This article was translated from the Spanish by Erin Goodman.
I was 11 years old when I found out about the triumph of the Cuban Revolution from a friend’s Marxist-leaning mother. “Finally, justice will be served: Everyone may be poor, but equal,” she said. At that time, it was difficult to predict that Fidel Castro would become one of the most influential men of the twentieth century.
The Cuban Revolution inspired political awareness in almost all the writers, activists and intellectuals of my generation. Our university professors, contemporaries of Castro, saw in him the definitive vindication of “Our America” against the other, arrogant and imperialist, America. The literary supplements and magazines we read — by Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes — celebrated the Revolution not only for its economic and social achievements, but also for the cultural renaissance it ushered in.
Few of us were alarmed by Castro’s open adoption of communism, which he proclaimed in 1961. Che Guevara’s death in 1967 further fueled the flame of revolutionary idealism. In 1968 some of us excitedly followed Alexander Dubcek’s program of “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia. As our movement faced the Mexican army’s tanks in August 1968, we heard that Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague, and that Castro supported the invasion.When the Mexican government repressed the student movementthat October, my generation became decisively radicalized.
In early 1969, when young Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion, I wrote an article linking the libertarian spirit of Paris in 1968 with the sacrifice of that hero of the Prague Spring. Thus my first decade with Castro drew to a close: I had gone from enthusiastic to disappointed.
For daring to publicly oppose the authoritarian and dogmatic course that the Revolution had taken, the imprisoned poet Heberto Padilla was forced to deliver a statement of self-criticism in 1971. Several writers signed a couple of protest letters, but one conspicuous name was lacking: Gabriel García Márquez. As a university student, I followed the situation with interest. It anticipated the division in the intellectual left, between the democratic and the authoritarian, but the former was always a minority — to depart from the Revolution meant opposing truth, reason, history, morality, the people.