A Point of View © 1996
Paris to Havana two hundred thirty two years later.
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA.
On July 14, 1789, the Bastille, a fortress used to hold political prisoners in Paris, was stormed by rebellious crowds and started the French Revolution. On July 14, 2021, a Cuban political fortress that’s as long and wide as that Caribbean island, was suddenly overtaken by crowds yelling “Fatherland and Life,” a new slogan that was more optimistic than the tired official words of “Fatherland or Death.”
The French Revolution was influenced and inspired by the new ideas of the “Enlightenment” of the American Revolution considered the starting point of the Age of Revolution. While it’s true that the local conditions that triggered the French Revolution were French and not American, the reality is that the American experience with its own Independence dreams became an example followed closely by the French.
No human experience takes place in a vacuum, certainly not in an isolated Petri dish. We are the product of evolution, social or biological, many cases unaware of where we come from. All we can do is to try to figure out the how and predict where we may end up based on where we’ve been, not an easy proposition.
The violent demonstrations we have witnessed or heard of in Cuba recently, may have been surprising, perhaps even unexpected, but certainly not unreasonable given the history of that country for the past sixty years or so. Life in that communist “paradise” is a constant spewing of lies or rationalizations about individual or collective failure. Things fail over there, people don’t. A rebellion that began as an uprising of dispossessed illiterate peasants in the nineteen fifties ended as one of dispossessed literate citizens of the 21st century.
You can only keep the eyes of a population closed for a while; most people prefer to have them open all the time or they can’t see where they are going and will trip. The phrase “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time” has been attributed rightly or wrongly to Abraham Lincoln, but attribution is not what makes it right, it’s the words themselves. The “Enlightenment” was a movement against the domination of ideas who tried to obscure reality, religious or otherwise and eventually caught up with humanity.
Most insurrections begin on the assumption of criminality against its opponents. The French revolutionaries opposed the monarch rulers of the time, the inequality between the rich and the poor, the inability of the bourgeoisie to share political power. The Cuban revolution was in certain ways no different. On July 26, 1953, the first bullets were shot at the Moncada military barracks on Santiago de Cuba in an attempt to dislodge the dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista, the President.
This month, in a couple of weeks, the current Cuban government will attempt again to celebrate another anniversary of that Moncada incursion that eventually ended with victory and where the populace will attempt to reconcile what happened this July 14 with that July 26 incident.
The recent demonstrations were not only well attended, but also widespread. The participants were not the former white elites that had fled to Miami for the past sixty years in search of the freedom and prosperity they had enjoyed and had lost, but a majority of black citizens who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the new society. When the fanatical mobs summoned by the scared authorities ended their attacks and persecutions against the protesters went home, they went to bed wondering what had taken place that day and what had happened in their secured lives, waking up facing a new day that would never be the same way things were.
Nothing was the same after the French Revolution of July 14, 1789. Nothing will be the same after the Cuban revulsion of July 14, 2021 against communism. No one knew then what would become of France after the Bastille fell. No one knows now what will become of Cuba after the appearance of normalcy fell in front of its current government leaders’ eyes, but we have an idea.
And that is my point of view today.