It was very early, the circles under the speaker’s eyes could be seen like two dark wounds, and the sun was not yet too punishing in Maximo Gomez Plaza. On soft seats, a small group witnessed live the 26th of July event in Ciego de Avila province. Meanwhile, the rest of those in the Plaza sat on plastic chairs or were simply left standing. From this side of the screen, we few viewers awake at that hour made an effort not to go back to sleep. The event was so boring and so predictable in its structure that at times it seemed like a rebroadcast from the previous year. Not even a spontaneous breeze moved the hair of the attendees. Even the fly on the face of the orator that took a fancy to the camera, looked unreal.
But the greatest monotony came with the words of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. An hour after having heard them, it was difficult to remember what had been said by this grayest of all vice presidents, the most dogmatic of the orthodox. During the scheduled pauses in the speech someone shouted a slogan which was then repeated by the crowd. The applause heard was also conveniently administered, without unauthorized outbreaks, with no fits and starts. Enormous credentials hung from the necks of those who enjoyed the chairs, giving the lie, with such an excess of paper and plastic, to the calls from the podium for efficiency and putting an end to the bureaucracy.
In a moment that must have been the end, though it could just as well have been a break in the script, Raul Castro left without having directed a single word to the crowd. He rose from his chair and walked away, followed closely by a loyal bodyguard who has more of a role on TV than some ministers. The Plaza quickly began to empty out, as the speaker tried to close with certain slogans that once moved passions. “And this is all that’s left?” I thought, with sorrow for others. With this exhausted choreography they thought to move passions? I turned off the TV in the middle of a phrase and went back to sleep. Outside the sun was warming the balconies, drying up the puddles, revealing the cracks.
Translator’s note: The 26th of July was the date of the failed 1953 attack by Fidel Castro and others on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, and was taken as the name of his movement. It is celebrated annually in Cuba.