By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Fidel passed away on a day that was, by chance, very close to the day that I had already planned to travel to Havana. Before leaving, I could sense the impact of such an important event in Mayari (in Cuba’s East) and now, almost instinctively, I can sense the same feeling in the capital city. As most of you already know, by official decree, the country is mourning for nine days; the itinerary of these sad and formal funeral honors have also been propagated extensively.
On government-run TV [all channels with the same programming], we can see a country that has been clearly marked by the death of their Commander-in-Chief; and on Spanish-speaking news programs from the US (which can be found in the “Weekly Package” of digital programming distributed illegally but tolerated), another part of this same people are celebrating the death and saying “that celebrating has been banned on the island and that’s why you can’t see people´s joy.” Anybody could get confused and lost in the midst of such antagonistic news. That’s why I’ve taken to the street to find answers and this is what I have found:
- Mass rally on November 29th in Revolution Square: I went a little earlier so as not to get caught up in the crowd and to see how the gathering was taking place. Clearly, it wasn’t a spontaneous event for the most part; public transport and company buses were being used exclusively to bring employees and went looking for more, in never-ending caravans. Every worker, student, soldier and the mass organizations had been summoned. It can’t be said that they were forced to do something unpleasant, but they were highly encouraged to attend, because if it had been completely voluntary, many of them wouldn’t have gone out of pure laziness.
People on the street: on the whole, everything was pretty normal, people don’t really talk a lot about it to be honest, displaying a mix of respect and fear at the same time; cautious so as not to “provoke” the authorities or die-hard fans of the system with any display of disrespect. No alcohol and no music, because everything that seems to be cheerful has been suspended and forbidden during this time.
- Young people: I was surprised to see so many young people without their uniforms in the square’s nearby shadows; many returned the following morning after a sleepless night, they had clearly woken up at the crack of dawn to say farewell to the Comandante (as his ashes left for other provinces). I didn’t understand anything until I got onto a P-12 articulated bus that was heading towards Boyeros and I heard an older lady talking about her grandson who had stayed up all night at the event; I asked her why and she told me that he had gone early with a group of friends and that they stayed there all night, “while the free WIFI connection to the internet lasted” that they had installed in the Square. Finally 2+2 made 4 and everything made sense. It seems that it has become an established practice to put out the bait of free internet so as to gather young people together.
- Feeling about randomly: early today, I went to the bodega store (where rations are sold) on the corner to buy a plastic bag and took advantage of the situation to continue to sound out general opinions. I brought up the subject making neutral comments. The bodega store employee told me “We have to keep calm and not go crazy putting on music or anything like that; this is going on right now and the man was the main man and he’s already gone.” His words seemed ambiguous to me, as if he were speaking in allegory and that’s why I wanted him explain a little further and I told him: “people in Miami are putting on music, but not the normal music that they always do, but to celebrate because they are happy.” Like a spring he bounced back: “Wow, they are really crazy, just like that Trump; they´re throwing a party because Fidel died and he died old! They’re crazy!”
The death of the Cuban Revolution’s historic leader has indeed stirred up a great mix of reactions and emotions. During these days of national mourning TV broadcasts are all related to his life and the mourning, on every channel. Zero fun, zero entertainment, zero music. Total coverage of the tour Fidel’s ashes are making across the country and many allegorical reports that are repeated in the breaks. Alcoholic beverages aren’t being sold and even though it hasn’t been announced, music has been banned and is being pursued.
The latter is perhaps the most abnormal because absolute pain doesn’t exist in every Cuban and even psychologists say that is bad for people who lose their loved ones to renounce music and entertainment because they lock up the pain and it would be better for them to distract themselves with joyful things. Fidel’s sad followers can’t follow this advice because they would end up in serious trouble; least of all those who far from grieving his death have been waiting years for his passing as their last hope to see change in Cuba.
Last night, past 11 PM, I was returning from a productive meeting with colleagues and in an alley that leads to Hospital Street, an incident took place that was representative of this dilemma that the country’s forced mourning has created: an irritated man insulted his neighbor before the police who had arrived in a patrol car; it seems that he had reported his neighbor because he had the music on too loud in his home and this is what he was accusing him of while belittling him. “This guy is shameless; he doesn’t respect the Comandante’s death.” I don´t how that incident ended but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
It’s sad to see things like that, so extreme and restricting of freedom. The government’s national mourning is justified, but forced grieving isn’t. The rekindled hope and relief that many people feel like when a heavy burden lifted off of them, the personal satisfaction because somebody you hated is no longer here to create ugly feelings in you are justified, but the funeral orgy isn’t.
Anyway, like always, things between Cubans have to be complicated and Fidel’s death wasn’t going to be the exception: a real dilemma.