One hundred images of the Cuban Revolution – 1953-1996

Fidel and Raúl Castro and Che Guevara in photo which appears on cover of Cien Imagenes de la Revolucion Cubana

Introduction by Abel Prieto

(Originally posted August 17, 2016)

This gallery opens with a shot of concentrated intensity: August 1, 1953 a young Fidel Castro appears in La Vivac [prison] in Santiago de Cuba, and behind him on the wall, in an inexplicable coincidence that his jailers were unable to avoid, looms the face of Martí. In the last photo, dated May 1, 1996, a flash of light expands over Revolution Square in Havana above the crowd, as if the contained energy of the first image was poured out and showed up in that public space.

Fidel Castro, Vivac Prison, 1953

Altogether the photos cover four decades in which the history of Cuba seems to intensify and move at a quicker pace, with symbols and legends marking every moment: four decades in which Cubans have given themselves body and soul, without any pettiness, to an adventure of transformation, combat and creation, where the personal route of each has become incorporated into the collective journey, and they have faced the impossible without fear, over and over again, conquered their many demons and put into that hard, heady and full life, that unique life, the very best of themselves.

In January 1960 Nicolás Guillén confessed to being perplexed by the curious quality that time took on in that first year of the victorious Revolution: ’59 passed “as fast as lightning,” but was made up of “pregnant” and “compact” days. In just twelve months there was something substantial that had changed in the air, on the land of the island, and especially in its people: “We are witnessing the birth of a new sensibility, rooted in an uncommon conception of civic duty” the poet tells us, and it is a sensibility that is manifested in another way of practicing cubanía, of understanding patriotism, of engaging in private and public honesty.

The people who we discover in these pictures, in the trenches, in the harvest, in volunteer work, in marches and rallies, bring with them (and it is a hidden privilege that the photographers managed to capture) a very precise, well-defined consciousness of the significance of their actions, of the greater coherence that individuals, their ideals and their works, take on when a true Revolution is undertaken. They are radically changing the destiny of an island that seemed doomed to debasement and disintegration, and at the same time they understand that it involves a major war, a duel with the impossible that goes beyond the island’s borders. “Every man,” points out Nicholás, “every woman and even every child knows what they have in their hands and is of no mind to let it be snatched from him.”[1]

A curious synthesis between political commitment and other areas of humanity are externalized in many of the photos that comprise our gallery: the protagonists of these images show themselves in their multiple dimensions, in their completeness. You have (to explain it better and more eloquently) the uniformed militiawoman carrying her son with the utmost tenderness imaginable, and the wedding of the militiaman, smiling at the jokes of his compañeros, at the risks and hardships awaiting him in some camp, and at History with a capital H as well as his personal history (or are they one and the same?) as he passes arm in arm with his bride under an archway of guns.

The Cuban of the ’60s becomes better, more complete, and is uplifted with happiness at his own condition. We see him grow in these pictures, not only politically; we see him achieve a dignified and human dimension he had not known before. We see how the sparkle in his eyes (that spark of emotion, of mischieviousness, of quick insight) becomes clearer, more refined and noble. We will not find frozen, papier maché heroes in our hundred pictures: at every step we are struck by their authenticity, their strength, the vibration that comes from inside to the surface, from deep down to behaviour.

First Declaration of Havana, Speech by Fidel Castro, Revolution Square, September 2, 1960.

In this gallery the growth of the Cuban is presented to us in two ways: in the expressions, the gestures, the demeanour of anonymous characters caught by the camera, and the multitudinous acts that lend weight and meaning to a new symbolic space born in 1959: what was Civic Square in the colonial days of farce, crime and the negation of public spirit is re-baptized José Martí Revolution Square and becomes an exceptional arena of exchange between the popular masses and their leaders. Che left us a description of that “almost intuitive method” of communication:

“The master of it is Fidel, whose particular way of integrating with the people can be appreciated only by seeing him in action. In large public gatherings you can observe something like the dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations induce other, new ones in each other. Fidel and the mass of people begin to vibrate in a dialogue of increasing intensity until it comes to a climax in an abrupt ending crowned with our battle cries and shouts of victory.”[2]

The Korda photo titled El Quijote de la farola [Quixote of the Lamp Post] picks up a scene from July 26, 1959, and tells us something more. About two months earlier, in La Plata, in the Sierra Maestra, Fidel and the Council of Ministers signed the Agrarian Reform Law, and now the first mass rally to commemorate the assault on the Moncada has been organized. Havana and Revolution Square are filled with campesinos who have come from all over the island. As in the best of our hundred images, the Quixote in the straw hat who reigns above the crowd with his gangly, lanky figure, half-smoked cigar and the expression of one who lives in harmony with himself and his destiny, draws us to the specific circumstances (the gathering of peasants, the Agrarian Reform) and at the same time conjures up a metaphor that goes beyond the situation and the characters photographed.

With a quixotic campesino planted for eternity atop a lamp post, the gentleman of the utopias, the knight on an unsightly skinny nag who attacks injustice and the impossible in an unequal fight with the weapons of his great-grandfathers and a cardboard trap, enters the book and must undo the schemes of so many priests, barbers and bachelors who want to tie him (tie us) to conformism, to the philosophy of submission, to the mediocre wisdom of half-wits and those of mutilated spirit.

There is a lot of non-conformist, combative quixotism in the Cuba that defends her rights against all odds. The National Press, founded in 1960, was inaugurated with the publication of 400,000 copies of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, in four volumes, which were sold (twenty-five cents each) in newsstands. In this way the people who were able to overcome another impossible, illiteracy, could read the immortal novel by Cervantes, and the last knight-errant became a familiar presence among us. Rarely has a great literary work had such a rich, prolific and mass reception. “Once again I feel the ribs of Rocinante under my heels,” announces Che to his parents before leaving for the Congo: “I am returning to the road, with my shield on my arm.”[3]

Fidel signs the Agrarian Reform Law in the Sierra Maestra in 1959.

If in the name of the meek ox who every morning chooses without question the yoke and the delicious, bountiful oats, if in the name of bourgeois good sense being a “Quixote” is equal to the worst of insults, the Revolution assumes that symbol naturally, in its noblest and most creative sense. On the strength of the No that keeps appearing in the Cuban ethical tradition, in the No that refuses to give up in the face of the most adverse circumstances and rejects the impossible at the mere mention of it, there is an obstinate and fertile quixotism present. In tracing the Cuban ethical tradition Cintio Vitier interprets the Baraguá Protest in light of that No that shines in the best of cubanía. When in 1878 the possibilities of continuing the struggle for independence seemed to have been exhausted,

“the ‘impossible’ rose up to face Cuba and provoked the more profound and creative possibility: Antonio Maceo’s No, the negation of the negation, in Mangos de Baraguá. His refusal to accept the objective facts that seemed to definitively close the door to the Revolution allowed him to open an airway for the homeland. All the fabled military feats of Maceo pale before the sheer moral majesty of the Baraguá Protest, an image cemented in the pride and hope of the people, a new foundation for Cuba by an act of revolutionary faith.”[4]

“For our people nothing is impossible anymore,” said Fidel, in front of the Presidential Palace, January 20, 1961, in greeting the militias on their return to civilian life after a massive mobilization. In a similar event, the same day, in Santiago de Cuba, Raúl declared: “We destroyed the myth that without the Americans we would die of hunger.”[5] While these events are being celebrated in Havana and Santiago, the last U.S. diplomats are leaving for home, after the break in relations, their withdrawal reaffirming that indeed nothing is impossible anymore; the evil myths have been smashed: geographic fatalism, the laws of annexationist gravitation, the “infernal spells.”

With Moncada, according to José Lezama Lima, those “spells” that immobilized the Cuban begin to dissipate. The Revolution bestowed the potens(“that which is infinitely possible”) which boiled down to the unlimited potentialities of man, his capacity for a poetic and historical creation of an unexplored magnitude:

“Now that possibility, that potens has been acquired by the Cuban […]. The Cuban Revolution signifies that all the negative spells have been decapitated. The ring that fell into the pond, like in the ancient mythologies, has been found again.”[6]

One of the spells that needed to be decapitated, the most diabolical and paralyzing spell of the impossible, was summed up in a phrase often repeated during the neo-colonial republic: “The Americans are not going to permit this.” It was the syndrome of the Platt Amendment, the Damocles sword of the intervention, which survived the ominous constitutional appendix and became a substantive part of an imbecilic, dependent culture. The Plattist philosophy of the they-are-not-going-to-permit-this…, had suffered serious blows with the Agrarian Reform, the nationalization of the Yankee corporations and other revolutionary measures, but it was definitively defeated in the days of Girón, that appear here with the power and quick chronology of a series of prints: April 15, the bombardments and the copious blood of the militia fighter Eduardo García Delgado[7]; the 16th, the event at the corner of 23rd and 12th, at the burial of those fallen a few hours before, and machine guns and rifles taken up now for socialism; April 17, Fidel on the battlefield, at Playa Girón.

This is how the Empire tasted defeat in its back yard, Latin America became a little freer, and an accursed word like socialism (something that never, ever, under any circumstance, would the “Americans” have permitted) was implanted in the consciousness of the people, organically, together with the notion of independence (“permissible” only, of course, in its outward manifestations), and nobody on the island looked north any more to wonder how far we could go, or what the “Americans” would think of us.

Of course, the philosophy of they-are-not-going-to-permit-this… originates and is maintained in the imperial appetite for the island, born in the days of Thomas Jefferson, and has remained unchanged through to Torricelli and Helms. The geopolitical scheme that imagines Cuba as a kind of “island-fruit” determined by Fate, or Destiny, or some such, to serve as food for the “giant of the seven leagues” has been one of the pillars of the impossible, and Cubans could see the shadow of such a dangerous neighbourhood from the time of their earliest yearnings for independence. On January 1, 1959, the “island-fruit” radically renounced its condition; it became “forbidden fruit,” poison, and that very day, with the Eisenhower government’s welcoming of murderers and torturers fleeing popular justice, a policy of hostility was initiated that has been going through the most diverse repertoire of attacks: Girón, La Coubre, assassination plots against Fidel and other leaders, infiltrations, support for armed gangs, germ warfare, radio and television stations with subversive missions, slander, diplomatic pressure, the blockade, unspeakable laws such as the Helms-Burton. That is, the “Americans” took seriously that there were things they “could not permit” and have used all their power not to permit, and they have failed.

On October 23, 1962 headlines in the press announced that “the nation has risen up in arms, ready to repel any attack.” The collective memory of Cubans remained marked by those hours when this people, according to the testimony of Roberto Fernández Retamar, between bombs that were almost certain to come / and the missiles that finally left / […] he put on his militia uniform, / to see what had to be done.[8] Some 300,000 reservists and soldiers were mobilized: men and women of all ages enlisted in the militia, they joined the health brigades, donated blood in hospitals, filled in for those who had been mobilized in industries and other workplaces, and went about becoming a collective example of courage and moral fortitude, that stood tall in the midst of the cold chess game played by the great powers that was the “cold war.” In his farewell to Fidel, Che devotes a special memory to that moment of “dangers and principles’:

“I felt at your side the pride of belonging to our people in the bright and sad days of the Caribbean Crisis. Rarely has a statesman shone more brightly than in those days; I am also proud of having followed you without vacillation, identified with your way of thinking, and of seeing and appreciating the dangers and the principles.”[9]

A militia battalion marches along the Havana Malecón.

There is an emblematic photo by Corrales that evokes the day-to-day atmosphere of the October Crisis: what we might call “the everydayness of danger” that is accompanied by an “everydayness of principles.” A militia battalion lines the Havana Malecón, with their old rifles and more or less threadbare jackets as the “North” punishes them and bursts of rain and the waves of a stormy sea hit them. Looking at the image you can almost touch the cold, cutting wind that causes the flag to vibrate and stabs their wet bodies like a knife. Over the island, over these men and their families, hang the most terrible imperial threats: of a naval blockade, massive aerial attacks, and even the use of nuclear weapons. Those rifles and the grim march of the battalion to who knows what point on the coast may seem “quixotic” and even useless faced with the enormity of the enemy. From the photo itself, if examined carefully, there emerges slowly, against all odds, the No of Baraguá. It starts taking on the impact of Quixote when he knocked down the bachelor Samson Carrasco, and we find ourselves at another “founding of Cuba by an act of revolutionary faith” and understand that a battalion like that, even if it were struck down and wiped off the map, would open “an airway for the fatherland.”

It would be easy to describe as “quixotic” Martí’s goals when he tirelessly prepared the uprising of 1895. Not only does he propose to wrest Cuba from colonial Spain, willing to go through “right up to the last man and the last peseta” on the Island, and build an independent Republic “with all and for the good of all”: he wants to stop the spread of the northern Empire; lay the foundations of a free and united Latin America; and contribute to the “still faltering” equilibrium of the world. Marti’s “quixotism” is taken up by the Revolution of ’59, and many of its aims find fulfillment and expression in the imprint left on the island, in the world and its equilibrium, by the Cubans who populate our hundred images.

Cuban volunteers fight alongside Angolans in their war for liberation in Southern Africa.

Fidel in liberated territory in Vietnam, 1973.

The internationalist character and vocation of the “necessary war,” and of the Republic it foreshadowed appear even today through covert channels, to form the blood and substance of the “new sensibility” that Nicolás discovered for us in 1960. When patriotic feelings and the defence of national values are reinforced, there is never space for chauvinism or for a parochial vision of our efforts in “that uncommon conception of civic duty:” On the contrary, the identification with “the poor of the earth” increases day by day, and not only among the vanguard, but on the level of the masses. This people recognizes its cause in the cause of many other peoples, and solidarity is cultivated in its new way of “practicing cubanía.”

Several pictures speak to us of the internationalism of revolutionary Cuba: Che; our fighters in Angola; our doctors and teachers; the children of Chernobyl; Fidel in the liberated territory of South Vietnam, or with Salvador Allende, or Mandela. More recent photos (Fidel in Cartagena de Indias, La Paz, Montevideo, received by thousands of men and women who salute in him the highest expression of Latin American dignity) show us the other side of the internationalism engaged in by Cubans: the solidarity the Revolution has received through all its existence, and that has become much broader and more effective since the collapse of European “real socialism.” The popular demonstration in Montevideo in 1995 responds symbolically, over thirty years later, to the foreign ministers’ meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay that expelled Cuba from the OAS in January 1962.

There are photos that touch on different aspects of the work of the Revolution: health, education, culture, sport. Others remind us of moments of particular significance: on May 1, 1980, for example, with the march along the Malecón of more than a million Cubans to the former U.S. embassy, known as the second March of the Fighting People.

Second March of the Fighting People, May 1, 1980.

Two photos (the opening of a day care centre and the revival of the micro-brigades) evoke the process of rectification that was initiated in 1986. The country was stepping up preparations to defend itself, alone, faced with the threats from Reagan who three years earlier had invaded Grenada and declared his determination to contain “communist expansion in Central America” with fire and sword as he sharpened his warmongering rhetoric against Cuba and Nicaragua. At this juncture, Fidel denounces an internal enemy that is ultimately as dangerous as the external one. Cuban society notices in itself, in its official structure and its social fabric “diabolical mechanisms,” “errors and negative tendencies” that, in fact, can irreversibly damage the very foundations of the Revolution: “it is not a question of a campaign; this is a great battle, a great process, a great continuous struggle,” “a strategic counter-offensive” which appeals to the “moral richness” and “critical spirit” of the people to confront the distortions, corruption, irrationality that exists in the “logic” of the technocrats, the “Creole tendency towards chaos, anarchy and lack of respect for the law,” the demoralization, “copismo” [copying from the models of others — TML Ed. note], the don’t-get-into-a fight attitude and that “type of mysticism, the dream […] that the mechanisms were going to solve everything.”

Top: Fidel opens day care centre; bottom: photo of revived microbrigades.

With this process, with the will to rectify and the raw and courageous self-criticism that accompany it, the Cuban Revolution once again demonstrates its moral reserves, its anti-bureaucratic spirit, its capacity for intelligent self-renewal and to combat and overcome the forms of the impossible that might spring (are springing) from its own bosom. In fact, when we exorcise the “creole” demons and those that have been developing in other socialist experiences from revolutionary positions we are not only working for Cuba, “but for the cause of socialism in general”:

“This is a long fight that I believe has to do not only with our Revolution. It has been proven that this problem has shown up in other places. It is proven. Privileges here, something else there, demoralization here and there, and it gets to a point where the masses, confused, demoralized, are the victims of anyone who tells them some fairy tales, of any demagogue, any pseudo-revolutionary, any pseudo-democrat.”[10]

Two of these hundred images were taken during a ceremony in Camagüey: the celebration of July 26th in 1989. It had been drizzling the whole time (dark drops are seen on Fidel’s uniform and some umbrellas protrude from the hushed crowd standing in rows, listening attentively to the speech), and in the background, once again, the statue of Marti, on a billboard, speaking about “our morality and our honour.” It was not just another ceremony: it came at a decisive moment in the history of the century. Bush had just held a triumphal tour with a visit to Poland and Hungary where the forces of capitalist restoration already had decisive weight; in the USSR the so-called reformers were consolidating their positions, while the national and inter-ethnic contradictions along with other internal tensions were sharpening; the Empire and reaction were organizing the funeral of socialism, in the midst of an overpowering chorus that was joined by opportunists and repenters.

On that rainy day, before a silent crowd who were becoming increasingly aware of the unprecedented challenges that awaited Cuba, Fidel referred to the “moral rockets” that were erected among us during the October Crisis and that had not left the Island:

“We must warn imperialism not to have so many illusions about our Revolution and the notion that our Revolution would not be able to resist if a debacle occurs in the socialist community …”

Celebration of July 26, 1989, Rebellion Day, in Camagüey.

Even if it should happen that the USSR disintegrates, “if tomorrow or any day we wake up […] with the news that the USSR has disintegrated […], even in those circumstances Cuba and the Cuban Revolution would continue fighting and continue resisting!” What’s more, “when it comes to defence we learned some time ago to rely only on our own forces […] Not even the worst scares us, neither the worst premise nor the worst hypothesis!”[11]

Fidel speaks to young students studying Lenin, 1990.

Starting in 1989 the impossible once again came to face the Cuban Revolution. Three or four months after the ceremony captured in the photo, the collapse of the Berlin Wall is celebrated; there are those who theorize about the “domino effect” that would lead to all the socialist countries falling one by one. The events in Eastern Europe seem to confirm such prophecies; the advent of the unipolar world and a much stronger and more totalitarian Fourth Reich than the one Hitler dreamed of is announced with golden trumpets; capitalism and the market are exalted from one end of the planet to the other as a system conceived by Providence for the salvation of humanity, and every anti-capitalist objection, however timid, is immediately disqualified as a deplorable lapse, or as absurd, insane, unnatural speculation, like the most feverish of quixotic delusions. In some places statues of Marx and Lenin are replaced by those of Scrooge McDuck, the millionaire uncle of Donald Duck, and there are communist parties that change their name, that dissolve or split, and many on the left do not know where to turn, showing their confusion through their babbling, while others crumble, like the wall, and try to bury their “red” past with self-flagellation and self-criticism as they rush to praise the victors and the Golden Calf.

In December 1989 the Yankees invade Panama, and bomb, kill and bury the dead with efficient bulldozers; in February 1990, the Sandinista Front loses an election held under pressure from the United States and well-armed “contras” as an instrument of imperial blackmail; in 1991, in January, there is the world premiere on television (more widely televised than the Oscars) of a war-show, the Gulf War, where the American Rome flaunts its impunity and the sophisticated technologies of its destructive power; in February, in the discussion of an export law the U.S. Senate approves the Mack Amendment, seed of the “Torricelli Law;” in September of the same year, the official demise of the Soviet Union is announced. From Cuba, Maceo’s No is repeated and this people, with their leaders, together with a party that maintains its name and its ideals intact, begins to wage its day by day feat of endurance.

Defending revolutionary Cuba, 1990.

There are photos here that touch on the quiet exploits that Cubans have been displaying in the extremely harsh daily life of the Special Period: There are (obviously) not enough. One day there will have to be a gallery exclusively for those years in which this people strained with all of its energy, imagination, strength and creativity, and gave the No that was required by such a colossal impossible. Of course in that gallery, just like it cannot be overlooked in this book, there will appear the image of Fidel with his people on August 5, 1994, on the front line, when lumpen elements (unpatriotic by definition) tried to give the Empire a gift in the form of a parody of its much hoped-for “internal strife;” and it will have to include a view of the crowd gathered a year later, in 1995, outside the Castillo de La Punta: hundreds of thousands of Habaneros fill the esplanade, the Malecón, Prado, San Lázaro, to confirm that August 5 is and will be a day of the Revolution, one of those empty days waiting to be filled and to burn.[12]

Fidel, on the front lines with the Cuban people, August 5, 1994.

One day that poster, as flat and empty as the ceremonies organized by Batista for Martí’s Centennial, also became filled with meaning and shone. A simple framed poster hung in the office of the head of a prison as a sterile, formal gesture and an offensive one, changed symbolically to take on an unexpected relevance in the first photo of the book. Another photo, taken on April 11, 1995, a hundred years after Marti’s landing, brings us Fidel’s personal tribute in the steep, rocky surroundings of La Playita de Cajobabo. Marti’s thought, his presence, is in the First Declaration of Havana, in September 1960, and the Second, in February 1962, and there at Moncada, and in the “History Will Absolve Me,” and with all dignified Cubans, on July 26, 1989, and together with the “mestizo, capable, inspiring masses of the country,” with “that intelligent and creative mass of blacks and whites”[13] that keeps overcoming the hardships and obstacles of the past years.

Fidel’s relationship with history (noted in the photo of Playitas and others included here) is not the cold and cerebral one of scholars, although it is based on a wealth of information that often extends to the minutest detail. It is not that of the traditional politician who refers to the past to support his program with illustrious antecedents, or as a pure rhetorical device: Fidel approaches history to understand it intellectually, analyze its twists and turns, its events and personalities and extract its essential lessons; but he lives it with the “soul of a guerrilla” and looks in it for material to plan the Cuba that is “possible,” the Cuba that will receive its unanimous recognition only from “posterity.” From the Isla de Pinos prison, in a letter dated March 3, 1954, he refers to the role that the book,Chronicles of the War by Miró Argenter played for those who carried out the assault on Moncada. “It was a real Bible for us,” he says. “Many times,” he adds,

“he reviewed our thinking [on] the immortal march of the Invading Army with it, living through every battle with emotion and trying to pick up as many useful tactical or strategic details as he could. And even when times have changed, along with the art of doing battle, all those acts flow from an immutable sentiment, the only one that makes the impossible possible and obliges posterity to unanimously believe what to many contemporaries seemed beyond belief. The pages of Chronicles of the War are filled with that sentiment, and whoever upon reading them does not feel his blood boil, full of faith in our kind, his soul seized by a desire for emulation, and his face go red at the affront, it is because he was not born with the soul of a guerrilla.”[14]

Fidel Castro on the beach at Playitas, 1995.

Years later, when “what to many contemporaries seemed beyond belief,” had already occurred, when the Revolution had triumphed and been consolidated, Fidel retraces one of the central ideas of that letter. Cintio Vitier reminds us of it in analyzing “that faith nourished by analysis” which is “contagious, irradiating and attracts with the moral magnetism of its heroism,” which is giving rise to the renewed miracle of unity:” and everything that seemed impossible — Fidel himself would say so on July 26, 1971 — was possible.”[15]

Faith and analysis, history and futurity: Fidel’s insistence on not losing the thread, on continuity, on dialogue with the founders of the nation, looks to the past, yes; but is relentlessly oriented to the future. The imagined Cuba which is anticipated and sketched out between advances and setbacks, which is seen more or less clearly, is always however there, ebbing or flowing, like Lezama’spotens. Poets generally capture / the past / vague and nostalgic / or the immediate present with its subtle fires and reverberations, Miguel Barnet reminds us in his poem “Fidel”: But how difficult it is to capture the future / and locate it forever / in the lives of all poets, / of all men.[16]

History and its influence on what is created, the reverberations of the present, the laborious shaping of the future: references that in a revolution are juxtaposed and that come together in an unexpected way, and fertilize one another, and give rise to the legend that invents another space and another temporality. Here there are photos that allow us to discover the transfiguration of reality into mythology. They are truly miraculous photos, because they caught a key moment of that indefinable course: the environment and characters go about acquiring a relief that no longer conforms to historical objectivity, but to another moment, while contours are blurred and the scene moves beyond dates and calendars, and begins to enter a mythical time. Che’s face with his beret and long hair, and looking nowhere, or into the future, who knows, that Korda captured during an event in 1960, occupies a place of honour among the essential images of the twentieth century, among those that will need scholars of the next millennium to understand this shattered century a bit: it is one of the contributions made by Cuban photographers to universal symbolic heritage, to the memory of all those who in one way or another have clung to the idea of emancipation.

Without a doubt the profile of Celia Sanchez, accentuated by a line of light and cut out so it appears over another photo in the background, of Che, something that is veiled by death, belongs in a series where saga and history merge: the heroine who lives and works among us, the living legend, is superimposed on the legend of the hero assassinated in Bolivia a few months before Osvaldo Salas created the double homage with his lens. For a long time already Celia Sanchez had been “Celia” to the people; simply “Celia.” She was already myth and reality, a myth and a palpable creation, and the people imagined her as a guardian angel of Cuba, of Fidel, of the Revolution. Atheists and believers prayed for her, each in their own way, and felt her very close to their large and small problems, like an older sister, or as an irreplaceable friend who cares for and feeds the sick and the children. In Salas’ Celia that and more is said, without the need for words, and much better than anything that could be said in words.

Camilo Cienfuegos, simply “Camilo,” like “Celia,” was another of the myths that immediately took root in the popular consciousness. On October 28, 1959, just ten months after the revolutionary triumph, he disappeared suddenly at sea, and left us with a void, a scar. He is there, in some of the most legendary photos: in May 1957, in the Sierra, with Fidel, Raúl, Celia, Almeida; then on January 8, 1959, the only year that he was known and loved by all Cubans, at Fidel’s arrival in Havana; the same January 8, a few hours later, presiding over the ceremony in Columbia [Camp Columbia, a military complex near Havana, originally established as a U.S. base in 1899 — TML Ed. Note] during which several pigeons flew up to the podium and one perched on Fidel’s shoulder, which atheists saw as a symbol, and believers as a sign from God or from the gods; and on March 10, bringing down Columbia’s military walls, and in September, with Raúl and Hart, in the handover of the military installation, now converted to a school, to the Ministry of Education; and at the front of the cavalry on July 26, sharing, between the riders and flags, a laughing comment with the bearded man riding to his right. With that comment and the smiles of Camilo and the “bearded man” we detect the presence in this epic of the joking, humour, teasing, the Cuban smile, the smile of the militiaman at his wedding, the smile of the black cane cutter (even blacker because he has been cutting burnt cane) that suddenly breaks into that hearty, unrestrained, purifying laugh which has served us so well against the impossible.

Camilo, Celia, Che, Roa, Haydée, Fidel, Raúl, and the countless unknown, vibrant characters who fill this book: history, myth, pregnant and intense days, bright and sad days, spells decapitated, dangers, principles and Cuban laughter, the dialogue in the Plaza of the two tuning forks, and a stubborn quixotism that keeps going and does not faint, and opens airways for the homeland and for “other lands.” The never-ending feeling that makes the impossible possible, the faith nourished by analysis that takes no repose, and spreads, radiates, attracts with heroism’s moral magnetism, and rescues the ring lost in the pond. The future caught and placed forever in the lives of all men, and the many still empty days that we will see burning. In a hundred images we travel through the framework of a Revolution that shattered all manuals, set squares and dogmas, that was able to give the lie to the Plattists, to the theorists of the “objective and subjective conditions,” to priests, barbers and bachelors, to the prophets of doom, the nephews of Scrooge McDuck, to those who accused Marti of being “crazy” and “utopian,” in whom “the habit of servility” is so ingrained that “it leads them to presume the impotence they recognize in themselves resides in everyone else.”[17]

Pedro Álvarez Tabio is to be congratulated for his work of searching and selecting, for offering us such a complete, such an impactful visual panorama of our great history and at the same time (how can it be avoided) our personal history, which have been and are one and the same. In this book Cubans of all ages will become reacquainted with what is purest and most dignified in ourselves. In many, memories of lived moments will be sparked and others who are younger can share in them and appropriate those memories and will feel “their blood boil, full of faith in our kind” if they examine these photos “with the soul of guerrillas” and take in the exhibition of the hundred images like the combatants of July 26 read the Chronicles of Miró Argenter. Thanks are also due of course to artists such as Korda, Corrales and Salas, who admirably combined talent and a vocation for testimony in the best works collected here, and to all the Cuban photographers who have perpetuated such vigorous fragments of life, reality and legend. Thanks to them we are able to view this gallery from the present and admire all over again the epic scale of the Cuban struggle against the impossible, the stature of our heroes, and of the many, many men and women, from three or four generations, who together have raised up the island’s resistance, its moral integrity, its obstinacy, its capacity to repeat the No of Maceo, of Marti, of Fidel.

Havana, July 1996

Notes

1. Nicolas Guillen: “Tiempos de victoria y lucha,” Lunes de Revolución, January 4, 1960. In: Prosa de prisa, Editorial Arte y Literatura, Havana, 1975, t. II, p. 265.

2. Ernesto Che Guevara: “El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba” (text addressed in 1965 to Carlos Quijano, editor of Marcha, Montevideo). In: Revolución, letras, arte, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1980, p. 36.

3. Ernesto Che Guevara: “Carta a sus padres.” In: Obras 1957-1967, Casa de las Américas, Havana, 1970, II, p. 693.

4. Cintio Vitier: Ese sol del mundo moral, Siglo XXI Editores, México, 1975, p. 67.

5. Cronología: 25 años de Revolución (1959-1983), Editora Política, Havana,, 1987, p. 24.

6. José Lezama Lima: “A partir de la poesía” (1960). In: La cantidad hechizada, Ediciones Unión, Havana, 1970, pp. 50-51. In “El 26 de Julio: imagen y posibilidad” (La Gaceta de Cuba, November-December 1968), states that the assault on the Moncada “was not a failure, it was a litmus test of the possibility and the image of our historical counterpoint, near death, the greatest test, as it had to be….” The Cuban, he said, “had lost the profound meaning of his symbols […]. But July 26 broke the infernal spells, brought joy, then raised the time of the image like a polyhedron in the light,…” In: Imagen y posibilidad, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1981, pp. 20-21.

7. Nicolas Guillen: “La sangre numerosa.” In: Poesía completa, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1973, II, p. 143: When with blood he writes / FIDEL this soldier who dies for his homeland…

8. Roberto Fernandez Retamar: “Sonata para pasar esos días y piano” (Poesia reunida, 1966). In:Palabra de mi pueblo, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1989, p. 87.

9. Ernesto Che Guevara: “Carta a Fidel.” In: Obras…, ed. cit., pp. 697-698.

10. Statement by Fidel at the tenth regular session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, on July 3, 1986. Version published in Granma, on July 4, and reproduced in Cuba Socialista, Sept-Oct 1986, p . 124. The above quotations are taken from the number of Cuba Socialista, where Fidel’s major interventions “related to the process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies made in meetings and events held between April 19 and July 26” are collected.

11. Fidel Castro: Socialismo, ciencia del ejemplo (booklet), Editora Política, Havana, 1989, p. 30.

12. Roberto Fernandez Retamar: “Que veremos arder” (1970). In: Palabra de mi pueblo, ed. cit., p. 122. The heroes of Moncada and the Sierra had no names, or at least their names / No one knew. The dates filled / were empty as an empty house … / Now, those who do not have names, / or whose names nobody knows yet, / prepare flares in the shadows / empty dates to see burning.

13. José Martí: “Carta a Manuel Mercado,” May 18, 1895. In: Obras completas, Editorial Nacional de Cuba, Havana, 1963, t. XX, p. 162.

14. Letter quoted by Mario Menda: La prisión fecunda, Editora Política, Havana, 1980, p. 34.

15. Cintio Vitier: Ese sol…, ed. cit., pp. 180-181.

16. Miguel Barnet: “Fidel” (Carta de noche 1983). In: Con pies de gato, Ediciones Unión, Havana, 1993, p. 159.

17. José Martí: “El remedio anexionista,” Patria, New York, July 2, 1892. In: Obras completas, ed. cit., t. 11, p. 49.

(Translated from the original Spanish by Margaret Villamizar.)

Source: TML Weekly, August 6, 2016 – No. 30

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3 Comments

Filed under Americas, History, Sighting

3 responses to “One hundred images of the Cuban Revolution – 1953-1996

  1. Pingback: Vigils across Canada pay tribute to Fidel | Tony Seed's Weblog

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  3. Pingback: Fidel: Mighty expressions of profound respect, gratitude and social love | Tony Seed's Weblog

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