My name is Carlos-Zenen Trujillo. I was the playwright for La Isla en Invierno, or The Island in Winter and I will be the playwright for the upcoming show Our Utopia. I was born in Cuba, in a town called Bejucal on the outskirts of Havana. My departure from Cuba was not my choice, I was so young at the time I had very little agency to control what was happening. I didn’t cry when I left, because to me, I was not leaving. It was just a vacation from a home I would soon return to. I’m going on year 21 of my vacation, the longest one ever recorded I think.
Cuba is indivisible from me. It is who I am down to the bone. When I sleep I dream in Spanish and think of home. When I wake, I clasp on to those dreams as long as I can. Dreams of the sugarcane and tobacco fields, of the red clay dirt, of the flat turquoise plane of the sea. From these dreams Isla was born. It’s a story of migration, sacrifice, and reunification. It’s the story of what being Cuban feels in my body. Right now that feeling has curdled into a hot rage.
The events in Cuba, currently unfolding represent the largest shift in the status quo since 1959 with the rise of Castroism. It’s unprecedented in every way. It is also a moment of unmasking the true face of the Cuban government, as a callous organ of oppression. B&B has given me this space to speak my soul about the events unfolding in Cuba, and in the spirit of Paulina from the Winter’s Tale, I wrote a manifesto.
What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling?
In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
Must I receive, whose every word deserves
To taste of thy most worst?
On the Triunvirato plantation, in 1843, none of the owners could have predicted that one sweltering night, their slaves, armed with the very tools of their oppression would rise up against them. Years later on, October 10, 1868 in the hills of Yara, no one could foretell that from the sugar mills a cry of freedom would ring out that would shake the Island of Cuba to its core. The yell. El Grito. The cry of a people fed up with their indignation, with disease, with torture and opression. The yell did not liberate Cuba, it would take two decades of sacrifice and bloodshed to see the Cuban people liberated from the yoke of their oppression. But the yell terrified those in power. Those who knew their game was coming to a close. The Spanish Empire, that great ingenious machine of torture came up with new and inventive ways to try to silence the yell. Garotting the people in their houses. Shooting dissidents on the paredon. So terrified were they, they invented a new system of control, oppression and humiliation, the first concentration camps ever put to use in history.
Now more than 178 years after the slaves of Triunvirato rose up in a heated cry for freedom and 153 years after Yara exploded with the sounds of sick and dying people fed up with the callousness of their oppressors, Cuba is beset by another empire. An empire of misery. An empire of disease. Of indifference. An empire just as genocidal as the ones before. An empire that clothes its crimes in the language of liberation and equality. A kleptocracy where the elites who govern and their cadres get richer and richer sucking the blood of a starving populace. A government that despite lifting the words of Karl Marx onto their highest pedestal, have more in common with Al Capone. Gangsters, in charge of the largest human and drug trafficking enterprises in the western hemisphere. Led by men, whose blank, bureaucratic distaste for common men, whose lily-white sneering faces of unfettered chauvinistic power remind one more of the Spanish governors than of the brave mambis who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their homeland. This empire is run by greed and self interest. An empire where the dollar is king. Where there is no god but profit, squeezed out of the people by force, so that the oligarchs can live their charmed, comfortable lives. All the while those unfortunate enough to succumb to plague that has gripped the island rot in their beds, dead and forgotten.
This Cuban aristocracy, with noble, aristocratic names: Castro-Ruz, Diaz-Canel, Marrero, Rodríguez-Parrilla. Remember these names. These kleptocrats. These bottle cap generals. These princes of desolation, who summer in Ibiza. These little Eichmanns, whose hands are now stained with the sovereign blood of a dying people. They are the sole ones responsible for the misery and humiliation of their compatriots. They are the ones who called their attack dogs and sicced them on the starving masses; attack dogs that are so cowardly, and ill-trained that they dress in civilian clothing and wait until the coast is clear to attack the weakest, the youngest, the least protected with bats and rifles. These oligarchs’ crimes will live in infamy. No, history will not absolve them. They shall be taught alongside the concentration camps their forebears built to oppress us 153 years ago.
El Grito did not free Cuba. It would take two decades before a Cuban republic would be declared. And even then, Cuba has not known true freedom, as we flitted from dictator to dictator for a century. We are a people torn by sea and sand. We are a people scattered and divided. We are a people humiliated. We are a nation of deferred dreams, of unwilling migrants. We have had the boot of the Castro oligarchy on our neck for 62 years. But even in this darkness, this tropical storm that tears through the nation, there is a light guiding in the distance. Our Virgin of Charity of Cobre, holding up the lantern to see us to the shore of our collective liberation. A liberation that will be hard won, but one that fills every Cuban, everywhere with anticipation, dread, fear, hope, rage, sadness, mourning, guilt, regret, joy, and every other emotion one can put a name to.
This yell didn’t come from Yara. It came from San Antonio de los Baños. From La Habana. From Holguín, Matanzas, Cardenas, Pinar del Río, Guantánamo. Santiago de Cuba, Bauta, Bayamo, Batabanó, Bejucal, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Artemisa, Sancti Spiritu, Morón, Quivicán, La Salud, Regla, Rincón and so many others. It’s a yell echoing from the crowded tenements of Centro Habana, to the bohios in the Escambray. From the peak of the Sierra Maestra to the Ciénaga de Zapata. From churches carried out by the ringing of bells in the afternoon, and from homes where the refrains of “Patria y Vida” bounce off the walls in defiance of the silent night. The rattling sounds of congas and batas of freedom, or bells and chimes, of the guaguanco and reggaeton. The chorus of a people possessed by the spirit of our ancestors, who rode horses with machetes in hand to slay their oppressors. And who now ride us, in this great spiritual mass of disobedience.
And let the oppressors wallow in their fear and their knowledge that their curtain call is coming. And when they look out, let them see their audience. A people hungry and sick. With gaunt faces. With knives sharpened and drawn. Led not by a single man, but by a yell that echos in their bones and their souls. Let the oppressors watch as the people tear the boot from their neck.
Together working with thy jealousies,
Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle
For girls of nine, O, think what they have done
And then run mad indeed, stark mad! for all
Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.