By Osmel Ramírez Alvarez (photos: Juan Suarez)
HAVANA TIMES — Some love it, others hate it, yet others don’t know whether to love it or hate it. What’s certain is that the Cuban revolution awakens much passion in people.
It’s striking to see the images of a successful revolution, aired on television and sold to the world: smiling children being vaccinated or heading to school in colorful uniforms, hospitals and clinics offering free services, full of apparently satisfied patients, athletes leaping, running or batting a homerun and thrilling fragments of passionate speeches.
On the other hand, we have macabre accounts of repressed dissidents, scandalous convictions imposed on people who defend different ideas, angry fits by leaders that lead to privation and unnecessary death and hundreds of thousands of people crossing oceans and jungles, risking it all for a better life.
Important intellectuals, artists and politicians from around the world enthusiastically visit our country, singing praises for the revolution, but people who are just as valuable question the revolution with objectivity.
The same holds for a line of people, a meeting, a bus, wherever you go in Cuba: everyone criticizes the government, but there’s still many who sincerely love the system. This reality won’t change any time soon, and it cannot be denied through either love or hatred. There are contradictory emotions with respect to Cuba.
So, why this madness? Let us begin with the original intentions of the revolution, its initial impulse and program, traded in for socialist ideology after its triumph. The true aim was to bring justice, equity, prosperity and good governance to our people. Jose Marti was then its main inspiration.
It is no accident the revolution had followers in nearly all social sectors and even sympathizers within Batista’s army. When the revolutionaries took power, the stage was hostile – it was the tensest period of the Cold War.
Fidel Castro then adopted Marxist communism, an ideology he knew and had seduced him. The idea to bring about justice, democracy and good governance had to be reshaped. They truly became convinced of this and took up a new political paradigm, a new “truth.” To date, they continue to defend it tooth and nail, despite the evident failure of the model.
The model has used a lot of social investment, a lot of populism, economic volunteerism and an highly active foreign policy. The people were isolated from the world and exposed to only one, indoctrinating and always “well-intentioned” voice. To keep us in line and united, we were fed a heated nationalism and told the “enemy” was always looming on the horizon. We ended up becoming a caricature of Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Power seduces and can corrupt even the best of intentions. It blinds people and becomes an addiction. It is in our genes to aspire to become an alpha male, a leader, and this is something we share with the opposite sex. An alpha male does not yield power to a more capable leader out of conscience, he dies defending his position.
The founding fathers of modern democracy understood this well and devised the separation of powers, the multi-party system, popular sovereignty and presidential terms, because of this.
The good intentions of the revolution are still there and continue to seduce some, but, today, they serve only to justify an illegitimate and dysfunctional system. The revolution has been living off its past for more than 25 years and hasn’t shown anything significant in terms of social wellbeing since.
One of the paranoid suggestions it deploys is the claim that “the enemy besieges us.” The media hammers this into us like a conditioned reflex. It is a phrase spoken by Fidel Castro to describe the phenomenon of a different kind of propaganda, that which encourages consumption – but it’s ultimately the same stance.
The people not only fear the State in this society, where nearly everything is controlled by the State – they also fear being included on a State Security blacklist. What Cubans on the island fear most, however, is democracy, the multiparty system and capital. Decades of manipulation, a one-idea system and indoctrination have powerful effects: they produce fear, panic even.
We cannot blame the people for it, it would be like blaming a Chernobyl victim for having leukemia. The contaminating agent saturates the environment, one cannot help but breathe it in.
It’s natural to see some confusion in such an aberrant environment. Those who awaken from the idyllic dream grow furious and full of hatred, and begin to refer to the revolution and its leaders with extremism. Those who refuse to wake up out of blind faith or a self-preservation instinct fervidly consider the good and the bad, chalking up the latter to the axiom that no human work is perfect.
The same thing happens abroad but for different reasons: Cuba’s expensive and efficacious foreign policy captures wills and persuades well-intentioned idealists. They love the revolution, see only positive things and, this way, justify the bad. Those who hate and criticize the revolution, on the other hand, don’t even acknowledge its achievements.
We want a better world, of course we do, but the Cuban paradigm doesn’t offer one. It fails at the most important things and we have to fix it. Of course we can preserve the good things, and they will work a whole lot better when we are a normal country. But that is a different issue.
That is what the stage looks like, like a leaf that’s green on one side and gray on the other. This reality holds back democracy and prosperity. But we will not cease in our efforts, we will trace the path of love and harmony among Cubans, respecting our differences, one day at a time. One day, we will have a new country!