This past Friday I was passing by G and 23rd Street, where to my surprise I found several youth activities underway: the sale of books and music, traditional dance, a space in which trova musicians were singing and where music was playing at full blast, though each activity was separated by less than 40 yards.
This was the closing week for the commemoration of Student’s Day, November 17, which is a lead-up to the ninth congress of the Young Communist League (UJC).
One could witness immense posters with the slogans like “Study, Work and Rifle,” “Homeland is Humanity” and “Everything for the Revolution,” though such flag-waving jingoism is often difficult to reconcile with the fact that it’s hard to find serious political organizations in Cuba – ones which are organically linked with students and young workers struggling to advance their interests.
As I tried to get closer to the trova presentation, I heard a disturbance from what at first seemed to be a large conga line. But as I looked more closely, I could see that something unusual was taking place.
A group of approximately of 60 middle-aged people had begun to encircle a group of three or four people, yelling “Get outta here, why don’t you get outta here” and “This street belongs to Fidel.”
As other people began crowding around to see what was going on, they all found themselves surprised by what was occurring and unsure whether they should show support or opposition for what was being done to the smaller group.
As the small group moved toward the microphone of the trova musicians, the conga line began to be joined by the crowd. This included a group of high school students who began imitating the chants -like in a game- as well as adults who had apparently expected the whole commotion, in addition to several camera persons. All told, more than 150 people ended up in this Havana brouhaha.
Although I initially thought this incident was impromptu, and though I haven’t gotten accurate reports until now that this was “the drop that caused the glass to overflow,” I realized shortly that the lager group had been organized beforehand. In no way did this give the sign of being a spontaneous occurrence. Everything seemed premeditated, was as if the attack against those people was expected.
One guy even came right up asked whether what was happening was organized by a group. A participant responded that the small band of protesters was right wing, and proceeded to shout “Long live Cuba, Viva Fidel. The guy stood there looking baffled, until the man grabbed him by the neck and forced him to join in with the chanting.
The chants continued: “Cuba yes, Yankees no” “Ping pong diplomacy out of here,” “Down with the gusanera (traitorous worms)”, “Long Live Fidel and Raul,” “Socialist Cuba.” The crowd -with a good bit shoving, agitation and showboating- simply tailed along to observe the spectacle and gossip about what was happening.
The journey ended after about a hundred yards, where the yelling and ruckus became even fiercer. Over on the corner, the street was closed off by a phalanx of men pushing back whoever tried to pass, while those who were booed were jostled into a car.
The foreign reporters, who wanted to get in closer, were warned not to. A cameraman was shoved back; they threatened to slug him and take his camera if he persisted. Then, with supreme authoritarianism, they ordered the press to film over at the area where the young people were singing and shouting.
In this way, the expression “fierce political struggle” was apropos.
Though I’m not aware of all the particulars that occurred, I was left with a pretty ugly political impression.
Through “Radio Bemba” (the Cuban grapevine) I was informed that this incident had indeed been expected, and that a mobilization had been called up for members of the “Rapid Response Brigade,” party subordinates who are deployed in the face of right-wing provocations.
Being that all this was foreseen, the whole reactionary situation had been staged, the foreign press had been forced back like Cuban workers, and the “unconscious masses” had been called on to follow these shock troops, though very few actually did.
From what I’ve been told, what was sought by the small group that was booed was to deliver their political message through one of the microphone present at the youth activity.
As for me, I believe that as long as violent attacks don’t take place, the mass media is in the hands of the workers and there are armed proletarian militias, debate should be held over any political position. And what better way than in a public gathering open to everyone. Interaction and the sharing of opinions can occur there without any fear that someone will be mistreated.
Now or never we must build a workers’ democracy that provides true freedom of speech for all social groups.
Overthrowing the prevailing bureaucracy, building workers councils that control -that’s to say, where the workers decide and execute the direction that the country should take,- will dispel any absurd fears that small isolated groups can generate.
Only bureaucrats who cannot count on the conscious participation of the working masses could make the error of repressing those “gusanos” (worms) or any other worker or student who doesn’t obey them without talking back.