Venezuela and the Years of Fidel Castro’s Hysteria / Iván García

Caricature from the Mexican caricaturist Fernando Llera, taken from his blog.
Caricature from the Mexican caricaturist Fernando Llera, taken from his blog.

Ivan Garcia, 16 June 2016 — It was a winter morning in 1978. The director of Antonio Maceo secondary school — housed in the old Teachers’ Normal School in the Havana burough of Cerro — announced in melodramatic tones that students at the campus must prepare for an imminent attack by the United States.

His harangue went, more or less, something like this: “The imperialist enemy never ceases in its efforts to prevent us from building socialism and practicing proletarian internationalism with our brothers in Africa. Therefore, we must be prepared to defend the victories of the Revolution. Everyone, from the young to the old, must know how to fire a gun.”

I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. The first time that I practiced tactical military strategy with an AKM assault rifle was in the park adjacent to the school.

Two years earlier, on October 6, 1976, the principal of my school — named for Romualdo de la Cuesta and also in Cerro — openly wept as she decried the “criminal attack on an airliner en route from Barbados in which seventy-three innocent passengers, among them fifty-seven Cubans, perished due to fascist Cuban criminals based in the United States.”

Before I had learned how to add, understood the value of the family or fully appreciated the martyrs of the war for independence, I was given the task of reading aloud in class a paragraph which, among other things, emphasized Fidel’s importance in the lives of Cuban children.

Political drama was ever-present in my student years. On October 26, 1983, a day after “the invasion of Granada by Yankee troops,” loudspeakers at the René O’Reiné university preparatory school — the former Vibora Secondary School — blared a news bulletin from an emotional radio announcer notifying us that “the last Cubans who remained alive had wrapped themselves in the flag and continued fighting against the Yankee invaders.”

It all turned out to be a blatant lie. When I was in the military, we were regularly confined to barracks in anticipation of “inevitable imperialist American aggression against Cuba.”

From the early hours of the morning, hundreds of recruits built bomb shelters in preparation for war. I have a hard time remembering any point in my life which did not involve Yankee imperialism and its threats of war, the achievements of the Revolution or the wise leadership of Fidel Castro.

Everything was embellished with the literature of Soviet realism such as No One Is Born a Soldier, August 1944 and Men of Panfilov, along with slogans, loyalty to the revolution and its leader, daily shortages, the ration book and repeated power outages.

An autocratic Raul Castro has abandoned the trenches and toned down the hysteria, though every once in awhile nostalgic fanatics give indications of a return to the past.

Every time I hear a speech by the boorish Nicolas Maduro, I remember that period of my youth when the military government manipulated us like puppets.

A feeling of déjà vu (as the French would say) is unavoidable. Today, Venezuela is the mother of all crises — social, economic and political — and Caracas has become a dangerous slaughterhouse.

Murders, kidnappings and widespread violence have transformed the South American country into a time bomb. As though that were not enough, the scarcity of medicine, food and electricity, in a nation with more oil reserves than any country on earth, as well as the polarization of society and the toxic rhetoric of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) threatens to destroy social cohesion.

Maduro is a reckless guy driving the country off a cliff. Inflation is out of control, hard currency reserves are depleted, everything is in short supply and the presence of armed militias which function like Praetorian guards could be the genesis of a civil war.

Maduro’s governmental mismanagement now threatens to destroy Chavezism as a political movement. The only option is for him to resign. He has no other choice. But as his mentors in Havana have decreed, “a revolutionary does not lay down arms.”

The silent colonization of Venezuela is the crowning achievement of Fidel Castro’s political strategy. By dint of ideology and without firing a shot, he conquered a country with a population, natural resources and a GDP three times the size of those of the island of Cuba.

It involved using tools that ranged from voter rolls, ID cards and passports to Santeria rituals and intelligence gathering methods.

The bigwigs in the Palace of the Revolution have asked their cohorts in the PSUV to hold on as they negotiate a way out of their systemic crisis with the “Yankee enemy” across the street.

During a recent visit to Caracas, Cuban chancellor Bruno Rodriguez said that the “Bolivarian Revolution,” founded by Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez, “can always and in under any circumstances count on the loyalty and presence of Cuba in its battles.”

The only enemy these authoritarian systems have is their own inability to generate prosperity. The rest is a story for suckers. Poor Venezuela.