A young lawyer, tired of the succession of corrupt government in his country, persists with a plot to overthrow the latest installment. After the second botched attempt his band of rebel fighters, by some miracle, win enough battles and create enough of a threat to scare the reigning leader into an exile flee. When the rebel takes control of the country, he promises an end to foreign imperialism and inclusion for the disenfranchised poor. He executes or jails dissenters and holdovers from the previous regime. He confiscates land and businesses owned by the rich, and says they are now public property. His charisma and ability to speak so clearly about the problems of the country, and so directly to what its people feel, win him overwhelming support.
The country is ready to move forward, and there is unity and patriotic energy like never before. But there comes a twist. Soured by the exploitive aspects of capitalism he’s seen over the years, and feeling that the country’s quest for a more humanistic society is better served by socialistic principles, the new leader adopts a communism agenda and partners with a then-superpower, which leads to a final estrangement with the US. While the world marvels at his brazen, inside his country there is mounting discord, which is quelled periodically by imprisonment and firing squads.
No one dares speak out against the wool that has been pulled over their eyes. Like bleeding off a spigot ready to burst, on two occasions the leader opens the gates to people who want to leave the country, calling them scum and saying they are not cut out to be revolutionaries. Those who leave go straight to Miami and join those who left when the leader began taking over their properties. A fierce rivalry sets up between the exiled and those still on the island, and there are brothers and mothers and daughters on each side who will never speak again because they hate each others’ political system so much. Families are forever severed by this great divide.
Owing to a US provision that helps escapees from communist rulers, Cubans in the Miami community accumulate power; working for and then owning local banks, businesses and newspapers. Leaders in the community leverage their power to pressure the US government into tighter sanctions against their home country, creating greater hardship for former loved ones. Meanwhile the superpower that the leader tied his boat to vanishes overnight, and gone instantly is the money and machinery to run the country. The country enters a dark time known as the Special Period, where the leader calls upon the people to dig deep into their souls and to be strong against the hardships, to rebuild the country’s morale through sacrifice and hard work.
When the opportunity presents itself, the US punishes those countries who try to help or do business with the impoverished island. Through the daily lapses in electricity and the empty fuel tanks and food shortages, the leader never wavers in his belief that socialism holds the greatest promise for his country, and his resolution to stay the course seems to get stronger by it all.
When the Revolutionary tells the world that the people of Cuba want socialism and are secure in its ideals, the world says it can’t be true. When reports come back that millions throng in support at May day rallies, the world says the people have been brainwashed, that they are acting out of fear, that if given the chance those millions would leave the island tomorrow.
By now, the country’s dwindling population of elders, who witnessed the Revolution, who decided to stay and support the prospect of a more equal life, who knew the exploitation and corruption that came with foreign imperialism, have grown weary of the long and tiresome ride. They have reached the point where physical comfort in the present is more important to them than future ideals. They know they won’t be around when the utopian society comes, if it ever does, and they reflect on all that has been lost. They have seen the Revolution’s ugliness; the whispering, the betrayals, neighbors informing on neighbors, brothers turning in sisters, the forced rehabilitations, the political choreography that dominates life. What was once beautiful and avant-garde in the capital city is now crumbling and dilapidated. The elegant life and the rich culture of music and literature they once knew seems gone forever.
Those of their children who did not leave the island, who are now in their 40s and 50s, have become resentful, but of course they dare not speak or act out. They have been bred in socialist ideals but are finding it hard to maintain their enthusiasm for the Revolution’s unstable continuum. They are now the country’s administrators, but they are also human, and have personal wants. Though they are closed off from it, they know enough about the world to see it passing them by. They are tempted by the material things. They hear about siblings and friends in Miami and New York, and wish they had some of that life. They too are tired of the austerity and the promise of mañana, but in a different way: they are still young, with ambitions and energy, and so there is still hope for something better.
For musicians and poets and painters, expressing oneself through their art is a delicate, complicated matter. They cannot sing and paint and write what they really feel, what life is really like for them, and so many of the country’s true artists, those who will not be told what to paint or write, have dropped out, their talent wasted on menial functions to serve the Revolution. Those who remain in the arts must be content with extolling the island’s virtues; the rich coffee, tobacco and land, and stay clear of political subjects or experiences that may be interpreted as counter-revolutionary. And so the result is uncharacteristic blandness; art which is not art in a true sense.
A country says that its future rests with its children, and perhaps this is more true in Cuba than anywhere else. Will they take up the command that will be left for them, or will they turn another way? Today, in their school uniforms, dutifully reciting the country’s pledges, disciplined in their learning about José Martí and Ché Guevera and Vladimir Lenin, and mastering English so they can one day participate in the world—today they are immersed in revolutionary thinking. But will they one day question it all? Will they some day ask where all of this came from, and why they are different from the rest of the world?
They have never known capitalism, they have only been told it brings on greed and selfishness, that it cannot help but promote a materialistic existence which eventually depletes and corrupts the soul. The country’s high school and university students are shown what goes on in the United States as evidence of capitalism’s ills. They are shown the rising corporate malfeasance, the dishonest acts committed by trusted leaders, the heinous crime, the millions of people on antidepressants, a culture overrun by advertising and commercialism. They know about America’s apathy toward its government’s aggression around the world. They are not taught to hate America’s people, but only that its ideals lead to this kind of society. America is the most capitalistic of all the capitalistic nations, and so where better to observe its symptoms.
But history has shown that socialism is also prone to corruption, that its defects and eventual downfall trace to people trying to cheat the system; trying to get more than their allotment, to have some sort of advantage or favored status over others. History shows that when a ruled people feel the slightest bit of freedom they tend towards capitalistic behavior, as if the human spirit rejects the call for a selfless existence, as if man’s innateness wars against any system that wants him to conform, that removes choice and movement, that blocks personal pursuit and expression. And so which is better, a system that tries to stifle the human spirit and punishes individualism, and wallows in stagnation and bureaucracy, and produces a resentful people, or a system that allows all manner of commercial expression and pursuit, and produces excess and moral vacancy? The question, one imagines, will be a question for eternity.
Cuba is but one of many national tragedies made so by US policy, one of several Latin American countries living in a state of limbo, damaged somehow by US intervention, and unable, it seems, to move forward. But the Cuba situation differs in several respects. It is marked by a protracted antagonism, fed on one side by daily doses of anti-US doctrine, and on the other by the inordinate power of a small community to influence US policy. The hard line toward the island remains unchanged through nine US presidencies. The US cites Cuba’s human rights violations but there are countries with worse records. It cites communism but has extended its hand to other socialist, repressed, dictator-run countries. Surely the Cold War has thawed and surely there are other, more powerful countries who sought to do us harm, who we now have dialog with. Perhaps humiliation from the US’ failed 1961 invasion is what underlies the hard stance. Perhaps it is the person of Fidel Castro and the US’ unwillingness to show any kind of conciliation to his 50-year defiance. Perhaps it is the power of the Miami community and its ability to affect policy toward its motherland.