Goodbye to Illusion and Spontaneity in Cuba / Iván García

Wild flowers on a Havana balcony

Ivan Garcia, 9 January 2017 — The sun’s rays were not yet peeking over the horizon, when Danier, 10, a fifth grade student at an elementary school in southeast Havana, with a small backpack and two plastic bottles of frozen water, went with his parents to the Plaza of the Revolution to participate in the “march of the fighting people” and afterwards to see the military parade for the 60th anniversary of  the founding of the armed forces.

Seated on the curb of the sidewalk on Paseo Street, they breakfasted on egg sandwiches that were already dry and a glass of soda pop. Although the authorities have not offered an estimate of the people who attended, to Danier it seemed like hundreds of thousands. “I imagined a military parade with tanks, rockets, airplanes and helicopters. But there were only soldiers, militia members and people,” he says, disappointed.

His parents, like the rest of those present, were not summoned at gunpoint or forced to attend. The methods of Raul Castro’s Cuba are more subtle. “Before leaving for the end of year holidays, the teacher at my son’s school asked them to write a composition about their experience at the parade. If we hadn’t brought him, there was no way he could have done the assignment,” says Julian, the kid’s father.

Julian was not forced to attend, nor did he go out of loyalty to Fidel Castro. He probably would have preferred to sleep in until nine in the morning. “But I have an important job at Labiofam. And if I didn’t attend without a good reason, you know how it is,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

Less and less, businesses and schools pressure their employees and students to attend public gatherings. In the years of Soviet Cuba, listening to all of a four-and-a-half hour speech by Fidel Castro, cutting cane, or participating in voluntary work, as well as receiving a diploma or a tin medal, was all worth it to enter your name into the state drawing for when they doled out fans, washing machines, Russian televisions or a microbrigade-built apartment.

Now the handouts are other things. A snack, in the case of the state phone company, ETECSA, which later you can sell for twenty Cuban pesos, or people go simply because an important share of Cubans act like zombies and prefer to fake support for the government, which in the last twenty-seven years has bot been able to benefit the workers.

In Cuba, the people who work for the state without stealing or embezzling are, along with pensioners, those who live the worst. Deadly inflation makes their ridiculous salaries disappear when they buy a string of onions and ten pounds of pork.

But on the island, the Revolutionary symbols still weigh heavily. The official media cling to them to camouflage the disaster. Celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas is considered a ’petty bourgeois’ custom. There is only room for the olive-green narrative.

These and other Christian celebrations of the Western world are allowed by the regime, but with a frown. Their legend is different. If God exists, then the Cuban Revolution has Fidel Castro.

They don’t need museums, streets with his name, nor running the risk that in difficult times his statues would be torn down by his adversaries. Fidel is in the ether. He is omnipresent.

He was the architect of the ranch, he taught us to read, write and think. The sportsman in chief. He was like Santa Claus, when he distributed five boxes of beer or a can of deviled ham on the ration book for parties or weddings, like one of the Three Wise Men when he moved Christmas to July and offered children under twelve three toys.

Fidel Castro tried to bury the traditions. Proscribe the dreams. Danier, 10, is an example. He never believed in the fable of the Three Wise Men. His parents, on the eve of Epiphany, never put toys under the bed.

“When I want a toy, if my parents have money, we go to the Carlos III shopping center or the Comodor and buy it. There are children in my school who are my age and still believe in the Three Wise Men. But I don’t,” says Danier, back from the Plaza of the Revolution.

The anthropological damage that the government of Fidel Castro has done to Cubans is incalculable. When at some moment we objectively evaluate its effects, we will observe and realize its dimension.

We should not have feelings of guilt or believe we were idiots. The leaders of the masses are expert manipulators, snake charmers. Citizens as rational as the Germans also applauded a devious man. In his delirium and self-centeredness, Fidel Castro sought to demolish the cultural foundations and traditions of the nation.

One morning in January of 1960, from a small plane, the Rebel Army threw candies and toys to poor children of the mountains who had never had them. On another occasion, in the basement of the old Radiocentro — today the Yara move theater, in the heart of Vedado — along with Ernesto Che Guevara and Juan Almeida, they dressed as the Three Wise Men and distributed toys.

The message was timely: now the traditions are ours. Fidel Castro hijacked customs and changed dates of festivities like the carnivals of Havana. In his eagerness to take over everything, he ruined the country.

He killed illusion and spontaneity in children and adults. It’s unthinkable one person can cause so much damage. Fidel could.