Havana’s Siberia

Martin Guevara

Alamar. Foto: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — They gave us the keys to our new apartment in Alamar. The year was 1987. Even though the property title was the same as that of the other apartment in that sprawling neighborhood, even though it was located in a five-story tenement (without elevator) like the other place, the area it was in was significantly different to Zone 6, where we had lived until that point.

Some fifty thousand people ended up living in that part of the neighborhood, which had no stores, no tobacco or food stands, not even a facility where one could get drinking water at. The bus didn’t make it that far either, it merely skirted that immense sub-neighborhood of Alamar, where power cuts broke records, heaven knows why.

My building was located near the entrance. Luckily, there was a cafeteria next to it, where they had ice-cream from time to time and, more often than not, a very cold syrupy substance that was a blessing to anyone who got off the bus, particularly those people who still had a long walk to their homes ahead of them. Behind the counter, the clerks had practically the entire day to chat about the crammed buses and men who rubbed up against them as there were practically no customers and the ice-cream ran out very quickly.

Though we were close to the entrance to the neighborhood, there were mosquitos there one would have thought had been domesticated and trained in Cuba’s territorial troop militias, were it not for the fact that, in their excessive aggressiveness, they made no distinction between locals and outsiders.

The people from the neighborhood, as witty as Cubans tend to be, baptized that strip of Alamar that began at my building and spread beyond the horrible unknown (bordering with Bucaranao beach, through the coast and beyond), “Siberia.”

Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia [1967] before Alamar began to be built in Cuba, but he had coined the term “New Man” before then. He had pictured a new generation that would follow the triumph of the revolution, one educated in a society that offered moral (not material) incentives, a fair society that had uprooted capitalist, individualist and egotistical values, and that this society would give rise to new values that mankind would make its own in the span of a single generation.

He thought that the genetic memory of the animal ferocity within human beings, awakened when it is a question of taking food from others, would be eradicated in a single generation, two at the most. A concerted ideological effort, a cleansing of old vices – “capitalist vices”, as they said – through education, would of course be needed for that.

This New Man, molded from the clay of the new generations, would become the envy of all the world’s peoples, governed by the impulse to pillage they were educated with. The new generations, raised in a world of solidarity, proletarian internationalism and the moral incentive to become better workers, would also be characterized by an iron-hard revolutionary discipline and would conceive of punishment for any ideological deviation as just – they would, in short, be guided by an exemplary order, morale and conduct.

One could hold Che Guevara accountable for that, but not for the aesthetic and functional abomination that Alamar and its “Siberia” are. I am positive Guevara, not even in his most severe and perverse ideas about the creation of a new aesthetic devoid of superfluous elements and useless decorations, ever pictured such a perfect atrocity.

I felt that my uncle, Che Guevara, from wherever he was, was saying something to me along the lines of:

“Martin, we did this with good intentions. It wasn’t merely a pipe-dream, but part of a mechanism that would take us to a society that could one day replace capitalism and rid us of the exploitation of man by man, not through violent revolution, but by drawing men and women around the world with a model more seductive that the one based on individual success, another example of parallel traction. But you, my nephew, son of my eternally confused and well-tempered brother, Patatin, don’t give in or become anyone’s servant, much less of my plans and mistakes. These are not your projects, and if they should be so for your father, remain free whatever way you can, through confusion, anger or cowardice, clear-headed or disturbed, keep a distance from the garbage that what I did or tried to do has become. Fight against it if you want, and if you don’t feel like fighting, don’t do it, but don’t yield, don’t let them convert you, don’t give up, boy, that there are fewer and fewer of our kind around.”

Ultimately, why would anyone willingly mistreat oneself?

5 thoughts on “Havana’s Siberia

  • Lest we forget one of my favorite Che quotes written in his infamous ‘Motorcyle Diaries’,
    “The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese.”

    “The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”
    What a pig!

  • What sort of New Man would be created from a society based not the insane ideology of the man who said these sentences?

    “Youth should learn to think and act as a mass. It is criminal to think as individuals!”

    “The victory of Socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims!”

    “We must do away with all newspapers. A revolution cannot be accomplished with freedom of the press.”

    “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”

    “Hatred is the central element of our struggle! Hatred so violent that it propels a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him a violent and cold-blooded killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus.”

    By his one words, Che’s New Man is soulless, hate-filled, cold blooded, killer.

  • Great? Uncle Che was a narcissistic racist. His nephew has every right to believe as he wishes to believe what his uncle would tell him. It is more than safe to assume he knew him better that some twisted beret-wearing fan.

  • keep a distance from the garbage that what I did or tried to do has become.????? My response to that is too indecent to post here. To put it in the mildest terms… Apples, especially those infested by worms, do frequently fall far from the tree, especially the great ones..

  • Dr. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara did not coin the phrase ‘New Man’. He copied it from Josef Stalin the originator. The concept was an abject failure under both Stalin and Guevara. It is natural human behaviour for people to wish to improve their own lot and that of their families. They want life to be better for their children. Most would like the opportunity to utilise their talents to earn more, in order to improve their homes for their families. Such thoughts run counter to the Socialismo creed which is about dictatorial control of the ‘masses’. The alternative of pursuit of development and progress of the individual which requires freedom, is anathema to Socialismo. Critics of the Castro family regime have their attention drawn to the Cuban educational system, which although creating a high level of literacy has failed to provide opportunity to utilise that education. It begs the question of apart from a marked degree of indoctrination what is its purpose? Being able upon graduation to on average earn $20 per month scarcely encourages enthusiasm on the part of students. The reality is that the introduction of capitalism to allow full use of both talents and education is essential.

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