A July 26th to forget

The 26th of July commemorates the failed 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks that marked the beginning of the revolutionary movement. Each year, a massive rally takes place on July 26th, where millions of Cubans come to listen to political leaders discuss the state of the nation. This year, for the first time in revolutionary history, Cuba’s president did not speak.

With Fidel Castro suddenly on the move in Havana, making public appearances day after day, many suspected that he would speak and Raúl would retire to his old position in the background. But Fidel didn’t show. And Raúl gave no speech. The news kind of made me laugh. Last year, I was in the Cuban city of Trinidad on July 26th, taking a few days off and staying at Hotel Ancon, a hulking, Soviet-style mass of concrete on the south coast of the island. My significant other, who is from Argentina and shares in his country’s common wonderment about the Cuban revolution, was eager to watch Raúl’s speech.

But we couldn’t find it on television. We walked down to ask the concierge. “You missed it. It was at eight,” the woman behind the counter told us. I asked if she thought they’d re-televise it later that day. “They may,” she said. She shrugged and returned to her paperwork. We would have to experience revolutionary fervor some other day. After twenty more minutes of fruitless channel surfing, we went to the beach. On the 50th anniversary of the 26th of July movement, Cubans in Trinidad  were out on the beach, sun bathing, listening to music, and hawking fresh bananas. It was a holiday weekend, after all.

We later read (on the BBC website) that Raúl’s speech had been a short, sobering discussion of the nation’s economic woes, and the difficult road that he saw ahead. If he had instead recounted the many triumphs of the revolution, the island’s struggle against US imperialism, and Cuba’s status as a “medical power,” would the speech have been more widely broadcast? Who knows. As for this year, the lack of a speech by either Castro is puzzling, but it may have something to do with the release of the prisoners. The world is watching, and some are wondering if the government has turned a new leaf. I don’t think it has–if anything, Fidel’s recent public appearances were intended to remind the world (and Cubans) that despite the release of the political prisoners, el comandante is still very much a part of the picture (even if he’s not in good enough shape to give a speech.) What this says about the state of the nation, or Cuba’s government, is uncertain. We can speculate all we want. Or we can wait and see what happens, and in the meantime, go to the beach.

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