Saturday, February 22, 2014

Conversation Between an Opponent and a Colonel

Conversation Between an Opponent and a Colonel / Tania Diaz Castro
Posted on February 22, 2014

HAVANA, Cuba, January, — It does not matter whether his name
is Armando, Pedro or Juan. What is important is that a few days ago my
neighbor the colonel and I found ourselves briefly chatting face to face
at the entrance to my house. Such are the oddities of life. He, wore an
old coat and a scarf wrapped around his neck, apparently from one of the
former Soviet countries. I then wondered where the average senior
citizen might be able to buy a coat and scarf to wear during these cold
winter months.

It was the first time we had spoken, though we see each other almost
every day. The reason was immediately obvious. It all started with poor
quality of the bread, which we buy at the same place on 17th Street in
El Roble, a neighborhood in the Santa Fe district of western Havana.

"It's because they steal the fat that goes in it," I said.

"The salt too," said the colonel.

We talked about things that later he might have had reason to regret,
but I took the opportunity to encourage this exchange since it is not
often that such a spontaneous conversation takes place between a
government opponent and a colonel, even a retired one, in the middle of
the street on a cold January afternoon.

"I wonder how they will put an end to all this theft," I said, trying to
look naive.

"It's difficult. The problem has been going on now for a long time," he
said. "In my village back in the 1950s it was unusual to come across a
thief. The police were mainly concerned with drunkards and revolutionaries."

"And there weren't even that many drunks back then," I added. "Those
were the days."

We then launched into an analysis of the Cuban experience. He did not
defend Raul Castro's "new economic model" (as I was expecting).
Sometimes it even seemed to me he had his doubts, such as when he
acknowledged that so far they had yielded no visible results.

When I asked him what he thought the path forward was, he pursed his
lips and exclaimed, "I don't believe in God. But if he exists, he must
know what to do."

I smiled. Was he making a joke? Was it a response born of pathos? I do
not know the answer now anymore than I knew then.

"Everything started getting worse when the Soviets threw Stalin
overboard and then Gorbachev gave Lenin the coup de grace," he said.
"The Russians wanted to stick us with a bill that was impossible to pay."

And what about socialism in the 21st century," I asked. "Does this
suggest there will be civil liberties. In Cuba that doesn't seem likely.
Not long ago a government minister said that opposition political
parties would never be allowed to take part in elections."

"You might very well be right," he said. "Things could change.
Everything in life changes. But one must never lose hope, even if it
seems there is nothing else that can be done. But if there is one thing
that bothers me, it is how much the people are to blame for what is

"The people are tired," I said, interrupting him. "They are exhausted.
They don't have hope. They have been living under dictatorship for many

The word "dictatorship" brought him back to his own reality. He frowned,
his face tightened and he waved to leave without saying goodbye. Maybe
it was the cold evening air in those impassioned times which forced him
to see the two of us as we really were: an old man, maybe a little less
faithful to the three sprigless stars on the colonel's uniform he kept
in a closet, and an old woman who says what she thinks because she has
nothing to hide.

Cubanet, January 31, 2014, Tania Díaz Castro

Source: Conversation Between an Opponent and a Colonel / Tania Diaz
Castro | Translating Cuba -

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