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The Latin American republic

Not only did I have to exile myself from Cuba, I also had to exile myself from its exile, because it is a totalitarian exile in its metaphysical dimension

Idalia Candelas

The institution of Cuban exile, to which I technically belong, favors Javier Milei. My exiled compatriots are pro-Zionists, proud supporters of Bolsonaro and Trump, and when some posh brat in Madrid tells them that Pedro Sanchez is a dictator, they nod along mindlessly, throwing their own experience of dictatorship out the window and trivializing what it means to live under actual authoritarian rule. But the complicity of the Latin American left with Castroism, and the return of an acerbic sentiment of revenge, is insufficient to explain their consistently reactionary projections.

There is something more intricate and dangerous going on: the desperation that comes with not belonging to the territory of the present, the unconfessed desire that their misfortunes not be confined to the country from which they escaped. They need their politics — their methods and words — to resemble the worldview they know, and the violence of their customs.

Just as victims of totalitarianism turn into incubators of the virus of totalitarianism, Cuban exiles, like their Venezuelan and Nicaraguan counterparts, proliferate apocalyptic evangelists wherever they land. They are doomsayers heralding the end of the world, who constantly fail in their predictions because they are ignorant of the true victorious horseman: the horseman of capital. The beast that beat them down is now a dead beast, living only in their memories, but no one wants to renounce their exclusive access to exceptionality.

They predicted that López Obrador would perpetuate himself in power. That’s not going to happen. They predicted that Petro would perpetuate himself in power. That’s not going to happen. They predicted that Boric would perpetuate himself in power. That’s not going to happen. They did not, however, predict that Bukele would perpetuate himself in power. But now that Bukele has done it, they approve. At last someone is speaking their language again.

Among many things, what most seduces them about Milei is his delirium — a delusion, in apparent pursuit of some illusory world, that seeks to destroy a concrete and foundational one. Milei is against the state because the state is communism. He sees public education as indoctrination and all property that is not private as idle waste, and he idolizes the market as the embodiment of the natural law of free men. Such phantasmagoria, which hallucinates all current forms of government as Stalinist, gives the Cuban exiles back their lost sense of materiality. It provides a more pronounced texture to their tragedy, which is the foundation of their identity, and represents, above all, a turning point in history and a course correction toward the individual and his self-esteem. This worldview would have our backwardness become our vanguard, where rather than lagging behind democracy, we instead barrel head first toward authoritarianism.

The specific constitution of that sublimated desire explains the conservative political disposition of those who fled the Caribbean-Soviet bloc, and it’s also what compelled me to understand that I had to not only exile myself from Cuba; I had to exile myself from my own community of exiles as well, because it is, at its core, a totalitarian community.

I am not speaking of a form of government, of course, but rather of a metaphysical order. “All the forces of being are gradually organizing themselves into twin structures that are more and more in confrontation with each other. Thus, all human forces are entrenched in a struggle as implacable as it is sterile, since they do not bring into play any concrete difference, any positive value,” writes René Girard. “Totalitarianism exists when all desires have been organized one by one into a general and permanent mobilization of being in service of nothingness.”

The European and U.S. human rights groups that speak the loudest against the terrible situation in Cuba — where more than a thousand political prisoners clog the island’s prisons, where a recent wave of over 400,000 migrants left in search of new lives, and where the people who remain face a desolate economic reality — are at the same time unable to escape the ideological bubble in which those same institutions of denunciation have placed them. They end up concealing, when not directly celebrating, the magical thinking and the neo-fascist ascent to power, or buying into the legitimacy of the fetishized democracies of regional oligarchies.

These activists spend their lives pleading for people to stand in solidarity with their country, but are incapable of offering it themselves, and certainly would never accept it if it were offered, since they have grown used to this exclusive access to tragedy. It’s a closed game, where everyone uses a foreign cause for their own political ends. They are actors in an empty theater, dispersing and focusing social dissatisfaction in order to weaken and domesticate it into a speculative series of national misfortunes. The neoliberal corporation acts as an extension of this, without encountering any formidable resistance, as it defuses globalization’s greatest gain: the marvelous inevitability of the other. In this sense, the corporation has no more efficient enabler and ally than the proliferation of illiberal rule.

Borders today do not prevent the circulation of anything, neither bodies nor merchandise — they serve only to subjectivize local authoritarianisms, which is to say, the autochthonous disguise behind which the violence of global capital is dispersed. These anti-democratic experiments understand that the West needs to condemn them on the level of the visible order, as a political formality, while the economic muscle continues to shape internal alliances. The exiled dissidents are, then, and unfortunately, only smoke and mirrors in a world of distraction, playing out a script of exceptionality.

That same metaphysical trap, the belief in singularity, is what makes Trump’s most faithful replicas in the South appear in Brazil and Argentina precisely. They are a sample of the eccentric dream of distinction, the mimesis of vast territories. But Brazil and Argentina, if they want to save themselves, will have no choice but to embrace the outlook of Glissant when he says, “I believe in the future of small countries.”

Might there then be something in the position of the exile that would allow him to stand at the podium of the present, but at a different angle? Could there be something to gain in the process of losing? Here I’m speaking of the inevitable renunciation of national confinement, but not with the goal of obtaining a certain abstract universality, which only romanticizes exile, but rather of acquiring the awareness of a culture and a broader history that should function as an integrative continuum. From such a position, the exile would be neither backward nor ahead of the world to which he belongs; he would be neither a noble savage nor a Western messiah, and he would have rejected the misleading assessments that reward his so-called particularity.

This general structure has a real-life representation at every possible scale. We are talking about a scenario where triumphs, be they in the political, economic or cultural order, are awarded to those who best excavate the backyard of their own identities in search of a rare gem increasingly deformed under the spotlight of publicity. There is a gold rush on the subaltern self, concentrated into prototypes that are then sold as exotic trinkets in the laundromats of colonial guilt.

The paths to the academic markets of the north are paved for the constant stream of pilgrims willing to offer up the flesh of their family or rent out the story of their lineage or orphanage. The tight competition of the market of ideas requires them to specialize in their own marginalization more and more. To be more Indigenous, more Black, more oppressed, so that everything can continue to be whiter. But if the exile understands the trick, he becomes a subject aware of his modern condition — someone who will not feed, in any of its forms, this balkanization of Latin America’s suffering and celebrations.

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