By Martin Guevara
HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, I talked for hours with a close friend from Havana who came over and whom I hadn’t seen in over ten years.
My friend had been an irredeemable opponent of the system. He had a different problem with the authorities almost every day. I also felt a profound antipathy towards the government and power, not against the communist system specifically, but against power as such. That made us feel the same degree of sympathy towards Fidel Castro and his cronies that they felt for us, whom they referred to as scum, rockers, drunks, slackers, counterrevolutionaries and anti-socials.
To make a long story short, my friend was going crazy in Cuba because he wanted to be free to travel, read whatever he wanted, express his ideas and enjoy life, and, as he grew up, he developed more and more ill will towards the system, the police, the Party, the countless base organizations and, near the end, practically anyone who wore a guayabera shirt with two pens sticking out of the front pocket.
He did everything in his power to leave Cuba, aware that, back then, even trying to do so was a crime punished with imprisonment. He made no effort to conceal his wishes, however. He would tell anyone willing to listen that he couldn’t take the country and its repression any more. His friends began to distance themselves from him because he would rant against the government without reservations anywhere and at any time. Back then, one could end up in prison for many years just for besmirching the name of the Comandante.
The only thing he wanted was to leave Cuba. He joined the ranks of proletarian internationalism by hooking up with women from around the world, to get married and ask them to get him out of there. After I was laid off, I found out he assembled several makeshift boats to cross the Florida Strait. He would later tell me he never considered it a sound escape route. It was not until 1997 that he was able to escape, through a legal procedure, and, little by little, his thirst for freedom of opinion, action and movement began to wane over the course of nearly twenty years.
To my surprise, during our conversation yesterday, I heard my friend defend Raul Castro and the revolution time and time again. He didn’t directly defend Fidel Castro, though he did hint at this, and he attacked the capitalist and even democratic system, not touching on the irony that, through a personal decision (not through coercion or threats), he currently lives in a developed country with a market economy and representative democracy, which he makes use of every day to express his opinions without restraint.
At first, I was left speechless, and I wanted to find out the reasons for the change. Instead of debating the evident, I wanted to find out more about that and surreptitiously asked him the reasons for the change, at a time when he drives a car worth enough to feed an entire African village and enjoys a petite bourgeois life without denying himself any of the pleasures capitalism affords and communism condemns.
The truth is that I didn’t manage to get any clear answers. Ultimately, I decided to steer the conversation in a different direction, as we are friends beyond our political veneers and I didn’t want to ruin such a precious moment with hurtful words.
Now more than over, I am truly intrigued by the propaganda mechanisms used by the Castromasov brothers to domesticate such a die-hard iconoclast, one that was put to numerous, direct tests, after so many years and with so much distance in between.
That paternalism, the power of the terminology of the “Good” the Castros hijacked, in exactly the same way the Church did centuries before, became deeply installed somewhere in the hypothalamus, conspiring against an individual’s enjoyment from the podium of guilt, a force exploited by the Judeo-Christian tradition and the communists over the past century.
It’s like a form of Stockholm Syndrome that operates over long distances, making those kidnapped experience the guilt of enjoying the “perfidious” pleasures of capitalism and the sins of freedom, but the curious thing is that these feelings do not make them return to the austerity and sterility of communism. They continue to enjoy the advantages offered by the capitalist system and democracy, ranting against these, expressing a kind of collective bipolarity or schizophrenia.
We spent the remainder of the night laughing and recalling unforgettable and unrepeatable episodes from other times and we didn’t talk politics again, until, the next morning, when I left him at the train station, in a moment of clarity, he said to me:
“Brother, I’m still the same person and those motherfuckers as well.”