‘Y en Eso Llego Fidel’ (‘And Into This Came Fidel’) – Carlos Puebla

Born in 1917, and dying in 1989 (coincidentally, almost exactly the lifespan of the Soviet Union), the songwriter Carlos Puebla began his career in pre-revolutionary Cuba as a bolerista. However, he is remembered as one of the most fervently political, and staunchly revolutionary, songwriters of the nascent and utopian years of the Revolution. His most famous composition – ‘Hasta Siempre, Comandante; an ode to Che Guevarra – has become emblematic of the Revolution specifically, and of new-left affiliation globally[1]. Often his songs would serve as cultural comments written bespoke for the precise actions of the Revolution (such as the song ‘Diez Seran’ – ‘We’ll Get the Ten’ about the proposed ten-ton sugar harvest), or sought to make risible Cuba’s ‘enemies’ (as in ‘La OEA es Cosa de Risa’ and ‘Mira Yanki, Como Nos Reimos, both discussed in chapter five).

But what Puebla’s songs most notably engage in is a specific, and overtly politicised, type of memory work; one that seeks both the remember the glory of the event of the revolution itself, but crucially, to separate that event from that which came before; in essence to remember one particular Cuban history by forgetting another. The song ‘Y en Eso Llego Fidel’ (‘And into This Came Fidel’), whilst ‘remembering’ a Cuba before the Revolution, seeks to abandon it, to consign it to an unrelated, and finished, past, by showing a fidelity to the Revolution. The song’s verses paint a dystopian image of a Cuba ruled from without – essentially a ‘non-Cuban’ Cuba – which is punctured at the end of each tableau by the repeated line ‘Y en eso llego Fidel’:

Aquí pensaban seguir, ganando el ciento por cierto con casas de apartamentos y echar al pueblo a sufrir y seguir de modo cruel contra el pueblo conspirando para seguirlo explotando y en esto llegó Fidel.                                                                                                                           

They thought they could continue, earning 100% with houses and apartments and making the people suffer and continuing in a cruel way conspiring against the people to secure their exploitation and into this came Fidel

This final line, this repeated declaration, represents the beginning of the ‘event’, in the words of Alain Badiou (2005), of the Revolution occurring “as a complete break with the continuum of being” (Elliott, 2010:2). But at important as ushering in a new era and establishing a ‘year zero’ of a Cuban history, Puebla’s song seeks to put an end to the old; to show it as something finished; no longer part of the narrative, as the chorus notes:

Y se acabó la diversion, llegó el comandante y mandó a parar.

And now the fun is over, the commandante arrived and ordered them to stop

So, as Richard Elliott notes of Badiou’s “dual notion of the event… as both a singular moment and an ongoing process or project” (2010:2), as well as highlighting the moment in which the event happened – in which Fidel arrived – there is a need to establish a new fidelity to an ongoing process; the Revolution as a new paradigm for Cuban identity. As noted in the introduction (pp.5-6), this required a total discrediting of the old, heavily U.S.-inflected, Batista regime (Perez, 2003:239) and the radical social and political changes of the early Revolution, as Perez notes, sought to remove the US as much as reinstate the ‘Cuban’ (ibid.). But Puebla’s song seems to make the arrival of Fidel –and vicariously, the work of the continued Revolution – less of a reaction to what had come before, than a clean break from it. Puebla’s verses almost speak of some distant recollection; a mythological evil that has been entirely vanquished by the coming of Fidel.

Such a rhetoric illuminates two critical aspects of revolutionary history and Cuban identity (both of which are contested by Porno Para Ricardo). The first, as noted above, is the parsing out of Cuban history into distinct, compartmentalised, epochs which are ‘finished’ by the arrival of the new. So Cuba’s Spanish colonial epoch was ended by the epoch of Platt-amendment US control, in turn ended by the Revolution. Each of the epochs, in Badiou’s terms, is ended, and the continuum of Cuban history is broken by the arrival of an event.

The second key element of Cuban identity that is expressed here is the historicising of ‘great figures’ as emblematic of Cuban identity. Clearly this is not a trope exclusive to Cuban discourse, but the ‘arrival’ of Fidel as herald of evental change – the ubiquitous declaration that ‘seremos como el Che’ (‘we will be like Che’) – speaks of the monumental, the heroic, the emulation of the heroic as the facets of Cuban history, and thus of Cuban identity. In a sense, though it is purported to be the domain of ‘the people’, the Revolutionary conception of Cuban history and identity is one of evental moments outside of the quotidian; the distinctly waved flag of national identity: the arrival of the Granma, the storming of the Moncada barracks, the moment – mythologised and woven into the fabric of national consciousness through endless national parades – when Fidel (finally, inevitably, conclusively) arrived.This is what it means to be Cuban. This is what must be remembered. This represents the ‘correct’ way to remember and express a Cuban identity.

[1] The song is tremendously popular among left-wing students in many Spanish-speaking countries, particularly Spain itself. The song has been covered numerous times, including a 2003 version by the Buena Vista Social Club (though overt reference to Fidel Castro – present in the song’s original final verse – is omitted.)


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