Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba | The Nation


Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba

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Obvious to all is the slipping away of the initial project to diversify the economy, raise the standard of living, transform Cuba into all the things it has pretended to be without ever being: a "medical power" (ridiculous--what on earth is a "medical power"?) or an "agricultural power." It's worth asking what the initial plan was, what the revolution counted on achieving. Perhaps this would be easily traceable through Castro's many exhausting (and frank) speeches. Was he calculating that by, say, 1975 or 1980 he'd be able to lift the country out of underdevelopment, or at least out of the crisis into which the much-heralded confrontation with the United States inevitably submerged him?

About the Author

José Manuel Prieto
José Manuel Prieto is the author of the novels Enciclopedia de una vida en Rusia, Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian...

If he was counting on that, it hasn't happened.

Instead, there's been year after year of unbearable scarcity, the eternal backdrop for a population struggling to live in utmost deprivation. For whatever reason it may be, whatever reason you or anyone else wants to put forth--beginning, naturally, with the US embargo--the Cuban Revolution is a resounding failure.

Honestly, I don't understand how it can be viewed any other way.

I imagine we may differ once again as to the causes. Blindness, inhuman ambition, crippling Bolshevism and, yes, ineptitude on the part of the United States, from my point of view; from Castro's, undoubtedly, conspiracies, ambushes, bad luck and, yes, ineptitude on the part of the United States.

And since this is a war (let's acknowledge that fact), then consider the inhumanity of the general who would rather immolate his soldiers than allow them to surrender with dignity. The commander who sees his armies decimated day after day and his heart shudders, prepared as he is to sacrifice all of them, down to the last man. The whole country bankrupt, the thousands who throw themselves into the sea, all economic and material existence collapsing, the daily failure and defeat--is that not the work of a maniac, evidence of a heart of stone?

That would be the point of view of the commander's rational mind, if we concede, without question, that he has one.

Shouldn't he give an honorable discharge to the country that has served him for so long? Thank it for the effort, take pity on the women and children? Or even on the last men standing? Until the end of what? The embargo?

The Americans should lift it, let's concede that point: the infinite stupidity of the embargo. But they haven't done so. Worse, the Cuban Revolution is in no position to pressure them to do so. No less important, the embargo causes them little or no pain or damage. It makes no difference to the Americans: the Cuban people, their fate. But to Fidel Castro, to the Cuban Revolution, those things are supposed to matter. I've repeated this question until I'm blue in the face. Shouldn't he, however much it would pain him and even though it would be an acknowledgment of failure, let his people go, renounce the "struggle," not force them to go with him to the very end?

This part of the story is told from the perspective of the remote future, the distant assessment of someone making a dispassionate study of his ancestors.

What can we do with the Cuban Revolution? Where can we put the Cuban Revolution? Can we act as if it had never existed?

The questions take us back to the old polemic: had Cuba already achieved its independence (as I'm inclined to think it had)? Or was it still (as Castro's doctrine depicts it) a protectorate, poorly administered by corrupt politicians primarily interested in enjoying Cuban beauties and exploiting the beautiful island of Cuba?

What matters here, however, is that whichever of these answers is correct, the Cuban Revolution happened, like it or not. The island of Cuba is now a very different country from what it was.

Fully independent?

Yes. In fact, more independent than is prudent.

This is the foundation on which the country's future must be built. To ignore the revolution or denigrate it would be a mistake, the knee-jerk revolutionary quest for a tabula rasa. Far better to incorporate the revolution thoughtfully, without ascribing guilt. As a problem, an asset and a singularity.

And to approach it as capable administrators serene in their inheritance, their assets managed pragmatically, without the sentimental burden of all those black-and-white photographs. A brief time for analysis of very recent history but no grand gestures or epic poems, just a quiet moment spent contemplating the childish expressions of those adults in the photos. Understandingly. To create space, strip away all the obsolete grandiloquence. And if there's a good piece of furniture, still solid and stable, then into the living room with it, next to the piano, as a period detail.

That's the attitude.

No tribunals (established here in the back seat of this taxi). That's not my intention. Not the tribunal of history, the better to understand what happened. I've understood this today in particular, Oman (my cab driver from Cameroon): not to judge from the height of a tribunal with a flaming sword. To observe all of it, rather, sub specie aeternitatis.

That being said, there's nothing left but to acknowledge that the Cuban Revolution won.

Not a drop of irony in those words. They are the winners. They'll be the ones in charge of taking the country forward in the years to come, be Fidel Castro alive or dead.

Frankly, I don't see how it could be any other way.

Not the dissidents, who are currently more of a civic option than a real political one: not the representatives of the Cuban exile community, whose possibilities are even more limited, compromised as they are (politically? in the public mind?) by their long stay in America.

There's no one but them, the heirs to the violent and exceedingly self-absorbed Cuban Revolution. That is: the ones who are free of the idea of the glory and significance of the Cuban Revolution and definitely do not see it as something that "objectively" had to occur (never anything like that), and who are free as well of the idea that some other "revolution" might be necessary, some new abrupt or cataclysmic change to repair the harm wrought by that other abrupt and cataclysmic change. They are freeing themselves from the Cuban Revolution and loathing it mightily, but not--God save us!--revolutionarily.

Knowing how to make a break with its heritage of violence rather than acting as if nothing had happened. A clear and public expression of regret, an unequivocal condemnation of its excesses along with a vindication of its best aspects (the broad social and educational programs and all the rest), as a way of founding the country anew. Otherwise, all forward momentum might be lost in overt cynicism, the shiftiness of someone who acknowledges no guilt and believes and calculates that it's possible to live, to lie, as if nothing had happened.

No settling of accounts, no rush to judgment, no Second Cuban Revolution to rectify and cleanse away the evils, violence and social harm of the first one.

But yes, a rejection of its deeply anti-democratic character--more the structure of a military command than of a government--an acknowledgment of other actors in the political spectrum, a making of space for inclusion, a voluntary gathering in.

No longer proudly calculating that they'll be able to monopolize power at no risk to themselves and at enormous cost to the country. Their specificity (Fidelismo? his heirs?) identified as one point of view among others, constituting themselves as a political party, a true political party.

A party that ceases to be the State Leviathan that exists today, renouncing its monstrous privilege, which is a thousand times more aberrant than the endemic corruption of pre-1959 Cuba that the Cuban Revolution confronted and tried to correct.

Taxi. Taxi!

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