Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cuban down under recounts life under fidel

Luis Garcia is a Cuban who has lived in Australia since 1971. His memoir, Child of the Revolution, is due to be released in Australia on June 2nd. Purchase information is below the article.

Life Under Fidel
Growing up under the rule of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro meant a life of fear and repression for author Luis Garcia and his family.

From: Sunday Telegraph (Australia)
May 21, 2006
Paul Pottinger

It says much for the healing power of time that Luis Garcia finds ''hilarious'' the sight of Che Guevara's face emblazoned on the T-shirts of fashionable young things.

''It's amazing! He's no different to them from Nike -- a fashion brand,'' Garcia says.

''My parents sometimes get upset about it, but I take a different view. I think it's very funny.
''Of course, the kids have no idea.''

Garcia does. At school, he and his young compadres -- unlike those who merely see a guy who manages to looks cool in a beard and beret -- were obliged to recite ''Seremos como el Che!''
(I will be like Che!).

That was the lot of every Cuban kid four decades ago, a parallel universe the now 47-year-old Garcia recounts in Child Of The Revolution: Growing Up In Castro's Cuba.

In his first book, Garcia captures the grim banality and the absurdity of life in a communist dictatorship.

Garcia was born in 1959, a year after Castro ousted the corrupt and repressive Batista regime and started up his own, lowering a virtual Sugarcane Curtain between Cuba and the West.
In 1971, the Garcias were finally given permission to go into exile. A year later, they arrived in Sydney.

Garcia has not returned -- at least, not in person -- and will not do so while Castro's regime remains in power.

''When I began to write this, I wondered if this story was different to that of anyone else who has left home,'' Garcia says.

''The key difference was that it was so final. I would love to visit Cuba and can only hope that there is regime change before I die of old age. They have been in power my entire life.''
The experience of his first 12 years is the context for his vividly realised memoir.

''What really prompted me to get moving was essentially my children, who are 19 and 17 now,'' he says.

''My daughter was having a conversation with her grandfather -- half in English, half in Spanish -- about what life was like for us at this time of upheaval.

''I used that sort of childlike language and perspective because that's how I remember it.
''Your views change on some things but the essential experience does not, and so it's more relevant in that language.''

The term ''Orwellian'' is, along with ''surreal'', among the most overused in popular parlance. Garcia's book merits both.

It's Orwellian because of the Big Brother informer state he recalls, and surreal because -- seen in retrospective ''kidvision'' -- he imparts a sense of heightened reality.

''People who have not experienced that cannot imagine it,'' Garcia says. ''There was nothing you could do without being watched. There was the never-ending fear that something you might say would be misconstrued and reported. The social and political control was no different to East Germany.

''Consciously or otherwise it certainly affects you (in later life). Watching my own children, I probably appreciate the freedoms that we have here much more.''

There are indelible episodes in the saga of the young Garcia. He learns not his ABCs, but FRYs (''F is for Fidel, R is for revolution, Y is for Yankees'').

Garcia entered a school short-story competition with a politically sound yarn about a dying Vietnamese soldier who urges his comrades to use his blood-stained shirt as a flag -- only for Garcia's horrified family to learn that the ''prize'' is a trip to the Soviet Union.

Getting such episodes down on paper was a sort of catharsis -- as is laughter, something Garcia can't contain at last week's Forbes magazine revelation that Castro is one of the world's richest rulers.

''He went on TV and spoke for three hours, bringing the representative from the Cuban central bank, as though this guy was an independent authority.''

As for Castro's one-time finance minister, Garcia is only slightly more ambivalent.

''The myth of Che as a great liberator began in Cuba,'' he says. ''The reality is that as guerilla leader he was incompetent, as an economic manager he was a total failure and even as a thinker ... well, if you read his work as I had to, it's incomprehensible.

''What is not so hilarious is that people at anti-war rallies carry Che posters. The one thing he was definitely not was a pacifist -- he advocated very early on the violent overthrow of government.''

So, those T-shirts are a particularly sweet posthumous revenge. ''In some ways it represents the ultimate victory of capitalism over every ideal Che espoused,'' Garcia says. ''He would be spinning in his grave.''

Copyright 2006 Nationwide News Pty LimitedAll Rights Reserved
You can purchase Child of the Revolution online from the Australian bookseller, Boomerang Books. Don't get scared off by the price of the book and the shipping, Australian dollars are currently worth about 75% of American dollars, so knock 25% off the price.

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