The Naked King / Reinaldo Escobar

1987: Year 29 of the Revolution: “Now, indeed, we are going to Build socialism!”

Fidel Castro’s recent confession that the Cuban System doesn’t work, not even for us, and the unfortunate clarification that sought to amend the slip, have surprised and excited those addicted to the regime, its opponents, and neutral Cubanologists.

The initial phrase, slipped into an interview with the journalist Jeffry Goldberg from The Atlantic magazine, came to be interpreted by some as a sign of changes to come, although others took it only as an inconsequential rant.

I remember the newspaper Granma’s front page from December 27, 1986: “1987: Year 29 of the Revolution,” and in letters even larger, the Maximum Leader’s brilliant line, “NOW INDEED WE ARE GOING TO BUILD SOCIALISM.”

A few years later, when Real Socialism collapsed in Eastern Europe, another journalist (obviously a foreigner) asked the Commander-in-Chief if Cuba would now dedicate itself to building capitalism. His answer then also stunned many: “What is built is socialism, capitalism gives birth to itself.”

Now, the first question that comes to mind is whether there has really existed a “Cuban system” susceptible to being defined under some theoretical formulation. The absence of a definition is what has allowed the pervasive voluntarism and improvisation with respect not only to the economy, but also to political culture, international relations, and all spheres of ideological work. If this is the model of the Cuban system we are now being told doesn’t work: thank you very much, we already know that. For denouncing or issuing warnings about its disfunctionality, many honest members of the Communist Party were expelled, many journalists, artists, professors and employees of the superstructure lost their jobs, and many citizens, considered dissidents, ended up in prison.

But we don’t seek vengeance. Let’s be positive. Start with a clean slate. Look to the future. If this “system” does not work, let’s design another, keeping in mind that socialism, as defined in books, never came to the point of failure of Cuba because it was never possible to implement it.

One of the problems we have faced, at least recently, has been the insistence on the irrevocable character of our system, with public discourse being allowed to advance only as far as promoting the idea of perfecting or realizing it. The “Not Working” sign which, in a Freudian slip, the Maximum Leader hung on the doors of the system, calls for replacement rather than repair; for change, rather than improvement. But it can also leave us at a dead end, marching in place.

The clumsy explanation that he was amused to see how he had been interpreted, because what he meant to say was exactly the opposite, makes me think of the late comedian Chaflán, who explained to the public that when he was wearing his hat everything was a joke, he only spoke seriously bare-headed. Was el comandante wearing his cap when he was speaking with Goldberg?

The oft repeated story of the King wearing invisible clothes has found a different ending in Cuba. It is no longer an innocent boy who shouts that the emperor is nude. To the astonishment of the credulous, it is the monarch himself who, in an obscene display of exhibitionism, admits loudly, “I am stark naked.”

Note: This article originally appeared in Spanish in Diario de Cuba

September 16, 2010