Biology and Rumors, the Exhausting Cycle of ‘Undeath’

Former President Raúl Castro, in his reappearance on Cuba’s Primetime News. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 8 October 2020 – Ever since I can remember I have been aware of cyclical rumors about the health of some figure of power in Cuba. The gossip always starts with a friend or neighbor who claims to have a well-connected relative, someone who is part of the network closest to a senior Party leader, a military man or a government minister whose health has become fragile, very fragile. Then, as the days go by, come the alleged testimonies of those who claim to know that the “great death” has already occurred, while the most daring even claim to have seen the rigid figure inside its coffin.

This cycle of rumors about the death of a public figure reached its paroxysm on this Island during the long period during which the course of the national ship responded to Fidel Castro’s will. The country was so defined by the designs of one man that the act of his breathing could determine everything from international relations to the direction of the economy, from the TV broadcast schedule to the content of school textbooks. This excessive prominence encouraged a thousand and one speculations about his health, and it was a rare year that dozens of whispers were not unleashed about a possible surgical intervention, the deterioration of one of his physical capacities and even his sudden death.

In the end, after days or weeks of the “rumor” growing to a huge size, he reappeared in his uniform, giving a speech for hours in the rain or crossing the country in a caravan of military jeeps to visit some of his delusional projects. The rumor died down, frustration spread, and the feeling that biology was playing the “joke of eternity” generated despair, annoyance and the desire to escape from so much immobility. Each rumor only brought disappointment and, when the news of his death finally arrived we had to wait to hear it through the official media and from the mouth of his own brother, at the specific moment those “up there” decided to tell us, and without, on that occasion, a single whisper having alerted us ahead of time.

Now, once again we have fallen back into the trap of linking our destiny and our plans to the fact that a one man’s heart keeps beating. In recent days there have been voices that have spoken of the supposed death throes of Raúl Castro and his imminent end. My phone rang several times during the week and on the other side there was always the voice of a friend who was inquiring, who wanted to know if it was true. I responded to all of them with the skepticism of someone who has heard the same story many times and warned them of the possible sudden reappearance of the presumed patient in the official press. “I think this gossip is generated by the powerful themselves, who start the rumor rolling so he can return like a Phoenix,” I remarked.

And I was not wrong.

Undoubtedly, one day the rumor will be true, because the resounding logic of life suggests that there is no other: we are all going to die, even those who have presented themselves to us as immortal and superior. But I refuse to accept that the future life of a nation and the plans of its millions of citizens depend on the continued circulation of blood through the veins of one individual. Betting on biology rather than rebellion or civility seems to me to be an easy and supreme act of social conformity. The question is not whether someone is walking, in bed, or in a coffin; the issue is what are we Cubans going to do to breathe life into a country that is dying in our hands.


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