March 17, 2004

Fidel, Camus, Plinio and the Plague

I resisted for a long time. Somehow, all those stories raising alarms about a Castro-Communist takeover seemed so, to put it? So shrill, so extremist. I wouldn't want to associate myself with reactionary views like those, wouldn't want to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who see communism "even in the soup" would I?

I see myself writing this and Camus' words come back to hang over me like an indictment...I know, I should have known, I have no excuse for not having seen it. I'd gone over it, I knew the plague is not made on a human scale, and therefore people always say the plague is unreal, a bad dream that must pass. I should have known that plagues don't always pass, and from one bad dream to the next, it's the people who pass, and the humanists first of all, because we haven't taken precautions.

So, contented in my flower-eating insouciance, I resisted. I didn't write about the growing numbers of Cubans in Venezuela, about the evident ideological spell the Cuban model has on Chavez, about Chavez's weirdly out-of-character sycophancy towards Fidel Castro or about the increasingly Granma-style tactics in the government media. I saw it, I knew intellectually those things were true, but deep down, I couldn't believe it. I thought everything was possible for me, which meant, as a matter of course, that all plagues were impossible.

Now I see clearly that it's not that the critics were alarmists, it's that the reality was alarming. I wonder how I could have missed it all, how I managed to see it and not see it, and again I know, almost before I write it, that I've only proven Camus right once again.

I thought myself free, and no one can be free so long as there are plagues.

There are too many Cuban hands pulling too many strings in Venezuela to ignore any more. There are too many ideological convergences, too many shared positions, just too damn much evidence to gloss over. Cubanization just can no longer be dismissed as an opposition scare tactic; it's an ongoing reality.

Of course, the usual suspects will roll their eyes and point to Washington. They'll rant about the $53K Washington gave Sumate and ignore the $900 million Fidelito has given Fidel, in unpaid-for oil. They'll point to a hypothetical CIA infiltration and ignore the stacks of DIEX entry forms documenting the literally 10,000 Cubans who have entered the country to work under various guises. Those who see US guilt as a given will certainly not be swayed. From a safe distance, it's much easier to see-and-not-see.

As I write this, my mind drifts to Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza's Aquellos Tiempos con Gabo, his wonderful memoires of his 40 year friendship with Garcia Marquez. Mendoza retells in chilling detail the experience he and Gabo had when, fresh from a stint in Caracas to cover the January 23, 1958 uprising, the two of them moved to Havana just after Fidel and Che had taken the city. Plinio recreates meticulously the way the exhuberant, cheerful, tropically enthropic mood of liberation in Cuba during those first few months after the revolution slowly gave way to the crushing weight of Communist ideological intolerance. Slowly at first, but later on incredibly quickly, "they" took over every institution, one-by-one, purging them of independent thinkers and demanding unquestioning, canine obedience from the "good communists" who came in to replace them. One office at a time, one act of arbitrary intolerance at a time, Fidel's revolucion justicialista ossified into the ruthless dictatorship it eventually became.

Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza would recognize what is happening in Caracas today. He knows what it is to live through a plague that suppresses people's futures, their movements and their discussions. Little by little, a generation of Venezuelans is learning what Camus and Plinio learned a long time ago and Evangelina Carrizo learned last week: that the bad dream doesn't pass, it's the people who pass, and the humanists first of all.