We Are Still Olive Green* / Yusimi Rodriguez Lopez

On Saturday July 20, as I was getting ready to go out with my niece, among the TV news items I heard was a piece about a town that was going to celebrate the provincial commemoration of — at this point I assumed it would be Children’s Day, which was to take place on the following day, Sunday the 21st, but I was mistaken — July 26, the Day of National Rebellion.

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of this sad event which, since I was a child, has been seen as a occasion for celebration. I remember that the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) had a party. The state provided some things and I believe money was collected from neighbors. It was a party similar to that of September 28. Over time the state stopped subsidizing the food, which was sold at modest prices, that allowed every CDR to celebrate the anniversary. I imagine that people also were no longer able or willing to donate money.

I do not know if the newspaper Tribuna de La Habana, the Party or UPEC (the Union of Cuban Journalists) will continue supplying workers with a basket of pork, cooking oil, rice, beans, cookies, a dessert and a bottle of rum. The one from UPEC used to come with chicken, if I remember correctly, and a package of sausages along with a bottle of brand-name rum, but that was only for the journalists on staff.

I think that in this country there is so much eagerness to celebrate, to enjoy the holidays, so much need for something extra that will stretch people’s monthly food budget, that it does not matter what the reason is for celebrating.

The fact is we are celebrating a bloody event that, even if it had not been a defeat from a military point of view, even if the assailants had managed to reduce dictator Fulgencio Batista’s troop strength, would have been paid for in a river of blood. We are celebrating the death of many young men, people who left behind parents, siblings, girlfriends, wives and perhaps children.

“Let us go marching towards an ideal.” But which one? We will never know. I suppose they died to achieve what we have today, which I have been told since I was little, but undoubtedly I will never know. They will never be able to say in their own voices if it was for this, for today’s Cuba, that they died.

Not long ago there was talk on televsion about one of these martyrs. He once had a family and a job, but sacrificed a large part of his income and sold his household possessions for the cause. Later they said he was one of the first to fall in battle. At the time it seemed so sad to me. And so ridiculous.

I later felt that this showed a lack of respect for those young men, who did what they felt they had to do at the time. It required a high degree of courage, of commitment, the willingness to die for a cause. The awful thing is that those who are willing to die in combat are also willing to kill. We often hear our soldiers say they are willing to die (and of course to kill) to defend us, the people. But are they willing to defend the people even if they are no longer in agreement with their leaders? Does a person cease to be one of the people if he or she becomes a dissident or even an opponent?

Those young men, to whom the country has paid homage for many years, saw no other alternative but to overturn a dictatorship through violent struggle. Even Nelson Mandela, whom I deeply admire, was convinced that armed struggle was the only way to overturn apartheid in South Africa.

But I ask myself if in this country where — according to what I have been told — a free press existed even during the Batista dictatorship, there was not some other way to overturn the dictator and restore the constitution of 1940. Was restoring this constitution not specifically one of the goals of those who attacked the Moncada Barracks? Yet it never again became this country’s constitution.

Perhaps not. Perhaps there was no means other than violence to overturn the dictatorship.

I, however, prefer the methods of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King. I prefer that innocent blood not be shed. Or guilty blood. I am sure that what is obtained through violence can only be maintained through violence, through making the defeated fearful.

There is a quote in a letter from José Martí to Manuel Mercado which has remained in the minds of Cubans for years . It was even the title of a successful television series in the 1980s called In Silence It Had to Be. I prefer to think “without violence it must be.”

Nevertheless, this society has exalted and continues to exalt violence. Those who left the country after January 1, 1959 were its victims. Those involved in peaceful opposition to the government are its victims as are those with no intention of assaulting a military barracks of any kind.

Yusimí Rodríguez López | Havana | July 26, 2013

 From Diario de Cuba

*Translator’s note: A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.