Revolutionary Democracy

Excerpt Thirteen of "Brothers from Time to Time"


This corner of Havana University is dominated by a somber bust of José A. Echeverría, a student martyr of the 1957 attack on Batista's Presidential Palace. Like almost every leader of the revolution, Echeverría was privately detested by Fidel Castro.

February 1961. The Havana to which Adolfo returned was a city preparing for war. At the airport it struck him forcibly: women and men dressed in olive-green trousers or the blue militia shirt, almost all carrying weapons. Those without pistols had submachine guns on their chests. The weapons were from Czechoslovakia; people called them checas, and they were everywhere.

Nearly everyone said an invasion was coming, and the regime encouraged that kind of talk; but Adolfo and his comrades kept debating it.

“The Americans will never risk a direct intervention. US imperialism would never be so foolish as to expose itself like that,” said his bosom buddy César Gómez, who had come with his wife Thais to meet Adolfo’s flight.

Leave it to César, to say the stuff that others wouldn’t think or dare to say.

Adolfo and his two friends were going straight to the “Rebel Youth,” located in the old Communist headquarters on Carlos III Avenue. It was the same building that Emi was planning to attack.

In line with the regime’s call to promote revolutionary unity, all political parties were letting go their identities. So the old Socialist Youth had become the Rebel Youth, a new, expanded organization that included people from Castro’s non-communist July 26th Movement and the Directorio as well as Adolfo’s communist comrades.

Adolfo’s new assignment was to be managing director of the national youth magazine, Mella. He already knew the Rebel Youth director, comandante Joel Iglesias. At just 19 a hero of the liberation war, with facial disfigurements to show for his gallantry, Joel was a short, sturdy peasant with a direct homespun style. He had no formal education – a trait Adolfo overlooked because he found the lad so decent and likeable.

“Hey, Rivero!” Joel greeted Adolfo. “Let me introduce Fernando Ravelo. You’ll be working with him at Mella.”

The two new comrades joined in the customary abrazo. Ravelo was a Rebel Army captain who had also been a journalist for the July 26th Movement in the Sierra Maestra – a short, neat youngster with a sparse beard and an easy smile. Ravelo had been appointed director of Mella. How he would share authority with Adolfo, the managing director, was an open question.

“Rivero, shouldn’t we take care of your lodging?” César, a practical sort, put in. Adolfo himself had given no thought to it.

“I think we have a free room at Mella,” Ravelo said.

Mella was located in another building nearby. The manager there showed Adolfo to an empty room that comrades on guard duty sometimes used. A toilet and shower were down the hall. The room was empty but for an old bunk bed with squeaky springs. On that bed Adolfo placed a single suitcase that contained all his earthly belongings, and he was home.

The Mella directors got to work with high spirits and camaraderie. Adolfo exerted his authority over the magazine while Ravelo, the nominal director, gave plenty of room to communist viewpoints.

* * *

A thorny issue did arise over the friendly relationship that had sprung up between Rebel Youth leaders and comandante Rolando Cubela. A leader of the old Directorio, Cubela had been one of the most vaunted fighters in the liberation war. Shortly after taking power Fidel had backed Cubela for president of the Havana student union (FEU). It was a surprising choice, given Fidel’s hatred of the Directorio; but Cubela, a decisive actor, quickly turned Havana University into another arm of the new regime.

Cubela was very much his own man – a trait that drew antagonism from others. Adolfo and César, for their part, looked on Cubela as a kindred spirit. They also reasoned that if Cubela were prominent in the Rebel Youth, their group would benefit at the university.

César was already working at the university as a Party organizer. At a directors’ meeting he and Adolfo nominated Cubela to a post in the leadership of the Rebel Youth, an organization that other communists openly viewed as a private preserve.

In their motion for Cubela, César and Adolfo were vehemently opposed by Joel Domenech, who worked as assistant to Communist Party leader Aníbal Escalante. Domenech was an ambitious cadre. He seemed to speak for many communists – perhaps including Aníbal – who found Joel Iglesias conveniently easygoing and pliable. Iglesias backed up by Cubela would be another matter entirely.

Adolfo and César got into an argument with Domenech. Cubela’s nomination had to be put to a vote, which was rare. The motion was defeated. Adolfo and César let the matter go; they understood revolutionary democracy to mean that if you lose a vote, you lose clean.

But Domenech kept coming at them. He gestured to Adolfo and the two of them went out to a balcony facing Carlos III Avenue.

“What kind of proposal was that?” Domenech whispered with fury. “Don’t you know I am the one who represents the Party here?”

Adolfo was dumbstruck. At once he saw that a hidden, conspiratorial policy was in effect – hidden even from loyal, high-ranking militants like himself. Despite the regime’s move to non-partisanship, an organized Communist core was still giving directions and working to manipulate events. Domenech, crudely, had revealed it all in a phrase.

Adolfo’s scalp tingled as an old warning from his brother passed through his mind: Never depend on the Party. Never give up your freedom.

When the Party and freedom appeared as one, that warning had made no sense. What about now? What if this incident revealed a gulf between the Party and Adolfo himself?

The complete book is being published by Pureplay Press. The book, including all material therein, is copyright © 2020 by David Landau.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from now through early October, the Impunity Observer will publish excerpts from Landau’s book. All in all, more than one-third of Brothers will be presented. Stay tuned.

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David Landau

David Landau, the Impunity Observer's contributing editor, is the author of Brothers from Time to Time, a history of the Cuban revolution.

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