By Carlos Alberto Montaner
On January 1, 1959, Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba and the Cuban revolution began. A group of boys, including myself, got together. I was 15 years old and I was a skinny, hopeful and politically illiterate boy. I felt very happy. I do not know how, where or why we went to see, or we met, the lawyer Oscar Gans. He had been Prime Minister of Carlos Prío, the last Cuban constitutional president. He had a reputation for being honest and intelligent.
Gans listened with interest to our excited and full of illusion talk and only managed to tell us an enigmatic phrase that I have not forgotten: “revolutions are like binge drinking ... the problem is the hangover.” The hangover was the feeling of boredom, overeating, bad digestion, of “why did I get drunk and ingest that absurd mixture of alcohols that makes me feel so bad today.”
A few months later I understood what Gans had wanted to explain us. The hangover started. We were in the hands of some enlightened revolutionaries, guided by slogans learned in coffee shops, ready to change at gunpoint the identity of a centuries-old society. A country that, until that moment, in spite of all the odds, had been a net recipient of immigrants, the best-known index to measure the quality of any human conglomerate.
Fidel, Che, Raul Castro, and a few other bold and ignorant individuals were determined to kill an imperfect liberal democracy, governed by a social-democratic Constitution, fully perfectible, and transform that State into a pro-Soviet dictatorship without private property, without human rights, and much less separation and independence of powers. At the same time, they charged the Cubans with the task of “confronting Yankee imperialism” and transforming the planet to impose by violent means the “wonderful” social model spawned by Moscow since 1917.
They acted quickly. Twenty months later they had achieved 90% of their domestic goals. In October 1960 there were no vestiges of a free press. There were no political groups other than the “single movement” created and held by the Maximum Leader with an iron fist, so, when the time came, it was easy for them to call it the “Communist Party.”
There were no private schools or universities. There were also no medium-sized or large companies held by “civil society.” All were taken by the State through a simple decree. The totalitarian dictatorship had been consummated, I repeat, by 90%.
The remaining 10% occurred on March 13, 1968. On that date, Fidel Castro perpetrated a lengthy speech in which he announced the “revolutionary offensive.” It was the end of the remaining small businesses. In one stroke, Castro swallowed almost sixty thousand micro-companies and turned the island into the “most communist country in the world.” To fix an umbrella, a pair of shoes or a fan, Cubans had to resort to the State. Logically, the disaster was absolute, and the nation became a waste dump. The thousands of brave men who opposed that destiny were shot or imprisoned for many years.
How was that revolutionary madness carried out? Three enlightened ones are not capable of performing a task of this magnitude. Simple: by lining the pockets of the likely opponents. First, they created a huge political clientele by giving “the people” everything that did not belong to the Commander.
They reduced 50% of rents and the cost of electricity and telephones. They disposed of the lands as they pleased. They knew that the economy would collapse as a result of the manipulation of prices, but the goal was not to achieve prosperity, but to create a legion of grateful stomachs that would soon be tightly controlled.
While they determined what to do with the property of others (and they kept the best houses, cars and yachts), they gave the repressive mechanisms to the Soviets. From the beginning the political police and the heart of the Ministry of the Interior were assigned to the comrades formed by the KGB.
A few weeks after the Castros occupied the government house, the always discreet “brothers of the socialist block” began to arrive. In mid-1962 there were just over 40,000 advisers. When the “bolos”, as they were irreverently called in the island, went away, they left behind the cage well installed. Within the cage, millions of fearful and obedient Cubans embraced each other.
Sixty years later the Castroists know that the “Cuban model” is totally unproductive and unfeasible. They are slave-owners who live by renting professional slaves and extracting them a surplus value of 80%. Or policemen who promptly assemble the new dictatorship, as they have done in Venezuela.n Or they live on the exiles’ remittances, on the donations of the churches, or on bathing and guiding tourists in collusion with foreign businessmen who don’t care about the local partner’s moral principles, as long as they get handsome benefits. That’s what revolutionary hangovers are like. They tend to be very long and very sad. Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.