Any way you see it, the popular revolt that began in Cuba on July 11 is a watershed. We don’t know if this is the end of the regime, hence the cautious “revolt,” but it is clear there has been a rupture, frightening a nomenklatura whose sole response is repression. Aiming at finding meaning to this small or large discontinuity, Cubans are writing the history of Castroism’s fall.
In this sea of uncertainties, I would nonetheless bet on a certainty. The Island will not go back to July 10, no matter how many surprised accomplices, corrupt apparatchiks, pseudo-progressives in America, Rome or Madrid, bureaucrats with ideology and collectors of euphemisms continue trying to conceal the obvious: that a country where power has been in the hands of the same party—and the same family—for 63 years can only be a dictatorship. Period.
The issue at hand, however, is not the “end of utopia,” the usual discussion in any crisis of the left—also put forward on this occasion. To begin with, because the socialist utopia as such was discredited long ago, in the 60s, and from within, by Eurocommunism—and moreover with Marxist analytical instruments.
This was of course a consequence of Budapest 1956 and Prague 1968. A revolution carried out to create a classless society that ended with absolute control of society by a new class, the party nomenklatura. And if this was not enough, the “utopia” perished a second time in November 1989, literally buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.
Communism’s social contract—you do not speak or vote, but you eat—was unsustainable. “To eat and to speak” was the demand of Europeans oppressed by Soviet power. And then to vote, naturally. Socialist thinking has long been incapable of offering a desirable ideal at the end of history’s road—that is to say, a utopia.
Note in this regard the considerable difference in the social contract of the Castroist version of communism: in Cuba you neither speak or vote, nor do you eat. And, precisely, the Island will not go back to July 10 because, despite that, you did not hear shouts of “we want food” or “we want vaccines,” as the party’s for export propaganda purports. You heard, “we want freedom.”
No Coming Back
The Island will not go back to July 10 because, in contrast to the Maleconazo uprising of 1994, the geography of this revolt is much larger. Unlike Berlin of 1989, CNN needn’t show the fall of the wall 24 hours a day because thousands of Cubans, the true reporters of the fall of the Castroist wall, are doing so with their phones. And, unlike the “Special Period,” the historical generation is gone. The Revolution Square is a mausoleum of the departed—finally—and Díaz-Canel, an amateur incapable of commanding obedience or respect.
Thus, rather than the socialist utopia, long dead and buried, what has now come to an end are the myths of Castroism. The narrative of a popular revolution, sustained in reality through surgical repression, fear, intimidation, and informants from the Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). That’s over, targeted crackdowns no longer suffice; social control today requires explicit state violence and calls for civil war.
Take note: “the order to combat has been given, revolutionaries to the streets,” was the response of a desperate Díaz-Canel, transformed into Ceauşescu (toppled, it bears mentioning, by the military’s immediate large-scale defection). With the distribution of clubs and bats among the purported revolutionaries, the regime ends its fictitious epic of the new man. Today it admits he is neither new nor good, as Yaoni Sánchez once told me.
The Castroist narrative is over. Today a new generation of artists, rappers, writers, journalists, and filmmakers has imposed a different one that has captured and projected the social imaginary. It is a narrative born out of “Patria y Vida,” [“Homeland and Life,”] the hymn of an uprising that has been simmering for months. Add to this a group of social movements—like Cuba Decide, UNPACU, Movimiento San Isidro, among others—whose innovative forms of collective action have enabled an accumulation of social capital as perhaps never before.
If Díaz-Canel brings Ceauşescu to mind, and the artistic movement is recreating Havel and other Czech intellectuals’ Charter 77, these vibrant social movements recall Poland’s Solidarity. Cuban civil society has been reborn; the Leninist conception of the vanguard party has given way to a different vanguard—that of social and cultural leaders in contact with their people who, like the rap song “Patria y Vida,” repeat to the regime its chorus: “It’s over;” se acabó.
The Myth of Blockade
Today, the myth of the blockade—a fiction of official propaganda and those who echo it the world over—has also come to an end. Cuba has trade agreements with almost 100 countries, and the United States is one of its main trading partners in spite of the items included in the embargo. That is why a mere administrative provision sufficed to authorize passengers entering into the country imports of food, toiletries, and medicines, with no limit on the value of such imports and free of tariffs. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of passengers from abroad arrive from Miami.
What is more, if there were a real blockade, the tankers carrying Venezuelan oil “donated” to the Castroist regime would not even be able to approach the Cuban coast. And if the dictatorship had been sincerely concerned by the hardships endured by the people, it would not have hindered time and again the entry of humanitarian assistance sent from Miami.
Today the myth of high educational quality has been brought to an end, in a university system whose library collections are chosen by party bureaucrats, as well as that of excellence in medicine, in a country hit hard even prior to COVID-19 by epidemics of scabies and dengue. Indeed, accurate statistics on public health are not reported, although according to official fiction there is a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine.
With respect to public health, the myth of solidarity has also been brought to an end, given that there is credible documentation showing that Cuban medical missions are contemporary forms of slavery; a system that operates based on forced labor and human trafficking. Marx was wrong, in Cuba there is a new historical teleology: from capitalism to socialism and then back again to slavery.
In conclusion, the Island will not go back to July 10. Castroism has been stripped naked. It no longer has myths, epic, discourse, or historical significance. The tale, fabricated over six decades, has come to an end. Watch and take a stance; this is no time for the naïve, accomplices, fake progressives, or those corrupted by the G2 Intelligence. Cubans want freedom. And they deserve it.
Hector Schamis (@hectorschamis) teaches at Georgetown University. He has published academic books and articles on topics such as privatization and state reform, populism, authoritarianism, and democracy. His op-ed pieces have appeared in Clarín and La Nación (Buenos Aires), El Nacional (Caracas), Semana (Bogotá), Confidencial (Managua), La República (Bogotá) and La República (Guayaquil), among others. He has also been a columnista at El País (Madrid). He is a columnist at Infobae, and a regular commentator at NTN24.