Three vignettes from Adbusters Issue 80 capture the ambiguities of a political experiment.
Dixon and Rayid sit on bleachers in a well-lit courtyard waiting for the music to start. We’ve come to an open-mic night that is held every Sunday behind a darkened mansion that, from the street, looks as if it would not be out of place in a horror movie. This is not the kind of open-mic night I’m used to, where no-name locals practice their art hoping to gain a small fan base to get them started. Here well-known acts sing and play for pennies on a stone stage and you never know who might show up. We are surrounded by Havana’s youth, legions of tattooed and pierced hipsters drinking rum from boxes and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Shauna and I have succeeded in crossing the invisible yet fiercely guarded border that separates Cuban nationals from the ubiquitous tourist. Suddenly there is excitement surrounding one man with tight curls dyed California blond. His name is David Torrens and we are told he is very famous in Cuba. I wonder what it would be like if my favorite musical artist regularly made appearances at our local hangout.
In Havana they have a different kind of advertising. Instead of billboards selling fast food, designer jewelry and beer there is graffiti promoting peace, love and socialism. This wall near the Museum of the Revolution says, “The moral of the revolution is still as high as the stars.” But one phrase seems to stand out amongst the rest: Sociolismo o Muerto, – socialism or death. Shauna asks Dixon about these unavoidable reminders of the way Cubans are supposed to think. “This is a phrase that to me is very significant,” says Dixon, “within it is a lot of energy. I should fight for something. But socialism is to encircle yourself with one way, one mode, one idea. We don’t progress here in Cuba because we are surrounded by this one idea, one place a control of ideas. And progress is a revolution of ideas.”
This phrase “Sociolismo o Muerto” seems uncannily similar to Patrick Henry’s cry during the US revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death,” and I find myself thinking about what it means to fight for something.
Deney, Shauna and I sit on the walls of El Morro, a fort across the bay from Havana, where Deney has brought us so we can watch the sun set over the city he loves. We watch as fishermen float in the bay and it is far too easy to imagine how tempting those rafts seem to the desperate. In the 2007 fiscal year the US coastguard reported interdicting 2,868 Cubans attempting to reach Florida beaches. So far in fiscal year 2008 they are reporting 1,804.
Deney points out a building in the distance that is blocked from view by hundreds of black flags. I can just make out an illuminated red blur on the building. “That’s the US Interest building,” Deney says, “They have a news ticker that tells us of things happening in the US and around the world. Fidel put up all those flags to try and block the words.” Deney is laughing as he says this, he finds the attempts by his government to impede the influx of knowledge ridiculous, but there is sadness in his voice as well as if he feels betrayed that his country doesn’t trust him.