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In January 1959, a group of young men detonated a revolution in Cuba. Their leaders, in their thirties, and the ideas they brought, transformed everything, and they had the aroma of novelty. Fifty years later, those irreverent long-hairs are in their eighties or close to it, and don't want to change anything. Those of us born after that mythical January have found a country where there is no opportunity for an ordinary citizen to influence the political direction. The former rebels have become powerful old men and have dismantled, one by one, the civic paths that once enabled them to organize their victorious dream.
Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara in a diorama in the Museum of the Revolution
The sympathy this process awakened in the entire world was based on the illusion that this would be a different kind of revolution. The first slogan was Bread with Freedom, which carried the full weight of a promise. The final slogan has been Socialism or Death, and we don't know if it's a threat, or the suicide pact of a fundamentalist sect.
Unlike the biblical Garden of Eden, where the disobedient were expelled, in this socialist paradise the discontented escape on rafts, when they can no longer dissimulate, or they end up being punished. From the beginning it was clear that the forbidden fruits were civil rights and those who desired them were demonized. In time, the fruits themselves, those of the earth, were also beyond the reach of the common people, because work stopped being a punishment and became a pantomime.
Though the Cuban Revolution completed its first fifty years in the first decade of the 21st century, it was condemned to be classified as an event of the 20th century. An event of the Cold War, one that won't be remembered in the future for its socio-economic transformation, nor for having fathered the New Man. To many, it will remain in memory only for having brought the world to brink of nuclear disaster during the days of the nuclear missile crisis.
The most important social achievements, those they incessantly boast of, are public health and education. Both reached their best moments during the era when the Soviet Union was subsidizing this experiment that we inhabit. Since then, however, the results have been very unsatisfactory. In the area of education the classrooms now lack qualified teachers, while health care is strangled by the scarcities that affect hospitals and hinder patient care. Low wages mean that many teachers and doctors prefer to work as porters in hotels, in lieu of the poorly paid labor of teaching and healing.
The dispute with the government of the United States is almost as old as the Revolution. The blockade, or embargo as I prefer to call it, is responsible for all our ills according to some, while for others it's a pretext that allows the government to exercise repression, as if we were a country besieged. For the common citizen, however, it's easier to verify the cost of the other siege, that which prevents Cubans from freely leaving and entering our own country, which denies us the economic right to create our own businesses, and which forbids our association in political parties.
The past half century is replete with the celebration of events which today constitute the mystique of the Revolution: the literacy campaign, the victory at the Bay of Pigs, the international missions launched by Che Guevara and continued in massive form in Angola and Ethiopia. One could affirm that the most notable absence is a theory that defines the process. The different methods of managing the economy have been characterized by a capricious stubbornness, and Marxist-Leninism has never been more than a literary doctrine spoken of by just a few academics.
For its part, it is only possible to understand Fidelismo as an overpowering will whose only indisputable foundation is to never surrender to the enemy, and to find an opponent in anyone who disagrees with his specific opinions.
The fortune-tellers predict the end only at those times when the physical disappearance of the "invincible Commander in Chief" appears imminent, and a whole society thirsting for reforms is not prepared to continue postponing changes. A global economic crisis, a new leader in the White House and a non-ideological generation threatening to take charge of its long history. The question the whole world asks is: What happens next? The so-called optimists dream of a gradual transition, of being "taken in hand" by the international community; and of course there is no shortage of "pessimists" who predict terrible disasters.
Whether what comes is the Haitianization of Cuba, or the establishment here of a new Athens of the Caribbean, this, too, will be one consequence of the Cuban Revolution, of its fifty years of depletion.
The gift shop at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba
Photos: M. Porter
Yoani's Blog, Generation Y, was just named one of the 25 Best Blogs of 2009 by Time Magazine. Read Generation Y in English Translation here.