A guest post by Asombra:
Gastón Baquero, Revolution, and Getting It
Gastón Baquero (1918-97) was an important figure in pre-Castro Cuba, a distinguished and respected poet, intellectual and journalist. He rose from a poor rural background to become, by sheer merit, Editor-in-Chief of the oldest and most aristocratic newspaper in Cuba, El Diario de la Marina (founded in 1832). He also happened to be black and homosexual, but his talents were such that these supposedly insurmountable handicaps made no real difference. He went into exile very early, in 1959, and lived the rest of his life in Madrid, where he was poor and lonely but wrote some of his most important poetry. In Cuba, his work was officially “disappeared” since 1959, not to reappear again until after his death (as has happened with other important exiled or non-regime figures, in a kind of cultural necrophilia).
For me, one of Baquero’s great distinctions is that he saw, before 1959 and certainly no later than April of that fateful year, what the Castro revolution really meant and what it would entail. Going by his letter of farewell to his newspaper readers, published on 4/19/59, he was practically clairvoyant, not to say prophetic. His clarity of vision, or wisdom, was definitely not shared by the great majority of Cubans in general and Cuban intellectuals in particular. Here is my translation of a key passage from his remarkable letter:
“So why do we have no faith in revolutions? It is not because they create disturbances, harm interests or overturn customs. We have no faith in them because they always set goals that would require the assistance of great geniuses [and] the miraculous authority of angels and saints to change human nature overnight. Revolutions want to achieve instant progress by decree, give birth to a new man and magically create the Dream City. Their great paradox is that they don’t want to allow time for what takes time or allow man what is proper to him, but instead try to override time and man to arrive in one fell swoop at the theoretical goal. They provoke suffering and traumas that profoundly and lastingly alter normal, secure development–the rational and human advance towards an ongoing improvement of the ways of life. [Revolution] wants perfection overnight and is ultimately a noble but tragic ideological fixation, an intellectual arrogance that ignores human nature and presumes that great ideas, the pursuit of justice and the thirst for truth are lacking in the world due to a lack of revolutionaries. History shows that revolutionaries have contributed like no others to the arrival of new ideas, improvements and justice, but [also] that revolutionaries, when they triumph, can’t help but rush to the future at once, ignoring the tough nature of time and the strong resistance of man. As long as they are not in power, [revolutionaries] are beneficial, since they bring the ferment of restlessness and striving for progress.”
As Baquero’s letter makes clear, he saw even before 1959 that Fidel was aiming at far more than toppling Batista, even though that’s what the vast majority of Cubans wanted and expected, and that’s what Fidel’s public pronouncements focused on and emphasized before he reached power. People mostly just wanted things to “go back to normal,” but Baquero knew there would be a radically different new “normal,” one that would turn everything upside down and that would not tolerate divergent views, let alone frank opposition. He based that not only on historical knowledge of prior revolutions but on reading between the lines of what the Castro camp put out before 1959, though obviously he was far more perceptive than most Cubans.
His farewell letter also conveys his sense of impotence against the generalized support for the “revolutionary” solution to Batista as opposed to one far more sensible but much less dramatic and considerably less glamorous. He felt especially handicapped by his identification with a conservative newspaper, meaning he figured whatever he might say against the Castro surge would simply be dismissed as “reactionary” or pro-establishment, so before 1959 he opted for silence and letting things take their course. He did not have the temperament of a Reinaldo Arenas or a Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and even after what he’d foreseen began to manifest itself once Castro won, he confessed he had no vocation for counter-revolution, so he opted to step aside and leave the scene. Apparently, he felt there was no point fighting a losing battle.
In the year or so his newspaper survived after he left Cuba in 1959, its director and owner, José Ignacio Rivero, served as Editor-in-Chief and was one of the few public voices clearly opposing and denouncing the new dictatorship, but by then it was too late. One can question Baquero’s fatalism or passivity, but he was first and foremost a man of letters, not politics, and while he opted for withdrawal, he refused to even attempt to curry favor with the new order. In his farewell, he described himself as an unabashed conservative, “un derechista en tiempo de derrotas para las derechas,” who saw expedient adaptation as ignoble and active combat as unrealistic. Again, this can be questioned, but Baquero’s insight and dignity are uncommonly impressive.
So yes, it was possible to see through the fog of lies, fantasy, wishful thinking and sheer lunacy that turned a malignant fraud like Fidel Castro into a supposed messiah. Of course, eventually most people realized the awful truth, only too late. Baquero’s newspaper, like the rest of Cuba’s free press, did not survive long; it was shut down by the government in 1960. All that remained was the official regime propaganda organ, the pseudo-newspaper Granma. Baquero’s prescience, however, remains.