Of Spontaneous Leadership and Popular Protests in Cuba

“Let us do with our lives what we want,” demands the shirtless man in the center, before the strict faces of officials and police in El Cepem, Artemisa. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2022 — A shirtless man stands up to officials and police to prevent them from confiscating the rafts with which a group of residents of El Cepem, Artemisa, want to get out of the Cuban “socialist paradise.” A woman sits in front of her phone in Santiago de Cuba and launches an acid criticism against stores that only take payment in foreign currency. An old man walks the streets of San Antonio de los Baños shouting slogans against president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Hours before those actions, no one would have believed that either would become a leader, no one would have singled them out as ringleaders of the outrage on this Island.

For decades, Cubans have been waiting for anointed protagonists who will confront power directly and, in the style of Joan of Arc, come to immolate themselves if necessary for the cause of all. Waiting for these bold and magnetic messiahs, many citizens have parked their own civic actions. The demands from outside and within the national borders for these determined and authoritarian caudillos to appear, feared by the ruling party and loved by the people, fascinating and good orators, have also delayed change in this country.

However, life has shown that the leader emerges where forced by circumstances, that the leading role passes from one to another as reality dictates. That momentary chief is the biggest headache right now for the Cuban regime, which, when it finishes putting out the flame of rebellion in one area of ​​the country, another more sophisticated and stronger popular fire appears. In El Cepem, a poor community near El Salado beach, Castroism faced another problem this Monday, its own lack of charismatic figures and solutions to national problems.

A man, with a speech that borders on the philosophical heights, and whose address lacks a single obscenity, has struck the Cuban system to the heart. “If they don’t want us, because we are an illegal community, if we don’t fit in this country because our wages are not enough to buy in hard currency stores, if there is no oil for the thermoelectric plants to work,” then “let us do with our own lives whatever we want,” demands this father of an eight-month-old baby in front of the strict faces of officials and police.

Microphone in hand, while another resident of El Cepem holds the speaker on his shoulder through which his flat and firm voice is heard, this man displays all the arts of a true leader: he summons, unites, protects and confronts those who want  to do harm to his group, his neighborhood. What is his name? Where did he learn all those truths that he shoots like argumentative arrows, accurate and irrefutable? It is not necessary to know. The political police will now invent a past for him that is tailored to the campaigns to assassinate his reputation, to which they have appealed so often for more than 60 years. But, for a few minutes, he was the undisputed leader of national despair.

Let’s stop waiting for “the voice.” Any of us, at any given moment, can be chief, director, rector, general or president.


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