Sunday, July 20, 2014

Havana’s Siberia

Havana's Siberia
July 19, 2014
Martin Guevara

HAVANA TIMES — They gave us the keys to our new apartment in Alamar. The
year was 1987. Even though the property title was the same as that of
the other apartment in that sprawling neighborhood, even though it was
located in a five-story tenement (without elevator) like the other
place, the area it was in was significantly different to Zone 6, where
we had lived until that point.

Some fifty thousand people ended up living in that part of the
neighborhood, which had no stores, no tobacco or food stands, not even a
facility where one could get drinking water at. The bus didn't make it
that far either, it merely skirted that immense sub-neighborhood of
Alamar, where power cuts broke records, heaven knows why.

My building was located near the entrance. Luckily, there was a
cafeteria next to it, where they had ice-cream from time to time and,
more often than not, a very cold syrupy substance that was a blessing to
anyone who got off the bus, particularly those people who still had a
long walk to their homes ahead of them. Behind the counter, the clerks
had practically the entire day to chat about the crammed buses and men
who rubbed up against them as there were practically no customers and
the ice-cream ran out very quickly.

Though we were close to the entrance to the neighborhood, there were
mosquitos there one would have thought had been domesticated and trained
in Cuba's territorial troop militias, were it not for the fact that, in
their excessive aggressiveness, they made no distinction between locals
and outsiders.

The people from the neighborhood, as witty as Cubans tend to be,
baptized that strip of Alamar that began at my building and spread
beyond the horrible unknown (bordering with Bucaranao beach, through the
coast and beyond), "Siberia."

Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia [1967] before Alamar began to be
built in Cuba, but he had coined the term "New Man" before then. He had
pictured a new generation that would follow the triumph of the
revolution, one educated in a society that offered moral (not material)
incentives, a fair society that had uprooted capitalist, individualist
and egotistical values, and that this society would give rise to new
values that mankind would make its own in the span of a single generation.

He thought that the genetic memory of the animal ferocity within human
beings, awakened when it is a question of taking food from others, would
be eradicated in a single generation, two at the most. A concerted
ideological effort, a cleansing of old vices – "capitalist vices", as
they said – through education, would of course be needed for that.

This New Man, molded from the clay of the new generations, would become
the envy of all the world's peoples, governed by the impulse to pillage
they were educated with. The new generations, raised in a world of
solidarity, proletarian internationalism and the moral incentive to
become better workers, would also be characterized by an iron-hard
revolutionary discipline and would conceive of punishment for any
ideological deviation as just – they would, in short, be guided by an
exemplary order, morale and conduct.

One could hold Che Guevara accountable for that, but not for the
aesthetic and functional abomination that Alamar and its "Siberia" are.
I am positive Guevara, not even in his most severe and perverse ideas
about the creation of a new aesthetic devoid of superfluous elements and
useless decorations, ever pictured such a perfect atrocity.

I felt that my uncle, Che Guevara, from wherever he was, was saying
something to me along the lines of:

"Martin, we did this with good intentions. It wasn't merely a
pipe-dream, but part of a mechanism that would take us to a society that
could one day replace capitalism and rid us of the exploitation of man
by man, not through violent revolution, but by drawing men and women
around the world with a model more seductive that the one based on
individual success, another example of parallel traction. But you, my
nephew, son of my eternally confused and well-tempered brother, Patatin,
don't give in or become anyone's servant, much less of my plans and
mistakes. These are not your projects, and if they should be so for your
father, remain free whatever way you can, through confusion, anger or
cowardice, clear-headed or disturbed, keep a distance from the garbage
that what I did or tried to do has become. Fight against it if you want,
and if you don't feel like fighting, don't do it, but don't yield, don't
let them convert you, don't give up, boy, that there are fewer and fewer
of our kind around."

Ultimately, why would anyone willingly mistreat oneself?

Source: Havana's Siberia - Havana -

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