| August 2021, Por Mónica Rivero

Fidel Castro, unipersonal

On August 13 Fidel Castro would have turned 95 years old. The man who, even after his death, keeps having influence in Cuba. 


– Why are you Fidel?

– Because the teacher wrote so.

Mario Enrique is a 9-year-old Cuban boy. He was born three years after Fidel Castro passed the torch to his brother Raúl. On Friday November 24 —a day before the first anniversary of the death of the revolutionary leader— he got home, the phrase “I am Fidel” written on one of his cheeks. When he was asked why and he learned the reason, he eventually said to his mother: “On Monday when I go to school, please write I’m Mario.”

I was born in 1989 and grew up repeating the motto heard in all Cuban schools: “Pioneers for communism: we will be like Che”. None of us really knew what communism was, but we were not concerned too much about it. It was something which was, in any case, socially accepted, apparently desirable, and above anything else, right. Che had been an Argentinian guerrilla leader who had done great things and who also had an image we could emphatize quite well with. As for Fidel, he dressed in green and talked for hours on television. He was tall and hefty, and he had an impressive beard.

The ones who are adults like me now used to claim we would be like Che. The motto stands sill and, in addition, Cuban children are now being madeto repeat they are Fidel.

I used to think that one fine day Fidel Castro would come in through the door of my house. For lunch perhaps; maybe after having been invited by my father, a veteran of the ‘26th of July Movement’, an organization along which the Commander had defeated Batista in 1959. In my early childhood, Fidel was, like my father, a man. Not just another man. If anything, a man who could sit at the table of my house, which was like saying, that in anyone’s house in Cuba.

As I grew up, that naive idea started to fade away. Still, as time went by, I have been able to comprehend the distance with the myth of him, even though Fidel Castro had to bear the burden of his own legend while still alive.

At present there is a certain fidelist calling which has ended up contradicting what it itself and the very own Fidel Castro once described as fidelismo: that concept related to the precepts of José Marti stating that all the glory in the world would fit in a kernel of corn, and that what was really venerable was the great collective work, which is what should be preserved above all things. Nowadays, the official narrative in Cuba recites a just a monologue: that of Fidel Castro.

As a result of the excessive rhetoric and hyperboles, the epic has become just a bad joke: the “trench of ideas” has been placed in the altar of veneration, where what is sacred is no longer a historical movement, neither the massive construction of a national destiny, nor the enormous ultimate sacrifice of millions of Cuban families all along 60 years.

“If the price to pay for having Americans leave Cuba in peace is my life, then I’ll happily give it”, Fidel once asserted. When faced with a question about him wearing a bulletproof vest to protect himself, he boldly opened up his shirt and showed off his chest claiming “Mine is a moral one”. He spoke of himself as dispensable, as just another soldier: “comrade Fidel”.

Yet when he turned 80 years old, the Cuban press stated: “Fidel is a country”. Afterwards, the national television broadcasted a musicalized poem that went “Fidel puts the sun in his pocket and says ‘good night’ to his people.” Later, and all through the year of his 90th anniversary, he was attributed every single merit –whether it was an accomplished or over accomplished plan– and he was also dedicated the night of January 27. That is when the “March of the Torches” takes place, an initiative that was started by his generation 60 years ago to pay tribute to the apostle of Cuban Independence, José Martí. However, on May 19, 2017 because of some strange turn of events, there were more references to the feats of the Commander in Chief than to the “Tragedy of Dos Rios”, the moment at which Martí died in 1895. Lately it has also been talked about his important contributions to cardiology and to the building of an institute devoted to carrying out his scientific projects.

The Cuban Revolution is narrated as it having been the great creation of a single hand, as the achievement of a dream pursued by a single head. The rest were props, background actors, performances ranking third, fourth, perhaps a hundredth in importance, just a little more than mere stage machinery. The builders of the idol elevated Castro by describing him as a solitary protagonist, as an indescribable character, even a metaphysical one who “existed beyond objective reality”, one who was “able to break the natural laws”. He was also referred to as “the father of modern science”, the one who “encapsulated in himself the very concept of Cuba and the Revolution”, the one who “does not fit death”, the one for whom Cuba —and the world! — were too small, the one who “should have outlived us”, “the greatest athlete.” There are other more unsettling compliments such as his being “every girl’s boyfriend”, or “the one who made us men”. Fidel is ultimately the one who “founded our nation”, a moment which historians have fixed as it happening in 1868, upon the beginning of the Independence war. And those who do not sing the song will be treated as apostates.

The cult that Castro wanted to prevent —while still alive, and the one he feared would arise after his approaching death— by legally prohibiting putting up monuments in his honor, or naming parks, squares, or streets after him has resulted in the transformation of his name within the narrative, one that is always characterized by a messianic hue. A building may not be given his name, but the whole Revolution is now attributed to him; there might not be a bust of himself, yet the total credit for half a century of national destiny is attributed to him. The official narrative has made an idol of him… but it has also voided it. If Fidel is the Revolution, then did the Revolution die almost two years ago? If he was the worker of all things, will they omit every brick that was laid improperly?

The Pioneer Camp in Tarará lying in ruins at present. Photo: Alejandro Saldívar
The Pioneer Camp in Tarará lying in ruins at present. Photo: Alejandro Saldívar

It is not possible to synthesize a million faces and unify them in a single one; millions of names cannot be diluted in just five letters. The last thing Cuba needs nowadays is a multitude of bad clones of a revolutionariy from the 60s. The unipersonal feature of those decades has been tragic for the island of the Revolution. And what is also tragic is the fact that a continuity flag is currently being waved, one that embraces the past as if clung to the future. The past is long gone.

Those of us who coexisted in his time will hardly be able to make any dispassionate judgement. In the abyss that separates his adoring followers from his detractors is where fairly moderate opinions lie. At present, we as Cubans are being witnesses to the destruction of our national narrative as a collective phenomenon; witnesses to being shamelessly declared as an underage country that has been left leaderless; witnesses to the loss of a father whose only legacy seems to be that of orphanhood.

What happened to Fidel Castro is that, just one year after his death, his children are committing suicide. The generation that descends from the revolutionaries of the mountains is destructing itself. Death, insile, exile, emigration: escaping, disappearing. In twenty years we will be the most aged country in the whole of Latin America.

Whereas nothing that is worth it is eternal or endless, Fidel built an order which could not outlive him precisely because that order was he himself. His worst enemy was never the yankee imperialism: it was his ego.

The Pioneer Camp in Tarará lying in ruins at present. Photo: Alejandro Saldívar
Photos: Alejandro Saldívar
*This article was translated by Ana Soubiate, thanks to the support of ICFJ (International Center For Journalists)


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