Cuba and Selective Amnesia

By Martin Guevara

Police repression in Cuba.

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.

Like me.

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.”

6 thoughts on “Cuba and Selective Amnesia

  • You know nothing, John… Snow

  • Since the crumbling of the Soviet Union it has become widely known that the Soviet economy was never what they said it was. You can call the socialist economies you named whatever you like. The people who lived in this countries and the government’s who destroyed them call themselves socialists so I will take their word for it.

  • I assume that in your obstinately ignorant way you refer to Soviet, Chinese N.Korean Cuban STATE CAPITALIST economies as “failed socialist” economies .
    Yes I agree , those TOTALITARIAN forms were failures because they were totalitarian.
    But not because they were socialist.
    State capitalism ( what you call socialism) works just fine even when assailed by U.S. economic imperialism .
    Between the two World Wars the Soviet Union lost some 50 million of its citizens and had its economic infrastructure nearly totally razed to the ground .
    That “socialist” economy went from zero to being the second largest economy in the world in just 25 years.
    There is NO free enterprise capitalist country that has done that or could do that given the often aimlessness and redundancies of free enterprise capitalism . .
    All this to say that you don’t know much about much.
    Except possibly that you KNOW you love totalitarian systems.

  • I understand this article very much. Very Much. It cuts like a knife to read it.

  • John, you always rush to defend your imaginary socialism. As far as I can tell, this socialist paradise has only existed in your nocturnal fantasies. Given human nature, it will likely never exist. Fidel Castro declared Cuba to be a Socialist State. And like everywhere else socialism has existed, socialism has been an abysmal failure in Cuba. Why don’t you accept the fact that socialism, real-life socialism. …sucks.

  • It’s very good that you oppose the totalitarian government and economic system in Cuba.
    It’s very bad that you conflate that totalitarianism with communism which is a direct- democratic future state.
    Cuba is not communist because it isn’t democratic.
    It is capitalist; but STATE capitalist and not free enterprise capitalism and just as totalitarian in its operation but more socialist-style in the distribution of the profits.
    You are morally and logically correct in seeking a democratic/majority-rule, one person, one vote society for Cuba.
    The first priority though, for Cuba is to survive an embargo intended to kill it.

Comments are closed.