Sunday, April 25, 2010

I despair for victims of Chávez

Posted on Sunday, 04.25.10
I despair for victims of Chávez

`Every day, we're one and the same,'' Raúl Castro said when he bade
adios to Hugo Chávez in Caracas on Wednesday.

A little over half a century ago, Cuba exported sugar, tobacco, rum and
some nickel, which had to be processed, by the way, in Missouri.

Long before then, the citizens' rights and duties alternated in that
cosmopolitan island under more-or-less colorful presidents whom the
people mocked with sayings like: ``How much longer will Menocal's
fighting cocks be chicken?'' -- a reference to President Mario Garcia
Menocal's love for raising fighting cocks.

Others were ridiculed by Havana smart-alecks who nicknamed President
Ramón Grau San Martín's fountain, ``Paulina's bidet,'' after his wife.

Grau is remembered in history more as the designer of a large pail with
a spout to facilitate feminine hygiene than as Fulgencio Batista's
protégé. Yes, Batista, the former army sergeant who remained in the
shadows until he staged a coup d'état in 1952.

What times those were! People became indignant, sewed banners, hid guns,

Sacrifice, death, everything was valid to preserve the slow march of
civil society in Cuba.

The fact is that we were moving slowly forward as a republic when that
military power-climber ruined everything.

According to history (which is always told by the winner), nobody liked
Batista. Cuban society assumed combat positions.

The enlightened Cuban society, that is, which existed as the middle
class, with children studying in private schools in Europe and the Americas.

The youth mobilized against Batista.

The poor man had not a single follower among the students, the
intellectual vanguard and some plutocrats. The reason was -- as legend
goes -- that he was a mulatto.

The fact is that discontent, political ignorance and the indolence
typical of the Caribbean contributed to the creation of a caudillo who
gave Batista a dose of his own medicine: Fidel Castro.

Castro came to power precisely because of a widespread habit in Latin
America -- the coup d'état. And Cuba put its fate in the hands of
another putschist, perhaps with more charisma, rosier-looking than Batista.

Only seven years had passed and Cubans were applauding someone who had
used the same technique as the man they repudiated -- a coup
romanticized as the ``people's revolution.''

People have a very short memory. Maybe that's why Raúl Castro could
bluntly assert in Venezuela: ``Every day, we're one and the same.''

Glory dulls the memory, but if you look back you may remember that Hugo
Chávez also was a putschist.

Chávez failed in his first attempt, but he didn't even remove his
uniform to go on the political attack once more until he ``won'' an

There are so many similarities between Venezuela and Cuba that I
despair. I despair because, in the 21st Century, one of the most archaic
forms of reaching power has triumphed, and that such a simple formula is
the key to successfully turn defective democracies into regal tyrannies.

As a Cuban, I feel guilty for knowing what awaits so many Venezuelans --
and being unable to do anything to prevent it.

In this half-century, I have learned a lesson: Whenever a chief of state
who came to power in a coup utters the slogan ``Motherland or death,'' I
shall flee in despair to a place where decency and love share a nest.

Nobody can convince me to live in a dead society where history repeats
itself like an inalterable nightmare.

Alina Fernández Revuelta is the author of Castro's Daughter: an Exile's
Memoir of Cuba and a radio talk show host on 1140-AM.

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