HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, while wandering down the streets of Old Havana, I came upon a very strange scene. In a quiet little backstreet, there were about a hundred men and women in military formation, standing at attention (or what they understood to be this position). So many people in one place, dressed in the deep red of Venezuela’s Ribas Mission, is a striking spectacle in and of itself.
Standing on the curb, one of them was delivering a speech to the “troop”. I stopped to look at their faces. How different their expressions are from ours! Is it a mixture of humility, stubbornness and faith in an idea what gives one’s gaze that intensity that is so uncommon down here?
Is that what the illiterate masses of Cubans, filled with enthusiasm about the revolution, looked like in the early days?
These questions were going around my head when the fireworks suddenly went off: “LONG LIVE FIDEL! LONG LIVE CHAVEZ! LONG LIVE THE CUBAN REVOLUTION! LONG LIVE THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION! KNEELING, WE SWEAR, WE SWEAR, WE SWEAR TO DEFEND SOCIALISM!”
I swear that I had never heard those words vociferated with so much spirit in my entire life. Every phrase was like cannon fire, piercing the morning silence and making everything around me shudder. I started to fear for the buildings in the vicinity, propped up with wooden scaffolds and ready to collapse at any minute.
Nearby, a couple of drunkards mimicked the slogans, undermining the solemnity of the ceremony. None of the Reds laughed.
The Ribas Mission is a campaign set in motion by the Venezuelan government to offer education to people who have not completed high school. Some, however, suspect that its true intentions are to politically indoctrinate and manipulate people of low educational level.
I actually read that later, but, there, during that graduation ceremony full of empty-sounding slogans, it was exactly the impression I got.