A few months ago I was having lunch at the Versailles, in Little Havana, with a very dear friend. I had just come from visiting Carlos Alberto Montaner and I had his memoir with me, which he had signed. I remember that during that lunch I was moved by my surroundings.
There in Versailles, for six long decades, hundreds and thousands have gathered to conspire against Castroism. To try to fix the island, to discuss what would happen if such or such a thing happened. Next to my table four men in their eighties sat, clearly Cuban. Most of the tables were like that, or Cuban families, grandparents with their wives and grandchildren. Some of them had surely been in exile for sixty years. Others, a little less. We, Venezuelans, have been under a communist regime for 20 years now and some of us have been out of our country for 20 years.
I was moved by the idea that maybe this is how we will see ourselves. In some bakery in Doral, Brickell or Madrid, in ten, fifteen or twenty years. Many of us already decades away, unable to return, conspiring. Plotting the return, that life we still dream of back home.
Of course, this idea is based on the assumption that things will not change. That everything will continue as it is, that if possible they will get worse and that the exodus will widen more and more and those who remain in the homeland will be less and less. That day I assumed that because around me were the victims of our same victimizers. And, of course: if the Cubans have not achieved their freedom for sixty years, why should we, if we have also done everything.
After so many decades, one could say that Cubans have given up, that they have become used to living without freedom, to walk, dance and sing in misery. There is no other choice, of course, when things are unalterable. When a tyranny like Castro’s, exemplary for the rest of the potential dictators, achieved total control, in pure North Korean style, and everybody agreed. But this week everything changed.
It turns out that the passage of time does not necessarily benefit tyrannies. It’s been several generations since Fidel took Santiago and then marched on Havana in January 1959, and this last generation, who lives on the island but knows that across the relentless Caribbean, teeming with sharks, there are banks where one can take out a loan and buy a house and then a car and go to a restaurant and prosper and then buy a plane ticket and travel the world. That a few kilometers from home, where everything is rationing, lines, poverty and a lot of surveillance, there is freedom. And this last generation, of barefoot and shirtless young people, rose up.
Castro’s tyranny succeeded in sculpting a perfect totalitarian system of total control, based on terror. But these young people marching today are not afraid. They have lost it. They do not remember the public executions, the concentration camps against homosexuals and dissidents, the tortures or the kidnappings. The only thing that fills the memory of these young people is the indomitable desire for freedom. They march through Havana raising the American flag and shouting libertarian slogans.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the appetite for freedom is innate to the human condition. Maybe these Cuban gentlemen, who in sixty years, and despite being eighty years old, have not stopped conspiring, are doing the right thing. Perhaps those who, sitting in a wicker chair, under the Caribbean sun, with a rum cocktail in hand, fantasizing about the day when their country will finally be free, do not get old or corrode.
In the last words of that book that I carried with me in Versailles, Carlos Alberto Montaner says: “Any regrets before leaving? Yes, not having seen a Cuba free and on the road to prosperity. I would have liked to close my eyes for the last time in the land of my birth. To achieve this, I ‘did what I could’, a legend that the philosopher Julián Marías suggested to put on his tomb. I would like to reproduce that epitaph on mine: ‘I did what I could’. Undoubtedly, it was not enough”.
Perhaps Montaner is also wrong and, before he dies, he may see a free Cuba. It is the hope that is born from the crusade that today the brave people who continue marching, in spite of the repression, on the island are carrying out. Cuba will be free, there is no doubt about it. Cuba will be as free as Venezuela will be one day, and we must, like Montaner, do what we can.