Jueves, 20 de Junio de 2019
Última actualización: 23:42 CEST

The State of Beliefs: What remains of Castroist ideology? What do Cubans really think and want?

Young people during the procession transporting Fidel Castro's funeral urn. (GETTY IMAGES)

Well into the third week of the Year I of the AC era, which started at midnight on November 25th, the question looms: what is the status of beliefs in Cuba? What remains of Castroist ideology, which for over half a century was the sole, official and indisputable school of thought for 11 million Cubans?

We are already familiar with the beliefs of the State.  They are petrified for eternity in the untouchable Constitution, and are the same ones the leaders swear to embrace, and mechanically repeat in their speeches – although there are some signs suggesting that these convictions might not be as sincere as they seem. Now it would behoove us to explore the deep beliefs harbored by the Cuban people, those that make up what in a society less subjugated by state control would be called "public opinion."

The task is a difficult one, because the subject of the investigation – Castroist ideology – has been somewhat chameleonic, and because those who have assimilated it developed a mechanism that allows them to think one thing, say another, and do a third without even blushing at the contradiction. This dissociation between ideas, personal expression and actual activity is what in other pages I have called Cuba's “three-fold schizophrenia.”

On the long and winding road from the attempted coup of July 26, 1953 in Santiago de Cuba – a terrorist attack that left 70 dead, an imitation of Hitler's putsch 30 years earlier in Munich – until Castro's farewell speech at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party, which he stammered out in April, arrayed in an Adidas tracksuit, there have been a long litany of ideological contradictions and inconsistencies.

Nationalism, social democracy, Liberal constitutionalism, Tropical Socialism, hardline Stalinism, bellicose Third Worldism, heroic Communist resistance, 21st-century socialism, State Capitalism: all this and more has formed part (sometimes simultaneously) of the ideology preached by Castro I and his followers.

In view of these mutations, since 1959 the safest course for his subjects was merely to parrot the slogans in the Maximum Leader's last speech, without endeavoring to remember what he had said or written before it, and not daring to compare the ideas of yesterday with those of today. In this context, ideology was at the mercy of the Conspirator-in-Chief's moods and tactics, as he could not spend hours during his hectic days devising an elegantly coherent body of thought, busy as he was promoting anti-Yankee insurrection on a global scale and evading the hundreds of attacks that the CIA organized every week against the great revolutionary.

But, with the caudillo dead, and the people orphaned, deprived of his guiding words, what are the beliefs that prevail today on the Island?

Let us put aside the spectacle of the funeral procession and the urn of glass, the tears shed in public starting from the moment in that his brother Raul snapped his fingers and ordered: "Mourn!" (three days after the death) and the ridiculous liturgy which forced millions of people to file before a portrait and a few anachronistic medals under the monument to Martí. None of this actually reflects the ideas and feelings that Cubans harbor within themselves regarding the regime. 

Many today sobbing at the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia dream of escaping to the United States as soon as possible. Others who enthusiastically applaud the new/old president, are already plotting how to ask for asylum on their next international mission. Under the current conditions there is not one survey, study or calculation that can yield an accurate assessment of the status of beliefs in Cuba. The three-fold schizophrenia prevents it.

But, beyond what Cubans tell the press, or pretend in public, some individual and collective behaviors do point to certain deep convictions. Let us proceed with caution:

There seems to be consensus as to the non-viability of the nationalized economy system. An increasing number of people are struggling to make a living outside the formal apparatus for the production of goods and services. Many of these initiatives are supported by relatives and friends living abroad. It is not fashionable to be a civil servant.

This suggests that there is a certain wariness regarding the country's direction and the vision of its leaders. Events since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the foreseeable loss of Venezuelan subsidies have undermined faith in the bright future of socialism and the eternal nature of communist dictatorships. Apparently, most believe that in the future everything will depend on a bilateral relationship with the United States and the degree of capitalism that the government tolerates.

This impression is reinforced by the demographic crisis and the increase in unauthorized emigration. Cuban women are having fewer and fewer children, while young people flee the Island any way they can – even risking their lives in rafts. These trends have been around forever, but they have worsened in recent years.

Great confusion reigns with regards to policy. Most seem to be unaware of their inherent rights and what freedoms they should enjoy under the international law that the Government itself theoretically recognizes, and pretends to abide by, but ignores in the interior of the country. This ignorance is complicated by the habits of subservience induced by the regime's prolonged domination, and fears sown by PCC propaganda (the threat of a return by the "Miami mafia," the exploitation of "savage capitalism," the potential disappearance of "free" schools and hospitals if the government changes, and a long list of clichés and falsehoods, almost all based on a fear of freedom, as already explained by Erich Fromm).

But, at the end of the day, these conjectures are just that.

How, then, can we know what Cubans really want and believe? The only way would be to allow them to freely express their preferences, both regarding politics and other areas of life. This would lead, ultimately, to the holding of free elections under international supervision.

And political groups and parties freely espousing their philosophies, and citizens voting for the candidates and platforms that they prefer. Only in this way would it be possible to know if they wish to continue living under the regime that Castro I bequeathed to them, or to shift towards a model based on liberal democracy and a market economy. But the right to choose a government, approved by the majority in free and secret elections, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is what the PCC, the generals and the Castro dynasty are determined to prevent, by any means.

Democracy and freedom are not inevitable, but quite the opposite: the fruit of arduous and complicated efforts to secure them. Opponents should not incur in the Marxist superstition that changes in the economic foundation will automatically result in the transformation of the political superstructure and a transition to a democratic regime.

Since the consolidation of Castroist totalitarianism, circa 1962, Cuban society has demonstrated an almost unlimited capacity to silently endure material hardship and the suppression of its rights. The possibility of fleeing abroad and remittances from Miami have served to significantly alleviate the suffering imposed by the system. But both of these are factors that also contribute to the regime's stability.

Democratic transition, if it ever happens, will not will come from economic reform, or the good will of some fatigued bureaucrats. Nobody is going to bestow on Cubans the rights and freedoms that secretly (perhaps) many aspire to enjoy, if we ourselves do not start to demand them.