Saturday, 5 March 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Sometimes people ask me what will become of Cuba when Fidel Castro finally dies. My interlocutors overlook two important elements in Cuba’s current social and political affairs but this does not seem to bother them at all: Fidel has not been in power for almost ten years now and his brother Raúl is the one calling the shots. The question should be: what will become of Cuba when Raúl dies?

Yet, it is Fidel’s legacy the one most Cubans and non-Cubans will remember. And this legacy is, whether we like it or not on the island, history-related.

We all carry a personal memory with us. This is a vast archive of both conscious and unconscious moments we have carved out in our lives. Personal memories do not exist in isolation even if the act of re-enacting them is as solitary as the very act of remembering. Personal memories are shaped by our social, cultural and historical environment. There are more elements to consider but these are the ones I will use in tonight’s column.

What will become of Cuba after Fidel dies is a mystery, even to Cubans. I am sure it will be a bathos-filled, catharsis-inducing, tear-jerker of an event but one spectacle we will not witness is the toppling of statues of the Maximum Leader. There are no statues of Fidel in Cuba. At least, none I have seen or heard of.

What this means is that the Fidel-inspired history that has given form and content to my country’s almost six-decade-long socialist fairy tale might be subject to revisionism. Without wanting to upset fellow Cubans who oppose the regime as much as I do, this would be a big mistake.

Meanwhile, in Britain...

Recently there has been a campaign in Oxford University to bring down a statue of Cecil John Rhodes. This man was the British administrator of southern Africa. Part of the British colonial and imperialist machine, Rhodes has become the latest focal point of a past many people on this island would rather leave behind or at least not talk about it.


We topple the statue and then, what?

I understand where the protesters are coming from and share some of their views and yet I have my doubts. I think their demands are too short-term-focused. The one action we can take in relation to the past is to put it in a present, effective, pragmatic context with a view to building a better and less divisive future. Knocking down a statue does not amend the Rhodes problem overnight. Especially if the underlying conditions that led us to make the decision to topple said statue have not been addressed. A better use of the energy needed to whack down this public symbol would be, in my opinion, to explore ways to change the perception created by the person to whose memory the statue was erected. The under-representation of state-funded schools pupils and ethnic minority students at Oxford is a much bigger issue and one that deserves more attention. An equally important target would be the romanticism and rose-tinted-glasses perspective through which British colonialism is still seen nowadays (mainly in comparison to other imperial powers such as France, Spain and Portugal). To challenge this is worth knocking down ten Rhodes statues.

To go back to my earlier analogy-based example, If Fidel’s demise does wind up as historical revisionism I will feel cheated and let down. That is not what the new Cuba deserves. We cannot erase the past, especially when our past was not always dictatorship-shaped. The achievements we had at the beginning of the Revolution should not be underestimated. That, in my opinion, Castro’s government became a paranoid, cutthroat, totalitarian nightmare is a whole different issue. It is the same with Britain. Should we bring down Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square because of his views on gassing civilians, Red Indians in the States and black people in Australia? Or, should we rather use the most valuable tool we have at our disposal, education, to teach our future generation about the nuances of human nature?

Churchill, as well as Rhodes and many others, promoted a theory of “superior race” vs a feeble and inferior one. This was not explicitly stated in many cases but rather implied and hinted at. It is this subjective feature we need to address and target. Intelligently. Knocking down public symbols might be good in the short-term as a wrong-righting exercise but without a coherent and forward-thinking agenda it will have the same effect of all those Lenin statues that were pulled down as soon as the Berlin Wall collapsed. What were the Russian people left with? Putin.

What will become of Cuba when Fidel is gone? I have no idea because the person in charge, to my chagrin, is his brother, Raúl Castro. The one outcome I would like us to avoid is historical revisionism. Bringing a statue down with no follow-up plan sometimes has that effect.



© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 9th March at 6pm (GMT)

26 comments:

  1. Now that Raul has died, guess that Cuba's future is sill unknown. I would have (as I assume many would) to see the island revert to a Batista like government, at the mercy of the mob and more corrupt forces, but I have no knowledge of internal Cuban politics so do not know who will lead Cuba next.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nancy, Raúl has not died (YET! :-) ). It was his brother Ramón who kicked the bucket a few days ago. Believe me, if Raúl had "sung El Manisero", I would have heard. :-)

      Greetings from London.

      Delete
    2. ooops. To many names beginning with R.....

      Delete
  2. Yes. A previous Prime Minister of ours rejected what he called 'black arm band history' and would prefer the dark stories weren't told. Things hidden in the dark fester and grow. We need to look at the past to shape the future.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wish every thoughtful person could read your wise and excellent words here! Submit it to magazines!!!

    "Should we bring down Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square because of his views on gassing civilians, Red Indians in the States and black people in Australia? Or, should we rather use the most valuable tool we have at our disposal, education, to teach our future generation about the nuances of human nature?"

    ReplyDelete
  4. I enjoyed reading your thought provoking post on a subject you understandably feel strongly about.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well-said. The tendency here is to destroy every statue that pays homage to some of the less than stellar leaders of our past... to remove divisive flags, and all remnants of a past most of us would rather forget. But we shouldn't forget. As you said so eloquently, we should remember the past, learn about it, warts and all, and improve on it. Pretending something never happened, and sweeping the dirt of the past under a rug doesn't make it disappear. Not here, not in Cuba, and not in the colonization tales of the past. (It always makes me nuts when books talk about how white Europeans "discovered" lands, and "claimed" them for God and country, as though the people who were already living there didn't matter.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. La incógnita está que es lo que va a pasar a la muerte de los hermanos Castro, esperando una Cuba libre y buena para los cubanos.
    Creo que aunque uno pueda detestar a un personaje del que se le haya hecho en un tiempo un homenaje con una estatua ella debe permanecer ya que hace parte de la historia.
    Un feliz fin de semana.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You're right. So hard to say what will happen. Raul must also be pretty old at this point. Thank you for thoughtful commentary. Hope all is well. k.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Always good to shed light on things and not try and change history or hide it away, as that way we do know not to do it again.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very wise words which I hope will be paid attention to.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thoughtful essay. Thanks. I didn't realize there were not statues of Castro and I find that refreshing. In Russia, there are still plenty of statues of Lenin although most of Stalin's have been removed. There is a park next to Gorky in Moscow where I stumbled upon a "statue graveyard" and there were many busts of Stalin and other soviet leaders--lined up along with other statues that had lost meaning. It was a weird place that seemed quite comical.

    ReplyDelete
  11. There always will be revisionists of history among us. Actually, in most cases, I think, they are the same breed of humankind which most closely resembles lemmings in their psychological makeup.

    As for Cuba, now that Barack Obama opened a doorway (prematurely, I think) for more trade and travel between Cuba and the United States, it will remain open. But, many other factors regarding post-Castro Cuba will depend upon who wins the U.S. presidential election and which party controls the U.S. Senate. (Then again, the "boys" might live longer than I anticipate.) Beyond that, I think history in Cuba will begin to repeat itself in more ways than one as soon as the Castro brothers are gone.

    ReplyDelete
  12. we 'know' Castro from the movies

    ReplyDelete
  13. I hope the Americans don't elect the sort of president who will be gung-ho about "keeping the Cubans in their place." And I'm pretty sure that Raul Castro can deal with that if he has to!

    ReplyDelete
  14. So true - tearing down statues is just getting rid of symptoms, not looking at the cause behind them.

    ReplyDelete
  15. On a different but similar tack... I heard that Germany withheld from the history books all information about WW2. Thankfully that changed. Education is the only way to go.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wouldn't it be wonderful if history was about finding some sort of truth, rather than reprinting the past in as glowing a colour as possible.

    And one of the things that has surprised me on my travels is just how accepting other countries are of our empirical excesses. For instance, in India they point to the railways, the administrative structure, cricket - while I want to apologise for our appalling attitude to brown people.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Excellent observations about grand--and often empty--gestures like tearing down statues. Such actions, without some kind of plan for what to do next, will likely be forgotten in a short time.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I wholeheartedly agree. Tearing down symbols of the past won't really make a lot of difference to the contemporary mindset...unless it is combined with sensible education...of the kind that will help prevent a repetition of grave historical mistakes.
    Perhaps we can learn from these past "Heroes"...to see beyond national identities and nurture the collective human soul.

    Have a great day! :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi ACIL - it's an interesting thought ... some friends today were mentioning they need to get to Cuba soon (as I'd like to - but sadly am unable to do so .. for now) before the Americans get journeys in.

    I don't think tearing down statues helps - and I agree putting our energies into addressing all the difficulties still faced in many countries are more important ...

    Thanks for the interesting take on life anon in Cuba ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  20. I often think that the past makes the present; without the better parts of the (mostly) European legacy in Africa, would the tribes have become nation states. What about democracy and the rule of law? I read "The Washing of the Spears" about Shaka Zulu and the rule of the Zulus which decimated huge swatches of Africa. I am not making an excuse for the worst of colonialism but it also brought modern progress in its wake. I don't know what the Spanish legacy would have been without American intervention but I hope that we did some good, along with importing the mob and a passel of corruption. You can't ignore the past because it made us (and the various countries) what they are today. Good, bad and indifferent. Tearing down a statue and feeling self righteous does nothing to change the problems of the present.

    ReplyDelete
  21. As a late-night afterthought, I would like to point out that among potential Republican Party candidates for the presidency of the United States are two Cuban-Americans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. There are about two million Cuban-Americans living in the U.S., people who either fled Cuba or whose parents did, and one of whom is one of my sisters-in-law. It was not that long ago that Cubans were fleeing to the U.S. the way Middle Easterners are now fleeing to Europe. I have known a number of anti-Castro Cubans, including some who have been para-military "freedom fighters" once upon a time.

    It is a complex issue and fascinating to me .... and, I hope you will write more about it in the future, CiL.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Boa tarde, que foi cuba antes de Fidel, como seria Cuba sem o boicote mundial? como será Cuba depois de Fidel? o antes e o actual sabemos, o depois... calcula-se.
    AG

    ReplyDelete
  23. a modern version of "The thinker" :)

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...