Who Does Your Revolution Serve ‘President’ Diaz-Canel?

It is time to show the world two things: that this dystopia that they still call revolution has nothing to offer the ordinary Cuban and that there is the potential to organize a better government. Photo: 14ymedio

By Yamil Simon-Manso (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Some time ago a Cuban friend asked me: “And you, why do you continue to be interested in Cuban affairs?” And immediately afterwards he added: “It’s sickening, the same problem, rhetoric, frustrations, over and over again.”

What to say? It is true, but I have not forgotten Cuba. Although it has very little to offer me, the Island is, of course, bigger than me. She will be there when I am gone and I will remain attached to her until the end of my days. Why make unnecessary excuses? If I had to offer a larger reason, I would say tying me to Cuba is her pain. It hurts to perceive the orphanhood that Cuba experiences in situations such as those of July 11. Tyrians and Trojans are silent*, whether due to ignorance, laziness, omission, or opportunism.

It is time to show the world two things: that this dystopia that they still call Revolution has nothing to offer the ordinary Cuban and that there is the potential to organize a better government. The negative (or positive) impact of that Revolution on those I knew shows me that today both assumptions are undeniable, here are some examples.

My apologies in advance for some personal references; although it seems pretentious, I conform to the idea that it is the most honest way of arguing. Also, for the scant details, the abrupt changes in the narration for the sake of brevity and some incomplete names to protect identities.

I was born in Cuba in 1963, in a small valley in the central region between hills. We were poor peasants and also happy dwarves, so this memory still makes me nostalgic. As a child I liked to think that it was an important place, the place where the sun would hide when we did not see it, it would appear in the morning on the La Campana hill and in the evening it would slip away through the hills of Piedra. I told my first teacher, Rosa, this one day and she said: “That’s right, Yamil, we are the center of the universe.” She smiled and from then on I loved her until the day she left this world, poor and disappointed.

Rosa was trained at a teacher training school to teach in elementary school. The neighborhood identified her as a synonym for a good teacher. When I met her, she was still living in the little house attached to one of those rural schools that were built during the Government of Grau, or was it the first Government of Batista? Under the pretext of enlarging the school, they stripped her of her house and offered her a hut owned by a “gusano” (worm) who had emigrated, and which adjoined some stables for the shipment of cattle.

Before leaving Cuba, I went to visit her for the last time, without much refinement already, and while she was trying to feed some starving chickens with a little cooked rice she told me: “The stink of shit and the politicking made me leave the teaching profession.” She believed that the Revolution had massified education and that now rural people, like me, could aspire to something more than a sixth grade education, but that they had been wrong to prioritize politics and not education.

Early on, the Revolution taught us that society was divided into classes and that the class struggle was the driving force behind progress. We were taught that Cuba before 1959 was backward capitalism, dominated by large estates and gringo companies. In Punta Diamante, as my neighborhood is called, I got to know three large landowners, the kind the propaganda was constantly reminding us about how bad they were. I did not identify them as such; ultimately, they were all decent people, they had stayed in Cuba and did ordinary jobs. Orestes Castellon herded cows to the slaughterhouse, Justo Batista herded pigs and Patricio Catano tended to the little piece of land that had been left to him.

Over time the cows, the sows, the stables, the colorful gates were lost, the jetty was closed; in all, no one raised cattle any more. It was of no use to Rosa, since she had already moved to another neighborhood.

On the farm of Chaman Milla, another large landowner whom I did not know personally, two large dams were built that ended up filling up with an invasive weed that stank and drying up all the streams in which we used to swim as boys.

When the “food plan” came in, supposedly to plant vegetables, they destroyed the last thing that was left standing, an avocado tree that many people harvested in season. Nothing more was heard of the aforementioned plan, and there wasn’t a single squash to break the news.

My father benefited from the agrarian reform when he received a little under 33 acres from the Chaman estate, with a permanent commitment to plant tobacco. Each year he planted between 60,000 and 80,000 plants, and the government paid him 32 Cuban pesos for every 100 pounds of “main” tobacco, at a time when the dollar was priced on the street at 120 Cuban pesos. Ironically, one day passing through Heathrow airport in London, I found a business offering a single Cuban cigar, barely 10 grams, at 22 pounds sterling.

My father never enjoyed any privilege, nor did he take vacations, he worked every day of his life from four in the morning until the sun went below the horizon, and he died at 53 of a heart attack. Due to lack of transportation, he reached the hospital on foot, five kilometers. There they told him that his condition required that he be taken to the provincial hospital but that there was no ambulance available. If it hadn’t been for one of my sisters, who is a nurse, he would have died right there. 

There were two stores in my neighborhood, one previously owned by Honorato and the other by Piñero. Honorato lived for about a hundred years, patient and circumspect, every day he sat in the little park in front of what had been his store, confiscated in 1968 and now turned into a tobacco warehouse, I think to catch the morning sun and see how it collapsed board by board.

Piñero was less lucky, or more? He did not survive the interventions. The revolutionaries put a loudspeaker on him in front of his house to shout “paredón, paredón” [literally ‘wall, wall,’ meaning the wall before the firing squad] at him day and night with the support and complacency of the poorest people in the neighborhood, the same people who benefited by buying on credit from his store.

Years later I asked one of those poor people who was there then and now, without a doubt, he was even poorer: “How bad was Piñero?” He was surprised by my question; apparently he couldn’t find much to say and after a while he said to me: “Well, he deserved it. Berta (his wife) overcharged, and he played dumb.”

The neighborhood was left behind when they sent me on a scholarship at the age of 11. At first it felt like I was a prisoner, but over time the human animal gets used to everything. I did high school and pre-university in unspeakable schools. Even so, it was not uncommon to find good teachers that I still remember, almost all by nicknames such as El Butano, Newton, La Meiótica, El Manco, El Peon and a long etcetera. I was never a very diligent student, and it wasn’t until college that I really started paying attention to my education.

While in my neighborhood, under threat of accusing them of the “crime” of dangerousness, they forced the girl Maria Antonieta and the cross-eyed Agustín to climb into a boat and leave Cuba through Mariel port, the first for “fag” and the second for “bisnero” — hustler. I was going to college. I was lucky enough to arrive at the Central University of Las Villas (UCLV) in the fall of 1980, a magical time for many, tragic for some. As a result of the communist assemblies, several students had been expelled from the university, including one of the best students from the Faculty of Chemistry, surnamed Cervelló.

No surprise, at the entrance of the university there was a huge sign where you could read a clear and exclusive message — “The University is for Revolutionaries” — and Cervelló wanted to leave Cuba.

On the other hand, the time for improvisations by technical personnel had passed, even many professors had graduated from Soviet universities or from other countries of the socialist camp. There I met exceptional students and teachers. There were mediocre ones, but who cared?

I also met Díaz-Canel at that time, although I barely spoke words with him. While he was in the UCLV he seemed a reserved and intelligent guy, something rare among the excitable Cuban leaders. After he passed to the Provincial Party, I began to hear horrors from him. As a friend said, “this one had his brain transplanted by a poplar.” It seems that July 11th proved my friend right.

During those years, an atmosphere of discussion and exchange was developed at the UCLV that was quite productive for everyone. We were disconnected from the world, but somehow people managed to gather information. We moved from one faculty to another either for a computer talk, a cultural, sports or scientific activity. We exchanged forbidden books wrapped in newsprint and laughed at bureaucracy and political foolishness.

However, if questioned, most of us would feel like revolutionaries, with a few exceptions. We did not intend to end the Revolution but to transform it. Finally, many of us discovered a dark background in the process and found those turning points that led us to change our point of view.

I could cite many similar experiences, or much worse, but I will only refer to one. One day, going to the Chemistry Department, I stopped to say hello to a colleague, I’ll just call him Jorge. He worked in the computer center, an entity that in turn had become a benchmark for all of us who did something in the science area. This colleague had been a medalist in a mathematics Olympiad and his name along with that of my friend David were obligatory mentions when talking about the calculation center.

It turns out that that morning he was working in the green areas of my building and I joked that he was doing “voluntary” work. He replied: “No, no, I’m being punished because my sister complained to me and I have to do this to get permission to leave.” It seemed to me that it was, a stupid and unnecessary humiliation. I remember asking him later if he wasn’t sad about leaving Cuba and he answered something like this: “It would be sad for me not to take advantage of this opportunity because of an ideological commitment.”

My father-in-law was the director of the Santa Clara bread and candy company during the agonizing years euphemistically known as the Special Period. Anyone would say that being a leader, he would not have as bad a time as others. I was a witness to the thousand and one nights of sleeplessness that this kind gentleman dedicated to the company that finally led him to his grave at the age of 53. I frequently saw him get up at two in the morning to travel to Havana and get them to give him some flour from the “commander’s reserve” to take to Santa Clara and prevent the distribution of the bread roll from the quota from missing.

With his natural intelligence and the work my father-in-law did for that government, he would have lived comfortably anywhere else in the world. He died of a massive heart attack during volunteer work. I was no longer in Cuba, but I learned that Díaz-Canel went to say goodbye at the wake. That in burying and giving speeches there is no one who has the upper hand.

I’ll leave it there. As the poet said, “it hurts the cojones of the soul” to see a country that was about to make the leap to modernity move rapidly towards the abyss, consumed by the ideological mange of Marxism. What hurts the most is that a government that was supposed to create conditions for individuals to develop fully sees their human resources drained from day to day and does nothing to correct it, and, on the contrary, encourages it with the sole interest of staying in power.

The owner of everything is named, the university, the street, the land, the air, I ask? But who does the Revolution serve? It definitely did not serve Rosa, Orestes, Justo, Patricio, my father, Honorato, Piñero, Cervelló, Jorge, David, my father-in-law, those who gathered outside the Ministry of Culture last November 27th, those who protested on July 11th and many others. Who does your Revolution serve, “president” Díaz-Canel?

You could say, as people in the US say, that my article is tainted with cherry picking, that I have chosen certain unfortunate facts to validate my opinion. That there are peasants who are still grateful for the agrarian reform, that professionals like Ricardo, Mateo and others remained in the calculation center (well, I don’t really know if Mateo is still there, so many have left Cuba). Not so, convince yourself; my stories continue to show a cross section of the Cuban reality.

If you have real power, prove it and we will restore the dignity of your office without putting the word president in quotation marks; let the Cubans demonstrate peacefully on November 15, call for harmony, let the talent from here and there come together for the benefit of Cuba.

Insisting with outdated economic recipes, ideological precepts and an obsession with power is stupid and condemns Cubans to live as beggars. I can admit that you think you are not doing things out of evil, but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned, “stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of good than evil itself.”


Editor’s Note: The author was a professor of Chemistry at the Central University of Las Villas between 1986 and 1994.

*Translator’s note: A quote from Cervantes’ Don Quixote. From the Aeneid, Tyrians and Trojans represent irreconcilable enemies.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

9 thoughts on “Who Does Your Revolution Serve ‘President’ Diaz-Canel?

  • Curt, you are evidently confused. Firstly, McCarthy is an Irish name, MacDuff is Scots. Secondly, I have in these pages, repeatedly written of the evils of totalitarian views and actions, whether by communists or fascists, and few would deny that the views and actions of McCarthy were fascist in nature.

    It took a black man, Paul Robeson, to take McCarthy to task, and he did it very well. Then there was Ed Murrow. Bet you never saw either of them. I did!

    The big difference between us, is that I favour freedom of the individual, and you continually oppose it. You do so however whilst enjoying that same freedom that you would deny others. Rather akin to enjoying the concept of steering the ship, whilst beneath the decks the enslaved are whipped to provide the propulsion.

  • Carlyle, you would give Senator Joe McCarthy a run for his money. We’re you related to him?

  • Curt , Dan I refuse to go to Cuba and give money to a horrendous regimen, I refuse as a native to ask for a visa to enter the country I was born in. Think for a moment how immoral that is. You probably have a sadistic nature to support a system where everything is dysfunctional and ppl live an agony, if you think my comments are Pathetic image how are your trying to defend what can not be defended. If they are comical and you are laughing you are not laughing at me you are laughing at the Cubans that have had enough and don’t want to live under a government that nobody elected. After all I live in freedom.

  • Only a diehard sycophant could find the pathos of exiled Cubans who miss their extended families and Cuban culture “comical”. But that is Curt’s opinion! Straight from the pages of Animal Farm!

  • Olga, your comments are so pathetic that they are comical. Anyone who advocates a US military attack against a country that is absolutely no threat to the US needs to have their head examined. If you miss Cuba so much, no one is stopping you from going there.

  • Dan, the Cuban dictatorship is not equal to Cuba I miss my country I saw the difference between what Cuba was before and this hell on earth that become I was 11 years old when the revolution trumped and what this dictatorship has done even to the character of the Havanero the anthropological damage is deep it hurt to see Havana before elegant, multicultural, like Paris and see Havana now full of repression and misery. So yes if a Foreign military intervention would be the solution for this mess this 62 years old nightmare I would support it . I saying this without a shame. You love the Cuban bloody regime that right now is distributing sticks in work centers and telling the workers to hit the fellows Cubans that had enough of this nightmare and going to protest on 15N .
    I care about the country I was born I would love to see Cubans free enjoy the benefits of the free society. I care so much that I live in freedom and still wishing the best to my fellows Cubans.

  • Despite Dan’s comment, it is self-evident that Olgasinmatales loves Cuba but unlike Dan, hates the communist regime. One only has to read her comments to grasp that!

    But it is good to know that if his lifestyle in the US was under threat, Dan would jump to its defense. He clearly enjoys the benefits of the US economy. Why does the word hypocrisy spring to mind?

  • Olga if I criticize the U.S., where I was born, unlike you, I am in your words an America hater. But I would never support a foreign country invading the US, sabotaging the economy, or committing acts of terrorism against it. I think that under your own definition you are clearly qualify for the title of Cuba Hater, as the more hardship and suffering your people endure, the happier you are.

  • The Revolution ( IF YOU CAN STILL CALL IT REVOLUTION AFTER MORE THE 60 YEARS) only serve the military elite and those in the west with delusional idealism about socialism and hate to USA they live in the west enjoying all the benefits of the free societies but they think the Cubans don’t deserve what they enjoy it . So the people of Cuba live in misery to pay for the elite and keep the dream of dated leftist.

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