to cultivate the new revolutionary virtues. If anyone doubts this, read this short paragraph from a speech as homophobic as it is anti-urban, uttered by FC in March of 1963:
“Many of those bums… have taken the extreme liberty of attempting to go to some of the places of public attendance to organize their faggoty shows… our society cannot make room for these degenerates. The socialist society cannot permit that kind of degeneration. There are many theories, I am not a scientist, I am not an expert in this matter, but I have always observed one thing: the countryside does not yield this inferior product. I have always observed this, and I always bear it very much in mind.”
And from here, obviously, they derived practices such as the agricultural mobilizations that battered us for decades, the schools in the countryside, and in the countryside they terrorized the families until very recently, and the fatal UMAP** (Military Units in Aid of Production) that destroyed the lives and dreams of thousands of Cubans. All in an attempt to subjugate a Caribbean population to a stoical and monastic lifestyle that, logically, the new political class escaped by reserving for themselves intimate recreational sites within and outside the country.
Recently I returned to the speech announcing the Revolutionary Offensive. I hadn’t gone back to it since that day I heard it, when I was a teenager, stuck in the crowd filling San Lázaro Street. And reading it served to reaffirm my conviction in the value of democracy, of public debate, and of the independent press. Because the report presented by Fidel Castro (FC) against small urban businesses — in the midst of a several hour tirade that included observations about the drought, the fight against imperialism and the victory of the 10 million ton sugar harvest — constituted a gross manipulation of public opinions that could only be carried out from uncontested power.
FC’s report was based on a study applied to 6,452 private businesses — including snack stands — and 955 bars, never making it clear if they were included in the previous figure or were an additional number. It was undertaken by Communist Party militants from each municipality with the support of the surveillance entities, the CDRs — Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — which obviously were determined to construct the results to agree with the conclusions they wanted to reach, to legitimize the operation. And in particular, those conclusions fed into the political passions of the moment.
So the study presents frankly childish data such as specifying that 66 percent of the clients of the bars and 72 percent of the proprietors were “anti-social and amoral” deviants from the revolutionary purposes. Claims difficult to prove, but sufficient to identify the happy drinkers as zigzagging enemies of the Revolution.
On the other hand, in his speech FC grossly distorted the statistics. Let’s say, for example, that when only 28 percent of the businesses were not legally registered, this was presented as “almost a third”; or when he had to explain that 51 percent of the business had good hygiene conditions, 40 percent had average conditions, and 9 percent bad, he presented this data as almost half “did not have good” hygiene conditions. And so on, making the reading an invitation to laughter if it weren’t that through it he was hiding a wave of expropriations against workers, against the “people” whom FC himself defined in his legal plea of 1953***, and against the few remaining spaces of social autonomy.
I say expressly workers, because there is something that neither the endeavors of the investigators, nor the manipulation of the orator can hide: of these 6,542 small businesses analyzed in Havana, 72 percent were registered and paid their taxes on time, 88 percent of the owners worked in their businesses and relied on family labor, and only 31 percent of them had other employees. And 73 percent of the owner families had no other income, with the overwhelming majority having daily gross revenues of less than one hundred pesos.
Curiously, only 6 percent of the business owners had requested to leave the country.
In a country where at that time the only way to express discontent was with your feet.
*The 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, according to Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, was intended to fight selfishness and individualism and eradicate parasitism. The government confiscated 55,636 small, private businesses.
**UMAP — Concentration camps for religious believers, homosexuals and other “counterrevolutionaries.”
***Subsequently edited and published as “History will absolve me,” this refers to his statement at his trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953, generally taken as the start date of the Revolution.
9 July 2012