Red and Green New Year’s, in Cuba and Abroad

Ernesto Perez Chang

The corner. Photo: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES — I have read and re-read the congratulations that those friends of mine who have left the country (definitively, it seems) sent me this New Year’s. In their letters, they make toasts, wish me good health and express their gratitude for the life they have built far from Cuba and for the miracle of being alive.

Their words seem to tinkle in red and green, like the lights on the snow-covered Christmas tree one sees in the background of a family portrait, or like the Santa Claus’ outfit, at a park where children have gone to play.

Red and green, as in all the postcards I read and read again. The elders, those who know about these things, say that this joy that has caught my attention is what they used to call the “Christmas spirit.”

I know very little or next to nothing about Christmas. I walk out of the living room, leaving behind my parents and sisters while they talk of festivities and lit-up streets in a city lost beyond time, a city that is doubtless not mine.

I look out from the balcony to see if I catch sight of anything my friends and family speak of, but all I see are many sad faces, people walking slowly down the street, tired. The vague light of the afternoon goes out in their faces as the hope something good will ever happen to them begins to vanish.

In the square in front of my building, there are no Christmas lights or trees, only some faded, badly-painted signs hung up on different walls, all of them calling on people to continue the struggle, to continue holding their ground and to overcome adversity – as though people hadn’t done enough of this to be rewarded with something other than the exhaustion of the defeated.

I begin to wonder whether those long days of thrusting our swords into the air, hoping to strike an enemy that is perhaps intangible, perhaps uncertain, of warding off the imminent nothingness that besieges us is not the true cause of our exhaustion, rather than the fear of everything that is red, like blood, or green, like the olive uniform.

For the first time in many long years, this December 31st, at midnight, no one in my neighborhood yelled out “long live” this or “long live” that, long live red or long live green. They only poured water out of buckets from their balconies and burnt rag dolls. I think they have begun to understand that one does not wish the dead a long life, that one rather whispers to them “rest in peace!”

25 thoughts on “Red and Green New Year’s, in Cuba and Abroad

  • Famed African-American civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer said she did what she did because she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. When a majority of Cubans come to feel the same way, life in Cuba will change.

    Reply
    • I have censored myself as to my thoughts on you quoting an Afro-American who worked on behalf of her brothers and sisters.

      Reply
      • Good for you. Keep up the good work!

        Reply
        • Nice try but I will not be drawn into using terminology to describe your sell-out morality that will get me censored even though it is both accurate and on-subject. .

          Reply
  • Very powerful. The despair is almost palpable in this beautifully written essay.

    Reply
  • Cuba practices the prime teaching of Christ in helping those most in need .
    The USA practices the opposite, the worshipping of money, the amassing of money while 50 million of its people live in poverty in the richest country to ever have existed.
    The U.S . blames the poor for its problems when Christ would have us help them
    We celebrate that anti-Christian lifestyle with giant and garish inflatable Santa Clauses and contests to see who can cram the most Christmas lights onto their houses .
    We spend Inordinate sums of money buying gifts most recipients don’t need and then vote against continuing unemployment benefits for the poor and working poor .
    Think deeply about this.
    Were Christ to return and view the U.S society and how it treats its least , its poorest and Cuban society and how it treats its poorest and its last advantaged , do you really think he’d prefer the United States ?.
    Those old enough might recall Lenny Bruce’s skit on Christ and Moses showing up at the extremely opulent St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City where they pondered having walked through the intense poverty they witnessed in Spanish Harlem and Harlem to find a church in Christ’s name with richly dressed priests in a richly decked out and immense cathedral .
    If we are going to talk about the spirit of Christmas , we had better talk and think about what Christ thought rather than throwing large , expensive and garish birthday parties for the son of God whose teachings we ignore and ridicule.o
    The U.S has really succeeded in taking the Christ out of Christmas and the entire society .
    Keep your literally God- damned celebrations and feed the poor .
    THEN celebrate the end of poverty in Christ’s name if that is your choice .

    Reply
    • On the one hand you recognize and denounce Cuba as a totalitarian state. and on the other laud it as helping those most in need. You know very well that for 50+ years Cuba has repressed it’s citizens, stifled free expression and association. It has denied it’s citizens the right to travel and free access to information. And at the very top of this totalitarian political structure you will find different members of the Castro family and military in charge. hardly a Christ like state.

      Unfortunately much of what you say about our society is true. We have, in many respects, taken Christ out of Christmas. (although I find those comments, coming from an atheist, to be a bit hypocritical) …But we have the freedom in this country to do as we please. Your blanket statement unfortunately brands many, many people unfairly.

      Reply
      • IC,
        There is no contradiction in Cuba’s helping its poorest and being a totalitarian state.
        A totalitarian government CAN be a benign dictatorship if it so chooses and the Cuban government does so choose as regards the necessities of life for ALL its people. .
        What cannot be done is to have a totalitarian government yoked with a capitalist economy and still help the poorest since the poorest are always the victims of capitalism .
        As for my being hypocritical: I reject that accusation .
        I respect and promote the PRIMARY teachings of Christ because even if I do not believe in his deity, a huge segment of U.S society hypocritically claims to follow him and using his message to transmit the morality of placing the poorest and least advantaged is most effective.
        His teachings both coincide with socialist and communist doctrines which the overwhelming majority of Americans reject and contradict the tenets of capitalism which the vast majority of Americans support
        Like you, I am pointing out that these hypocrites have indeed taken the Christ not only out of Christmas but out of the Christian religions they claim to belong to.
        Elsewhere in another thread someone listed the (alleged) quotes of Jesus Christ that related to helping the poor and why the wealthy are certainly going to hell .
        These quotes are unequivocal and cannot be mistranslated or have their meaning misconstrued by anyone without them looking extremely self-interested as do the “prosperity” TV ministers, G.W.Bush and (not the Biblical) Moses .
        IMO, there are precious few TRUE Christians in the United States who exist as tiny islands in a sea of anti-Christs.

        Reply
        • Unfortunately the teachings of Christ can be very much manipulated to fit whatever agenda someone may have. Christ never said the Rich were going to hell. He simply said it was very hard for a rich man to go to heaven. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

          Reply
          • Could a camel pass through the eye of a needle as that act would be understood when Christ was alive ?
            Only in some extremely rare instances ….would be as close as you can come to have that mean anything other than impossible, especially in the context of all the other things Christ is reported to have said about helping the poor and disadvantaged.
            It would take a miracle which aside from being not possible/supernatural is not something Christ would do given that a rich man holds the means of relieving the suffering and death of the poor but refuses to share it as Christ said MUST be done.
            Yes, sure, his words have been twisted by those who hold large sums of money or who seek solace, comfort in that word twisting because they are both rich and ascribe to a Christian church.

          • The Soviets were neither socialists nor communists .
            They were totalitarian . and ran a top-down economy and government ; your kind of systems and not too dissimilar in totalitarian control from capitalism and the U.S. oligarchic government. .
            You seem to have forgotten what I’ve told you on several occasions and that is that the first
            thing Lenin and Trotsky did upon assuming power was to get rid of the communists ( the soviets which were DEMOCRATIC COMMUNIST workers councils) .
            Are you paying attention ?
            Why must I repeat myself?

          • Lenin and Trotsky were simple another kind of communist. You continue to play this silly No True Scotsman game. Above you praised Cuba’s “benign dictatorship”, revealing your innate affection for totalitarianism. The mask slips!

            Thirty years ago I read all those books and and though I had it figured out “true socialism” too, but it time I came to realize it was all a crock designed to fool the gullible young idealists. You must repeat yourself because you fail to learn anything from reality.

          • Lenin and Trotsky threw out the communists.
            What about this do you not understand ?
            If you do not follow communist tenets, the most central being bottom up democracy, you can no more be labeled a communist than a Jew can be called a Christian.
            If you ‘d like to say that I am praising the way Cuba’s wealth is equitably distributed by the totalitarian government you’d be accurate.
            BUT.. if you then extrapolate that out to meaning I support the totalitarian form of the Cuban government you’d be dead wrong.
            You cannot tar me with the same brush that paints you a totalitarian for your avowed love of both capitalism and the U.S oligarchy both of which work towards the immiseration of the great many many for the benefit of the very few.
            I follow the anarchism of Kropotkin, Bakunin, Chomsky and especially Murray Bookchin , all of whose philosophical/political beliefs are deeply democratic.
            It seem you have a very serious problem with democratic forms and most likely because you believe human beings to be intrinsically flawed and unable and/or unwilling to live in democratic societies.
            Kropotkin clearly showed your sort of thinking to be contrary to human nature in his ” Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution” which you may want to reread .

          • Lenin & Trotsky threw out one group of communists because they believed their version of communism, Bolshevism, was better. Revolutions are won by those most ready to do the most violence.

        • You have no measure of my beliefs nor my faith. Limit your comments to my comments here on HT and resist assumptions. Christ said that His ways were not our ways so it is pointless to try to pin down exactly WWJD. He surprised his disciplines on a daily basis and they were with him constantly. Christians are also admonished to lean not unto our own understanding. Further cause to ignore what a non-believer like you believes is in the mind of Christ. Finally, Christ reminds us that the heart of the King is in the hands of the Lord. This is to say that whatever a devil like Castro did that gives you reason to believe he is Christ-like, it is only because the Lord caused him to do it. On his own, Castro has proven to be no friend to the poor. Were it so he would have set them free to choose for themselves the life only God has given them to live.

          Reply
          • I have read the New Testament and especially the words that Christ was reported to have said .
            If I take just that ” It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” quote alone , it will do nicely.
            You have said that he meant only that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven when clearly a camel passing through the eye of a needle is impossible.
            You cannot twist these words to mean other than what they clearly mean.
            Christ consistently demanded that his followers FIRST duty was to help the poor , the sick , the imprisoned: those less fortunate than themselves .
            This is in direct opposition to the tenets of capitalism which you support lock, stock and gun barrel. .
            Elsewhere in the Bible it says that ye cannot worship both God and mammon ( wealth, money) .
            I suppose you accept that God created humanity.
            Science has shown that homo sapiens is at least 100,000 years old and that we and chimpanzees share a common ancestor ( Google up “chromosome #2 ” for the proof) .
            That would mean God made that split , created homo sapiens and then waited some 98,000 years while humanity nearly died out , went through death , disease , wars, and all manner of hell before choosing to intervene .
            Then that omniscient and omnipotent beings method was one of human sacrifice of his own son to absolve all of the people then of their sins against other people .
            We were not allowed a choice in this killing but were told that we would go to eternal hell ( a totally Christian concept) were we to reject the acceptance of this death .
            Back in those primitive times it was the custom of tribes to load the sins of the tribe onto the back of a goat, drive it out into the desert to die and thereby absolve the tribe of sins for that year.
            This was/is called scapegoating and the Christian concept of Christ dying for all our sins is no more than that primitive custom done one or two better.
            It’s immoral and foolish to kill someone for sins that are the personal responsibilities of the sinner and which cannot be forgiven by anyone other than the person who was sinned against.
            It’s a ridiculous and primitive concept in its face
            Suggested reading: “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
            Christopher Hitchens
            Suggested viewing :
            Any and all of the myriad You-Tube debate segments with Christopher Hitchens going up against a host of clerics.
            I particularly dare you to search under and view “Vicarious redemption , Hitchens” and learn about reality.
            My bet is that you will not be able to watch it all. .

          • Christ said “easier”. If he meant “impossible”, he would have said it. Who is trying to twist His words? He was born of a virgin. He turned water to wine and brought the dead to life. A camel through the eye of a needle is light work for the Son of God.

          • Christ spoke in parable and analogies which were meant to enable simple people to understand deep spiritual concepts that were new to them .
            Christ did not say that he would put that proverbial camel through the eye of a needle or not.
            He said” It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven ”
            Let me explain that easy-to-understand” sentence in context.
            It was Christ’s teachings that helping the poor was primary for those who chose to follow him .
            He said something like “If you would be really a good person, you would sell or give a way one of the two shirts you had or everything beyond what you needed , to aid a shirtless man or a starving person. ”
            If a man holds a great deal of wealth for himself and far , far beyond what he needs to live while there are people who do not have enough to survive, he is not doing the right thing and will go to Hell .
            That rich person’s chance of going to heaven and not hell are equal to the chance a camel has of passing through the eye of the needle.
            Had you the thinking ability equal to the primitive folks to whom Christ spoke those words, perhaps you’d understand their clear meaning.
            You do have that free choice of following the teachings of Christ or those of the very wealthy “Christian” prosperity TV ministers who, like you twist the clear meaning of Christ’s words to maintain the fantasy that holding great wealth while millions starve is okay with God and Christ.
            Odd isn’t it that an anarchist anti-theist has to teach you the meaning of that which you profess to follow ?
            What next from you ?
            The sun actually rises in the west ?

          • I am not a fan of the once in vogue prosperity ministries. Not because of their wealth but because of their hypocrisy will they ultimately be judged more harshly. In fact, the parable of the ten talents teaches us that if given stewardship over much, there is a greater responsibility to use that wealth wisely. King Salomon was purported to be the richest man in the world in his time and he certainly had God’s favor. Being wealthy does not disqualify believers from entering into glory . It is the attitude that USUALLY accompanies wealth that causes rich folks to stumble. That said, Christ reminds us that the poor will be with us always. We are called to do our part but vows of poverty are not necessary nor required for all believers. Christ wants his Church to attract non-believers like you. Dirt-poor Christians make evangelism more difficult. Your interpretation of the “eye of the needle” parable is wrong but it remains you interpretation. Move on.

    • While there is much about US society which Jesus would find objectionable, I do not think He would praise Cuba for their massive suppression of human rights, their repudiation rallies, the ongoing practice of imprisoning, torturing and killing of dissidents. Their is nothing Christ-like in a totalitarian dictatorship ruled over by the iron fist of a pampered family clique while the masses of the Cuban people live in crumbling buildings, scraping by to find enough to eat. The Cuban authorities once banned all religious activities, jailing or exiling priests. While churches have been allowed to reopen in recent years, state security agents continue to keep close watch on them and many congregations are subjected to harassment. Preachers who step out of line are often arrested. If Cuba is doing the work of Christ, why have millions of Cubans fled the island, including some 70,000 who died trying?

      No John, it’s an obscenity to say that Cuba is doing Christ’s work. The Castro regime looks more like the work of the devil. You object to people calling Cuba “socialist” because it does not fit your narrow definition of an imaginary state which exists only in academic fancy. But I doubt you would find many practicing Christians who would say Cuba is doing Christ’s work.

      Reply
      • Christ did say something about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s but his central teaching, his overwhelmingly most important teaching was to help the poorest which Cuba has certainly done.
        Christ did not deal much at all with the dictatorship of the Roman Empire because dictatorships were accepted as the way things were . His urging to help the poor and spread the wealth, however is what got him killed just as people like you would kill him again were he to return preaching that same message.
        to your point:
        There is no child malnutrition in Cuba alone among Latin American nations.
        Cuba ranks around 54th in the world on the impartial W.H.O’s Human Development Index which rates the general health education and welfare of a country .
        There was billboard in Havana which read” In the world today millions of children sleep in the streets.
        NOT ONE IS CUBAN “.
        That tells any rational person that Cuba IS helping the poorest and thereby doing what Christ said should be uppermost in every person’s priorities.
        It is certainly anathema and antithetical to the capitalism you espouse and worship.
        The banning of churches is VERY old history isn’t it ? and the Catholic Church which is always sitting on undistributed-to-the -poor billions of dollars, hardly lives up to Christian ideals .
        What do you suppose Christ would think of the very rich United States waging a decades-long war on the poor of Cuba and those who support such anti-Christian actions ?

        Reply
        • As discussed elsewhere, statistics on Cuba, even those published by the WHO, UNESCO & etc, all come directly from the Cuban government. The Cuban government does not allow independent organizations to collect their own data on social conditions in the country.

          While you are busy setting the political agenda for Jesus, I offer another quote for you,

          “A fanatic is a man who does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case.” — Finley Peter Dunne

          Reply
          • The data on Cuba’s GNP and PPP growth come from the CIA.

  • Truly a beautiful essay on despair. Quite moving.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *