Government figures from the parade this year claim that over a thousand foreigners walked through Havana’s Revolution Square on May 1st. They didn’t protest, they didn’t make demands, they didn’t hold a demonstration: they just walked. Just like the Cubans present (workers or not) did, who didn’t protest or make demands.
In Cuba, where the average monthly income in the public sector was 687 pesos (27.50 CUC or USD) in 2015, it seems that we have forgotten, or they made us forget, the real meaning of this day. It has become a day of celebration for many Cubans, who drink rum and party into the early hours and then go for a morning walk to stretch their legs and fulfill their commitment to participate.
March after march, May Day has slowly become a parade, first, to support the Revolution, the Communist Party, Fidel and Raul; and then, if they have any space left on their posters, to commemorate International Workers’ Day. With the constant barrage of propaganda we receive, the significance of International Workers’ Day has been removed from us.
The question here isn’t that anyone, who wishes to, can use the Square and parade for May 1st to support the Cuban government. In this case, it would be a legitimate cause. However, what’s reprehensible here is that people aren’t allowed to decide why they march and individual aspirations are submitted to the established chants of Cuba’s political system.
In fairness, May Day should be solely for workers’ demands. We already have dates set in our national calendar to show support for the government, Fidel, Raul and the Party: January 1st, July 26th, August 13th, December 2nd, votes at the United Nations against the blockade, the elections of Municipal People’s Power Representatives and in naming provincial and national government. That’s enough, I believe.
Before, quite a long time ago now, the Square’s stage was reserved for visitors and guests, so they could see the Cuban people’s unlimited support from the front row. Back then, the Revolution’s leaders would head the parade. Now, it’s the presidential stage, a place where the leadership of Cuban power see everything from this height. Some details like this also destroy the utopia.
We could ask ourselves what demands could be made in Cuba, if at the end of the day, a dictatorship of the proletariat has led the country for more than half a century. And it’s true, during that time, the majority of labor rights have been established: almost the same as in capitalist countries. However, this can’t become a barricade which hides the rights we still don’t have and the ones we still don’t protest for. We aren’t even allowed to protest.
On the first of May 2018, a thousand foreigners reached Revolution Square. They must have been more if we were to count those who walked by anonymously alongside the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who were sweeping along with a conga and carrying harmless posters.
Visitors who come are good people from the Left who come to Cuba a lot of the time in search for a piece of the legend, a fragment of the achievement they brandish in their own struggles. They are workers who, leaving behind the real landscape of protest, choose to celebrate, drink rum and party, where unions’ commitment to be present and national infrastructure are used to keep up appearances. For them, Revolution Square is a place to rest: here paraders aren’t repressed (on the whole) because demands and protests aren’t made in Cuba’s morning parades.
On the contrary, in the middle of the 21st century, there must be few public spaces that are less revolutionary than this one when it comes to labor demands. We’d have to see whether the same number of people would go to Revolution Square if they came of their own accord; if you take out the logistics that go into organizing this event, it being a national holiday, plus union and school commitments to attend.