Bad old days
The country Cubans are an earthy and volatile people, but they seem to be extremely polite. They smile when you ask them the way. They like to show the stranger small courtesies and listen with grave attention. The Fernandez was not put out when I poked my head through their open door. There was no flurry of hairpinning or stifling children. In a moment we were there in our rocking-chairs, drinking our thick black coffee from flowered Japanese china, and recalling the bad days of Batista.
I see no reason to suppose that this household was uncharacteristic, and indeed all the country folk I have met seem to feel the same way about Castro. In Havana, some of the city Cubans, inspired partly by their priests, display signs of disillusion, and are just beginning to collate Fidelity with communism. In the countryside, though, where the revolution found its roots, Castro is still a demi-god. On the wall of the Fernandez parlour, there were a number of photographs. Some were of primed self-conscious girls in long satin dresses, some of the old patriarchs in straw hats, but dominating them all were two large and inescapable Cuban portraits. One was of Our Lord, the other of Fidel Castro.
The prime villain of the piece, who emerged from our talk as an unspeakable monster, was the army major who governed the place in the old days. During the civil war period, they told me, nobody was safe in Dayaniguas. The slightest sign of sympathy with Castro, and you have dragged away from home, imprisoned, tortured or killed – burnt alive, so some people say.
A matter of profit
Nobody dared go out after sunset or the roaming soldiers would pick you on suspicion and throw you into prison. Most families, to hear Fernandez talk, lost relatives in this way. The tyrant major’s word was law, subject only to the influence of American profiteers upon the lackey Government in Havana. It was a matter of profit, said Fernandez – somebody else’s profit, in somebody else’s country.
I do not doubt that a lot of such country people has been improved by the revolution. There is a serious effort to diversify crops, avoiding the long period of unemployment that used to follow the sugar season. Rents have been greatly reduced, absentee landlords have lost their sinecures, the great estates have been redistributed. None of these folk talked to me about bullying or regimentation. For the moment they believe literally everything that Fidel Castro tells them, and they adore him with an intensity that really does have a streak of Lourdes or Fatima to it.
For a long time to come, I think, he and his advisers will be able to manipulate these country Cubans as he wishes. Their vision is limited to black and white, and they scarcely know what red looks like.
This report of the effect of the revolution on rural Cubans appeared in the Guardian on July 23, 1960.