Reflections on Freedom and Death

It is a quiet Sunday morning, and I am reading History Will Absolve Me, my second reading in 20 years of Fidel Castro's speech to the court that sentenced him to 26 prison years for the attack of Cuban patriots on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953 to overthrow the corrupt Batista dictatorship. The words reach out over the years to resound in my brain because many seem to apply to economic, cultural, and social conditions of the people of the United States today.

I un-muted the TV to see Meet the Press. Ho hum, Gov. Rick Perry again, sounding like G.W. Bush, stumbling over his prepared remarks, refusing to admit that Texas has enough poor people to sink the Titanic, refusing to admit that unemployment is down and the economy is better (I wonder how many oil profits he banked) and generally proving that he is prime presidential material (NOT).

And then comes a discussion of the Benghazi attack. Another yawn. Please have a discussion of building n stilts along the coasts and a massive construction of dikes (I almost wrote "dykes") in all coastal areas. We are sitting on our butts waiting for another Katrina to hit New Jersey. Dikes, please. Save Brooklyn. Save the East Coast.

Dykes for Dikes, please have a meeting.

The Benghazi Media Fanatics are nagging the wrong officials. Instead of questioning Democrats they should be asking CIA. Ha, ha, I'm joking.

Here's Fidel telling the court what would have happened if one of his units had been in the right place at the right time:

As soon as Santiago de Cuba was in our hands we would immediately have readied the people of Oriente for war. Bayamo was attacked precisely to locate our advance forces along the Cauto River. Never forget that this province, which has a million and a half inhabitants today, is the most rebellious and patriotic in Cuba. It was this province that sparked the fight for independence for thirty years and paid the highest price in blood, sacrifice and heroism. In Oriente you can still breathe the air of that glorious epic. At dawn, when the cocks crow as if they were bugles calling soldiers to reveille, and when the sun rises radiant over the rugged mountains, it seems that once again we will live the days of Yara or Baire!
I stated that the second consideration on which we based our chances for success was one of social order. Why were we sure of the people's support? When we speak of the people we are not talking about those who live in comfort, the conservative elements of the nation, who welcome any repressive regime, any dictatorship, any despotism, prostrating themselves before the masters of the moment until they grind their foreheads into the ground. When we speak of struggle and we mention the people we mean the vast unredeemed masses, those to whom everyone makes promises and who are deceived by all; we mean the people who yearn for a better, more dignified and more just nation; who are moved by ancestral aspirations to justice, for they have suffered injustice and mockery generation after generation; those who long for great and wise changes in all aspects of their life; people who, to attain those changes, are ready to give even the very last breath they have when they believe in something or in someone, especially when they believe in themselves. The first condition of sincerity and good faith in any endeavor is to do precisely what nobody else ever does, that is, to speak with absolute clarity, without fear. The demagogues and professional politicians who manage to perform the miracle of being right about everything and of pleasing everyone are, necessarily, deceiving everyone about everything. The revolutionaries must proclaim their ideas courageously, define their principles and express their intentions so that no one is deceived, neither friend nor foe.

In terms of struggle, when we talk about people we're talking about the six hundred thousand Cubans without work, who want to earn their daily bread honestly without having to emigrate from their homeland in search of a livelihood; the five hundred thousand farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, who work four months of the year and starve the rest, sharing their misery with their children, who don't have an inch of land to till and whose existence would move any heart not made of stone; the four hundred thousand industrial workers and laborers whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose benefits are being taken away, whose homes are wretched quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender, whose future is a pay reduction and dismissal, whose life is endless work and whose only rest is the tomb; the one hundred thousand small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs, looking at it with the sadness of Moses gazing at the promised land, to die without ever owning it, who like feudal serfs have to pay for the use of their parcel of land by giving up a portion of its produce, who cannot love it, improve it, beautify it nor plant a cedar or an orange tree on it because they never know when a sheriff will come with the rural guard to evict them from it; the thirty thousand teachers and professors who are so devoted, dedicated and so necessary to the better destiny of future generations and who are so badly treated and paid; the twenty thousand small business men weighed down by debts, ruined by the crisis and harangued by a plague of grafting and venal officials; the ten thousand young professional people: doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, dentists, pharmacists, newspapermen, painters, sculptors, etc., who finish school with their degrees anxious to work and full of hope, only to find themselves at a dead end, all doors closed to them, and where no ears hear their clamor or supplication. These are the people, the ones who know misfortune and, therefore, are capable of fighting with limitless courage! To these people whose desperate roads through life have been paved with the bricks of betrayal and false promises, we were not going to say: 'We will give you ...' but rather: 'Here it is, now fight for it with everything you have, so that liberty and happiness may be yours!"

And here is Fidel talking about soldiers:

It was never our intention to engage the soldiers of the regiment in combat. We wanted to seize control of them and their weapons in a surprise attack, arouse the people and call the soldiers to abandon the odious flag of the tyranny and to embrace the banner of freedom; to defend the supreme interests of the nation and not the petty interests of a small clique; to turn their guns around and fire on the people's enemies and not on the people, among whom are their own sons and fathers; to unite with the people as the brothers that they are instead of opposing the people as the enemies the government tries to make of them; to march behind the only beautiful ideal worthy of sacrificing one's life - the greatness and happiness of one's country. To those who doubt that many soldiers would have followed us, I ask: What Cuban does not cherish glory? What heart is not set aflame by the promise of freedom?

The Navy did not fight against us, and it would undoubtedly have come over to our side later on. It is well known that that branch of the Armed Forces is the least dominated by the Dictatorship and that there is a very intense civic conscience among its members. But, as to the rest of the national armed forces, would they have fought against a people in revolt? I declare that they would not! A soldier is made of flesh and blood; he thinks, observes, feels. He is susceptible to the opinions, beliefs, sympathies and antipathies of the people. If you ask his opinion, he may tell you he cannot express it; but that does not mean he has no opinion. He is affected by exactly the same problems that affect other citizens - subsistence, rent, the education of his children, their future, etc. Everything of this kind is an inevitable point of contact between him and the people and everything of this kind relates him to the present and future situation of the society in which he lives. It is foolish to imagine that the salary a soldier receives from the State - a modest enough salary at that - should resolve the vital problems imposed on him by his needs, duties and feelings as a member of his community.

Not much to say. My new life proceeds at an extraordinary library-sized table I bought for a mere 40 bucks, with a fine HP laptop I bought for $87 in a pawn shop and tweaked up to speed after a free laptop committed suicide by frying a motherboard video processor, enjoying high-speed cable broadband, bills paid for a month but broker than I have ever been since unable to work, lazily reading now and then, not much interested in writing any more than the million-plus words I've already written (and junked); my new life is relatively stress-free and pleasant. Old memories are fading or stored in the inactive file, and I am feeling no obligation to anyone or any ideology, doctrine, religion, philosophy, or current or past political correctness. Just sitting here with creeping spinal arthritis and taking my regular pain pills, sleeping whenever I feel like it, and waiting curiously to die, accepting it, even looking forward to it. Except for lifelong habit of waking thinking about something I must write, I have little ambition to write. I'd rather play with paint sample chips on the counter top. 

I wish I could work at manual labor like I did all my life but I can no longer jump over tall buildings or run faster than a speeding bullet.

Hot, hot baths in the morning, barefoot all day, shorts and no shirt, drinking coffee, eating yogurt and strawberry banana breakfasts, and cheese sandwiches &soup lunches, Dylan or Lennon or Clapton or Zappa or Mozart, all at my fingertips. I'm cruising on the boneyard express.

It occurs that I feel much like I did when, in a revulsion of mental pain, I embarked with my thumb and 20 bucks from my boyhood home in Louisiana in 1957, striking out for California at midnight, catching a ride in a tractor-trailer and bumping over old Highway 90 between Houston and San Antonio, with windy clouds sailing through the dark oceanic sky, driver imparting his life's learned wisdom, my feet on the metal dashboard, and thinking, I never have to go back there again.

I feel that free now so I assert that I have achieved what I set out to achieve--freedom--despite the trail of burnt bridges, $13.000 below the poverty level, and the encyclopedia of mistakes and misunderstandings in my wake. I have achieved nothing greater than this.

And my mind is free to think fantastical notions: Why can't we design and build airplanes with wings like eagles? Surely with new high-strength materials and the computational skills of modern physics we could. Build high-flying jets not polluting the atmosphere, sailboats of the sky; aerial clipper ships; and planes that fly like bats. And helicopters with double-dragonfly wings, and personal air cars propelled gently like butterflies, to collide harmlessly and alight in driveways or parking lots with the accuracy of migrating ducks.


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