18 Nov I. A better world is possible
This sign wasn’t here when, on the 31st of August 1959, the guerrilla columns of Ernesto Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos left the Eastern provinces to march on the Western part of the island; yet, the sentiment expressed by the utterance ‘a better world is possible’ was very much alive in the hearts and minds of many Cuban Revolutionaries.
An entire generation could sympathize with those sentiments; the same generation which repudiated the Vietnam War, listened to John Lennon, John Fogerty or Bob Dylan, occupied universities and tried to mobilize against a world order polarized between two superpowers which Cuba itself would soon bring to the edge of nuclear war.
Almost 60 years later, rather than communism, the world order is threatened by rising atmospheric temperatures and increasingly depauperate natural resources, growing social inequality and slowing rates of economic growth, extremisms of various sorts, religious terrorism, xenophobia, homophobia, EU-phobia and the like.
Needless to say, such sentiments of social disarray are markedly different from the ones expressed in the road sign in the picture. And it is equally evident that today’s is a very different world to be confronted with. Perhaps more confusing, as political affiliation has substantially ceased to be appealing as a source of individual and collective identity.
Alas, unlike other road signs, this one does not offer much sense of direction; it does not tell us how or in which direction we need to head if this ‘better world’ is to be brought about. And if there is such a thing as a crisis of identity in the modern western individual, it is only made more evident by his perception of the beliefs of extremists and terrorists as ‘irrational’, and of their behaviour as ‘mad’ as they seek a sense of belonging in this world or immortality in the beyond through self-sacrifice.
Why were Cuban Revolutionaries, leaving today, 58 years ago, willing to put their life on the line for Cuba, for independence and a new, more just society? Why was martyrdom for a higher cause so appealing then and why are nations and religions still appealing as opposed to our historically and morally mature, ‘rationally constructed’ western capitalist, liberal democracies?
Provocatively put, these are the questions that come to my mind as soon I join Marco in La Habana and we take to the streets with a smile. Perhaps there is no higher meaning in our quest, but I know that the quest for higher meaning is part and parcel of the ideological backdrop to the struggle that begot Cuban society as it is. Just as death is said to beget the human in us.