October 22, 1999
By Jesus Hernandez Cuellar
Translated by Gladys P. Martinez
On January 1, 1959, when Mario Chanes de Armas heard -from the darkness of his jail cell- that General Fulgencio Batista had fled Cuba the previous night, he thought that it was all over and that a new era of prosperity and democracy would be opening up for his country. He could not have imagined that in less than two years he would be back in jail, to become the political prisoner who would serve the longest sentence in the world for such a crime: 30 years behind bars!
Many others shared the experience of political imprisonment
with Chanes de Armas. And even now, 40 years after Castro's ascent
to power -and after years spent in prison, in exile, or both-
they suffer impotently because they are unable to live in a democratic
In past decades, the imminent fall of Castroism was continuously talked about. A famous phrase was coined: "Next year in Havana." Even today, with extraordinary tenacity, militant members of Alpha 66 and the L Commandoes, many of whom are now senior citizens, train in open fields with the dream of being part of Cuba's day of liberation. Surviving members of the Assault Brigade 2506, who landed at Bay of Pigs in 1961, have never stopped meeting each year during the month of April, to honor the sacrifice of their comrades who died in the swamps of southern Cuba almost 39 years ago. And year after year the 20th of May, day of the declaration of independence of the Republic of Cuba, is celebrated by Cuban exiles all over the world as the "Day of the National Independence."
In 1957, the now defunct Soviet empire celebrated its 40th birthday, the result of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. But the old anti-Communist Russian exile of yore had already disappeared at the time. On the other hand, 40 years after Castro's revolution, the anti-Castroist exile has not disappeared, it has not died away, even though if may breath with difficulty, even though it may be missing important fragments of its very essence.
However, one no longer hears talk about the fall of Castro, but of the inevitability of his eventual demise. Younger exiles, apparently facing what has turned out to be the impossibility of defeating the Cuban dictator through the use of force, have formed their own strategy. For many of them, beyond Castro, the important thing is Cuba; the Cuba that will come afterwards, after Castro's death. They have all the time in the world to wait for that. They are sure that this Cuba will exist one day.
This playing with time, dates and ages, however, does not please the ears of the veteran freedom fighters, whose political vision has been to defeat their cruel and obstinate adversary through military means. Many of them share the dictator's age; some are even older. If Cuba's freedom can only arrive with the dictator's death as a result of old age, they fear that perhaps many of them will not be around to see that day. As a matter of fact, many are already gone. And this consideration thus becomes one more element of the Cuban national tragedy.
But power is not the same as victory. For many, the exercise of power has been the shortest road towards the dishonorable cubicle of defeat. Perhaps this is Castro's situation, even though his dictatorial essence may not allow him to see it. And perhaps his own historical adversaries, also part of his convulsive generation, are themselves unable to grasp on what crucial points victory and defeat have already been settled.
Jose Marti never witnessed Cuba's independence, but his was a crushing victory against the power of the Spanish forces that left him lifeless at Dos Rios: his ideology and his death turned him into the most important man in the history of his country.
When the government of today's Cuba grants a dental surgeon, surely a capable and intelligent person, a salary of approximately 18 U.S. dollars a month, is this an example of victory? When it is determined that in the U.S. there are approximately 103,000 businesses owned by Cuban exiles, with 15.8 billion dollars a year in revenues, an amount that is probably higher than the gross national product of Cuba, is this a sign of defeat?
How does one measure victory or defeat, when one sees that the median income for a Cuban family in the U.S. is $45,500, while family members inside the island who belong to what should be a similar socioeconomic level barely have an income of $600 U.S. dollars a year, for the entire family, with good luck thrown in? This last example compares family income according to the terms for monetary exchange laid out by Castro's government itself. Outside of Cuba, the national currency has absolutely no value whatsoever.
Furthermore, in spite of the rich literary history of the island, no Cuban writer residing there -except for Alejo Carpentier, now deceased, who became established before 1959- has been able to reach the levels of exiles Guillermo Cabrera Infante, recipient of the prestigious Miguel de Cervantes prize, or of Zoe Valdes, finalist for the respected Premio Planeta.
No pop musician has followed the paths of Celia Cruz, none has triumphed like Gloria Estefan. No minister of the regime, perhaps not even Castro himself, ever had under his control an annual budget of a proportion similar to that which Roberto Goizueta administered while at the helm of Coca-Cola.
The voice of a Cuban was never heard in the Soviet parliament;
but in the Congress of the United States there are three Cuban-American
legislators at the present time who, by the way, help make life
difficult for the Cuban governing elite.
Are these facts symbols of defeat, or of victory?
Everyone wants to live in paradise. Castro tried to build one, possibly an evil one, but his paradise nevertheless. However, it is not possible to think of victory in relation to a paradise from which at least 20% of the population has managed to escape, in spite of its restrictions to the freedom of emigration. Many fled in rafts and other home-made vessels, risking their lives.
They were aware of the danger, and many died. They chose to have the Florida Straits as a tomb rather than live in Castro's paradise. Latin American emigrants who once were "liberated" from the hostility of Capitalism by Marxist guerrillas did not go to that paradise either. Instead they came to the United States, the ideological antithesis of Castro's beliefs, his eternal and truly victorious arch-enemy.
Dictators have a tendency to develop their agendas through an ideology. Even here, Castro's lack of luck is unparalleled, at least in the West. The Soviet Union, the empire that financed him and kept him at its beck an call during more than 30 years, not only willingly abandoned its unnatural philosophy, but it also disappeared as a nation. It was not necessary to bomb it or take it by assault; it simply vanished of its own accord, turning the unthinkable into reality.
How many victories can one count in all of this for Castro? And the worst is yet to come! If in reality Cuba can only become a democracy upon the death of the aging dictator, it will be a source of shame for him that humanity will recognize that he was unable to deliver his country in the same condition in which his right wing counterparts Francisco Franco of Spain and Augusto Pinochet of Chile delivered theirs.
This to compare him to two other dictators, one who died while in power, and the other now seeking refuge in legal subterfuges and bureaucratic processes, scared to death as a result of his own arrest in London.
The thousands of young Cuban-Americans who fill professorships at U.S. universities, hold jobs in important companies and take their place in world art and culture -the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the historical exile- are no less than the coup de grace of the greatest humiliation that the Cuban opposition could have dealt its old enemy. In the meantime, the "children of the revolution" escape to southern Florida, and to Mexico, France and Spain.
The fact that Castro remains in power does not mean that he has not been defeated. Yes, he will go down in history; there is no doubt about that. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Mao went down in history. Castro will be there with them, but suffering from such bad luck that he will only be seated behind them, on the second row.