Lecture given in the Aula Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, belonging to the series of The Rumor of the Cuban Soul. Convent San Juan de Letrán, 25 November 2004.
Since our conference has been included in a series entitled The Rumor of the Cuban Soul, let me begin with a series of brief metaphors or allegories that take as a reference point the plant kingdom, so swelled with rumors of various species, that poets often use as images that bring us closer to the best understanding of the national soul. It seems to me that those who know me up close and for a long time, know for a long time, what Cuba is inside me, but they must also know that such realities are not easily expressed and that we often have no choice but to have a choice but to metaphors and allegories. In this case these are some that I have used on more than one occasion when I refer to our nation.
– The national trees of Cuba are the royal palm and the ceiba. The first is extremely upright. Hurricanes pluck it and start its leaves or “pencas” relatively easily, but they almost never break it. However, if they are struck by lightning, they dry up irremissibly. Ceiba is not as high as palm, but it is extremely robust. Hurricanes also don’t break it, but it could happen if the ground has softened by prolonged downsapers, thrown away altogether, from the root. When carcoma falls, the trunk is corroded inside, but the disease is not perceived until it is too late: then it dries and crumbles.
– Ciguaraya is a beautiful tree with many healing properties. What does not cure its root, is cured by its leaves, flowers and fruits. In addition, it has the peculiarity of being extremely flexible. When hurricanes ravage the forests, breaking the trunks of the most robust trees, the ciguarayas of the place bend to the ground, lay on the ground and, after the storm, straighten incognito. Cuba is called “the country of ciguaraya”.
– Caimito, green or purple, and the yagruma abound in our fields. In both trees the color of the front and the back of its leaves varies. In Cuba, simulators, hypocrites and also volumers were often told they are like caimite leaves or yagruma leaves.
– The fleshy mass of caimite fruit has gelatinous consistency and, for some palates, excessively sweet. When the fruit is very ripe, it is almost a slime and arrives to impal. In Cuba, people who are over-flattered or exaggerated about showing affection or sympathy are often called slugs and cloying.
– Cork is matter that also comes from the plant kingdom. When he walks through procellous waters, he disappears under the waves; it would seem to sink permanently. But let’s not kid ourselves: sooner or later, the cork always comes afloat, unless it gets rid of the rot that comes from the waters. In the 1920s, a time of procellous waters in our Republic, the historian and so many other things Ramiro Guerra called Cuba “the Cork Island”. The expression was fortunate and we kept calling it that.
With the reference to cork I put an end to the metaphors and before I begin my brief annotations I advance that this is the whole Cuba that, hopelessly, I carry inside, the one meaning by that set of images; which is royal palm and ceiba, ciguaraya and caimito and floating cork. Everything these allegories claim to mean has been assumed by me since my youth. I do not deny any of the dimensions I know of my homeland. Which is not to say that I canonize them all, but that I take Cuba as it is, as a limited or incomplete reality, but as reality, not as a vague shadow without consistency. And precisely because it has historically been and because it is an incomplete reality, but to which I discover possibilities, I also take it as a project, as a perfectable reality on the way to better heights of being and of existence. A possible project or utopia, they are always ahead and call us the most and the best, not the crumbling.
I begin with the most elementary of affirmations: the Cuban nation exists. It is not the place to discern whether Cuba was invented by those wise Creole of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who began to think of Cuba as a distinct reality of Spain and the rest of America. Reality that later, throughout the nineteenth century it acquired consistency, more or less curded in the twentieth century. Or if Cuba was emerging due to concurrent chance during that same period of time, rather than thanks to a well-ured teleology. The fact is that it exists as more than just an island on which a few million people who consider it their nation and their homeland live today; that is, the house of their parents and the house of those who will come after them. Cuba is not just a territory in which people live; it’s more than a physical fact. It is a cultural, moral and political fact. We may disagree as to how we would like it to be ours, but for me and most Cubans, Cuba, as a nation and homeland, is a real and simultaneously an act of faith, but never reduced to the unreality of an institution of reason, even if I granted it, as a scholastic, fundamentum in re would say. And if it is real, although small in all kinds of mensura or size, it must be taken into account and must be respected in its peculiar entity. In the long run and not so long, worse for the one who doesn’t: he’s no longer considering reality and that’s at least a form of mental alienation.
In the formation of national identity – and this would be my second statement that complements the previous one – many components come in: humans, which we would now call ecological or environmental, the joints that were moving the enjoyments of our history in one direction or another, etc. It is impossible to refer to everyone in detail if I intend that this meeting will culminate in family conversion. Know, that said, and go this statement ahead, together with the previous one, that I carry inside all those components, that I assume them. With more or less taste, but I assume them. I mention in a slightly more explicit way two of these components, those of the first order, those of the order of the human, of the cultural in the full sense of the word.
Our matrix is indis-cutibly Hispanic. Not only not mainly because we were “discovered” in a company run by the Kings of Spain, Isabel and Fernando, nor because we were part of the Spanish colonial empire for four centuries, but and above all because the population that became present on this island above the sparse Aboriginal population, was substantially Spanish and because its culture was the one that gave frame to the identity of that new reality that was gradually developed and that is , precisely, this Cuba that I have inside. Renaissance culture, Baroque and post-Century of Lights modernity reached our beaches, mainly – to say almost exclusively – on Spanish ships, as in Spanish ships came Catholic Christianity, with the peculiar style, virtues and shadows, typical of peninsular Catholicism. And such religious faith and such culture shaped the Cuban soul.
The Spaniards continued to settle on this island when the Spanish colonial Empire no longer existed. And this until 1960, that is, until the other day. This means a process of continued original Hispanic revitalization, from the last years of the 15th century to the very advanced twentieth century, without interruptions. Spanish emigration to Cuba was not interrupted even during the years of the wars of independence. Unique case on this continent. And with that Hispanic biological and cultural matrix I feel identified at the heart of my own being. I’ve got it in me.
The most fruitful graft in that trunk has been the African graft pluriform. Graft or fertile branch, but not raigal trunk. We may or may not like this, but we do. It is simply so, from a strictly historical, scientific analysis. And for a graft to “put on” and be effectively fertile, you have to take care of the root. You can’t reverse the process. Many of Cuba’s inhabitants of African origin became; there were periods in the nineteenth century when they were more numerous than those of Hispanic-European origin. We know, however, that cultural weight is not measured simply by the number of heads. The deplorable conditions of slavery and subsequent racial discrimination and marginalization, as well as the lousy classification of Catholic evangelization in relation to slaves and their immediate descendants, prevented this large population of African origin from evolving to the beat of the nation’s cultural, economic and political dynamism and harmoniously integrating into the Christian religious framework and the social framework of the island. That is, it was integrated as an accepted and well-cared half-breed, not as a marginal graft and even clandestine or almost.
I cannot approve and am ashamed of the majority and determining origin of the black population, that is, slavery, the greatest social leprosy in the history of our people, using the terminology already used by Father José Agustín Caballero in the twentieth century. Therefore, although I also carry within me the black trafficking, slavery and discrimination, I carry them as sickness, as one of the most serious sins in the history of our people. However, I also carry within, and with pleasure, the African presence, in itself, and – in spite of everything – the racial and cultural half-breed that derives from it, even if it has not been well oriented either by those responsible for the evangelization of these new grafts, nor by those responsible for national life in general terms and by their cultural policies in particular , be from the colonial period, be the Republican in its various stages.
The African graft, that is, the half-breed, is, in itself, a wealth for our people, but the way it has happened historically and which is at the root of all forms of religious and cultural syncretism, in my view, is not. It has not only been a source of light, but also of multiple shadows, not yet resolved Some of them, both in the purely religious and cultural spheres, are genuine involutions towards irrational primitivism that large sections of the African population, in the best governed African countries and better incorporated into a healthy modernity, strive to overcome. And on this island on the other side of the world it has given us the venolera to cultivate such involutions, as if it were an effort to rescue a hypothetical lost cultural or religious identity! This reveals, among other things, a static and archaic conception of African culture and religiosity, from which it is difficult for us to free ourselves. We lack the wise discernment of values and the effort to internalize what is truly a value, articulated not only with the Hispanic trunk that defines us, but even with the most elementary notions of good anthropology, social dynamism, and the articulation, rationality and ethicity that identify us and make us grow as people.
The seriousness of these issues has been lacking and continues to be lacking. It is not a “bad will”, an explicit desire for the involution of the black and even white population by contagion or a search for the collapse of our national identity. But ignorance, prejudice and fashions of irrationality set many traps and the eyes of understanding and will must always be kept awake and well alert. For all these reasons and for a dose of haste and irreflection, morbid existential choteo and cultural relaxation have been left over, the one that stimulates the involution towards animality not governed by the lights of truth and reason well oriented, as well as the involution towards the grotesque against the beautiful and the violent evil against the goodness it builds. The fold of the leaves of yagruma and caimito and the sweet slime of the fruits of the latter tree, so inevitably dependent on the regime of slavery – and, more broadly, of the colonial regime – seem to survive the social conditions that imposed them on our people – mainly slavery and racial discrimination – and manage to govern later some of these new forms of perverse syncretism that today appear a little , in the heat of pseudocultural waves in vogue. Cuba fails to escape on the way out as easy as it is false and devastating from the “anything goes” of postmodernity and the New Age. And I also carry this fatality inside, as a disease and with pain that, at times, I find almost unbearable.
At this point in the text, it must already be clear to you that, in my view – and this is my third statement – Cubans have positive qualities, but we are neither an extra-ordinary people nor do we have a surprising culture. I do not know what would be the evil spirit that insufforated in a good part of our countrymen the conviction that “we are the barbarians”, the most intelligent and cunning, the most friendly, etc., and that Cuban women are the most beautiful women in the world. Some analysts, half joking, half-seriously, claim that the initial fault of this nonsense, which unleashed that erratic dynamism on the Cubans, was Christopher Columbus himself, when he wrote in his Journal that this island newly discovered by him, was the most beautiful land that human eyes had ever seen. Affirm such a thing of the humble port of Bariay, knowing how I knew the splendid European coasts! The Admiral is excused for traveling so long and full of uncertainties and sorrows can cause the most delusional visions in the warm mind of a sailor saturated with adventures, adventures and unseatments, as must have been Don Cristobal. Of course, such a superlative vision and what could be added in that direction is false.
The Cuban people have an acceptable average of intelligence, culture, existential skills, etc., qualities all that, in most, can be increased but which, in a good part of the population, should be started to grow because they are almost zero. With the aggravation that this significant part of the population, being as it is, in a significant condition of marginality, continues to believe that we are “the ultimate” and this false conviction closes them to growth. And as for the beauty of Cuban women… I have no doubt that many possess it to a higher degree and that most enjoy a kind mediation, but there are such ugly ones that they are enough to run away. Total, in this as in almost everything, we are…like any people on earth: we have lights and we have shadows, perhaps, more lights than some other peoples in some dimensions of the human condition, but less than others.
With regard to fundamental values, those who should be integrated into the very root of culture – I think of realities such as honesty of life, commitment to truth, a sense of personal, family and social responsibility, etc.– that is, in relation to ephesy, it seems to me that, as a people, we leave much to be desired. And this is not a new reality. It is enough to read about it those who wrote about the subject and who had the best furnished Cuban heads since the beginning of the nineteenth century, that is, since the beginning of the birth of Cuba. There has always been a ferment, an exemplary nucleus, but most of our people, in ethical matters, are overly contemporizing with the most varied forms of corruption, as long as they have some advantage in that. And foolish is often considered the one who does not take advantage of those murky opportunities that are presented to him on the way of life, whether in sexual, economic or socially fast-paced matters.
Here I would place one of those ambiguous qualities – already mentioned – that some praise and others, like me, we vituperated: the Creole choteo or relax. Not taking seriously what should not be taken seriously is a virtue and contributes to dedramatizing existence and putting a good thing into life, which often tends to be dramatic or bsatic. But don’t take seriously, chote or relax things that deserve well-weighted consideration, that’s social morbidity and very serious by the way. And among us, in my opinion, the morbid choteo, the one who sickens the exercise of responsibility and the commitment to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, abounds too much. There are, of course, luminous beings who know how to put each thing in its right place, but those who collide and do not weigh what could confer a fuller meaning on the being and work of Cubans abound. And in this wide range of “serious realities” I include everything about religion and everything about faith, and Truth in its most integral sense, to political attitudes, cultural and artistic choices, the realm of the familiar and the work, the use of leisure or leisure, etc. When in a nation, a significant portion of the population does not weigh, it does not take seriously a good part of the components of its existence that should be taken seriously, when it is played with the truth of being and of there of almost everything, when those who must take on the tasks of educating in genuine reflection and coherent action do not , but – perhaps touched themselves unconsciously by this existential choteo – contribute to the enlargement of it and even encourage it, when they are cultivated or at least tolerated involutive ways of being and acting, when numbers and quality, instruction and education, rhetoric and reality, material well-being with greater fullness of being are confused, etc., then, the nation itself , is in danger.
Unfortunately, I have the impression that this choteo, the morbid, is currently living, among us, a period of increase. Since Cuba is Cuba, it has suffered from this disease, and I am sure that in the increase of recent decades, Cuba does not have the exclusive. Morbidity is becoming pandemic – universal disease – and what began as a universal “cultural revolution” in the sixties, which also brought with it positive realities, is currently heading down the paths of an involution that, of questions about almost everything, drags us towards a universal irrationality, which already invades almost everything. And when the human being begins to strip himself of rationality, after widespread cuestio-namientos that did not lead him to better plots of certainty, we know how such a process ends, unfortunately: in robotization or in animalization.
In our case, I do not believe that we have reached situations that are already endangering the same national entity, because it seems to me that robotization and animalization have not yet infected most of the Cuban population, but I do have the impression that we live situations that demand very awake attention, very fine discernment and effective actions that begin , at least, a change of direction of dissolution path.
The engruming towards widespread healing would require something of a wise analysis, an examination of conscience, a reflection and a genuine national, comprehensive dialogue, in which opportunisms, fears and mythifications are hung on the hook of the front door. Otherwise, everything would become pamema and sainete. We know that with pamemas and sainetes a sick nation is not built or healed. And all these worries, which hurt me but don’t turn off my confidence, I also carry them inside.
It seems to me that what we call “goodwill” abounds in our people and that talents of various order, without being extraordinary, are more than enough. So what happened? It is possible that the national and international urgencies and difficulties, the rapid cultural, sociopolitical and economic changes we have experienced in the world in recent years, in which the rapid progress of science and technology has not been accompanied by an articulate development of the new humanism that such progress is requiring, the excessive encompassing given our real possibilities , etc., assumed everything – in our case – since this peculiar ajiaque or half-breed that constitutes our national identity, have not contributed to the development of the sense of personal responsibility that can only arise from a restful education, from a judicious contemplation of the tradition that constitutes us as a peculiar nation and human group, of a good meditation, of exchanges of views , steps taken without excessive speeds, as these usually make it difficult to change direction at the right time, etc.
The Cuba inside contains, therefore, kind elements, but it also contains the painful and worrying. It is still a long way from fulfilling the dream of those who thought of it and invented it as the Common House. But those elements, all related, on one corner or another, to my understanding of morbid choteo, of choteo as a disease, nor are they paralyzing to me, nor do I think they have deprived this nation of being.
They are not paralyzing, but stimulating because, despite all the regrets, our island has possibilities. It is not the nation of the greatest possibilities, but it also does not occupy a position in the mudslides of the ditch of contemporary history. And with everything and shock, his people continue to be– in my opinion – the greatest wealth of our Nation. The one who does not have it in act, has it in power; What is sick in his nature, he has a cure. In my opinion, none of the evils or limitations we might point out to the Cuban people is incurable. Not even the morbid existential choteo, which is at the root of almost everything! This also has a cure: weeders say that ciguaraya serves almost everything and cures almost everything; we know that the palm toused by hurricanes straightens its old pencas and also acquires new, impeccably lozanas, and that the ceiba, if served in time, is spared the crushing carcoma. The question lies precisely there, in taking proper care of it.
A fortiori, if I’m not paralyzed by its real evils, much less could be paralyzed by that unreality that some argue: that the being of Cuba has faded or diluted in who knows what rotten jelly. Cuba, that of the island, remains Cuba; somewhat battered, but Cuba. On the other hand, was everything in our past, colonial or Republican always glorious? Was foundational dreaming 100 percent effective in any situation prior to the current one? Let us set aside the nostalgias of a non-existent past and cultivate nostalgia for a possible future. My nostalgia for Cuba, the one inside me, is nostalgia for futurity, not the nostalgia – somewhat “picúa” by the way – of the Cuba that never existed but in the small portions of its necessary ferments and that, with those dimensions of fermentation, continues to exist. It has never ceased to exist, even in the darkest stages of our history, whether in the colonial period, or in the Republican period.
The presence of exceptional personalities and the development of thought and so many other golden realities in the past rejoice and pride our being as Cubans, but we should not fail to take into account that, together with all this, slavery coexisted – until very late in the nineteenth century – and unheard-of forms of social injustices, as well as political corruptions and scourges of a very diverse nature. The reasons why the revolutionary movement that settled in political power in 1959 brought about the almost universal consensus of the Cuban population, must be sought precisely in the shadows that obscured our previous history. What was a good dose of political naivety in that consensus? It’s true. For many, a triumphant revolution was something of a beautiful fairy tale, an awakening of Aurora, the sleeping beauty, for the kiss of the handsome Prince Desiré, and that would later all be a feast.
A Revolution, and anything approaching it as an effectively reforming entity, cannot fail to be a difficult and extremely painful birth. But the naivety of the fairy tale doesn’t take value away from the argument. If there was that support, that’s why it was. Let us not mythify a past that was only a valid utopia in the project of the Cubans of good blood, with partial concrete realizations. Now, let us not myth or belittle the present, nor do we transform the nostalgias of futurity into an unrealizable myth, into the dream of a future that Cuba cannot achieve if we objectively take into account its own identity, its entitative reality. Let’s learn the lessons of realism, let’s know how to size so that we are able to give utopia its value
engine and let us come, someday, to undress in every form of shock of being.
Personally, I have already said, I try to assume Cuba as it is and the dream as I think it can become. That’s the Cuba inside me. Real palm, yes, hehests, beautiful, but with the awareness that if it is not protected, it can be struck by lightning. Umbrosa ceiba, robust and welcoming, but with the awareness that if it is not properly treated, it falls carcoma – imperceptible at first – and falls apart. Or it could happen to him that, believing himself to be all-powerful, it will be rooted by wind and abundant rains. It ciguaraya with many possibilities, but with the awareness that it must know how to flex enough so as not to break in the face of the inevitable windows in our latitudes. Surviving all hurricanes and lightning storms, with these dimensions and at these latitudes, requires complex flexibility and concertation with circumstances. Cork that always comes out afloat…. as long as it doesn’t rot and get rid of… And a people who are querible and who deserve all the respect imaginable, but on which not all the positive must be easily believed, because it has the possibilities of the front and the back of the leaves of the caimito and the yagruma, and which can become, apparently, if proposed, as sweet and as sluggish as the seasoned fruit of the first , although inside it is corroded by roughness, acidity and bitterness.
May God assist us and that, just as we are, little by little, without haste but without truce, responsible and seriously, let us walk in the direction of the best dreams within us! Without being bogged down by mud – also real – and with the conviction that national dreams, like the sausage of race dogs, incite us, but never fully attain the very. Well, we have them and caress them, but it’s also good that we don’t forget that they are no longer dreams and that they are worth to the extent that they strengthen reality, not to the extent that they separate us from it.
Havana, November 13, 2004.