One hundred and ten years since that May 20th, 1902, it appears that the Republic is only a beautiful woman of proud bearing, covered by a Greek tunic, with long curly hair and wearing a Phrygian cap and a bright red single star. Or maybe some Cubans here think that the Republic is a huge bronze statue cloistered in a space too small for that monument to national vanity which we know as Havana’s National Capitol. At any rate, the sculptural symbol seems opportune, because Republic, until today, is a kind of abstraction that always been too big for our breeches.
I say this because, for over a century, the Republic remains a pretext for nostalgia (the Republic we lost!), for criticizing (the “hindered” Republic), for boasting (we had the most advanced Constitution of its time during the Republic) or for hoping (Oh, the day we once again have a Republic!).
The Republic has been and continues to be an essential reference for its proponents as well as its detractors. In that short 47-year dream, Cuba’s greatest civic and economic strides and worst social evils are cited by both sides. Again and again, each May 20th memories are rewritten, and every time it seems that the best representation of our Republic is just as fragile, ethereal, ephemeral and elusive as a soap bubble. And, like any dream, the lost Republic was born wrapped in a series of myths that are even repeated today and in which many believe: myths that enshrine the historic fate, like heavy burdens on our destinies, the myth of heroism, sacrifice and revolutions as avenues for redemption.
Risking general animosity, it is for all our past and present whims and national myth mania that I have decided to honor this new anniversary of the Republic with this radical statement: I don’t want a return to a Republic that was, with its sorrows and its glory, the one that was not able to protect us from barbarity. I want a new one, where the podium is occupied by its citizens.
I am not going to deny the history of my country through its epic poems, its traditions and its portraits, but I prefer to think of heroes as men and not as titans. Titans produce legends, not republics, that’s why prosperous nations call their founders MEN, not titans, apostles or messiahs, and they do not call their children “soldiers of the Mother Country”, but citizens.
I want a republic, yes, but not one that is born of failed revolutions and the perpetuation of historical lies repeated a thousand times by one or another harmful messiah. I want a republic in which Cubans do not feel compelled to invent heroes to defeat an ancient and ill-concealed inferiority complex, imagining themselves as heirs of a patrimony of pure warriors, naked and holding a machete on spirited horses, sacrificing their lives or delivering their blood to the altar of the Country. I do not want a republic that appeals to mothers who send their children to supposedly holy wars, but wars, nonetheless –full of hatred, death, violence and cruelty– or emerging from “redemptive” revolutions that end up snatching rights and perpetuating injustices; but one that stems from conciliation and peace, from consensus, from inclusions and from respect: a place for citizens. It must be so, or we will, once again, be orphans, without a Republic. Right now I can’t think of a better tribute.
Translated by Norma Whiting
May 21 2012