Sixty years after Castro killed the Republic of Cuba
Jorge C. Carrasco, Washington Examiner
Sixty years ago, while thousands of Cubans were celebrating the fall of the regime of Fulgencio Batista, an atmosphere of hype and hate was taking over Havana. Not too many people saw coming what happened afterward. On January 1, 1959, the Republic of Cuba was killed. Not too many cried for her. Some were too busy packing their bags desperately, to flee the country. Others were busy breaking store windows.
The republican institutions that had not been destroyed by the previous dictatorship were savagely dismembered in the following months and years by the Castro's regime. Cuba's national Congress never returned to session at the Capitol or anywhere else, the name of the Havana Hilton hotel was changed. Christmas, the bars and cabarets of Havana, the independent unions, the religious schools, the private clubs, the big, medium and small businesses — the last vestiges of what was Cuba before communism — everything was destroyed, expropriated or erased from people's lives and minds.
The revolution never hid the contempt it always felt for the greatest symbol of the Republican era: Havana itself. Its glorious buildings, its beautiful parks, its grand mansions, statues, theaters, and museums — all too bourgeois for the revolutionaries, too ostentatious or too gorgeous to have been built by ''evil capitalist and imperialists."
That ''bourgeois Havana," previously one of the socially and culturally richest cities in the world, gradually collapsed, as cities collapse in a war zone. Nothing was built on it after 1959, or at least nothing that would return its splendor again. Maybe the bourgeois republic had been cruel and unequal at some point, although glamorous, but the revolution's result was violent, cruel and grotesque — as grotesque as the Soviet brutalist architecture that filled the Havana suburbs with hundreds of square housing complexes devoid of grace. Perhaps without realizing it, Havana became a permanent war zone, in which a battle has been waged for sixty years that never seems to end — a battle between tyrants and ordinary people that gives life to the city, generation after generation.
Castro knew that Cubans in the 1950s wouldn't accept him as a socialist god as the North Koreans did with the Kim dynasty. So instead, he made people believe in the significance of something else as powerful. He insisted on calling the political system he created in Cuba after 1959 as the "revolution." For him, this word would replace that word called ''republic,'' which he hated that much.
For many, "revolution" meant the process of liberation from Batista's dictatorship; social justice; the battles in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra; the ideals that promised equality for all; the sugarcane harvest. It also evoked the nation's ties to the Soviet Union, anti-imperialism, the Communist Party, Che Guevara and Castro himself. If you had a house, if you ate the state-rationed food, if you had free healthcare and education, it was thanks to the ''revolution"; if you suffered, if you went hungry, if you hated, if you were oppressed, if you denounced your "anti-revolutionary" relatives to the political police, if together with a mob of angry neighbors — you threw eggs at the political dissidents and homosexuals of the neighborhood — it was all for the ''revolution."
Every time a Cuban referred to the "revolution" instead of the republic or the government, or simply to Cuba, he stripped himself of his status as a citizen and became a soldier. Unaccountable tragedies were justified by that word.
However, maybe that Cuban Revolution, as the regime idealize it, had ended many decades ago before the people really realized. Maybe it ended even at the beginning itself when they decided to execute hundreds of people without a fair trial in La Cabaña. Or maybe it ended on August 23 of 1968, when Castro gave a speech justifying the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, accepting the "right" of the Soviet Union to prevent the independence of one of its satellites, in blatant violation of international law. That night, Castro formally canceled Cuba's sovereignty and explicitly accepted the "right" of the Soviet Union to invade the island if the same type of revolt ever happened there.
Today, ''revolution'' is a word that doesn't represent anything for most Cubans. People prefer to call it "the system," or "the thing." Words lose their meaning and die when they have nothing specific to refer to — when they are repeatedly used without precision. Soon enough, they really make no sense to anyone. Today, young Cubans, hungry for knowledge, modernity, and technology, prefer the word "evolution."
That revolutionary change of wind with which many were once enamored, today is the cause of the destruction of millions of families, including those who managed to escape and those who died in executions without fair trials, in forced labor camps, from suicide, or trying to escape on a rafts to the U.S., or those millions of people who remained to live under the oppression of the regime.
There is not much "social justice" to celebrate in Cuba today. In the streets, the economic abyss that separates the heads of government from average workers who earn less than 30 dollars per month is evident, to say nothing of the residents of the most rural areas of the nation. The new rich bourgeoisie are no longer big businessmen capitalists and entrepreneurs. Instead, they are the status quo of the state, relatives of important military personnel and members of the Communist Party who control the most luxurious hotels, restaurants, and bars in the island, all of this made exclusively to entertain foreign tourists.
Today, almost nothing has remained from the initial promises of the revolution, in which opportunities for all and civil liberties were spoken of. Instead, the socialist regime has maintained a strict web of surveillance and control that has been, sadly, its crowning achievement.
Jorge Carrasco, a native of Havana, writes from Brazil.
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