It was Fidel Castro who, in one of his his typical vitriolic outbursts, during a speech on January 2, 1961 (in what was then the Civic Plaza, today Revolution Plaza), applied the epithet “worms” to those Cubans who dared to criticize his olive green revolution or who decided to leave their homeland. That day he also first used the term “gusanera” [roughly equivalent to what today might be called “the wormosphere”(!)] as synonymous with counterrevolution.
Since 1959, more than two million Cubans have emigrated from their country. Let’s speak frankly. Certainly in the first waves of migration, early in the revolution, the vast majority of those who fled the island were individuals who openly hated Castro.
Many had lost their properties, nationalized in one stroke by the bearded ones who came down from the Sierra Maestra. Others, members of the lower-middle class, packed up and flew to Miami, thinking that the Comandante’s revolutionary wave was only a passing fad.
In the early years, more than three thousand professionals, excellent doctors, engineers, architects, academics, intellectuals, almost all representatives of the enlightened Cuban intelligentsia, took to their heels. To denigrate their newly exiled countrymen, official propagandists labeled them as Batista-ites, bourgeois, landowners, exploiters … And to complete the string of insults, the usual cliche of “worms.”
Then things changed. In 1980, during the Mariel boatlift, most of the 120,000 people who left their native country were simple, humble people who had never had a cent, nor run a business. People who had been educated in schools where every morning, after a patriotic speech, they had to salute, shouting “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.”
Since ordinary Cubans can’t freely leave their country, those who desert are the ones who are able to travel: doctors, politicians, generals, artists, ballplayers and athletes in general. All are citizens who, while living in Cuba, stand out as “revolutionary,” all the while living a double-standard with masks on. Silently attending boring meetings of the CDR, and voting early in this parody of democracy that are the Cuban elections. With a bottle of rum and to the beat of the conga, they attend military marches and demonstrations in Revolution Plaza. In this way they meet the standard of what is “politically correct.” So they don’t draw attention to themselves, and so the Party and the Ministry of Interior continue to have confidence in them.
In the depths of their souls, they wait for an opportunity. And at the first chance they leave behind tropical socialism, absurd rhetoric and material burdens. The Castro government rationalizes all these Cubans voting with their feet (or at least the majority) by saying that they left in search of economic betterment. They try put their deserters on a par with Mexicans or Haitians who in desperation flee their countries. If we agree with the official line, then we must acknowledge that from the economic standpoint, the Cuban revolution failed.
Still, when you leave Cuba for a better life, and you can read and write, as every Cuban who goes into exile can, if you are not cynical, or a liar, you should let your government know that they are the main cause of your hardship, driving you to jump into the sea on a raft, or into a loveless marriage with a Spaniard or an Italian old enough to be your grandfather.
You must not have a short memory. I still remember — how could I forget — how as a teenager of 15, watching impassively the acts of repudiation and physical attacks on those who decided to leave the island. Then the wind went out of the sail of several socialist projects. The Berlin Wall came down, and overnight, this State of workers and peasants that was the USSR disappeared with amazing speed. The map of Europe changed color.
But Fidel Castro’s revolution, which certainly was not established by Moscow, clung like one posessed to the flag of resistance, nationalism and the threat of Yankee treachery. Then a “miracle” happened. The eternal “worms” turned into butterflies. To the chagrin of Castro, those scum, those worthless Cubans who failed to recognize the greatness of his revolution, thrived, and with the greenbacks of his hated enemy began to support about 60 percent of the Cuban population, according to unofficial figures.
And now in the 21st century, without U.S. dollars, euros, or other foreign exchange sent as family remittances, nobody on the island can make plans to fix their aging house, acquire a television, buy shoes for their children, or eat two hot meals a day.
For the regime, there are “good” worms and “bad” worms. The good ones are those who traveled to Havana on January 27th and 28th, 2010, to meet with government officials “in defense of national sovereignty, the struggle against the blockade, and the release of the five heroes unjustly imprisoned in the empire.”
The meeting was held in the Convention Center, west of the city, under the long title: “Meeting of Cuban Residents Abroad, Against the Blockade and in Defense of National Sovereignty.” According to Granma newspaper, it was attended by 300 delegates from 44 nations, of which 144 came from the United States.
Never mind that these “good” worms have achieved little or nothing. It is still necessary to ask the state permission to travel abroad or visit your own country. If you leave permanently, you lose your house and other properties. And Cubans who think differently than the official line, namely the “bad” worms, are ejected from any discussion as if they had bubonic plague.
I am in favor of any dialogue. But open to all. Not just for those who applaud so long that their hands turn red, for the way the Castro brothers rule the destinies of Cuba.
I want to see the liberal politician Carlos Alberto Montaner, who lives in Madrid, walking the halls of the Convention Center, chatting animatedly with Haroldo Dilla, a Marxist economist who decided to live in Santo Domingo.
How I would like to witness the rough humanity of the poet Raul Rivero, nibbling ham and cheese canapés at Bucan Restaurant with writer Miguel Barnet, while another bard, Roberto Fernandez Retamar approaches him and invites him to his home that evening to talk about poetry.
Or that my mother, Tania Quintero, who was once the friend and journalist partner of Rosa Miriam Elizarde, could ask her about her family and her work. Nor would it be bad if the prestigious journalist Max Lesnik, with whom I share a two-man blog called Ninety Miles in the newspaper El Mundo / America, called me and we stayed to grab a coffee at the Parque Central, and there disagree civilly.
For now none of this is possible. The “good” worms should push the government to take the path of tolerance and respect for differences. Then, these meetings of immigrants would have a reason to occur.
Max, in any case, if you visit Havana, come and see me.
Photo: Max Lesnik with Fidel Castro, in the documentary “The Man of Two Havanas,” directed in 2007 by Vivien Lesnik Weisman.
Translated by Tomás A.