On July 26, 1953, 26 year old Fidel Castro led a 158 armed men in an attack on, Cuba's military barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The object: take Fort Moncada and, like John Brown planned to do with the slaves, distribute the captured weapons to revolutionary Cubans who would rise up and overthrow the government of General Fulgencio Batista -- the man who usurped power in 1952, a man who had the support of the mob and the U.S. government. But when the attack finished, rebel bodies lay in the dust; Batista's thugs tortured others. The captured Castro faced trial before three Batista appointed judges. Speaking in his own defense at this Kangaroo Court, Castro presented his program: Independence and social justice. "Sentence me. It doesn't matter," he concluded. "History will absolve me."
Today, Cubans celebrate the 46th anniversary of Moncada. They have independence and a level of social justice, just as Castro pledged, but life for each Cuban I met last week "no es facil," (it's not easy). No es facil, the modern Cuban mantra, means more than having to overcome obstacles like getting enough food, getting to work or school -- forget on time -- or accomplishing anything once there. It's not easy to get medicine, fill a prescription for eyeglasses, or get parts for cars, computers, or air conditioners.
No es facil, said a 20 year old, to see my future. It's not easy for parents to see their kids' futures either -- no matter how smart or talented. Cuba has produced a surplus of doctors, engineers, artists, scientists.
It isn't easy to see your house eroding, your relationships souring along with the solidarity elan that characterized Cuban society. It's not easy to adapt to a dog-eat-dog mindset. It's not easy for dedicated revolutionaries to see their ideology, their investment in building a new society with new men and women fall into "plan limbo."
Limbo, a metaphor for daily life, squeezing ever lower under the limbo pole without succumbing to the force of economic gravity that pulls at most Cubans. Prostitution, corruption, the dollar economy -- all results of tourism and the collapse of Soviet socialism. They forced Cuba to adapt to the new world order, the ultimate totalitarian system.
It's not easy for Fidel, world record holder for disobedience to the world's biggest bully, which proves each day that it knows how to hold a grudge -- in the form of a pernicious embargo.
The teacher says "I have no chalk for the blackboard, no paper for the students to write on." The factory worker complains that she waits for the camel, the two humped bus pulled by a truck, squirming her way into a living sardine can.
In Cuba, smugglers collect fees from desperate people to take them illegally to the United States. In July, Cubans celebrate Fidel's Moncada attack and carnival. The Babalaos call on Ochun, Eleggua, Chango and Obatala to release their rhythms -- through the African drums and chants. For a few days Cubans will drink, dance and party -- and then again face their cruel reality. No es facil to be the last socialist country, an island at that, and cling to the gains of the revolution and those strands of principle that remain.
No es facil. It's not easy. But I don't see Fidel or most Cubans surrendering. So, the least we can do is work to get the damned embargo lifted.
Happy 26th of July companeros.