Throughout millennia, the prophets have announced a kingdom of justice, where the good of all will prevail, as well as coexistence in harmony, great feelings of love above selfishness and hatred, the leveling between poor and rich, strong and weak; where each one will receive according to their needs, as conscious creatures, in a superior order, where there is no oppression or wars, nor the need for State, courts, police, nor codes, laws, parties.
Preparing for that kingdom requires forming people capable of assuming and conducting themselves according to principles such as these. To say it like Saint Paul in his epistles, it is about creating a new man.
It is not strange then that, just as millions have responded to the call of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, others have identified Martí, Fidel, Che as their spiritual guides. If we reread the first paragraph, we will see that this description could cover them all.
I suspect, however, that putting them in the same bag will cause allergies, among Tyrians and among Trojans. Fidel and Jesus Christ? Che and Martí? The former would say that the guerrillas preached subversion and armed struggle, not love and peace. The latter would say that confusing communism with the kingdom of God in the afterlife is a misrepresentation of Marxism-Leninism.
They could all add that the followers of the religious prophets share the same faith and those who respond to the political leaders share the same ideology. And that is precisely why the prophets are revered, while political leaders arouse loyalties, but also staunch opposition.
The problem arises when one examines history, where it is not so simple to draw that line.
Preaching “the necessary war” and affirming that “being Cuban is more than being white, more than being black,” among other groundbreaking ideas, won Martí quite a few enemies, not only among fundamentalists, autonomists, annexationists, but also in his own ranks. He had to devote as much or more time to these discrepancies than to the armed organization of the revolution, since nothing less than the launch of independence depended on the political conditions.
Blessing “those persecuted for the sake of justice,” those who “slander and persecute,” as “the previous prophets were persecuted,” and denouncing superficial materialism and hypocritical religiosity, the dogmatic or pharisaical interpretation of faith, questioned dangerously the status quo in the Galilee occupied by the Romans at the time of Jesus: not in vain would he be rejected by the majority of his own people and crucified. In a famous chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky recounts how the presence and preaching of the Messiah, almost two millennia later, preserved its subversive nature intact, unpalatable to the established powers, including the church.
“But that part about the prophets is a thing of the past. Nobody is going around preaching new religious beliefs now. And if they do, they have nothing to do with politics,” a Tyrian would tell me.
What did Martin Luther King Jr. do then, with his prophetic “dream” before millions of Americans, if not reply to the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount? That dream of brotherhood and justice, where blacks and whites lived together, was also a very political discourse, which questioned the foundations of the system, in the midst of the Vietnam War. Being the struggle of that Baptist pastor from the deep South, rather conservative in many other things, as “peaceful” as they say, how did he unleash the most intense and challenging social movement that is remembered since the Civil War (1861-65)?
Regarding the apolitical nature of the faith, close to us is the confrontation with a minority opposed to same-sex marriage, and to what they consider interference by the State within the sphere of “the holy family,” based on an evil “gender ideology.” Part of this opposition is based on a fundamentalist reading of the Scriptures, like the one with which Jesus challenged the Pharisees, according to which all that is blasphemy.
Finally, just as faith has its politics, politics carries with it attitudes and practices that seem typical of faith.
It is enough to see the daily stream of quotes from Martí, Ché, Fidel, with phrases selected from their contexts, as if they were verses, to get out of a tight spot when debating any topic. Extracting the meaning of these phrases as part of the time in which they were pronounced requires a historical approach to the thought and concrete action that gave them political meaning. Using them as gospels is equivalent to reducing them to their prophetic dimension, and often turning them into dogmas.
It is in circumstances of crisis that the logic of the political emerges and manifests itself with high definition. In a letter of barely 600 words that almost everyone in Cuba knows, Che chooses the moment of the 1962 Crisis, among all those experienced within the Revolution, to tell his comrade-in-arms that “rarely has a statesman shone brighter,” and to share his way of “perceiving dangers and principles,” in those “bright and sad days.” In that personal letter, barely three years after the events, the words he chose capture the complex intensity of a limited moment.
Written by someone who, who like Martí, is a recurring emblem of numerous Tyrians and Trojans, the letter interprets the 1962 crisis as a turning point of lucidity and disappointment: marginalized from dialogue with the superpower by our greatest ally, sailing on their own in a deadly current, where steering the reefs without losing the compass was an unusual feat, a 36-year-old chief became a great statesman.
Getting in and out of the nuclear crisis where the war with the U.S. dragged us, with an ally more experienced militarily, but trapped in deadly competition with its archenemy, and inept at deciphering the political algorithm of the Cuban Revolution; and doing it as part of the major leagues of world politics was a trial by fire, which was only worth it because the recovered dream of independence and sovereignty was at stake once again.
Just as resentment prevents some from appreciating Fidel Castro’s statesmanship, recognized by his worst enemies, they also do not see his ability to defend national integrity, even in the face of the force majeure of an essential alliance with the Soviet Union, which led him to emerge from the Missile Crisis with the political aura of a Third World leader. This acknowledgment of the Third World opened a large gap in the U.S. political siege.
To what extent does the political reason required to unravel the skein of an event like this, surely the most studied of the Cold War, contribute to thinking about other subsequent crises, including ours, that we are going through right now?
When Tyrians and Trojans give their versions of the current crisis, what is most significant is not the differences in approach, but the predominance of qualification over analysis, the postulation of trials and sentences, instead of arguments. Someone who did not know anything about Cuba and read any of the manifestos that circulate on the networks about the situation, could have the impression that it is a dispute between beliefs and apothegms, closer to the discourse of the wars of religion than to political reasoning.
Unlike the prophets and preachers, but with a similar commitment, politicians have to play a role that requires an occupation and have a cultural training that is difficult to achieve in a school for cadres, or in transit through the dense network of bureaucracy. Occupation and culture that require experience, but above all dedication, willingness to serve, capacity for dialogue, imagination, and a certain amount of courage so as not to be afraid, let’s say, of losing one’s position.
When a politician dares to say in public, for example, that “street protests are fair” he risks fire from those who see the protests as nothing less than vehicles of political destabilization, tools of conspiracy, weapons of the enemy. It is not even strange that this fire comes from his own ranks (friendly fire), which can be, by the way, the worst of all. In any case, those who monitor these protests are not without some reason, because it has happened that excited young people and also those who are 55 and over have come out of the closet of anticommunism, some impetuous, others calculating, get involved in the spontaneous outbreak of a protest, where sometimes some can participate just to feel what it tastes like to shout against the government in the middle of the street.
What would be the role of those who are not preachers or politicians, but intellectuals, consists of explaining it. In showing politicians, preachers, and the rest of society, that protests are an integral part of a crisis situation, not only on this island, but on terra firma. In any case, it is not enough to understand them as just or understandable protests, because seeing them that way reduces them to acceptable or justified phenomena, but not understanding their nature. If we have to wait for Article 56 of the Constitution to be translated into law for them to be legal, the important thing, politically speaking, is that they are already legitimate. That is, part of a normality under construction. And that happens on the condition that the Tyrians and Trojans continue fighting, that one leader dares to say that they are “fair,” or that others claim that they are barely “understandable.” Because all these qualifiers are subjective assessments about a phenomenon that reveals a changing political culture out there, that is, in society itself.
Explaining this changing reality requires considering that “the damn circumstance of being surrounded by water” is nothing more than a good verse, which does not reflect anything of our history or our culture. Otherwise, how to combine that insular and aquatic condition with three revolutions that transformed its place and its meaning in the world? With crises and beliefs that change everything that should be changed, and even, sometimes, what shouldn’t?
We shall see.