HAVANA TIMES — People in Cuba have long been unable to organize their memories, periods of time or fashions on the basis of presidential terms or the period of time parties have been in power, as can be done in any other country, where a certain leader’s administration can be used to refer to period of years, as when Argentineans say “since the days of Alfonsin,” or US citizens mention the time “when Clinton left.” Only a handful of octogenarians having a conversation could be able to make use of such chronological references.
In lieu of this, time periods in Cuba can be measured by the revolutionary iconography that has come to occupy the altars of power over history. And a new debate arises at each Cuban Communist Party Congress. What images take center stage each time? In different time periods, these were situated according to a mixture of intentions stemming from a half-militant, half-religious faith and, of course, plenty of other interests.
Fidel Castro was an expert manipulator since the time he was in diapers, skilled in the maneuvers needed in the halls of power, where a dagger is always kept under the cloak.
This way, he went from being a devout Catholic, to joining Cuba’s Orthodox Party, to joining the university commission that supported Juan Domingo Peron in Cuba, to organizing the attack on the Moncada garrison. When he was harshly criticized by the People’s Socialist Party (which was aligned with the Soviet Union), which accused him of staging a coup, he became even more sympathetic with Peronismo and its posture against US and Soviet imperialism.
He created the 26th of July Movement (which wasn’t married to any one ideology), but, wherever he could, Fidel Castro made a point of clarifying he was a “non-communist revolutionary,” stating communism established itself in the form of a dictatorship and that he was struggling to re-establish democracy.
Later, when Moscow promised him the gold and the glory, Fidel Castro became a convinced Marxist-Leninist and claimed he had been reading Lenin since childhood. When the USSR collapsed, he became a follower of Jose Marti’s ideas more than those of Marx and upheld the cause of Latin American more than that of proletarian internationalism, becoming more of a “Bolivarian” than a Leninist.
Of course, there was all that Venezuelan oil in the pockets of Hugo Chavez.
Later, he again began to respect Jesuits. Later still, Raul Castro became president, under close scrutiny from his seriously-ill brother, who was not in the least bit distracted about political matters. Raul, cognizant of his scant magnetism and powers of seduction, began to show his pragmatism, which expressed itself in growing sympathy for the capitalist economy. All of this concluded in a historical climax, following a kiss and caress-filled romance with the United States and France, with President Barack Obama’s visit to the island this past March 20-22.
At first, even Raul Castro seemed pleasantly surprised with the excess charms of the US leader, the way he instilled hope in the Cuban people with something genuinely new and a precise speech that was respectful of Cuban sovereignty, Cuban values and, though severe, perhaps even colored by the tenderness of the friendship they had been developing since Mandela’s funeral with respect to individual liberties, market freedom and freedom of association and participation in the country’s political affairs.
A hurricane was to lash Cuba a week later, however, and Fidel Castro emerged from his silence with a reflection titled “Brother Obama,” condemning that charm, those sympathies and that savoir faire he himself would never again be able to boast of.
The sugar-coated figures of the revolution, who were first Mella and Villena and were later replaced, on the one hand, by Marx, Engels and Lenin and, on the other, by Mella, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara, for years these revolutionaries with different geographical, social and historical backgrounds kept a watchful eye over any ideological deviation at congresses, seminars and meetings.
At the 4th Party Congress held in 1991, which had already announced the split with the socialist bloc, the altar came to be occupied by Marx and Marti exclusively. Then, it was alternatively filled by Marti, Maceo and Maximo Gomez (war of independence figures), when Cuba was interested in closer ties to Latin America. At the 5th Congress held in 1997, Marx and Marti were once again joined by Lenin, Mella and Che Guevara. At the 6th Congress held in 2011, the banner read: “50th Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Triumph.” By then, the figures of international communism, and even those of Cuban communism, such as Mella and Villena, had disappeared, quietly likely to prepare the country for coming times.
It is said they would have used figures historically closer to the United States for the 7th Party Congress, but the alarm sounded by the profound sympathy that Obama secured in the population led them to take steps backward and to retreat to their former obscurantist secrecy, for which Cuba and the world are not likely to be prepared ever again.
This cyclical return to past times was staged by placing on the saintly altar (with haste, as the shoddy work suggests) Carlos Baliño, co-founder of Cuba’s independence army and, thirty years later, the Communist Party (PSP), next to Julio Antonio Mella, who is the other figure we see in the banner, disproportionately large and in color, flanked by a Fidel Castro at an age when he could still deliver speeches and essay a phony smile.
Ante el tsunami de la simpatía “Obamense” y la abulia a que invita la insipidez “Rauliana”, decidieron sacar del sarcófago a la momia “Guarapo” no sólo en imágenes, sino de cuerpo presente en el cierre del Congreso en primera fila.
Facing the tsunami of sympathy for Obama and the apathy derived from the insipid Raul, they decided to drag out the sarcophagus of the mummy “Guarapo” not oly in photos but physically present in the front row at the close of the Congress.
By the end of the congress, they had made it clear they had opted for a profoundly reactionary attitude, delaying, for an additional five years, all of the changes they had been insinuating, launching head-on rhetorical attacks at the premature and hasty rapprochement with the US presidency and on Obama himself, bringing back the language of war in view of the unexpected degree of sympathy the Cuban people expressed towards the US leader.
Of course, all the while, they continue to sign all manner of agreements with powerful US companies with capital is that anything but communist.
Beyond the question as to whether this represents one of the last, frantic kicks of a group of dinosaurs about to become extinct or whether they will have the capacity to again impose on Cuba a long period of closure, governing the country at their whim and with their backs turned on the real needs and aspirations of the Cuban people, the pressing question is: have they got any right to do this?