Reports and Comment: Cuba

Castro commits Cuba to an agricultural future

"What remains to be done now is to name this year. What do you think? If you agree with it, we shall hereby baptize this year as the Year of the Decisive Effort, and this year will be eighteen months long. The next New Year we will probably celebrate on the first of July, 1970." Fidel Castro was speaking to about one million people--or one Cuban in eight--who came to the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana on January 2 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. For months a single message had been urged, on the radio, in the newspapers, on each billboard in the city: "Everyone! To the Plaza with Fidel! The 2nd of January 1969! Viva El X Aniversario!" They had come by bus and by boat, and they waited all night in the shelter of a wall on which was inscribed an immense and multicolored promise: the Road of Communism is to create Riches with Conscience. At dawn, the invited guests came through the crowd to their seats in the Tribuna, a concrete balcony at Fidel's feet. Foreigners, journalists, the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister. The crew of the Cuban fishing boat seized in October off Venezuela. The Moncada Brigade of the best workers from each factory and farm, with honorable red-and-black flags. Fidel spoke at 10 A.M., for 130 minutes, with rain clouds overhead.

"We have not yet graduated as revolutionaries," he said through the Japanese earphones that were given to foreign visitors for simultaneous translation into a sort of comic-book Miami American. "We have no university diploma. But we have graduated from the primary school of revolution. We are now going into the junior high school of revolution. After ten years another ten years begin."

"We did not know the geography"

In the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, the old Cuba died; in the second, it is to be born again, to grow again like sugar in a field. The unspoken dialectic of Fidel's speech places nationalism and revolution side by side, and synthesizes them, through agricultural development, in the Cuban earth. Castro's language is heavy with an accretion of detail and anecdote, sounding at times like the Georgics of Virgil. "Once droughts have been overcome," he began, "once hurricanes have been coped with through the proper protection of crops; once plagues are eliminated and undergrowth cleared . . ." After ten years of stumbling progress, the country has experienced bitter deprivation. In Havana, strict rationing is now in effect; even the hours to be spent waiting in line for food are rationed. Yet the path of revolutionary development now seems determined. Cuba is to be an agricultural community, the garden of the world.

"To tell the truth, at the beginning of the Revolution," said Fidel, “we did not even know the geography of Cuba--not even the geography! I would say, not even the landscape." To all revolutionary Cubans--and to the homesick diplomats, who tell one at the United Nations of the oysters in Havana and the hills of Las Villas Province--the great psychic achievement of the last ten years has been the rejection of foreign, or American, patterns of cultural and economic domination; the destruction of the Havana that was the Whorehouse of the West and of the colonially distorted Cuban economy. Cuba has identified itself unequivocally with the Latin-American Third World: it is an underdeveloped country with material problems like any another, "confronting underdevelopment, with no experience, in the conditions of today's world." In his speech, Fidel said of the economic blockade that "it makes us laugh, and it cannot be otherwise." Cuba’s children's toys come, westwards, from China; its bureaucrats joke that their ties are Swiss, their shoes Chinese, and their socks Czechoslovakian. Cuban economic development is no longer defined negatively in terms of "Yankee" and "Imperialist." The Revolution and the Nation and the Land are to develop as one and for the young Cuban ideologue the three have a mystical, sensual unity. Next year, 1970, will be the' Year of the Ten Millions; Cuba is supposed to produce ten million tons of cane. Fidel said in his speech that "the Ten Millions are a Debt of Honor to the Revolution."

Pounding and roaring

The frontier of the revolution is the frontier of agriculture. The most politically advanced settlements in the country are the new citrus plantations on the Isle of Pines, Treasure Island, where goods are allocated on the basis of need, and where the village matriarch told a visiting American journalist to go back to his own land and work for the revolution so that he too could give free candy to his children at the Feast of the Three Kings. (Candy, of course, is severely rationed in Cuba.) On the Isle of Pines, and increasingly across the country, it is the farmers and the food technicians who are the new elite. There was a delegation of hydraulic engineers from the Aswan Dam traveling with Major Faustino Perez, veteran of the Sierra Maestre, and Minister of Water; heroes of the Revolution. In the agricultural vanguard, as everywhere in Cuba, Fidel is personally dominating. "He always shows up when you don't expect him." He is obsessed with statistics: half a million cows are growing in this country; in the next decade agricultural land will increase from 9,880,000 acres to 16,500,000 acres; by 1970 Cuba's agricultural production will be approximately double what it was before January 1, 1959. "It is good to eat ice cream, it is nutritious and full of milk and cream, and besides it is made of sugar, it is a patriotic food."

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