Academic journal article Cuban Studies

El Hijo De Guillermo Tell: Carlos Varela Confronts the Special Period

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

El Hijo De Guillermo Tell: Carlos Varela Confronts the Special Period

Article excerpt

Ever since Fidel Castro uttered the phrase "La historia me absolverá," in his defense for the July 26, 1953, Moneada attack, the Cuban Revolution has consistently defined itself with slogans that underscore its futurity.1 That is, just as Castro ensured that history would absolve him, Cubans were constantly reminded, against the echo of "Patria or muerte," that they would ultimately win ("Venceremos"), that they were indeed moving forward ("Seguiremos adelante"), and that they were struggling for a future that meant better times ("Hasta la victoria, siempre"). But as the 1980s came to a close, and the Berlin wall came crashing down, taking with it me Soviet Union, the island found itself in an eerie and unexpected moment that ended a narrative of futurity and exchanged it for what José Quiroga calls an "expanded present."2 The "período especial en tiempo de la paz," as Castro termed it, never figured into the revolutionary rhetoric, a fact underscored by the "times of peace" modifier. The plan was originally understood as the potential response to an attack, to future times of war in the ongoing struggle for socialism.3 But with the implementation of rations and otiier austerity measures, the revolution had not only stalled but also seemed to be moving backward.

There are many parallels between the Quinquenio Gris, the period in which the first generation of the Nueva Trova came of age artistically, and the Special Period, when the second generation, Novísima Trova, found its voice. If the late 1960s and early 1970s were marked by both the economic and the social failures that reached dieir nadir with the Ten-Million-Ton Sugar Harvest, and the resultant disillusionment with the revolution and its policies, then the collapse of the Soviet Union and announcement of the Special Period represented a new, graver economic problem and, equally if not more important, an unprecedented ideological crisis that threatened to undermine the very foundation of Fidel Castro and his never-ending revolution.

But the situation was also quite different. In the 1970s, Cuba was able to turn to the Soviet Union for help. Retrospectively, one can see that the earlier aid may have contributed to the later crisis: after depending for so long on the Soviet Union, the fall of the iron curtain meant, potentially, the end of the Cuban Revolution. The Russians had their own problems to tend to and were unable to help Cuba even had they been so inclined, which is doubtful. The symbolism of the new rhetoric for the Special Period was readily apparent: Cuba was at war, in a time of peace, and fighting for its own survival. Indeed, the new catchphrase was "Cuba contra todos," "Cuba against everyone."4 But the cost of survival was staggering, and threatened to undo, and in many cases undid, those accomplishments to which the government had pointed for decades as proof of its success. With the resurgence of tourism and the accompanying accoutrements- namely, rum, tobacco, sex, and spectacle- the revolution appeared to have betrayed its supporters and its tenets.

Such an atmosphere naturally affected the arts, as it had previously in the 1970s, and specifically the Nueva Trova. Ironically, the Special Period was an artistically fruitful and prolific period for trovadores of both generations, notable for a productivity and creativity that, not surprisingly, is only rivaled by that of the late 1960s and 1970s in Cuba. In fact, many of the songs composed during the Special Period are commentaries, either subtle or overt, about those early years of the revolution. Within limits, Cuban artists were more critical than ever before, and these criticisms were often packaged as critiques of a past that had failed to bring about the desired future. Although the Nueva Trova certainly reflects this new critique of the past-especially in songs luce Santiago Feliú's "Mi mujer está muy sensible" and Frank Delgado's "Veterano"5 -the situation is complicated by the trovadores1 already critical stance, consistent across both the decades and the two generations of artists. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.