Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Samuel 13) transports me to the Columbia Military Barracks in Havana, Cuba, early in the morning of March 10, 1952. Former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista stormed the barracks, took command of the military, and destroyed the Cuban Constitution he had presided over at the beginning of the previous decade. Had he not coveted power at all costs and engineered that coup, he might have gone down in history as a hero, the father of a stable democratic republic. As it stood, he soon garnered the disparaging nickname Pa’rato (For a Long Time) and became a despised dictator. Fidel Castro had been a candidate for Congress in the 1952 elections that were aborted by Batista’s coup. Castro was determined to cut short Pa’rato’s long time, and today is the sixtieth anniversary of his own attempted coup, when he stormed the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The attack of July 26, 1953 was a colossal failure; the revolutionaries were soundly routed by the military, and Fidel was arrested and sentenced to a long jail term. Two years into that term, Batista decided that Fidel posed no real threat, and set him free. Fidel traveled straight to Mexico, where he and his brother Raúl, along with Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, strategized and launched the more successful revolution that would eventually drive Batista from power in 1959. They called their revolution the 26th of July Movement; naming it after the dismal failure was something akin to a Remember the Alamo! battle cry. You can’t travel anywhere in Cuba without seeing the slogan Siempre es 26! (It’s always the 26th) plastered on the sides of buildings and on billboards. As it turns out, the Castro brothers were more deserving of the nickname Pa’rato, having outlasted Batista now by over 50 years. The tendency to covet power does not distinguish between ideologies, it seems.
Coveting power and wanting to hold onto it for a long time was not something unique to Cuban history. The people of Israel discovered this common human character flaw at the very beginning of their monarchy. King Saul, duly selected by God for the task of leading the theocracy, had everything going for him until he over-reached and presumed the role of priest as well as potentate. That set in motion the revolution of David and his band of malcontents, who had their own experiences with epic failure before eventually driving Saul from power and establishing their own regal regime. The sixty years of Castro’s 26 de julio movement seem tame in comparison to David’s claims of eternal dominion, a literal siempre. Early in David’s reign his friend and confidant, the prophet Nathan, assured him that your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. Like every other sovereign with sights on siempre, David would experience his own share of over-reaching as he coveted power, both personal and political. Nothing, it seemed, would prevent him from enjoying his own Pa’rato rule, though, as the house of David stayed intact on the throne through scandals of rape, murder, family dysfunction, expansionist agendas, and exploitation of labor. Despite all of his moral failings, he managed to enjoy the propaganda as the greatest king ever, so that centuries later the greatest compliment people could give an itinerant carpenter-preacher-miracle worker was that he was the Son of David.
If coveting and clinging to power was not something invented by Cuba, neither did it stop with their July 26 revolution. We see evidence every day of the covetous and rapacious power grabs by our elected officials here in the alleged democratic state of North Carolina. This revolution started after the 2010 census, when a newly elected majority re-drew election maps to insure their majority would not easily be undone. Then, after siphoning off state revenue by rewarding their campaign contributing cronies with big tax breaks, paid for by draconinan cuts in education and social services, they enacted the most far-reaching voter suppression laws in the country, in an attempt to inoculate themselves from any consequences at the polls. I’m wondering when Governor Pat Pa’rato is going to start plastering some version of Siempre es 26 up on the billboards along I-40. I’m just hoping that that this regime will have the lasting power of Batista, and not the Castros.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.