Excerpt: 'The Tragedy of Fidel Castro' by João Cerqueira



From Part II: Fidel Castro:

The demonstration began as a simple conversation among a group of unemployed men gathered, as they always did, around a park bench in the capital. They were bewailing the misery of their lives in a series of complaints all very similar in form and content, and as usual, this was followed by the attribution of guilt. Recently, as indeed happened on this occasion, they had taken to passing sentence on the offenders and announcing their punishment.

It was common for the mercury to rise high in thermometers in those parts, but what happened next cannot really be blamed on the intense heat of the day. Other tropical countries also melted under scorching temperatures without anything of the kind taking place there. The culprits were altogether different.

We could perhaps accept that the air, dilated by the solar furnace, may have amplified the excited voices escaping from the park. This meant that, within a radius of dozens of meters, sensitive ears were able to detect unusual sound waves, prompt-ing eyes to search for the source and legs to execute brusque changes of direction. This concerted effort of senses and muscles resulted in a sudden influx of passersby into the park, successive waves that gathered around the bench where the (unconscious?) appeal had issued. At first the new members of the group just listened. But soon, they grew less tongue-tied and began to corroborate the complaints with examples from their own experience, approving the measures proposed to take justice into their own hands.

With their individuality diluted in this shapeless mass, the crowd experienced a real sense of safety and freedom they had never known before. Let loose from the cages in which they had been born, they tried out their fragile, atrophied wings in ever more daring flights. In a short time, they were all fluttering with unrestrained fantasies that might have been graceful and serene had they not been propelled by rage, which made their movements crude and inelegant. Then, as often happens with flocks of birds lost in the sky, one member of the group sud-denly swerved and headed out of the park, leading his winged companions behind him in a deafening flurry. Flying low, close to the ground, they filled the streets, attracting other stray birds to join them with a rustle of wings and voices raised in protest.

Less than an hour had passed since the start of what had seemed like a banal conversation among friends disgruntled with the system and economic situation. However, that apparently insignificant event had swelled into a riot, and the streets of the capital were seething with demonstrators demanding reforms and changes, practically calling for the overthrow of Fidel Castro. It was as if they had been waiting for the fuse to be lit. Insolent voices shouted inflammatory words against Fidel and his government, igniting new foci of heated protest, which spread like wildfire in all directions, raising the temperature and reducing the commandant’s great work to ashes. The island shook with an earthquake generated by the inhabitants themselves, a massive displacement of the human tectonic plate. Each arm raised in the air seemed bound by invisible wires to all the others, causing a surge of collective movement, while an imperceptible hiss of pain escaped from the atmosphere, pummelled by so many clenched fists.

The biblical parable about sin, sinners, and stones had long been forgotten or its meaning distorted, as windows of the pub-lic buildings shattered under the implacable rage of these new supporters of stoning. Never having previously sinned, immaculate in their revolutionary purity, candid in their words, acts, and omissions, they hurled anything that came to hand. The stone that hit the Havana National Theater was the final straw, for the security forces were impatient to teach these unruly thugs a lesson. Finding their way barred by policemen and cars, the counterrevolutionaries suddenly stopped short, causing a shock wave to ripple through the long line of demonstrators, which contracted like a wounded snake. From both sides of the nonexistent barricades, threats and insults were hurled, without producing the slightest effect.

The psychological warfare would end in stalemate, a result unacceptable to either side. Change would have to be forced in a reckless bid for victory. However, neither the protestors nor the forces of law and order were sure of their own supremacy and ability to triumph; so some shouted to withdraw, while others continued clamoring to be allowed through. In the absence of any impartial referee who had the credibility and authority to resolve the dispute in another way, they all awaited the violence.

From the windows and balconies, residents who had not joined the crowd watched in silent astonishment as a phenomenon unfolded that transcended all bounds of the imagination— something that had repeatedly been proven impossible by those who detained the truth. In another age, such an event would have been interpreted as an unequivocal sign of the end of the world, an unnatural portent that heralded the coming of the apocalypse. Indeed, a man with an elephant’s head, a woman with a fishtail, or a horde of lilac dragons could not have been more convincing. Mundane reality had been ripped apart, revealing a hidden dimension; the scenery and the people were the same, but they displayed attitudes that could never have happened in a stable universe.

In fact, these new beings were behaving exactly opposite of the inhabitants of the island, insanely breaking all rules of normal conduct. They had been brought up to believe the revolution was the only guarantee of the common good, and they had devoted all their efforts and faith to it. The new religion was just as potent as the old, and indeed the two coexisted in a kind of duplicated faith. Thus, when the terrestrial divinity was challenged, so was the celestial one. For those who managed to reinvent themselves after this unexpected metaphysical shock, they found their world had been turned inside out.

Somewhere in the process, the cogs of time got jammed.

Fidel was reclining on a sofa, lost once more in the no-man’s-land between wakefulness and slumber. The film of his life, a film begun only after preparations for the revolution, had started.

Before it had been only the blank space of virgin celluloid. But the spool stuck, the film now lingering at an unfortunate scene he had since tried unsuccessfully to erase from his mind.

Excerpted from The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, by João Cerqueira. Published in 2013 by River Grove Books. Republished with permission of the author.