Photo: Leandro Feal, from the series "Trying to live with swing.”
My only certainty is that I am not a communist, the rest I’m not that sure about. I have trouble defining myself politically. It could be the result of having been born into a system different from the rest of the world -- outside its definitions of right and left -- into a system based on one man and above all, on his whims. I love listening to people when they explain their political positions to me (including the orthodox, of course), and it disappoints me not to be drawn to any. Beyond the rights and freedoms of man, there is no cause I feel committed to.
But one reads, is informed, and strives to understand the world, especially the ideologies that move it. Rather than get on a plane, the four hundred pages of a book -- nearly destroyed by its great many readers -- or a documentary on a flash memory, tell me the story of humanity beyond the sea. In general, I have decided to establish margins for a minimum comparison so as not to drive myself crazy. It is not very useful, from my point of view, to try to compare a democracy with a system of State capitalism, or a dictatorship with a developing country. I can compare the United States with Europe, Mexico with Argentina, Chile or Haiti; Cuba with the former countries of the Soviet Union, with Iran, with the Chile of Pinochet, the Spain of Franco, and even North Korea. Any other comparison, Cuba versus Uruguay for example, is tainted by a primary antagonism: Totalitarian Society versus the Rule of Law.
Thus, when a European unionist tries to convince me of “the achievements of the Cuban Revolution,” it makes me want to cry. First, because there are no unions in Cuba, at least not what would historically be known as a workers’ union, whose function is to enforce the rights of the worker versus the boss, the company or the State. It would be healthy to get to the root of the concept, to respect the meanings of nouns so as not to fall into ambiguity; as my friend Reinaldo Escobar says, “Bread means bread and dictatorship means dictatorship.”
On this point, the paths of the left, unfortunately, tend to greatly confuse me. So I find people who condemn all the dictatorships in the universe except for the one in my small country, and who are insulted when they hear Franco spoken of with respect, yet they venerate Fidel Castro. Others hate the western press for its sensationalism, but don’t criticize that a single party controls our newspapers.
There are those who are sure that the politics of the United States are interventionist and hegemonic, but they served as soldiers in Nicaragua, Angola and Ethiopia. There are even those who protest on the streets of New York against the war in Iraq with a three-by-three-foot poster of Ernesto Guevara. People, in short, who call the government of my country, “The Revolution.”
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.