Sierra Maestra

I rustle down a semi-trodden path of grass and ferns and heave myself atop a boulder carpeted with lichen. I feel strangely at home here in this climate, on this mountain wrapped in fog that makes the trees look like evergreens when I squint.

But I am not at home. I am atop the Gran Piedra, a windy peak that crouches in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra.

A minute behind me, my friends are taking selfies in the clouds that obscure a view of the Caribbean Sea and the sleepy city of Santiago de Cuba. An elderly woman with a smile so open it has to be practiced is talking some middle-aged tourists into buying her souvenirs. "These necklaces are made of seeds from local trees," she explains to them as she explained to me. "Buy two and I’ll add a free one just for you."

All these sights close by are hidden in the mist, these sounds drowned by the singing of the wind. The wind up here that feels like a presence, the collective breath of centuries of ghosts.

If I spoke more languages I’m almost certain I could identify the strains: Taínos, crying as they flee a genocide of proportions that could make even the bloodstained soil of my homeland weep. Slaves, singing in chains on coffee plantations and roaring as they free themselves through force of arms in the Wars of Independence. Che, Fidel, and their guerrillas whispering dreams of revolution as they hide from Batista’s American-made planes. I sit and listen, feeling both alone and watched. I came here, in my stereotypically Trotskyist fashion, to build the solidarity of the international proletariat. I came as a student hoping to see Cuban socialism for myself and learn what I could from its triumphs and failures. I came as an individual, seeking my own place in world revolution.

I had thought that coming to the Sierra Maestra would feel like the end of all three pilgrimages. But now that I’m here, and now that I’ve been in Cuba for over two months, I feel more lost than anything else.

I’ve experienced connections with my Cuban friends no trade regulation can obscure. I’ve experienced vast gulfs of privilege no ideology can bridge.

I’ve seen a free higher education system that produces world-renowned artists, scientists and doctors. I’ve learned that many of its graduates dream only of escaping to the US.

Some of my friends have told me that seeing a Yuma come to live in Havana and study Marxist philosophy makes them hopeful our countries can finally live in peace. Throughout, I have known that my well-intentioned presence is a weapon in a neocolonial tourist invasion. If the vote I cast for Clinton helps put her over the top and she continues Obama’s policy of rapprochement, I will be followed by the US corporate forces guerrillas once gathered in these mountains to fight.

A dialectical analysis would tell me that all systems are born rife with contradictions that haunt them like specters, growing until they devour their creators and birth new contradictory systems. These births are known as revolutions.

I am a contradiction walking, Cuba is a contradiction teetering on the cusp of massive change, capitalism is a contradiction that maintains itself by hopping continents until there’s no place left to go. The Sierra Maestra is a birthplace of revolutions, but it has no answer to these contradictions. What it has is wind, and mist, and ghosts screaming to be heard. I sit, alone and watched, for what feels like a long time.