Martes, 19 de Febrero de 2019
Última actualización: 15:42 CET

Petrifying Martí

A bust of Martí. (CARACOLDEAGUA)

"Martí es un mojón." (Martí is a turd). A simple line by a fictional character in a movie (not even finished) has set off alarm bells with the cultural authorities on the Island in recent weeks.

The official media, loyal arbiters of the permissible, have hastened to underscore the sacred nature of Cuba's father. The UNEAC, meanwhile, has rushed to join the fray, raising its voice in protest: "No messing with José Martí!" Praised be the writers.

This frantic uprising of soldiers in defense of the Apostle borders on hysteria. And, as such, it is symptomatic of something much more profound: the ideological impasse of the Cuban regime, its running aground.

Another sign of this scenario were the recent remarks by the Deputy Minister of Culture, Abel Acosta, who descried musical tastes "imposed" by the market. It came off like a rebuke of Cuban singers who have been successful on the international stage.

For regime higher-ups, the problem with figures like Yimit Ramírez, for example, or Descemer Bueno, is that their creations do not conform to Cuba's institutional channels, either because they manage to finance themselves independently, or because they play by the rules of the international market.

Theirs is an autonomy that manages, to a certain extent, to defy the dictates of the Government's cultural policy. But it is one which also, for this very reason, reveals in Cuban society, and in particular its youth, content of interest, in terms of production and consumption, that is oblivious to the official rhetoric.

The new reality

An obsession with young people's possible "deviations" has been a constant concern of the Cuban Revolution, a threat of ideological backsliding lurking around every corner. But changes over the last two decades have given rise to a society that, more than ever before, does not conform to the indivisible block envisaged by socialist ideology.

The gradual development of market mechanisms, the increase in poverty and socio-economic inequalities, the demographic drain due to emigration, the increasing importance of the community of exiles in sustaining the domestic economy, have been corroding the pillars of revolutionary propaganda.

As Cuba looks increasingly like any other Latin American country, the illusion of its exceptionality has vanished, that manifest destiny about which Marti was so passionate, and which the regime sought to co-opt.

As equality – which supported the existence of a relatively homogeneous country, and the same time legitimized the workings of the system – now evaporates, the tensions that rack current Cuban emerge in all their crudeness.

These phenomena, however, are only a consequence of the policies set in motion by the country's elites, to ensure their perpetuation in power. Therefore, the ideological apparatus is unable to fill the cracks between a socialism reduced to a mirage and the endogamous state capitalism that rules the country.

Uncertainty prevails

It is no accident, in this regard, that this commotion coincides with a period of succession in the nation's Presidency. For the first time in six decades Cuba will have as its maximum representative a person who does not have the surname "Castro".

Up to now the handover has been conceived as an exercise in continuity. And disagreements that threaten the established script have not been aired. Even so, the deferral of the succession suggests that there were details to be worked out.

In any case, so many novelties entail a good number of uncertainties. And it is difficult to know for sure what dynamics will unfold under the new power.

In this context, the tension around patriotic symbols is not, as in previous times, the reflection of an ideology capable of permeating the social fabric, but rather a retreat to the lowest common denominator, to a mediocre nationalism.

The embalming and worshipping of heroes, by barring any criticism of them at all (even in jest), deprives them, in reality, of relevance. In other words, it petrifies them. The censors end up actually confirming the very phrase they aimed to purge, turning Martí into a mere mojón, or boundary marker, demarcating limits.

But it is one thing to regulate the use of symbols in the present, and another to dictate them for eternity. The first is increasingly difficult, since the Cuban state has lost its dominant patronage of the artistic world. The last is to like attempting to hold sand in your hands.

Ironically, the recent cult of tombstones having arisen since the remains of the "Maximum Leader" were buried is a torment for his heirs. The tomb's proximity to that of the National Hero is destined to fuse both figures into a single posthumous memory. But, as they say, associations are contagious. Or worse: infectious.

From now on, the self-proclaimed guardians of the country's dignity will be condemned to an endless vigil, ensuring that the prophylactic shield that has been erected with drum rolls in recent days does not give way, because, if Martí is a mojón, what is Fidel?