Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Cult of Personality

In Cuba, even though he is dead, the national dialog is all Fidel, all the time. Fidel and Che are everywhere. I found it ironic that Cuba is proud of its high rate of literacy, but there is nothing to read. The only reading material is about The Revolution, Che and Fidel. There are two newspapers in the country - Granma and Juventud Rebelde, both of which are thin, published by the government, and cover the same stories. The stories are, you guessed it, about Fidel and The Revolution. Other popular topics are the continuing struggle for the victory of the revolution, increased agricultural output for some crop or another, and the latest successes of the Cuban chess, boxing or baseball teams. We are accustomed to a society with debate and different views from the press and access to the foreign press. Cuba has been subject to this unending propaganda for 59 years. It was really hard for us to tell if the people believed in the propaganda. When we would ask, the answer was never direct or particularly enlightening. Certainly, nobody said "Yeah, Fidel was an asshole", so the opposition is clearly suppressed. There is one political party, and the candidate always wins with 100% of the vote.

This abundance of propaganda was particularly strong around Bay of Pigs. Dozens of anti-American billboards, old tanks and airplanes in the roundabouts,  and "defend the revolution" signs everywhere. The invasion happened before I was born. I am trying to imagine an America that is stuck in 1960 and has not moved on. Sherry and I went scuba diving in the Bay of Pigs and we actually swam around one of the American landing craft sitting in about 40 feet of water.  There was a big fat juicy Lionfish swimming around in it, but they don't seem to have an eradication program on that reef. Too bad, those things are tasty. We saw 6 or 7 during the dive. 

We did come to realize, however, that the vast majority of Cubans feel that the revolution was beneficial to the country and everyone had some measure of support for it. Despite the clear problems that developed after the first years, many of the citizens here would have been in slavery or close to it if it weren't for the revolution. Today, everyone in the countryside has a little bit of land and a concrete box to live in. Nobody is forced to work, there are no flagrantly rich people, and the communities seem to pull for one another in a way that we have not seen before. The beaches are all open to all citizens, and there are no big villas or gated communities (that we saw). I think that we are both still trying to come to terms with what we saw and reconcile it with our western way of looking at things. 

We saw Cuban flags on the official buildings everywhere - here is a particularly large one 

This is the corner bookstore. We saw one or two "brick and mortar" book stores (just a room about the size of an American living room) which had an equally narrow selection of books. Che, Fidel and the Revolution. Oh, and Hemingway. His "Old Man and the Sea" is big here in Cuba - all of our teachers had read it. They do seem to have a good selection of Cuban poetry books, but I never read any of them. I suspect that the poems do not cross into politics.

Here is a huge mural of Fidel on the side of a building. He had just died about three weeks before we arrived, so his picture was more prominent than usual.

Every little town had dozens of these murals painted on the walls. This one says: "Our obligation: Produce for the people!" "ANAP" is the organization for small farmers.

Another big flag commemorating Fidel's "26 July" movement AKA The Revolution.

I think that 5 September is when the city of Cienfuegos fell to the revolution. Makes sense, because this sign was painted in Cienfuegos.

The people make the revolutions. The citizens of Cienfuegos are solid/unwavering, I have no doubts. Fidel.

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