Friday, August 29, 2008

The Cuban Revolution's One Undeniable Success

No, not infant mortality: Cuba's before 1959 was the 13th lowest in the world; it now ranks 34th. Nor literacy, which increased by 400% from 1900 to 1958 and only by 25% after 1959. The Cuban Revolution has had one undeniable success, however: it has suffocated the revolutionary spirit of Cuban youth. It was that spirit which made both the 1933 and 1959 revolutions possible. That spirit flourished because Cubans were free to rebel against authority: no revolution can succeed without freedom of action and the Rule of Law to abet it.

The generation of 1953, the last to exhibit that revolutionary spirit, was not a creation of Fidel Castro, though it would eventually be co-opted and corrupted by him. When the government raised bus fares by one penny in 1951, students hijacked a bus, carried it up the monumental stairs of Havana University (which are like a one-sided pyramid) and sent it crashing down. Then they went to celebrate in the University itself, which then enjoyed autonomy (the police could not enter its precincts). Besides, no one would have thought to charge them with disorderly conduct or destroying public property (bus and stairs). The public was on their side and their conduct was thought brave and public-spirited. To excuse their worst excesses as the natural province of youth was the general reaction. The authorities concurred.

It was in such a climate of absolute freedom bordering on anarchy that such monsters as Fidel Castro were incubated. Still, whether confronting anarchy or the reaction to it, Cubans then were a fully-integrated, self-realized, prosperous and happy people (everything which they are not today). Our national tragedy stems from the fact that too many Cubans expended their energies not in defending freedom but in abusing it.

It was the Generation of the Centenary, under such favorable auspices, which successfully waged the 1959 Revolution and whose leaders, once in power, obliterated systematically every vestige of freedom for all subsequent generations of Cubans. That is, for their children, their grandchildren and now their great-grandchildren.

The horrific spectacle which transpired last night in Havana before a crowd of thousands of Castro's young victims at the "Anti-Imperialist Forum" concert affirmed, if anyone doubted it, that civilization on our island has descended even lower than on William Golding's fictional one. Our "Lord of the Flies" has destroyed what was noblest and most aspiring in our people: that almost childlike belief in justice and in the possibility of obtaining it, which was the compass that guided us for most of our history as a nation. It did not always guide us right. The last 50 years attest to that. The absence of such a compass, however, can only guide us wrong. The last 50 years also attest to that.

There are still those, however, who uphold at great personal cost what survives of that spirit and tradition in our country. Real revolutionaries as opposed to mock revolutionaries. True, there are very few of them. They are a beacon which burns without oxygen and can be seen better from afar than up close. Still, they are the only hope of our country. Their fragile bodies are the strands which connect us to our past and the girders that will construct the bridge to our future. They are men like Gorki and women like Yoani and others who do not have their renown but share their courage and will reveal themselves as Emilio Marill did yesterday.

While Yoani and Gorki's colleagues from the band "Porno Para Ricardo" were being viciously beaten by Castro's goons at the Milanés concert for protesting Gorki's arrest, the onlookers looked away: even two syllables worth of protest was more than any of them were willing to risk. The performers on stage continued to play and the revellers to revel. Revelling is still possible in Cuba even if rebelling is not. Only one spectator, Emilio, raised his voice in protest.

But, really, what should we expect? Martyrdom is not a duty. It is, at best, a vocation and very few are called to it. We cannot demand, from the safety of this side of the Florida Straits, that Cubans act against the well-honed survival instincts which 50 years of tyranny have perfected. Just as we hope to see Cuba free again, they hope to live in a free country someday. The one requisite for the realization of either hope is to remain alive. That, too, is a form of resistance: to deny the tyrant the corpses he craves and would not hesitate to claim at the first opportunity.

Without the arms to defend themselves, confronting an enemy that threatens to "sink the island into the ocean" and very nearly did so once when its brand of socio-lismo was threatened, and with more countries in the world that have a vested interest in Cubans remaining slaves than in their liberation, what is it that we expect our countrymen on the island to do? If the onus were on us, what would we answer? Because the onus is as much on us as on them. Whatever excuses we can offer theirs are more compelling. Whatever constraints restrain us theirs are more restraining. The only difference is that they are doing the suffering. To judge them we must either share their suffering or end it.