Ivan Garcia, 27 November 2017 — In a dirty and unventilated state bar on Tenth of October Avenue, which sells for six pesos (0.35 cents), with their tankard of beer served, two speakers reproduce a recital by La Lupe.
At a table in the background, Joel, with his glassy eyes, leans his back against a wall where you can read the meaning, according to Fidel Castro, of the word revolution, engraved with a fine-tipped brush and without much art.
When you ask his impressions on the first anniversary of Fidel’s death, Joel, who drinks more for vice than pleasure, shows the typical silly smile of people one step away from drunkenness.
“You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place. I did not remember the first anniversary of the death of that face like a coconut. The television and radio are twenty-four hours with that obsession, but my job is to work hard. I don’t have time to shoot the shit. Let those who believe in him remember him. Brother, life does not stop no matter how big the person who died is,” says the man, as he empties the rest of the cheap beer that remains in his jar.
In Cuba, political advertising is everywhere. In the most unexpected places, phrases by Fidel Castro are read. It does not matter if it is an farmers market, a smelly low-key bar or on the Central Highway.
The promoters of the Castro faith work by piecework. They have filled with paintings, photos and praises to Castro every corner of the island. Not infrequently their crazy site has borders of black humor, cynicism or toxic delirium.
On one side of the old Prisión del Príncipe, where the Avenida de los Presidentes begins, in El Vedado, on murals and building facades there are Castro slogans. In the evenings, taking advantage of the lack of public lighting in that area, street exhibitionists masturbate to the step of any woman.
“It’s an epidemic. The shooters (masturbators) in Havana are making waves. Recently a guy was ’shooting’ from atop a tree, next to a sign with Fidel’s phrase ’Cubans must learn to shoot, and shoot well. What a coincidence,” says Camila, a dentist.
And it is Fidel Castro, like José Martí, that the propaganda of the communist party uses it for any facet of life. Be it a boxing match, a hurricane symposium or a poultry forum.
“The soundtrack about the man is tremendous. In between the innings of a ballgame, they slip a stretch of one of his speeches or images of him playing basketball or baseball. Advertising in the capitalist countries is abusive, but this day for the first anniversary of Fidel’s death in the media, all the time and at any time, it is simply harassing. Even those people who appreciated it come to reject it,” says Hernán, a retiree.
Carlos, a sociologist, believes that “political advertising must be handled with care, so that it does not have the opposite effect. It has happened with Martí: due to the excessive use of him, a considerable part of the new generations reject him. Fidel was a watershed, he has many local admirers, but also many detractors, although not openly expressed. They believe he is to blame for the current national disaster. With this laudatory campaign, where everything is praise and his flaws are not outlined, trying to sell his as a perfect guy, what they provoke is exhaustion.”
State media, lacking in creativity, have labeled the former commander in chief as a major athlete, rancher and farmer-in-chief and highlighted his wisdom with regards to the art of war.
If there is something overflowing in Cuban bookstores, it is texts about Fidel Castro. Nidia, an employee of a bookstore in Old Havana, says “Cubans barely buy Fidel’s books. The foreigners, a little. They don’t sell much.”
A year after the disappearance of the former top leader, people have continued on their own. The priority is the same: bring food to the table and earn enough money to repair their precarious houses.
The citizens consider that the state’s “information deployment” on the life and work of the autocrat does not bring them any benefit. “If every 25th of November they gave on the ration book a pound of beef per person or a basket of food, perhaps they would remember him more intensely. But life here stays the same. Without money, the markets are fleecing us and eating well is a luxury,” says Ángel, a worker, in line at the bakery.
The main concern of Havana residents like Joel, a practiced drinker, is that “on these days of commemoration they prohibit the sale of rum or beer. The best way to escape from problems, which in this country are a lot, is to go get drunk.”
Twelve months after the funeral of Fidel Castro, Cuba is still stuck in its stationary economic crisis and planning the future, more than boldness, it is a bad omen. Within three months, Raúl, the other Castro, has said that he is retiring from power. But apathy on the island is so profound that even this issue does not interest the population.
The goal of the ordinary Cuban is to make it to the next day. You live hour by hour. Short term. The commemorations and political campaigns are just a background music.