You Can Still Love and Be Happy in a Dictatorship

Pablo Milanés. RTVE

Diario de Cuba, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Saint Louis, 24 November 2022 — An icon of Castroism has died. Pablo Milanés now belongs to history. May the soul of a contemporary Cuban rest in peace. Thank you for allowing us to be your exceptional witnesses. We promise to tell the Cubans to come about you, with love.

A musical work by Pablo Milanés, after his death in European exile, inevitably begins to be updated again, especially in that instantaneous civic square that is the Internet. I mean, here.

How much did he win, how much did he lose? What did he sing and what didn’t he sing, who did he sang for and who didn’t he sing for? Also, as attached to his scores and his good-natured Bayamé voice, his anthological selfies with the tyrant return, which today are part of the emotional archeology of a tyranny that at times illuminated and at times made our days unbearable.

Faced with mourning for the disappeared of the Cuban Utopia, the voiceless victims of the Paradise of the Proletariat, we always need to bet on light and compassion. We are better than our executioners, and we have known how to be reborn to a life in truth, free and good in the midst of the servile and vile. Totalitarianism is powerless before our tenderness.

Qualities and originalities apart, Pablo Milanés was a genius of our national songwriting of all time. His absence impacts us from another place that doesn’t necessarily go through reason. Just admit it. The future of free Cubans without Cuba cannot begin with a gesture of denial.

Because Pablo hurts us, he grips our hearts. A bit pathetically and provincially, it’s true, but what can we do? We are like that, half sentimental and half wise. And we feel in Pablito an existential companion that we have lost and whose loss — we all know it, knowing it or not — will be irretrievable for the rest of our biographies.

Pablo Milanés shone with his own brilliance. And also with that brilliance he kidnapped thousands and thousands of Cubans who could have been as creative and affectionate as him, but who ended up mentally and physically demolished by the dictatorship of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Pablo Milanés knew closely those Cubans who did not fit in the Nueva Trova, but were forced to be militants of hatred until today (if they survived the olive green military). And, for decades, he delicately shut them up.

Having been one of them himself at the beginning of his career, Pablo perhaps considered that his triumph would be his best revenge against the brutes and abusers who imposed barbarism on us disguised as ideology.

Over time, the one who appeases everything, Pablo Milanés began to take a discreet distance from the ossified elite in power in Havana. We reach the 21st century together. We began to miss each other among Cubans. Until last Monday, when he died far from home — as you and I will die — the singer-songwriter had already broken rhetorically with the Revolution, from the peaceful perspective of the prophet who believes that the revolution has been betrayed by the revolutionaries themselves.

Poor for the singer and good.

It would be a mistake of the human soul to leave the remains of Pablo Milanés in the hands of local repressors, allies or renegades with him in life. It would be a mistake of political strategy to put his legacy among the icons of the international left. And it would be a mistake of Cubanness to renounce wanting to be in communion with a Cuban who, yes, was able to love and be happy in the midst of Island totalitarianism.

As you and I were able to, until we were no longer.

And that’s precisely why we left, remember? We escaped from the horror because we could still love and be happy in the Castroite prison in the open air into which they converted Cuba. And because, from that love and that happiness under surveillance, we could still make the sovereign decision to leave the Island to love and be happy at any other solitary point on the planet.

Here we are still. Together. Connected from a distance. Inconsolable, but never irreconcilable. Without Pablo Milanés.

We don’t need to make mourning another cause of combat, nor that our immemorial wrath undoes our memory of the singer-songwriter. If we could fall in love and feel happiness on the Island under the lies and violence of the military junta, it makes no sense to deny it now in the inner democracy in which each Cuban can fulfill himself.

Pablo Milanés belongs to the Cuban people. He is a treasure and a testimony in perpetuity of what we are going through. The Revolution is even running out of its dead. In addition, death is a very desolate place. Let’s not leave Pablito there, please.

Translated by Regina Anavy