Cubans and the ‘Revolution’

The Beatles’ music was banned for being an “ideological deviation” until the Maximum Leader, seated next to a bronze John Lennon at that moment, confessed on television: “I am very sorry not to have met you before.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eloy M. Viera Moreno, Havana, 31 January 2021 —  The term “revolution” was used in the Cuban context for the first time by the priest Félix Varela. He did so in 1824, in a newspaper distributed illegally and secretly from hand to hand. The colonial authorities classified that newspaper, El Habanero, and its director as “mercenaries” at the service of “foreign powers,” while its maker had to live the rest of his life in exile, condemned to death. Any resemblance to the conditions of extreme disqualification and government repression under which the independent press operates in Cuba today is an absolute coincidence.

Since then, we Cubans have considered the driving events of Cubanity as “revolutions,” due to that apparent desire for accelerated renewal of our political life that “barely knows the adagio and instead cultivates the allegretto with an irresponsible avidity,” according to Francisco Ichaso. Over the course of 135 years, until 1959, we named as “revolutions” true processes of a positive sign such as the independence exploits of 1868 and 1895, the general strike to end the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado or the triumphant popular revolution in 1959.

All with something in common: they contributed, to a greater or lesser extent, to the development of the nation and to the cohesion of Cubans. The history of Cubanity was seen as a prolonged, indivisible revolution, with culminating moments led by diverse generations, the revolutionaries therefore considered themselves heirs to previous struggles.

However, events with no root contribution to Cuban identity have also been baptized as the same thing, aimed more at achieving personal aspirations. In this group we can include insurrections due to partisan discords such as the La Chambelona uprising in 1917, or the uprising of the sergeants on September 4, 1933. Even Fulgencio Batista, a figure trained in this type of revolt, repeatedly used the word “revolution” in the text of the Statute Law, in an attempt to justify the coup d’état of March 10, 1952.

This word has historically had an overwhelming influence on the conscience of Cubans, for which it was extensively used by politicians and demagogue leaders.

With these antecedents came the 1959 Revolution and a good part of the Cuban population and intelligentsia awakened hope in an unprecedented consolidation of the nation. Jorge Mañach, an intellectual student of the subject, with a vital experience of four decades of struggle, declared that year: “There is no doubt that the great national will is at last taking shape.” A few months later he went into exile in the face of the totalitarian course of events.

With the turn to Marxism between 1959 and 1965, the leaders took advantage of the islanders’ fascination with the “revolution” and turned it into a party question, when it had traditionally been treated as a concept relative to the nation. Additionally, the imposition of a single and exclusive political group in a country with a long multi-party tradition was justified by repeating the Soviet praxis of Marxism. The nation stopped setting the course and the Party was placed over the State, until then an expression of Cubanity and the legal watchdog of its interests through the mechanisms of democracy.

The Revolution was proclaimed as a continuous process in time and the generational events were canceled. A well-orchestrated ideological campaign confused in the collective consciousness the terms homeland, nation, State and revolution. To stay in power for six decades, the cult of personality was taken to a mythical scale, contradicting Marti’s teaching according to which “revolutions, no matter how individualistic they may seem, are the works of many wills, and it is frequently necessary to bend one’s own.”

The principles of the “revolution” were changed with chameleon profusion: the triumphant “green as our palms” movement turned “socialist Marxist-Leninist”; demonized private initiative was reintroduced for years; foreign tourism, just as demonized, returned; and a long etcetera. Sympathetic and illustrative is the example of the music of the Beatles, banned for being an “ideological deviation” until the Maximum Leader, seated next to a bronze John Lennon, confessed to television: “I am very sorry I did not meet you before.”

The most serious consequence of this “eternal revolution” is the division of Cubans, of the nation, into two groups according to their attitude towards the regime: the “Revolutionaries” and the islanders with no heart. It will take time to close that rift. I am optimistic, we can always return to the essential feelings and traditions that the fathers of Cubanity left us. The future is promising.


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