“A Special Period in Times of Peace”
Comrade Norma Olivia Sanchez has jet black hair and is petite. She’s vaguely malnourished for a Cuban, but still attractive and dynamico. Of course. She is and always will be a member of the Committees for Defense of the Revolution. The vigilant internal defense mechanism against Yankee imperialist aggression and unrestrained, insatiable sex tourism. Her mother was a fairly high-ranking person in the Party and told her of the struggles to defend socialism during the cold war years. Told her of the deprivations and economic siege beginning in 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed and virtually all proto-communist regimes along with it.
“The U.S.S.R. was the sun and we were just a proud and tiny island fortress. When the sun went out, when we lost our greatest, sturdiest ally; we would be in the dark and there were many things in the dark that could ruin us.”
There would be no more petrol for the cars and tractors, buses and power plants. There would not be fertilizer for growing food. There would be shortages of absolutely everything on every level of consumption. There would be long lines and no electricity. There would be no fans or air conditioners, there would be zip-zero-nada. And in this proverbial darkness of our times ahead, our enemy which had sought to ruin us from the very day of our independence would move in, emboldened by the so-called end of history.
I have some understanding that were it not for decisions made during the revolution, if not for our Russian friends and of course the own solid base of our people in the historical context; we could be living in an illiterate and deeply unhealthy place; with a brothel and gambling embankment running from Miramar to Varadero. 500 kilometers long where foreigners could just cheaply, scenically fuck our women, drink our rum and smoke our cigars in the sun.
I knew, the minute I was called to the office that we would not surrender, our great leaders, well the two brothers still alive; would not for one human second consider that the fight was lost.
I was there the day they called us all together. The top nine, the big two; the Ministers and the deputies of industry, defense, finance, agriculture, espionage later. We had known it was coming, the fall of our protector and benefactor. In embassy cables and diplomatic whispers; we also knew, it was our job to know that when the big bear fell down, died, and became reborn as god only knows what under American guidance! And its brightest, newest oldest and also highly questionable satellites began dropping from the sky; that nothing, not one thing would stop the aggressors to the north from moving in upon us.
We knew this was the beginning of the end of the revolution as we understood it, but what could we do? We suspected the Syrians and the Libyans would not give in easily to them at all. And we watched one after another as communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe and Africa. It was really our estimation, that by the time the dust settled; it would be only us, the Vietnamese, the People’s Republic of China (both which had embraced capitalism in most regards five years ago, Laos, and whatever the backwards hell they were doing in North Korea! We assumed Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Namibia and Angola would remember what we did for them but be in no position to reciprocate. And between 1989 and 1994, it would all come tumbling down. The failed architecture of a dystopian dream.
We sat together at a time when even the leaders were hungry and when anyone looked in a mirror they would not always recognize their own faces, for a look of despair had set in, inside oneself. All that we had willed as a people could be undone in just one year. We were all the same outside, for the siege had not begun yet, it would begin tomorrow and the next day and for the next ten or twenty years. And the Yankee enemy in the North, the pale colder place just a few days out by raft or one hour by plane; it would either soon invade, or try and starve us out. The ten million that had refused to defect. And the accomplishments of the last fifty years could go up in smoke, or simply in a long whimper, as the Dominoes began to fall.
But I understood, it was my training from Moscow to understand and my own Cuban sense of putting it together and taking it apart and refashioning. I knew that there was only one thing that could hold the country together, and so did Fidel and Raul. We needed to buy the time it required us to shore up. I am not sure that we prepared adequately for this day, actually. I’m not really sure we believed this day would come.
They drove us out to a farm. Well of course they didn’t tell us and we didn’t ask. And we were told in a meeting this was going to be a “special period in times of peace”, which was to say all the conditions of a siege and a war were to be upon us and really the only question was how long could we last until the U.S. gets bored, not tired for they have never been in a rush. More until the empire is bored with us, less obsessed with us. Long enough for the opposition to imperialism to recoup.
I remember in the car to the ranch which disguised the room for these situations. I remember wondering if this was the end of our experiment and life as we understood it.
“This comes right from Fidel; you’re all going abroad in a week. Some of you will join embassy staff or medical missions, some as private people with foreign passports. You will be going to allied countries and Western countries, you will be going to make some hasty business.”
Well really the whole speech was so much longer. But this was the short of it. We were not told in any specific terms how long supplies and foreign currency reserves could hold out on the island. We were told in no uncertain terms that things were going to run out, and that our job was to generate hard currency through the operation of a variety of legal and illegal businesses to shore up the essential purchase; food, fuel and probably armaments.
“They’re rioting in Moscow, in Warsaw and in Budapest. It’s all coming down. Even the Chinese are talking about calling it something else.”
I tell you it wasn’t all cigar smoke and mirrors and fake foreign names, Cubans look like everyone and we had trained long ago to act like anyone, and we’d been assimilating for years into the second world and there was a contingency planned for a cut off over time from USSR foreign aid, not overnight.
“What brought it all down?” Norma asks.
“This isn’t a polite or immediate question,” she was told. But the answer was several things. First, the West was economically more exploitative and comparatively more ruthless. Second, the Russian Communist Party lost its popular imperative, and third, the endless wars in proxy had sapped its will. But there was something else no one said, which was being said in the West; that Capitalism was simply a better system, no-no no one would say that. But everyone was always hoping blue jeans and popular gringo music would fall off a favela cart or plane hatch back from Miami. And it often did. Luxury carrots for all or for none says the evil murderous and often sloppy C.I.A.! But ours was a hard won thing that had the support of the people and would not be defeated by American imperialism and temptation.
We will do what we have to do to survive this! Too much is historically on the line, if we fall like the others this idea and all our sacrifices and gains will have been for nothing. We would plot and organize, mobilize and do anything we had to do to secure the revolution. We would survive this coming Special Period in Times of Peace. We will break the grim Yankee blockade and ensure the relevancy of Cuban-style Marxist Leninism for ten thousand years to come! And I will wear blue jeans when I have to. Four people with mixed but exotic features enter the room, two men and two women, clad in loose army green tunics.
“I would like to introduce the delegation from the Kurdistan Workers Party,” declares my chief, “They are quite expert in smuggling, establishing European business fronts and of course, they are committed revolutionaries motivated by the same historical forces as our own people.”
That was the very moment that the special relationship between the Cubans and Kurds solidified. Skill in smuggling and commerce would be exchanged for medical specialists and engineers that could design impregnable bunkers. Ten years later, Comrade Norma Sachez’s half Argentine daughter Alina Sanchez would become one of the first Cubans to serve in the Medical and Engineering Brigades attached to PKK guerillas in Turkey. Her Kurdish guerrilla name was Lêgerîn Çiya. One of the longest-serving members of the international brigade.