Cuba No Es Fi(d)el: Impressions on the Duelo Nacional
Strategy & Public Policy Consultant, Part-time Writer
Linguist, Media Planner, Part-time writer
The Duelo Nacional might imply that Cuba stopped for Fidel Castro's
death. Our conversations with Cubans suggest a rather different story.
Since the death of Fidel Castro was announced in the early hours of
Saturday, Cuba appears to be united in the mourning of their
revolutionary leader. During the nine days of Duelo Nacional, no
entertainment could be presented in bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants,
drinking was forbidden, governmental stores were partly closed, services
were limited, the football tournament was suspended, and the island's
musicians were hushed. Yet, this official mourning did not mirror most
Cubans' attitude towards their loss.
Habana Vieja and Centro's rhythm remained unchanged on Saturday and
Sunday. The sun-filled streets were hectic, all shops, restaurants and
bars were open until late. Rowdy Cubans continued selling peanuts,
churros and papas fritas, as well as overpriced illegal newspapers
twenty times more than their officially set price. Even the less
touristic areas of East and West Havana were as lively as usual. The
only clues of sadness witnessed came from an old man collecting rubbish
in his Fidel-branded kart and a pro-Revolution lady, Modesta, outside of
the Etecsa internet store, lamenting "the loss of one of the brightest
minds of the twentieth century". The sentiment of indifference was so
widespread, that with no access to TV, Internet or newspapers (at least
until 2 pm) it took us almost ten hours to learn that the Líder Máximo
A similar atmosphere also characterised the public ceremony held in the
iconic Plaza de la Revolución on Monday and Tuesday. Among the crowd of
elderly supporters, old comrades, curious tourists and state employees,
only the older generations were truly distraught. Their incredulity and
petrified silence stood out from the chit-chatter of middle-aged Cubans
complaining about having interrupted their daily routines, accompanied
by the flashes of the generals' selfies. Upon entering the memorial
room, the detachment perceived became stronger. The empty space only
contained a pair of flower crowns and statue-like soldiers framing
probably the most well-known picture of Fidel.
Everything was aesthetically impeccable yet most Cubans did not seem to
be emotionally involved. Perhaps this is not surprising considering that
participation was not entirely voluntary. Several employees and students
were given a day off to attend, transported to the venue by governmental
buses. "Many people attended because they were scared of the practical
repercussions their absence could have had on their careers," confessed
Raúl, a young government employee who managed to sneak out.
In other provinces, the situation was not dramatically different. In
Trinidad, the elderly were all closely following Fidel's funeral
speeches, which echoed in the empty streets where the younger
generations were struggling to attract tourists in their restaurants and
bars. "During high season, 9 days of Duelo are too many,"said Rodrigo,
an engineer turned entrepreneur in the tourist sector. Such a feeling
was shared by many, and if you slowly moved away from the common tourist
routes and destinations, you would have had no problem finding someone
who would openly serve an exquisite cocoa liqueur or a Piña Colada.
In Santa Clara, buildings were covered in banners, flags and pictures of
Fidel. A lady working in a government store, María, revealed that "the
town was in true despair and collectively manifested their Duelo in the
streets during the passing of the ashes". However, you only had to dig a
little deeper to understand that Cubans privately felt differently about
the event. Miguel, a science graduate working in the tourist economy,
confessed his disappointment in the lack of music and club
opportunities: "My city is dead, yet neither I nor my friends care about
his death. Everything you see around you is product of the government
propaganda. A friend of mine was paid to distribute manifestos and
pictures of Fidel."
These experiences suggest that the Revolution in Cuba is suffering: most
Cubans no longer identify with the values and practices of the regime.
Youngsters lament the lack of economic, political and intellectual
freedom, which seems to be the product of the government's dogmatism
rather than that of careful policy-making. Middle-aged workers are
grateful for security, universal healthcare and education, but
re-evaluate this sentiment in their struggle to access basic commodities
- like clothes, soap, meat and vegetables - because the large influx of
tourists has increased prices and eroded their purchasing power. Only
the older generations, who still remember Batista's corrupt government,
feel truly bound to the political establishment.
What does this imply for the future? If the Revolution is no longer
alive - at least in the minds and hearts of most Cubans - might this
mean a political change is imminent? The straight answer is probably no.
As suggested by the contrived façade and quiet streets of Cuba, the
government is still effective in enforcing respect. The diffused fear of
personal and professional repercussions, as well as fines or license
retrievals, make resistance to the government initiatives costly.
Censorship and scarcity of Internet (only available in public spaces)
further contribute to rendering counter-revolutionary activity difficult.
And, most importantly, the majority of Cubans do not wish to risk their
settled lives to catalyse a political change. As Cuban sociologist
Manuel Moreno Fraginals, describing the life in the sugar mills that
once used to dominate the economy of the country, said in El Ingenio:
"The problem here is to survive." Such a statement largely resonates
with Cuba's population today, who would rather invest their time and
energy exploiting their (limited) newly acquired economic freedom. This
striving to survive, as well as the effectiveness of government control,
make political change unlikely. At least for now.
Source: Cuba No Es Fi(d)el: Impressions on the Duelo Nacional | The
Huffington Post -