By Luis Leonel León
The year 1959 marks not the beginning, as it is said, of the deepest and longest misfortune of the Cubans, but the victory of the revolutionary yearning, that other real wars and repeated revolts, had begun much earlier. 1959 was the end of our short-lived republic. Since then, we Cubans have no country. Only a fight against the demons of an incomplete, wounded, fragmented, illusory, non-existent nationality. And an imagined nationality, as Manuel Gayol Mecías warns in his recent book, titled 1959 (Neo Club Ediciones-Palabra Abierta Ediciones).
It took him 10 years took him to write this essay, whose title could be no other. 1959 is a year that marks the Cubans. It is not a matter of history: even 6 decades later, it’s a reality. A frightening reality, intensely flawed, that assaults our senses with its absolute brazenness and sociological perversity. And although our spirit refuses to believe it, or even to accept it, there are not a few times when, both inside and outside the island, we feel that this ghostly epilogue that seems to us to live – to live despite dying all the time – could again portend hope, despair, and imagination. The yin and yang of our lost attempts. Our agenda for change has not born fruit. That’s what we’ve been doing since 1959.
Gayol Mecías knows it. Therefore, between the sword and the wall, between certainty and uncertainty, he has written this long list of the trials and tribulations of the modern Cuban. He discusses our existence as a nation, how we have been seen and imagined, with successes and mistakes. It exposes what has happened to that imagery, which socialist realism has transformed into a representation the size of the island, where even without the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, for the majority, between myths and realities, it is almost impossible to escape . An island that seems to float, but does not go anywhere. An illusion, disguised as a country.
With a language where essay and poetry converge, Gayol Mecías brings his vision of what we are, what we have been and, to a large extent, what we Cubans have not been able to achieve. Between dreams and deeds, blood and carnivals, prisons and exoduses, risks and surrenders, truths and lies: in this book, reflecting on our history, once again it is possible to examine our deficiencies, and defects, to which the author devotes a good portion of the book. Gayol Mecías wrote that he understood that “the fact of analyzing our shortcomings, while I speak to the barefoot Cuban, was (and is) the best favor we can do for ourselves.”
He confesses: “For about ten years, I have been thinking about how difficult it is to address this issue, since I have been convinced that our first objective is to find and define what our defects are, and the main connotations that make a fairer image of ourselves, because in some way, the image signifies the meaning of what we must be.”
Thoughts, bibliography, facts, contexts, concepts, metaphors, memories: they are collected here by a Cuban who does not live in Cuba, but who, like two million others (although certainly not with the same intensity and insight), has not stopped living in an imagined Cuba, however brutal his nostalgia may be. For the arsenal of yearnings, speaking of Cuba, is easy to perceive, to imagine. Several of his possible images, with the poetic lens of Lezama Lima, and with the pedagogical concern of its author, are portrayed, persecuted, reinvented in an essay, which he does not want to put an end to. Its objective is atavistic and inexcusable: “To know where we come from, who we are, and where we are going.”
With 1959, Gayol Mecías wants to contribute his findings to the images of disarmed Cuba. He knows that our nation is flooded with “gaps of forgetfulness”, and, therefore, his book is also a way to prevent forgetting: to create and rescue words, possible images, against six decades of forgetting.
The “mirage of the Revolution”, that is, its insubstantial, but at the same time powerful tropology, is a cardinal image in this book. “Political myths are creators of images and these images, interrelated, give rise to mirages,” says Gayol Mecías, who rehearses what he considers the five foundational myths of the Castro Revolution: the “Robin Hood”, the “Island of the Utopia “,” David versus Goliath “, the “Island Blockaded by the Empire “and the “Invincible Commander in Chief.” He also mentions other myths that sustain the socialist autocracy, coming from the speeches of Fidel Castro: “Genius is in the masses. Genius is massive”; “Homeland or death, we’ll win”; “We owe to socialism everything we are today”; “There is no one to stop the Revolution”; “All our action is a war cry against imperialism”; “We are going to create wealth with conscience and not conscience with wealth”, among others.
Pre-1959 Cuba is one of the historical pains and realities which Gayol Mecías considers; formerly, his nation. Now, it is vilified by a propaganda that has helped to perpetuate chaos and misery on the island.
“Cuba has not been a shining example during the Castro dictatorship, but instead has been a devastating avalanche of impoverishment and has demonstrably worsened since 1959. If Cuba was an example to imitate for other countries, in terms of quality of life, it was before 1959. The alleged Cuban Revolution has always been self-proclaimed, since its inception…when in fact it has been the opposite, as I have said, even though the publicity of the left has helped to project its myth in a very sinister way…since 1959, its status has been reversed and the island has become a benchmark for poverty in every sense,” says the author of The Darkness of God and Inverse Journey to the Kingdom of Imago, among other titles.
Of that Cuba, remembers the essayist: “It was a reference in as much as it was example to imitate for having been synthesis of the possibilities on this continent, as Fernando Ortiz had already verified, and, in another sense, to point out that Cuba was a model of “transculturation” – and transculturation turned out to be, in turn, a range of possibilities due to the rapidity of mixing races on the island, and because Cuban people in the 1950s already had an excellent assimilation of business methodology and technology of everything that entered the country, mainly from the United States. Until in 1959 the debacle began.”
Gayol Mecías is a poet. Therefore, even in the face of the petrified horror that marches through his nation in a sad herd, he has preferred to talk about images. He could not refrain from dedicating, with a carefully-cultivated patience of 10 years, chapters to images such as the ajiaco of the genes, the utopia of the imperfection, the jokes with imagination, the insular prostitution, the mockery, the survival, the pachanga, the tears, the relaxation, the frustrated imagination and the power games, and other tropes that accompany us as Cubans, with imposing presence, especially since 1959.
We are talking about a book that manifests deep love for Cuba. That refuses to allow the images built by revolutionary propaganda to completely suppress the almost erased pre-1959 history, and much of what today is fermented and burned in the boilers of socialist realism. 1959 does not present Cuba as the lonely solitary island of the foggy 1960s. It goes through its impact in Latin America, with the Cuban satellites of the so-called Socialism of the 21st century, which is nothing more than the new makeup of the left-wing dictatorships in Latin America, with Castroism as the head of the octopus: that pseudo-intellectual stratagem to disguise narco-states and justify the imposition of violence, demagogy, terror, and spiritual misery.
There is much more in the 400 pages of 1959: Cuba, being diverse and the imagined island. I think that anyone who is interested in Cuba, will be struck by this book by Gayol Mecías. A Cuban who has dared, once again, not only to talk about the Cubans – this is not news – but, above all, to think about the Cubans. Which is always a risk.
(Words of presentation of the book “1959” at the X Festival Vista de Miami, on December 15, 2018).