Regina Coyula, 20 January 2017 — I was asked for this by a press agency, and they didn’t publish it. Then came the official reaction and we couldn’t have much time without his image. It’s like what a wise lady said in line at the pharmacy, “It would be preferable that the (National) Assembly approved an enormous monument, and not this Fidel that comes at us from all sides and doesn’t just die.”
Friday, already late in the evening, in front of the TV, idly I switch it on. Raul Castro is talking. A good part of the city was sleeping when the phones began to ring.
Perhaps for those who loved him, the reaction was emotional, but there is no surprise in the death of an old man who’s been sick for more than ten years. Yes, there is the irony that he was killed so many times, and now his death takes us all by surprise.
The programming continues and they even start playing a film, American of course. It was not until the movie was well along that they interrupted it to replace it with images from the documentary Fidel from Estela Bravo. It gives the impression that the TV directors never dared to make a plan for this moment; and on receiving directions “from above” that they began to look for film materials for the new days of “history and patriotism.”
It’s already dawn and groups of young people are coming from the Art Factory, their party having been interrupted. The drunkest obey the “on your feet!” that they learned in military or farming encampments, and add to the amusements and loquacious, “Turn on the TV, Fifo died!” These heralds continue on their way and others camp out in the park in front of the Acapulco Cinema; two girls dance little skip steps to their own music. It is a group without tears, these displaced from the Art Factory.
Saturday. A clueless man raised his eyebrows on hearing the news in the Tulipan agricultural market and continues on. Full as ever, the market is quiet without the loudspeakers; the buyers are very discreet moving quickly among the stalls to get a few vegetables at import prices.
In the morning there are still shops that haven’t received instructions to suspend sales of alcoholic beverages; a dry law and nine days of national mourning will be a tough test for those who live between hits of rum and reggaeton. I don’t see sad faces, rather serious ones. Or cautious.
Sunday. The television broadcasts endless materials about Fidel. Fidel at the UN, at a school, at a market, with Garcia Marquez, omnipresent Fidel. Now he is a bigger star than ever, such a focus in the media, he who spent hours at the microphone on the national channel and on Radio Havana Cuba.
On the news, the announcers are dressed in black, they provide information about the funeral rites in the Plaza of the Revolution, the journey of the ashes to Santiago, the closing of the streets. On TV there are tears, but there is no children’s programming. And no one talks about causes of death.
My neighbor in the back, who has been so worried, talks with someone on the phone about the pills she has to take for the disgust. A woman is interviewed under the marquee of the Yara cinema, at the corner of 23rd and L. She is dressed in white and wears a black mourning band on her arm. She reads a poem about her soul being torn apart at the news.
Behind her, on the wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, you can see the enormous graffiti by El Sexto. “He left,” it says on the wall, and El Sexto is in prison for this graffiti with seconds of posterity on camera.
Monday. The buses are like always, going by full. Nothing seems to have changed, but in the workplaces and schools activities are suspended so people can go to the Plaza of the Revolution. At the base of the José Martí monument that have arranged sites with flowers and huge photo and the people file by.
No one stops in front of the photo where there are no ashes. The ashes are under control of the Ministy of the Armed Forces and the people don’t file past there. Many cellphones film the flowers and the photo. The real mourning does not happen on camera.
There is disgust and angry protests from those who spend hours in line and see groups of soldiers and people from other work centers who are allowed up the ramp to the base of the monument as soon as they arrive. A note of social indiscipline without public order to order it. The solution: to extend the hours of the line and people parading by until midnight so people can pay their respects.
In a country where saying yes while thinking something else has been a practice for years, we won’t know how many bottles were uncorrked, how many complicit hugs were given. But even those legitimately struck by the loss understand the before and after.
Fidel was in charge of embodying the Revolution. It doesn’t mater how many commitments we Cubans are invited to sign*, in an illusion of continuity. His phrase, “To change everything that should be changed,” will recur in the immediate future.
*Translator’s note: At the time Fidel died, the government asked all Cubans to sign a loyalty oath to his socialist ideology.