Ernesto Perez Chang
HAVANA TIMES, July 9 — In 1980, Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser murdered his wife during an attack of schizophrenia. Also dying that year —though not at the hands of Althusser— were Sartre, Roland Barthes, and Bon Scott (the lead singer of AC/DC).
In Cuba, though, we remember that year because one could buy a dozen eggs for a peso [about five cents USD]; these had not yet been reduced to sales through the rationing system or on the black market.
Hens had not been wiped out, and nor were they as nervous as the ones today, which can only lay when placed in conditions more overwhelming than those generated by the combined amounts of legal paperwork from a merger of two transnational steel corporations and a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Those hens, perhaps of Russian stock, produced eggs all the time, throughout the whole year and at a rate that was faster than we could consume them. The moment came when there were too many eggs, and therefore it occurred to some official to employ them in launching a political initiative against the “enemy.”
Something strange happened that year whereby everything was in excess. If some Marxists took to murdering their wives, then some Cubans —perhaps seeing the beards of their fellow men burning— took to seeking escape from the island.
This left the country divided between those who wanted to leave because they couldn’t support either the eggs or the excesses, and those who wanted to stay to comply with the order to throw eggs at the first group in mass “actions of repudiation” and “marches of the fighting people.”
Slogans were chanted against Jimmy Carter, the same one who struck an accord with Torrijos and boycotted the Moscow Olympics, while people here threw eggs at those absconders who perhaps a wise economist choose to call “worms” because he or she foresaw that in a spring not far away, when both eggs and rubles had become scarce, they would return transformed into stunning butterflies with green, federal-reserve-style wings.
I was barely nine years old but I remember that in the afternoons the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution used to send us to go by houses to leave slips of paper with the names and addresses of the “scum” in my neighborhood, who were never “military.”
Scum was not exactly a vile or worthless person, not even industrial waste. Scum was those “civilian” neighbors who wanted to emigrate to the United States. The order from the Party was to punish them with signs and eggs in “lightning rallies,” which were a kind of brief and improvised educational carnival that sought to teach, firstly, that “for betraying the homeland” they would suffer the consequences; and secondly, directed to the international community, that the Mariel exodus was the plot of a minuscule clique of undesirables.
But the house of the “worm/scum” was always the same as some friend of ours. Nonetheless, after seven or eight at night, we would obey our parents —who in turn obeyed the Party— and accompany them in the chanting of slogans and the throwing of eggs. We would forget that little kid, who we later heard crying, terrified by the crowd, had played with us in the park that very same afternoon.
Some —especially those who never accepted the neighborhood being invaded by “civilians”— were inflamed to the point of beating on the doors and windows of those houses with sticks while screaming obscenities and violent phrases. On one occasion they smashed in a door and dragged out a family beating them. I can still hear the cries of those children, as well as the pleas of their parents as they doubled over these children to protect them from the fiery torrent of clothes pulling, swings and spit. I remember the face of each one of the family members there, and I can assure you there was no compassion for any one of them.
Today it’s strange to hear to someone talk about those days. Of those formerly inflamed souls, there are a few who would turn around and do the same thing again. Despite the years that have lapsed, they have not seen the times change. Others, the majority…I don’t know. Plus, some of them no longer live in the neighborhood. Years later, in the 1990s, people built rafts and flatboats and —without anyone throwing eggs at them or calling them worms or scum— they emigrated to the United States.
Of the repudiated families, there are still some of them left. Patience and silence have been their lesson. They walk down the street and greet their former aggressors as if nothing had ever happened. I sometimes believe they didn’t understand what happened that year, nor can I believe that everything has been forgotten. Could it be resignation…simple resignation?
Whoever visits Havana today will be able to confirm that the stains of the smashed eggs still remain on some buildings. Despite the rain that has fallen since 1980, and though they try to cover them with paint and slogans, the eggs refuse to disappear. I don’t know if it’s so that we remember the madness of that year here or if it’s a message to us concerning resignation and faith.