HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s official discourse cannot help but celebrate or solemnly commemorate certain events. There is even a television program about such events, where I’ve heard as absurd commemorative remarks as: “On a day like today, the Commander in Chief visited this or that place…”
There have always been dates whose remembrance, though politicized, has always seemed more serious, like the 7th of December, which has always invariably has a double significance: the fall in combat of Major General Antonio Maceo Grajales (in 1896) and the birth of the revolutionary martyr Frank Pais Garcia (in 1934). It seems that the government felt the date needed more heroes and martyrs and chose it for what came to be known as Operation Tribute.
The arrival of the remains and corpses of the soldiers and civilians who died in Africa was an ambivalent event. While it was just and even necessary for relatives and friends to have their loved ones back, it was also like rubbing salt on the wounds and re-awakening their feelings of sadness and impotence (though, before the TV cameras, the mothers, widows and orphans pronounced ready-made phrases, saying they were proud. Proud of what, I wonder…of death?)
Since the times of Homer, we hear talk of wars in which people die in foreign lands in defense of a “cause” that was as foreign to them as the battlefields. We read of how Achiles and Patroclus died young in far-off lands and how Penelope waited twenty years for her beloved Ulysses, because of a war that didn’t involve them in the least. Similarly, thousands of Cuban families cried over the pointless deaths of their loved ones in Angola.
What’s most outrageous is that, as is often the case, Cubans didn’t have a clear sense of what was happening in Angola. Speeches loaded with words such as “internationalism” and “just cause” were their only referent of what was happening in that part of the world. Legions of young people in the military and men drafted by the reserves would depart, swearing (without knowing clearly before whom) that they, who were about to die, saluted us.
Angola was a divided country. The FAPLA was the armed wing of the nationalist MPLA movement led by Agosthino Neto. But there were other movements, like the FNLA, headed by Holden Roberto. There was a third movement, UNITA, presided over by Jonas Savimbi. Rivalry and conflict among these liberations movements characterized Angola’s independence struggle, where Cubans fought alongside the enemy and traitor.
It’s been 25 years since those days of long military band rehearsals and funeral processions, in anticipation of December 7, 1989 when the dead were to arrive. This year, Cuba commemorated a quarter of a century since that solemn return.
Angola achieved independence and won a cruel war thanks to Cuba’s help. But the widows and orphans of the Cubans who fought and died there need a visa to travel to Angola. I wonder what they think about the somber tribute paid to their loved ones.