Weeping (or Faking It) at Fidel Castro’s Farewell / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 3 December 2016 — The flag with the three blue and two
white stripes, red triangle and solitary star in the middle hung from a
black flagpole. For the Rodriguez family, it served as the perfect
diversion, taking the attention of the neighborhood’s informers and
die-hard supporters off them.
They live right in the heart of the oldest part of Havana, in a poor,
largely mixed race neighborhood, which is a hotbed of hustling and
guile. Residents here think twice as fast as other Cubans.
They have always relied on illegalities and whatever fell off the truck.
It seems to have served them well. In the morning they would widly
applaud a speech by Fidel Castro while at night they would stockpile
sacks of detergent stolen from a state-run store.
Those born in Cuba know these tricks all too well. While the Rodríguez
family appears loyal to the regime, everyone in the neighborhood knows
they sell cooking oil at thirty pesos a liter.
“You do it so you don’t stand out. You know how it is. In order to
survive in Cuba, you have to be be ’inventive.’ You learn to play along
these people (the regime),” as one of them points out before boarding a
bus to the Plaza of the Revolution to participate in a public farewell
to Fidel Castro, founder the first communist state in Latin America.
Daniel, a Spanish journalist assigned to covering the funeral, cannot
understand the stories he reads and hears outside of Cuba about
autocratic methods, repression and widespread discontent.
“You look at hundreds of thousands of people waiting in line under a
blazing sun in order to sign a book of condolence and you ask yourself
how it is possible that these people are paying tribute to a guy who
built a system that has so drastically impoverished them,” wonders the
astonished reporter outside the Havana Libre Hotel.
The reason is that Cuba is not a typical country. Only those who have
lived under a dictatorship can understand such unexpected and widespread
It cannot be said that the Communist Party forces people to attend
organized demonstrations. Attendance is completely voluntary. But it is
When Fidel Castro was at the height of power twenty years ago, the head
of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — a
neighborhood-based organization that was a precursor to the powerful
social control exercised in Cuba today — went door to door, urging
families to sign up for mass mobilizations or to vote in sham elections.
In the Castros’ Cuba the state is the entity that both punishes and
rewards its citizens. To get a house, a television or an alarm clock,
Cubans must demonstrate at labor union meetings just how much effort
they have made to support the Revolution.
Improving one’s standard of living depended on participating in
mobilization efforts and volunteering for work brigades. It was a period
when an odd disingenuousness, or double standard, took root in the Cuban
Twenty years ago, being able to study at a university depended on
commitment to the communist cause. After the demise of the Soviet Union,
the iron grip lessened and things began to change.
Fidel Castro strategically decided to allow Catholics and other
religious believers to join the Communist Party. Little by little the
rigid control over Cubans’ lives began to ease.
But there is still room for improvement and much to overcome, such as
the pervasive fear felt by ordinary Cubans. “My daughter is in her third
year at university. Do you know that, if she comes off as being
disinterested to them, it could have an impact on her future?” asks Ada,
a convenience store worker.
Liudmila, who works in a five-star hotel, believes that, if she does not
participate in “mass demonstrations, certain people (in the party, labor
union or young communists union) might take note and sack me from my
job, which is a contract position.”
Such moral calculation, which numbs a person’s will and judgement, is
the reason people like Lorenzo — a seventeen-year-old, third-year
pre-university student — can devise a speech for domestic and foreign
television cameras from talking points while expressing the opposite
opinions in his living room to an independent reporter, provided his
name is changed.
Classic examples of this disingenuousness are the widespread comments
and displeasure over the government’s decision to not place Fidel
Castro’s ashes in the José Martí Memorial at the Plaza of the Revolution.
“It shows a lack of respect. There were people waiting in line for up to
three hours in the sun to sign the book of condolence not knowing that
Fidel’s remains were not there. It was a farce. They were keeping vigil
for a ghost,” says Miguel, a construction worker.
These opinions do not echo the official party line. It is this kind of
societal hypocrisy that allows the regime to govern so easily. Most
people in Cuba think one way but act in another.
They prefer to watch from the sidelines, without making political
compromises. They just wait for things to change. Assuming things do change.
From Diario Las Americas, December 2, 2016
Source: Weeping (or Faking It) at Fidel Castro’s Farewell / Iván García
– Translating Cuba –