'It's like taking that CD we're listening to now out of this car and playing it in my car instead'.
It was my father who had just spoken. We were listening to the Chucho Valdes' 'Solo: Live In New York' album on our way back to his house from my grandfather's (my dad's dad) in the countryside and my progenitor was answering my wife's question on whether Cuba's situation (political, economic and social) had changed since Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz had come to power last year to replace his elder brother Fidel.
And my father was not the only one having the same thought. Wherever I went in the Cuban capital people just shrugged their shoulders at the same question whilst shooting me (and not my wife) a 'What-do-you-think-bro'er-don't-play-dumb-with-me-now-you-live-abroad- you-know-how-things-work-in-Cuba' look full of defiance and haplessness at the same time.
But there was one shortcoming which my father failed to take into account when he described the current Cuban president and his ruling style.
The power of the spoken word.
Or lack of it thereof.
I had the misfortune to see and hear Raúl speaking in public, a phenomenon that was almost rare when Fidel was still around. Whereas the latter had a knack for oratory on his side Raúl is the opposite. Please, note the use of the past tense in the verb 'to have' in the previous sentence. More on that later.
Like it or not (and the naysayers will be reminding me in no time to give Fidel a wide berth) Cuba's ex-president had the confidence and flair to speak to a congregation for hours on end. Even if a large majority in the crowd would just as soon be somewhere else. Fidel, in his first thirty years at the helm of the Cuban government (1959-1989) displayed the same qualities the ancient Greeks and Romans showed when addressing an audience. His skill as an orator was one of the most important factors in securing support from the Cuban people. This was also helped at the same time by a very effective secret service (G2) and coercion by trade unions, women, children and young people's mass organisations.
Fidel's earlier speeches reminded people, both abroad and in Cuba, of ancient Athens and Rome where orators enjoyed a great deal of popularity. His stand against the US government in the 60s brought to mind Demosthenes' Philippics against Philip II of Macedon. His use of the technique known as 'tricolon', where a speaker uses three elements to emphasise an idea, saw him declaring in 1961 that the Cuban Revolution was 'of the poor, for the poor and by the poor'. That the poor are poorer now remains a moot point, but at the time, 16th April, 1961, they sounded fresh and vibrant, especially in the aftermath of an aerial attack on Cuban soil the day before.
Other techniques used by the ex-lawyer-turned-president were 'antonomasia' and 'call-and-response'. The former refers to the substitution of a phrase for a proper name, i.e., 'those who want Cuba to sink' (the US government in this case, although, who's sunk Cuba more, a bureaucratic, centralised, pseudo-socialist economy, or the embargo, or a combination of both, remains contentious) whereas the latter draws from the African call and response musical pattern (and as an Afro-Cuban dance tutor and performer I should know).
But I have left for the end Fidel's strongest oratorial skill and the one that enabled him to keep a stranglehold on the Cuban population for so many years (hence the past tense of 'to have' above). It was the Aristotelian triumvirate of pathos, logos and ethos: emotion, argument and character respectively. Raúl Castro lacks all three. Fidel hijacked the first one and made it his, closed down the second one and developed the third one to become a blueprint for wannabe dictators (for a bad example, look at Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president).
All in all, this discussion about Fidel's erstwhile adroit political rhetoric can't mask the fact that slogans cannot be eaten and again we turn to a historical figure, Roman politician Cicero, who argued that the true orator is one whose practice of citizenship embodies a civic ideal.
Sadly that is not the case in Cuba today.