Terror in the night, bombed homes and cafes, murders by army and police, flames in the cane-fields and wrecked trains, jails full of tortured prisoners, concentration camps, secret invasions on lonely beaches and insurgents in the hills — such is Cuba’s rhumba of violence. Such is the Hungary on our doorsteps.
But the blood-drenched Cuba of Dictator Fulgencio Batista, onetime army sergeant, is not merely a Pandora’s box of evil and tears, it is also a paradox of prosperity and gaiety. Never was business better, never were the night clubs and B-girl bars so crowded. Nor the flat-tire politicians so inflated with hope — “barking for their bone” as they express it in Cuba — with talk of possible elections next June.
Against the lurid background of death and fear, a joint Congressional Electoral Commission has been discussing an election law acceptable to the opposition parties. Old names. Old faces. Here are representatives of Carlos Prio, whom President Batista overthrew by armed force in March, 1952; of former President Grau San Martin, a wily man, once a popular leader, and still with aspirations to return to power; that old orthodox warhorse of earlier paper-battles, Màrquez Sterling; men of a half-dozen factions — all seated with the leaders of Batista’s coalition parties, his Senators and cabinet ministers. Under the tarnished cupola of Dictator Machado’s Capitolio, built with Chase Bank funds in another era of misery and military abuse, the solons have been haggling like market-women, not over the welfare of Cuba, but for puerile legalisms and petty factional advantages in elections that in this swirl of violence may never be held, or if held, likely will be decided by the bayonets now pinning Cuban freedom to earth.
All morning I listened to that turgid oratory, phrased in the language of forgotten conflicts, worn out tinsel that decorated the Christmas trees of better years long ago. These puffing, pulling men had put on blinders against the air-lift to the Sierra Maestra; they had plugged their ears against the bombs down the street. Shadow boxing. The Cuban people were not here. Young Cuba was not here. Everybody in Cuba except the politicians knew it.
In the last ten years, a new voting population, nearly half that of Cuba, has come into being without ever having had a chance to vote in an honest election. Few have turned to the old parties and leaders. What they want, what they will do, no one knows or tries to find out. That some, shut off all these years from political and intellectual expression, have turned terrorists — that is sore- thumb plain. That some have gone to the Sierra Maestra to fight — that, too, is known.
In the end, Grau pulled the rug from under the Joint Electoral Commission, refusing longer to play Batista’s cat-mouse game, by withdrawing his Autenticos, the major opposition party, and the “retired politician,” the “fox of Mannao,” became the central figure of the non-violent opposition. A most disturbing one. “Restore the rights and freedom of the people and there will be no problem.” Simple enough. Too simple. How simple is shown by Cuba’s latest police assassination last night.