I met Tonito when I was studying at the V. I. Lenin Pre-university High School of Exact Sciences. Not everyone there had such a noble soul or sharp brain. It was a pleasure to be around him. But Tonito had one “defect”: a kind of malice toward “socialism,” that’s to say he was against the regime of the island, which calls itself socialist. And this was in a school where to study there, by statute, one had to be “revolutionary.”
In Group 2 of Unit 4, the mathematics specialty where we met by chance, he was almost politically neutral. In our group about half of us defended the island’s system and the other half attacked it. We had heated discussions without anyone finding out and no one snitched to the school authorities on a classmate.
Out of all those who were “counter,” Tonito was the most defined, convinced, grounded and well read. By that early age he had already devoured books by Kundera, Orwell, Vargas Llosa and many other subversive writers about which the rest of us were unaware. Thanks to this, his arguments were the most difficult to rebut.
Others who were “counter,” though intelligent, were more elementary. They held positions based on common sense, were more aggressive, and demonstrated behavior characteristic of the sons and daughters of comfortable officials within the very system they attacked (though not all of them, of course).
But in the middle of the eighth grade, a group of the pro-socialists had to leave the school for doing poorly on their exams, consequently the “right” began to prevail. Parallel to this the Berlin Wall fell and things became very difficult at V. I. Lenin. I felt that the cold violence against those of us who had defended the system was unjustifiably growing in the classroom.
I say “unjustifiably” because none of us had ever done anything at all against those who didn’t think like we did. But they were the ones who had to march, take oaths, participate in political activities they hated, chant that they would “be like Che” (when they wouldn’t), and had to pretend too much of the time that they held values they really didn’t. As a result they reacted violently, with the brutality and ignorance of things that are done at that age.
After V.I. Lenin, each of us went our own way. Many of the pro-socialists ended up living in Miami, while many of those on the “right” are illustrious professionals in Cuba who work for the Revolution. As for Tonito…he left to live in Spain.
Antonio is currently visiting us, but no one is lining up behind him in an effort to pull together the old group from high school. He already has good-sized paunch, a Cuban wife and a three-year-old kid that learned Catalan before Castilian. Tonito never returned to study; he works as a laborer but is apparently happy with the life he leads.
Tonito was happy to hear I had also ended up disliking the regime, had read a whole lot of the subversive literature he had championed, and that a little later I had wanted to escape the island, even if in a washbasin. But he didn’t give me a chance to explain —or he didn’t want to listen to me— when I tried to tell him I still feel pro-socialist.