I am in Buenos Aires this week, visiting my significant other and our friends here. Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that resulted in Argentina’s six-year dictatorship, which is also known as the guerra sucia, or dirty war. Although none of these friends are old enough to remember the dictatorship, some see this date as a breaking point, as a moment where the possibility of a revolution or of some adoption of socialist ideals was snuffed out by Jorge Videla’s military regime. It comes as no surprise then that for many people in Argentina, as in much of Latin America, the Cuban Revolution remains a powerful idea. The revolution represents evidence of what could have been, if things had gone a different way.
Some of my friends here recognize that Cuba has its problems, but they believe that the benefits of the socialist system outweigh these. Others have a more idealistic understanding of what Cuba is today; they seem to imagine a racial democracy where everyone goes to school every day, and to the doctor as often as they please, and spends the rest of their time drinking guava smoothies and happily playing percussion instruments on the beach. Most tend to overlook the fact that Cubans do not have freedom of movement, speech, or association—some of the very things that the dictatorship here imposed.
Although this frustrates me, I still prefer Argentines’ embrace of the Cuban Revolution to what I’ve often encountered in the U.S., which is a total rejection of the idea of the Cuban Revolution. Many people I encounter at home scoff at the idea, putting air quotes around “revolution,” as if it were some illusion that the Cuban government concocted as part of a political platform. Both groups are ill-informed, but at least the former has the ability to imagine a reality other than the one they’re in. I suppose this happens naturally in a post-dictatorial society—clearly, things didn’t go right for a period here, so it’s easy to wonder about alternate histories. But I still wish that my comrades, so to speak, could find a way to use their imaginations and recognize that theirs is just one reality among many.