At the Beggars Table

By René Fidel González García

With the title ‘Cubanidades’, the Argentinean political expert and philosopher Atilio Borón has published an article which intends to explain ‘what Cuba is and what the mystery of the rebellious island is’.

One may agree or not with many of his statements, made without much desire to seek depth and, in my opinion, with an intimate sense of admiration for the Cuba which has received him for years as a friend and a left-wing scholar. But the following immediately attracted my attention in the text, since it’s one of the ideas that remains editorially highlighted in its reproduction by the Cubadebate website, and because I was surprised to find it as part of the proposed explanation:

‘Cuba is a fine table with rice and black beans, fried green bananas, slices of pork, roast lamb, lobsters and fish stuffed with shrimp. There are tamales on the casserole and yucca with garlic sauce, pork cracklings and lemon too. And there are also soups that bring you back to life, delicious ice creams, incredibly sweet desserts and an elixir called coffee. Cuba is mojitos, piña coladas; and to round off the banquet and find delight without end there are exquisite rums and incomparable cigars, which are unique in the entire world.’

‘Is this a left-wing intellectual?’, a colleague has asked in the social networks. The worst part is that, indeed, as an intellectual he is left-wing, as is the Cuban medium which immediately replicated his text, or the professionals which will set out tomorrow to highlight other portions of the article and the sensibilities of those who may react to what can be seen as something halfway to being a credible idea within the coarse and fatuous promotional flyer of an improvised tour operator, or as an insult to the people which has built and upholds with sacrifice, patience and incredible everyday nobility the rest –and more– of what’s described in the article; but can never be seen as an argument to explain what Cuba is and what the mystery of its rebelliousness might be.

I don’t know either if they will give us a moralizing and stern speech early in the morning, or at noon, as it happens at times, or if they will keep quiet in their social media profiles, waiting for the next opportunity to demand the full weight of the Law falls on criminals, or on anyone left without a drop of power while they see that very Law being trampled and mocked once and again as in an atrocious spell, as an inexorable curse by those who do have power.

What I do know and frightens me isn’t the opinion of a scholar, ill-suited to our reality, yet coherent with the mirages caused by the formalities of protocol, or with the capacity of his own pocket. What alarms me is that there may exist –and ultimately become empowered among us– a new left, so obsessed and happy about the beauty of its things, that it can end up believing that we may mistake our poverty and prosperity –the Cuban qualities which may coexist in our struggles, failures and successes, in our dreams– with their vanities.

‘Welcome to the beauty!’, they seem to be saying without shame or humility to the hundreds of thousands of impoverished and lonely old people who can have lunch and dinner thanks to the protection guaranteed by the State, to the millions who anxiously stand in long lines for vile ground meat or rationed eggs, because that’s their fundamental and above all most democratic source of protein. For them, and for the majority, Cuba hasn’t been a ‘delight without end’, not before and not now, and that’s why our metaphorical David isn’t small.

If feel that, as a society, we are enthusiastically and flippantly entering –others may long be fully enjoying it already– a time of cynicism, in which reality would be conceived as a consumer product, so that those who cannot really escape it may get to do so.

We are in dire need that once again the heroes of good may rise from among us; the heroes of decency and honesty, those that the other Cuba, the one made up by the great people, encourages with the injustices that befall it, and when the small people are at their most arrogant.

We must take note of the dangerous ethical decline that’s taking place, of the political and social conservatism which now emerges connected to economic power, or with the hidden and shameful desire for power, in order to prosper and make rich through our misfortunes. We must understand the deep roots and the expansion of the culture, the values and the practices of that successful fringe, and of the way in which they have infiltrated our institutions and managed, for now, to corner ethics and civic responsibility.

Of that ethical decline, of those sustained exercises of opportunism and cowardice, profitable and exploited by them, we shall expect the worst evils. But we must never forget that the beggars table is also political, as dignity is virtue.

(Translated from the original)