L is for Liberty / Henry Constantin

A beheaded Indian atop his white horse races around Las Tunas, this faded and drab Eastern balcony what I love so much because there they have loved me. The Indian is a bad omen, according to the elders of Las Tunas, perhaps because of the already genetic fear of a population that in the 19th century was attacked too often and burned too often. There are those who say, to spread fear at night, that the last apparitions of the headless one were before an apocalyptic hailstorm and a bloody car accident many years ago. But it has not come out again.

And I think it’s because, decapitated after all, he has no head to see his surroundings. Because a subtle tragedy, without blood or fury or visible cataclysms, happens every day. In the schools of Tunas — as its citizens abbreviate Las Tunas — and in the whole country.

If you travel to the village of Cucalambé — eminent poet of Las Tunas, whose formal name was Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo drop in on Vicente Garcia park. Look at the statue of the much-discussed gallant general, walk through the bright new boulevard that stretched from the little Catholic church, have an ice cream at Las Copas, take a peek at Jose Marti Plaza, the most inventive Cuban monument to the man from Dos Rios. All that is very nice. But if you don’t want to upset yourself, don’t want any further on the boulevard that Ramon Ortuno Street.

Because a few blocks further on, like someone looking for the bus station, there’s a nursery school, a kindergarten — as the grandparents call it — that is called “Little Friends of MININT,” that is the Ministry of the Interior. I went through there at the same time as the parents were picking up their kids under 5, who do not read or write, but who surely have already received lectures in that place about the institution in charge of control and exhaustive surveillance over Cubans, those who spy, interrogate, beat and imprison people. I discovered that place and, dying of laughter at the excessive brainwashing, took a a picture of it. Then came the bitterness.

Bitterness is not the name of the place, which is just a detail in the landscape of Cuban education. The bitterness is because I remembered that I’m alive and I have a son who lives in a country where all this, these kindergartens for toddlers, primary and secondary schools for kids and teens, the high schools and poly-techs, and the universities belong to the state. And those who control the state — which I insist on writing in lower case, because that’s how I think of them — manage them without any ethical respect for our children.

On the contrary, they use them to teach and evaluate the discipline of their own political ideas. And worse: they train them in the arts of obedience, of saying yes when they think no, of setting aside their truth, of running away when they can’t take it any more. Without the permission of the parents, who also took the same classes.

Once I asked Dante, my son, who just turned 7,what letter he’d learned that day. “F for Fidel,” he answered. Not F for Family, which is what I try to teach him, not F for fortunate, which is what he deserves. No, those were not the most important words he learned that day. That day he learned F, for Fidel.

They saw education in Cuba is free. I don’t know. It’s true that in exchange for so much schooling and education the government doesn’t ask us for money, no. It asks us to give our liberty, which is worth more.

The Indian doesn’t go headless any more in Las Tunas. Or there is no disgrace to say it, or those it happens to are so used to it and silent, that that rider on a white horse dissolves in the past. But this April 4th there’s a party for our children, the students, who, for now, continue in that only possible — free and compulsory — school. For now.

1 April 2013