Quiet Anticipation

Havana remains quiet these days, but this is due in large part to the immense amount of uncertainty that pervades the island of Cuba as a whole. Nearly half a century of death rumors, unrelenting repression and separation from the outside world have bred a Cuban people whose dreams are shattered. Hope for a brighter future is often nothing more than a farce – something read about in books and magazines but off limits to those who “stayed behind.” Yet there is still anticipation.

The question of whether or not Fidel Castro is dead is rarely posed in the streets of Cuba’s capitol. For the most part, Fidel’s death in recent weeks is about as foregone a conclusion as the color of the sky. The question now isn’t “if” he died but “when” and what comes next. The island is indeed awash in a variety of rumors and hypotheses. Ultimately however, Cuba is awash with questions. When will the announcement be made? Much like their exiled brothers, the vast majority of Cubans I spoke with during my recent trip to the island believe the announcement will be made months after the so-called “comandante’s” death. When all of Raul’s ducks are in a row, when all the dust has been swept under the carpet, only then will we hear word of the death of Fidel. Although quiet, Cuba’s capitol province is electric with anticipation. In the town of Jaimanitas and its surrounding areas, home to Castro’s infamous Punto Cero compound, the rumors and questions run strongest. A few days before I left, I met with an old friend at a bar in nearby Miramar. Immediately upon entering, I was assailed with questions from every individual who knew me to be trustworthy. The question that left the lips of everyone who greeted me was the same: “Is there any confirmation yet? Is he dead?” Earlier that afternoon, several local residents began contacting friends and relatives wondering what all the traffic heading into and out of Punto Cero was about. For an hour or so, it was car-after-car, coming and going. “No,” I replied, “here in Cuba, I am as cut off from information as any of you.” Smiles turned to frowns but as the liquor flowed, the anticipation returned. One man approached me with a simple question:

“How does a mute ask for a Cuba Libre in a bar?”

“How,” I replied?

After taking a sip of Bucanero – Cuba’s answer to Budweiser – the man immediately gestured at an imaginary beard and then proceeded to draw his flattened hand across his neck.

Those in the immediate area who hadn’t heard the man utter the joke immediately knew what he was talking about and erupted in laughter. That laughter would soon die down however, after a young women seated next to me posed yet another question.

“So, what about Raul? He’s been underground since the 26th of July and we’re all beginning to wonder?”

Indeed, Raul’s absence is more than a bit odd. Recent reports stated that the Cuban dictator’s brother had set off for Italy on a golf vacation but this seems absurd. To depart for an Italian vacation while Cuba’s “president” is dying or dead and the future of an entire government remains uncertain defies logic and I don’t buy it. As I sat pondering the question, several guesses crossed my ears.

“He’s sick as well. A few years back Raul disappeared for several weeks in much the same way Vilma [Espin] had. He re-emerged but it was clear that he had suffered some sort of medical crisis.

“No, no, no – Fidel is dead, a silent power struggle began and someone knocked off Raulito.”

The bottom line . . . no one knows. In Cuba, it seems as if the government is allowing tidbits of information to reach the public in an effort to gauge the possible reaction to news of Fidel’s death. I am of the opinion that rumors such as increased traffic in and out of Punto Cero have been created in a bid to measure opinion and reaction.

One thing is apparent – although the Cuban government is attempting to portray itself as going about its “business as usual,” its fear is beginning to show. The police presence on the streets of Havana is very strong – much stronger than in past years. Nowadays, the lone police officer walking the beat along the Malecon has been replaced by patrols of two and three officers working in tandem. Even checkpoints are becoming more common. Over the course of one week, I myself experienced two – one on Calle 23 in El Vedado and another closer to the Malecon. Entire blocks were shut down, with officers going from car-to-car, checking ID’s, gauging faces and in general, looking worried.

Another sign as to changes on the street comes in the form of Cuba’s green-clad Interior Ministry troops. Always a common site in Cuba, I quickly took note of the way in which these troops – much like civilian police officers – were now traveling in groups of four to six men.

But what about information regarding Fidel’s whereabouts over the course of the past year. Some had stated Fidel was treated on a private floor within Havana’s CIMEQ hospital. Others stated that the “comandante” had been returned to his Punto Cero compound in Jaimanitas, only to be returned to CIMEQ about a month ago after having taken a turn for the worse. In speaking with various contacts in both the Cuban military and Cuban state television, I learned that Fidel had never been treated at CIMEQ – rather, he had been cared for at a private hospital facility located somewhere within the labyrinthine Consejo de Estado building located along the Plaza of the Revolution. Treated by a staff of doctors who were forbidden to leave the location and who lived with the “president,” Castro never left the building after falling ill last August. Indeed, this is a much more believable scenario than the CIMEQ hypothesis. Maintaining strict secrecy from within a civilian hospital would have been nearly impossible.

But what do the Cuban people expect post-Fidel? There are two trains of thought at work here. Some believe the Cuban people are destined to relive the Castro nightmare for decades to come. Their wills have been broken to such a point that they see no hope and would rather abandon the island entirely. Others hold a fervent belief that change will come from within the government hierarchy once the brothers Castro have left the scene. The name “Gorbachev” was brought up on more than one occasion during my stay in Cuba. One sad fact remains clear however – the Cuban people won’t be able to go it alone. One of Fidel’s earliest priorities upon seizing power was the disarming of the public and the institution of a rabidly loyal CDR network of chivatos (snitches). The sad truth is, the Cuban people – the civilian population – are broken and pragmatic. “How are we supposed to mount an insurrection? With what tools? And how can we rely on the military? Our generals are all corrupt – look at them . . . they drive newer model VW’s, own nice televisions and stereos – their loyalty is ensured.” And so, the Cuban people continue to wait for an angel in their midst to turn the tide.

*NOTE: Please feel free to forward me any questions regarding the current situation on the island. Consider this an open thread and post away. I will answer as quickly and truthfully as possible.

23 thoughts on “Quiet Anticipation”

  1. Where is Fidel Castro’s chief physician, Eugenio Selman-Housein Abdo, who in May 2004 said that the dictator would live for another 60 years. The doctor was quoted as saying, “He is heading for 140 (years) and I am not exaggerating because now with the scientific progress and the development of embryo stem cells, man will become immortal.” He described Castro’s health as “formidable.” This is just another example of a marvelous diagnosis of Socialist health care.

  2. I hope his reward for the “140-years old” diagnosis is having to clean fidel’s bedpans for that length of time…

  3. One feeling I came away with – with regards to your statement of a “reward for the 140-year diagnosis” concerns what comes next. There’s no doubt about, many feel that some sort of revenge is in the works for the chivatos and CDR members who for four-plus decades, have worked to maintain the status-quo. On more than one occasion, I heard certain folks speak of the idea that some blood will indeed run after the brothers have left the building and democracy is restored. This will present an especially difficult situation for families divided along political ideologies. There are plenty of anti-Fidel households with one or two CDR members in their midst. Thus, the moral question of how to proceed once democracy arrives becomes especially apparent.

  4. Another choice specimen of that most unfortunate Cuban species, the “guataca arrastrado.” A worthy companion to the abject sycophant who, when Machado was in power and asked what time it was, responded with “La hora que Usted quiera” (whatever time you wish). Repulsive.

  5. Did any of the locals/anybody else give any specifics as to how they will deal with CDR lowlifes, or “actos de repudio” participants, etc.? (Other than to say that blood will run, did they give any hints?)

    BTW, we may think that future retaliation will ruin already divided families, but it’s my view that people who engaged in turning on their relatives (as my family had) have already forfeited their membership in that family.

    Thanks for a great post, CW.

  6. Very Good post CW. Did you ask questions Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet? Do people know about him and others such as Dr. Darsi Ferrer?

  7. Gigi:

    It wasn’t anything that specific – rather, it was the general sentiment that those folks are going to have to answer for their criminal support of the regime – be it through violence or being ostracized – these individuals will have to pay the piper.

    This was a common thread with many of the folks I spoke with. There is an incredible amount of disdain for anyone involved with the CDRs – especially the neighborhood chivatos who work with every neighborhood’s CDR committee. From time-to-time I hear the opinion that, well – the CDR’s do more than just snitch – they assist with housing, etc. Yes, this is true, neighborhood CDR’s do assist the community with sanitation issues, housing issues, etc however – the point that sticks in everyone’s mind is the “snitching.” One encounter in particular really struck me. On one afternoon, I met with a man who was able to “resolver” some paint from a state project somewhere in Havana – i.e. – he stole the paint, since that’s the only way the vast majority of Cubans can acquire items necessary to maintain their homes. So, this fellow has the tools and the supplies necessary to repair his humble abode but can’t proceed just yet. “If I start painting my house, fixing it up, etc – what do you think is going to happen?”

    The CDR’s will take notice and indeed take issue with the fact that this gentleman must be living a sort of perceived “high life” and this MUST NOT PASS. In Cuba, repairs like this must be done slowly, bit-by-bit – so as not to arose the ire of the dreaded CDR’s.

    I can say that I did hear a reference to a certain WW II-era Italian dictator who was tied up to a lamp post after his execution by an angered public but that was said more as a joke than anything else.

  8. El dia 8 se celebra un aniversario mas de la Patrona de Cuba, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Estos mafiosos son capaces de arruinar la historia cubana sacando la noticia de la muerte de la bestia el mismo dia

    Son tan macabros que pueden hacer esto

  9. Henry,

    That’s a very good question with a sad answer. There are some on the island who know a great deal about Dr. Biscet and other vociferous proponents of democracy but for the most part, these folks are rather unknown inside Cuba. One must remember that internet usage within Cuba is severely restricted and in recent weeks, these restrictions have become even more pronounced. I noticed while I was there, an acute slow-down in connection speeds at hotels like the Nacional. In years past, connections at locations like hotels were very speedy. Many on the island are of the belief that this slow-down in connection speed is yet another attempt to control internet usage and the dissemination of information.

    That said, the only people who really know about folks like Dr. Biscet and Darsi Ferrer are those with access to the internet – i.e. hotel workers or those working with foreign firms operating on the island. The next question is: how to get the word out INSIDE CUBA.

  10. Abajofidel,

    Indeed, most expect the announcement to be made on some sort of anniversary. Obviously, January 1st would be a natural date to announce Fidel’s death but I believe that date is simply too far off. Perhaps something within the next two months or so.

  11. There is such a monumental amount of accumulated, backed-up SHIT from nearly half a century of abuses, betrayals, opportunism and outright crimes that it’s going to be VERY ugly. Of course the perpetrators will change their tune to whatever seems most convenient, and of course they’ll claim they “didn’t know” or “couldn’t help it,” or simply deny wrongdoing, but it’s going to be nasty.

  12. On the other hand, they might wait until the US election is over to announce it and keep the body on ice until then.

  13. havanajournal,

    Lage’s name was also brought up on more than one occasion and I can tell you that for certain, there is neither any admiration or respect for the Vice President. Forget about it. As for who might perform an about face in a future Cuban government – well – your guess is as good as mine.

  14. Interestingly enough, less than an hour after I posted this entry, several of the MSM wires ran pieces stating that most Cubans are sure Fidel is alive. This is not surprising. Put a foreign correspondent in Cuba charged with asking questions about Fidel Castro’s health and that correspondent is most likely to receive canned answers which tow the party line. On the flipside – put a Cuban on the ground with dozens of contacts on the island who trust him/her – and that individual is much more likely to receive straight, honest answers. The MSM still hasn’t learned that in order to do any honest reporting, they need to send Cuban journalists out into the streets, not a bunch of John Smith’s. Get my point?

  15. the only people who really know about folks like Dr. Biscet and Darsi Ferrer are those with access to the internet – i.e. hotel workers or those working with foreign firms operating on the island. The next question is: how to get the word out INSIDE CUBA.

    That is an excellent question. I believe that it is time for us to get creative, and ask ourselves that question, 24/7. How can we get the word out INSIDE CUBA?

  16. Information is definitely the key to setting the conditions for real change on the island. TV and Radio Marti would be great, but we have to seriously commit to break the jamming. Back to the comments on the street. The Police and Military are key to turning the tide against the regime; did you hear of any disatisfaction among members of the military or other security forces?

  17. The strange thing is those who hung Mussolini upside down were communist guerrillas, I think they did it to keep collaboration details quiet. Thus, the greates danger to those who were informers may not be revenge seekers, but their own colleagues who do not want “loose ends” talking.

  18. “That is an excellent question. I believe that it is time for us to get creative, and ask ourselves that question, 24/7. How can we get the word out INSIDE CUBA?”

    Well, one way could be to enlist more CubaWatchers who are traveling to visit families to spread word about the various dissident organizations, bring independent news about Cuba back into the country, then report back to these blogs publicly. They’ll do the work the MSM doesn’t have the guts to do. Great work, CubaWatch!!

  19. freecubanow: exactly! As I’ve said before, I believe part of the key rests with those who from time-to-time visit relatives on the island. This is a grass-roots system – it has to come via word of mouth so as to get people talking. It’s not as if folks can simply bring printed materials onto the island. That’s a sure recipe for disaster. We need to talk these people up on the island as much as possible – spark curiosity so that our brothers in Cuba begin to take more of a serious interest and begin to probe.

    Mambi: Sadly, I didn’t feel much antipathy towards the government from the few military types I spoke with. You’ve got to remember – the military is in charge of the tourist industry – a lucrative pearl amid a sea of disaster. That’s why these folks have their VWs and televisions. It’s all bribery essentially. As for Radio and TV Marti – I believe TV Marti is a complete failure. I have never once been able to see it from inside Cuba. Radio Marti however is a success and has become rather popular. That said, I think what’s necessary is for Radio Marti to really highlight these folks and get out as much information on them as possible. Perhaps a daily or weekly segment? Anyone have any good contacts over there?

  20. Thanks CubaWatch; I’m still hoping the lower level military folks are looking for a change because they see the corruption at the higher ranks, and are in just as difficult a situation economically as the general populace – lets hope. I was hoping TV Marti’s new airplane was having success – looks like we’re still a ways off.

Comments are closed.