viernes, 31 de mayo de 2019


The first president of Revolutionary Cuba after the military takeover of January 1, 1959, was not Fidel Castro Ruz (1926-2006) but Manuel Urrutia Lleó (1901-1981). Like Castro, Urrutia was a lawyer. They both belonged to wealthy white families. Urrutia was also a leading public figure in the civil resistance against Fulgencio Batista´s unconstitutional regime (1952-1958), becoming a key international actor in successfully lobbying for the United States of America to halt the weapons shipments to Batista´s armed forces and repressive police.
A few months after taking office, on July 17, 1959, Urrutia was forced to resign and eventually he had to seek asylum in the embassies of Venezuela and Mexico in Havana, until a couple of years later he was allowed to leave for exile. His defenestration occurred in the middle of accusations of treason by Castro, and growing political pressure and physical threats against him in a climate of mob outrage.
Urrutia had been denunciating the communist infiltration in Cuba at all levels of the Revolutionary Government, in a time when Castro still denied this fact, in order to consolidate his personalist rule and finally impose a lifelong non-democratic system backed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In his 1964 memoires Fidel Castro & Company, Inc.,[1] Urrutia is the first Cuban author to mention the notion that in 1981 was to be coined by Paul Hollander as “political pilgrims.” This Hungarian exile, who became a renowned university professor in the U.S., knew of Urrutia´s book and, shortly before passing away in April 2019, he kindly donated to me his personal copy of Fidel Castro & Company, Inc., which I now treasure.
With his notion of pilgrims to an apparent paradise, Urrutia refers to “political figures, writers, and journalists” who “began coming to Cuba to appraise the Revolution on the basis of tourist criteria.” He asserts that “almost all of them were fellow-travelers or such unscrupulous persons as those described by Mao Tse-tung as ideal for shameful and profitable Communist intrigues”. For him, said “tourists were ingenuous or ready to deceive their countrymen regarding the true character of Castro´s government, earning for themselves by so doing prestige as ´progressives,´ in Communist terminology.” To them, Urrutia recommends to “reflect on the lessons derived from the fate of those democrats in Cuba who did not react early enough to Castro´s Communist dictatorship, or were his collaborators,” like in his own case. (82)
In the Prologue of his book, written in May 1961, while the revolutionary former president was residing in foreign embassies, Urrutia “cannot refrain from publicly reproaching those political tourists who, after a short trip to Cuba, irresponsibly eulogize the deeds of Castro and his henchmen,” (x) whether such “fellow travelers,” “friends of the people,” or “lovers of peace” do it because they “have been blinded by their prejudices or, even worse, persuaded by motives they cannot admit or by the urge to appear ´progressive´ and gain political advantage through deceiving their fellow citizens about Castro and the Communists” (xi).
Urrutia launches a number of claims to them, which I prefer to quote in extenso (x, xi, xii):
“Did they not notice that the entire Cuban press obeys the same master; that in the press not a single criticism of the government appears; that its attitudes exhibit rare unanimity; and that this singular unanimity is always favorable to Russia and its bloc, and hostile to the countries of the free world? Did this not make them suspect that the directives for the entire Cuban press come from afar and not from the free world? Did they not notice this same strange unison within the leadership of every labor, professional, and student organization? Do they lack the courage to seek the truth honorably in Cuba and convey it to their own countrymen, the desire to warn of the danger from the ´fearful antagonist´ that has sunk its poisonous fangs in my Fatherland?”
“How can they judge whether people really support Castro, if he himself cannot be certain, governing in the dark as he does, without the light of frank opinions.”
“Did it never come to the tourists´ notice that Castro has made private life public and vice versa? In Cuba, the intervention of Castro´s bands into the home knows no bounds, nor does the impenetrable secrecy of public life. They could easily have perceived that the so-called improvement of the Cuban working class has led it to a situation very similar to that of a yoked ox, which can avoid the painful pricks only as long as it works at the pace its master sets.” 
“Perhaps the worst aspect of the political tourists´ attitude […] is what is implied about them in their indifference to the sufferings and slavery of our valiant and generous people; their indifference to the liquidation of everyone who opposes Castro in active rebellion―the only possible alternative in today´s Cuba, since the government has eliminated all peaceful means of fighting Castro or even of pointing out his errors and enormities.”
Urrutia´s words could be reminiscent of the 1975 essay Fascinating Fascism, included in the book Under the Sign of Saturn,[2] by the American writer and social activist Susan Sontag (1933–2004), who explores how and why “there is a general fascination among the young with horror, with the irrational” and “the definitely sexual lure of fascism” (101).
Sontag mentions the novel Funeral Rites by Jean Genet (1910-1986) as “one of the first texts that showed the erotic allure fascism exercised on someone who was not a fascist” (103). And she also refers to the novel Troubled Sleep, where another contemporary French intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) “describes one of his protagonists experiencing the entry of the German army into Paris in 1940” in these terms: “An unbearable, delicious sensation spread through his body; he could hardly see properly; he repeated, gasping, ´As if it were butter―they´re entering Paris as if it were butter…´ He would like to have been a woman to throw them flowers.” (103)
For Sontag, fascist tendencies do not stand “only for brutishness and terror,” but also “for an ideal or rather ideals that are persistent today under the other banners: the ideal of life as art, the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders)” (96).
For her, “these ideals are vivid and moving to many people.” This could be one of the reasons why the so-called totalitarian temptation[3] is at least esthetically effective nowadays, since “their longings are still felt” and “their content is a romantic ideal to which many continue to be attached,” but expressed in “diverse modes of cultural dissidence and propaganda for new forms of community.” Such “exaltation of community,” according to Sontag, “does not preclude the search for absolute leadership; on the contrary, it may inevitably lead to it,” (96) given that, for younger generations, “it is fascism―the great conversation piece of their parents´ generation―which represents the exotic, the unknown.” (101)
This involves not only violence as such, but a “preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain,” comprising “two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude,” where “the relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force” (91).
What Sontag defines as “fascist dramaturgy,” is thus a paradoxical phenomenon that “centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets, uniformly garbed and shown in ever swelling numbers.” A sort of a spectacular―therefore, attractive―choreography that “alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, ´virile´ posing:” that is, it “glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death” (91).
Sontag mentions certain coincidences between the fascist and communist versions of a closed society: “features of fascist art proliferate in the official art of communist countries,” although in the latter “under the banner of realism,” while in the former is realism the one rejected “in the name of ´idealism.´” In both cases, “the tastes for the monumental and for mass obeisance to the hero are common,” hence “reflecting the view of all totalitarian regimes that art has the function of ´immortalizing´ its leaders and doctrines” (91). In both, “masses are made to take form, be design,” in “a choreographed display of bodies” which implies “the holding in or confining of force; military precision,” as well as the “physical perfection” embodied by “pinups which are both sanctimoniously asexual and (in a technical sense) pornographic, for they have the perfection of a fantasy.” This “utopian morality” of “both fascist and communist politics,” requires that “the will is staged publicly, in the drama of the leader and the chorus” (92).
The early ideological affiliations of Fidel Castro included the cult of historical conquerors and caudillos. In this respect, it is noticeable that the end of his plea of judicial self-defense after the failed assault of Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba (July 1953), “Condemn me, it does not matter: History will absolve me,”[4] echoes Adolf Hitler´s final statement, written while the young German National Socialist leader was in prison after his failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich (November, 1923): “The judges of this State may quietly condemn us for our actions at that time, yet History, as the goddess of a higher truth and a better law, will tear up this verdict with a smile, to absolve us all from guilt and fault.”[5]
Regardless of Urrutia´s warnings, given the world context of decolonization, national liberation movements, and Cold War, the Cuban Revolution back then and until today was to be assumed a priori by many foreigners as an alternative society to the American establishment of representative democracy and free market economy.

[1] Urrutia Lleó, Manuel. Fidel Castro & Company, Inc. Communist Tyranny in Cuba. New York, London: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964.

[2] Sontag, Susan. Fascinating Fascism. In: Under the Sign of Saturn. New York: Vintage Books, 1981. 73-105.

[3] Revel, Jean-François. The totalitarian temptation. (Translated by David Hapgood.) Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.

[4] Castro, Fidel. History Will Absolve Me. The Moncada Trial Defence Speech. Santiago de Cuba, October 16th, 1953. London: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1969.
  Original in Spanish: “Condenadme, no importa: la historia me absolverá.”

[5] Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger G.m.b.H., 1925 and 1927.
  Original in German: “Die Richter dieses Staates mögen uns ruhig ob unseres damaligen Handelns verurteilen, die Geschichte als Göttin einer höheren Wahrheit und eines besseren Rechtes, sie wird dennoch dereinst dieses Urteil lächelnd zerreißen, um uns alle freizusprechen von Schuld und Fehle.”