Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cuba's congress a requiem for an old man

Posted on Sunday, 04.24.11

Cuba's congress a requiem for an old man

HAVANA -- And now, the end is near

and so I face the final curtain . . .

To say goodbye can be accomplished with just a brief note left on the
table, or by a telephone call where we say our final farewells.

In the preparations to leave the country, at the end of a relationship,
or of life itself, there are people who try to control the smallest
details, draw up those limits that oblige the ones they leave behind to
follow their path.

Some leave slamming the door behind them, and others demand before
taking off the great tribute they think they deserve. There are those
who equitably distribute all their worldly goods, and also beings with
so much power they change the constitution of a country so that no one
can undo their work when they're gone.

The preparations for the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party and
its sessions in the Palace of Conventions were like a great public
requiem for Fidel Castro. The scene of his farewell, the meticulous
ceremonial demanded by him and realized — sparing no expense — by his
younger brother. In the organizational excesses of the military parade,
held last Sunday, was seen the intention to "spare no expense" in a
final tribute to someone who could not be there on the podium.

It was clear that the announcement of the names of those who would
assume the highest positions in the Cuban Communist Party would not be
read by the man who decided the course of this nation for almost 50
years. But he sat at the head table of the event to validate, with his
presence, the transfer of power to Raúl Castro. Being there was like
coming — still alive — to the reading of his own will.

Then came the standing ovation, the tears of this or that delegate to
the party conclave, and the phrases of eternal commitment to the old man
with the almost white beard.

Through the television screen some of us sensed the crackling of
dried-up flowers or the sound of shovelfuls of dirt. It remains to be
see if the General-cum-President can sustain the heavy legacy he has
received, or if under the watchful supervision of his Big Brother he
would prefer not to contradict him with fundamental reforms. It's just
left to check the authenticity of Fidel Castro's departure from public
life, and whether his substitute will choose to continue disappointing
us, or to reject him.

* * *

Laughter is still an effective cure for the daily trials. Thus, on this
island, we bend our lips into a smile more for self-therapy than for
happiness. Then the tourists take our pictures and go home saying we are
a happy people, that we haven't lost our sense of humor before all the

Ahh! The tourists and their explanations! We tour the world with the
instant of that laugh on our faces — a laugh that preceded a gesture of
disgust — or with the image of satisfaction that overwhelms us on
resolving, after a year's effort, a pair of graduated lenses for a child.

Splitting our sides laughing can also be preventative medicine to avoid
disappointments to come. Perhaps for this reason, every time I ask
someone about the possible reforms likely to grow out of the Sixth
Communist Party Congress, they answer me with a giggle, an ironic
"teeheehee." Next they shrug their shoulders and come out with a phrase
such as, "Well, no one should have any illusions… and maybe they'll
authorize the purchase of houses and cars."

They end their words with another enigmatic grimace of pleasure,
confusing me still more. It's difficult to know if the majority of my
compatriots today would prefer that transformations be approved at the
Party Congress, or for it to be a fiasco to demonstrate the system's
inability to reform itself.

Although expectations have faded considerably in recent months, some
part remains, especially among the most materially destitute and the
most ideologically fervent. The image of a pragmatic Raúl Castro has
been replaced by that of a hesitant ruler, trapped by a situation beyond
his control. The Congress some assumed would lead to reforms has come
too late and forfeited, with this waiting, many of the hopes it once
unleashed. Behind the enigmatic smiles of the taxi drivers, pizza
sellers, students, and even Communist Party militants, is now concealed
the insolence of those who know how little things change, and who use
silent mockery to vaccinate themselves — in advance — against the

Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban blogger who has received international awards
for her critical portrayal of life in Cuba's dictatorship, which has
blocked her blog from public Internet sites on the island. She relies on
friends abroad to post texts she sends by e-mail.

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