The dire situation in the wake of Irma on Cuba is enough to give anyone born on the island chills.
Havana, a city that has been worn down by decades of neglect, with its cracked sidewalks and unmaintained vegetation, its half-century old potholes, and houses that only miraculously remain standing, is now burdened with more debris, its leafy trees ripped up from their roots, its blocks strewn with waste.
The government's reaction to the disaster and the population's sagging morale, in addition to a media onslaught celebrating the purportedly prompt restoration work undertaken and, as always, the people's alleged gratitude, were jeeps full of black berets.
How can we not remember a painter friend, who, citing the slogan with which we grew up - "Study, work, rifle" - wondered where in our national life there was any place for art, entertainment or leisure.
For a people devastated by nature, and saddened, there are no groups giving away donations, and much less for free. There are no charitable operations or messages of consolation. There is no cheer sparked by means of official actions giving the people hope.
No. The answer to misfortune is more control, more rigidity, more orthopedics. Under the pretext that the soldiers are there to prevent the looting of State (i.e. their) property, they arrive with more threats than the hurricane, and remind us that the prospect of a war always looms over us.
One of the gravest faults of Communism is its erroneous view of human existence. The militarization of thought, the rigidity of policies founded on fear (by those inducing it and those in whom it has already been induced), the exaltation of martyrdom ... it is just like the vision once harbored by Christianity and the once discredited and maligned Catholic Church.
Apparently they believe that an objective concern for the people, material support for the victims (aid that does not chain them through tacit agreements of dependence), the open acceptance of international cooperation in response to an exceptional situation, the transparent and equitable distribution of donations, would not be capable of spontaneously generating confidence, cooperation and even political loyalty.
Fidel Castrowon hearts with cunning demonstrations of kindness, histrionic performances where a few benefited very publicly, and he was always the redemptive Messiah, the receiver of ecstatic stares and applause.
The Cuban people, quick to both laugh and cry, would have given him their whole souls, and innocently, if he had been an authentic and noble guide. Had he respected history, a diversity of thought, and the human need for prosperity and freedom. If he had built up the country, instead of demolishing it. If he had developed its natural wealth, its fields, its species, and that ineffable mystery that is the human spirit.
The result would have been a nation, not an aesthetic and ethical catastrophe. Watching the videos of Irma ravaging Havana, and Miami, the contrast offered by the two cities, battered by terrifying winds, was stark and overwhelming. Someone once said that Miami is Cuba as its people imagine it could be, rendered a reality, just 90 miles away.
What decades of bombastic speeches, promises and justifications cannot do, regardless of the crowds assembled to witness them, is to change the tangible universe.
The Miami skyscrapers clash with the silhouette of Havana, rebuilt piecemeal in response to State interests, despite the efforts of its downtrodden self-employed (enjoying only intermittent autonomy), who have restored locales and opened businesses that provide some respite from the gloom, but also accentuate the surrounding ruin.
Even in the videos of the post-hurricane protests, amidst the broken-down, ramshackle houses, the Cubans look poorly dressed, coarse and debased.
Poor country, poor city, and poor people who defy the implanted and inbred paranoia to cry out for the bare minimum that still qualifies Cuba as a civilized society in a world dominated by technological progress: electricity and water in its houses.
Like after the Maleconazo, the response to popular discontent, and, in some cases, to indigence, is a martial reminder of the danger that subversion entails.
The only silver lining is to note that, for this people of foiled dreams, mirages no longer convince, nor do they suffice. The decadence is too palpable, and too bitter. Too uncomfortable. The time is coming when they will have to see to believe.